Sunday, January 29, 2012

Feasting on a smorgasbord of furniture and joinery.

While in Europe and the UK recently, I enjoyed looking at lots of old furniture in galleries and museums. Oooo, it was so nice. This furniture ranged from the completely over-the-top Rococo style stuff in Napoleon III's apartments at the Louvre in Paris, through to simple home made rural pieces from the 12-14th century.
Just a  touch of gilding on the joinery and furniture... Napoleon III Apartments, the Louvre, Paris.
There were all the big names in English cabinetmaking, like Sheraton, Hepplewhite, Chippendale, and Morris - through to the long forgotten and nameless people ranging from very early DIY to incredibly skilled craftsmen who created outstanding furniture and joinery for Royalty, Lords and aristocrats, as seen preserved in various castles and stately homes. What a feast for the eyes!! What food for the soul!!
Awesome carving in panels of partitioning, Edinburgh Castle.
While I am greatly impressed by the very intricate and clever high quality furniture seen on my travels, I also really appreciate a lot of the more "primitive" furniture which was used by the common folk. There is a lot of talk about Joynt Stools in the US woodworking circles at the moment, and I saw lots of those in my travels.
English 16th century oak Joynt Stool, Burrell Collection, Glasgow. 
 Chairs, small cabinets, and tables have been such fundamental furniture items for so many centuries in Europe, and those surviving pieces tell us so much about the people who made and used them.
English 15th century simple oak stool, Burrell Collection, Glasgow. 
 There is something very honest and down to earth about this common use practical furniture. Every mark and dent speaks volumes about the centuries of use they had until they found themselves preserved more recently in these wonderful collections.

Street seller's stool, Grand Bazaar, Istanbul.
Ornate hinges on storage cabinet, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris.

Ornately carved storage cabinet or wardrobe, Cilipi, Croatia. 
 However I am also drawn to the incredible craftsmanship that is displayed in some of the very ornate pieces. I was in the Fitzwilliam Museum when I was struck by the sheer beauty and precision of the work in a side cabinet which stopped me in my tracks. The design is attributed to Owen Jones (1809 - 1874) and manufacture attributed to Jackson & Graham, of London, c 1871-1874. Made from Macassar Ebony, with marquetry in many different timbers and ivory stringing. Breathtaking!
Amazingly ornate side cabinet, c1870's, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
A closer view of the amazing marquetry and veneer work in this cabinet.
 There is a funny side to these pics. All over Europe, it is OK to take photos in most museums - though sometimes flashes are not allowed. However in England it is a different story. Many museums and collections in the UK do not allow photography, and most are typically very low light environments. So taking photos even when allowed is not easy with my phone camera. (While I like my iPhone, it's camera does not like either low light conditions or movement. Hence too many of my inside pics are a bit grainy.)
Now I hadn't realised it, but the Fitzwilliam was another "no photos" place - until I got a tap on the shoulder from a very nice room attendant. After I had already taken a few shots of this stunning cabinet. Henceforth I wandered through the rest of the building both excited and disappointed. I wouldn't be capturing images of the wonders I was beholding. Damn.

Another view of some detail... delicious!
 So it was just a stroke of luck that I had scored some pics of the most exquisite cabinet on display there - before getting that tap on the shoulder...

I have been so fortunate to have enjoyed such a feast of wonderful woodwork over the centuries. It is nice to every now and then scroll through the hundereds of photos I took to remind myself of the amazing scope and variety of this legacy left to us through the centuries.

I hope that in some small way the pieces I craft for my customers might also contribute to that legacy of craftsmanship too. ...Back to the workshop I go!