Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mr. Lecount Gets First Coat

First Coat of Shellac
As I work to create tall case clocks, I am constantly reminded of the human characteristics that we share with this form of woodwork.  It is not just a coincidence that the clock stopped, never to run again, when the old man died.

I am also deeply in love with the first generation of time pieces, from 1650-1700.  During this period, I imagine it was like when Jobs introduced the iphone.  Before we had one, we didn't need it.  Once we got one, we wondered how we lived without it.  That is what it must have been like back then.

Before 1650 there was no real accurate way to measure time.  Knowing what time it was meant that you were within an hour or so of the real time, and that was fine.  However, once the pendulum clock was perfected, by adjusting the length of the bob by a slight amount, you could accurately determine the time to the minute.  Where would we be today without that invention?

These "new" clocks were so important that the clockmakers searched out cabinetmakers to make cases which justified the expense and verified the importance of their work.  The last two decades of the 17th century saw the most highly decorated clock cases ever made, and I am sure they commanded a place of importance in the rich man's home, announcing to the world that he was a "modern" man, who knew what time it was.

Only Missing Glass and Mounts
So, with this in mind, it is curious to think about how human characteristics were transferred to this type of woodwork, unlike any other piece of cabinetry.  For example, the clock case has "feet" which is not in itself unusual, since most furniture has feet.  However, it also has a "face" which "tells" the time, in a kinetic way, whether you want to know or not, since the bell strikes on a regular basis.  The case also has a "waist" which might make it more attractive, and perhaps more feminine.

It has "hands" which are strangely attached to the "face" (strange).  The works rest on the "cheeks" of the side boards.  The average height of the "face" is at eye level with the average person.  The top case is a "bonnet" which of course represents the hat covering the face and protecting the works.  The "backboard" is similar to the spine, in that it holds the clock upright and straight.

To regulate the clock, you set the "beat" which is analogous to a heartbeat.

A tall case clock requires regular attention to operate fully.  Without human support it stops.  That means that every week or month the owner needs to adjust it and reset the weights.  No other piece of furniture requires regular attention to survive.  It is like owning a pet; you need to feed it often to keep it alive.

I am comforted by the sound of the ticking and reminded every hour of the passing of time, when I am near one of these wonderful objects.  It reminds me that I, too, am human, and my time is measured and finite.  I should make the best of it while I am able.

That is why I am leaving tomorrow for a well deserved vacation at my cabin on the Madison River in Montana.  Leaving time behind and following the stars.

Blue Birds of Happiness