Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Making Shoji.

"A Japanese craftsman's common saying is, 'Technique is not taught, one has to steal it.'" - Toshio Odate in Making Shoji

The last issue of Popular Woodworking put into my hands an interview with Toshio Odate. A wonderful and thoughtful craftsman and one of the few worthy of the overused term "master." The article didn't truly introduce me to the man. I was aware of him and his work. I think the serial story the lost Woodwork Magazine ran of Odate and the Mighty Oak he transformed into a massive slab table is one of my enduring favorites.

The interview spurred me to pick up a copy of Odate's book "Making Shoji"

Shoji are the Japanese sliding doors and screens covered in rice paper. The work that goes into them is delicate and exacting, just my kind of thing. Naturally I am enamored of the Transom, the geometric pattered flowers suspended in the center of a frame.

And the instructions for making rice glue are something I may have to experiment with.

A room with shoji borrowed from Wikipedia. 
The book is well done. Odate explains the process clearly and with a concise style I wish I had. The work is interspaced with short sections that tell a story or memory from the days of his apprenticeship in Japan. These are the gems that make this work so excellent.

There is a pervasive reverence for the tools

, the wood, and the process of making. There is a deep love for the craft and a life that's circumscribed by it. There is a joy in passing on the knowledge and a lament for the days of apprenticeship that have since past.

I wish I could write a book just like this one.

I am not abandoning what I know and diving into Japanese woodworking and tools. Last time I used a Dozuki was at the H.O. Studley exhibit, sizing a board for the vitrine. I handed the saw back to Don when I was done and loudly reconfirmed my love of the western style saws.

I'm not even thinking about making shoji, (yet) I just very much enjoyed the book and the experience.

Ratione et Passionis.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Final Pics Of The Studley-esque Frame

The frame and tools have made their way to their new home. I feel compelled to share the final pics after dragging everyone along with me down the path.

"A work of art is not always created exclusively for the purpose of being enjoyed, or, to use a more scholarly expression, of being experienced aesthetically. Poussin's statement that 'the goal of art is enjoyment' was quite a revolutionary one, for earlier writers had always insisted that art, however enjoyable, was also, in some manner, useful. But a work of art always has aesthetic significance (not to be confused with aesthetic value): whether or not it serves some practical purpose, and whether it is good or bad, it demands to be experienced aesthetically."

  "Now, when confronted with a natural object, it is an exclusively personal matter whether or not we choose to experience it aesthetically. A man made object, however, either demands or does not demand to be so experienced, for it has what the scholastics call "intention." Should I choose, as I might well do, to experience the redness of a traffic light aesthetically, instead of associating it with the idea of stepping on my brakes, I should act against the "intention" of the traffic light"

 "One thing, however, is certain; the more the proportion of emphasis on 'idea' and 'form' approaches a state of equilibrium, the more eloquently will the work reveal what is called 'content.' Content, as opposed to subject matter, my be described in the words of Peirce as that which a work betrays but does not parade. It is the basic attitude of a nation, a period, a class, a religious or philosophical persuasion - all this unconciously qualified by one personality and condensed into one work. It is obvious that such an involontary revelation will be obscured in proportion as either one of the two elements, idea or form, is volontarily emphasised or supressed. A spinning machine is perhaps the most impressive manifestation of a functional idea, and an 'abstract' painting is perhaps the most expressive manifestation of pure form, but both have a minimum of content."

***  All three passages are taken from Erwin Panofsky's book, "Meaning in the Visual Arts"  specifically the essay on "The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline."

 Ratione et Passionis

Monday, January 4, 2016

Medieval Mystery Hour.

NOTE: This post is NOT directly about woodworking (per say) and sawdust posts have been few and far between here lately, but I did promise I would chronicle some of my work and research going into the process of writing my book and I've vowed to set everything else aside until I finish a rudimentary first draft. 
A big part of that process is collecting and organizing the various sources and research from a scattering of ideas into something real. It's also about following up on leads that were too deep down the rabbit hole to chase the first time through. If you're only here for the sawdust - hold on, it will return. 

Eugene Viollet-le-Duc casts a long shadow over any research into medieval architecture and furniture. He was a French architect who lived between 1814 and 1879 who developed a fascination with medieval buildings and furnishings, going as far as to "renovate" or "rebuild" some medieval structures in the manner he believed correct. Wikipedia lists his attempts as combining "historical fact with creative modification."

Towards the end of his career he set to writing. Particularly of interest to my work is two tomes: "The Dictionary of French Architecture From the 11th to the 16th Centuries," and "The Dictionary of French Furnishings From The Carolingian Period To The Renaissance."  Every book I have referenced along my path, from Victor Chinnery, to Penelope Eames, to Eric Mercer and beyond sites Viollet-le-Duc's work extensively. In some instances this is the only source work available.

Unfortunately for me I am a failure of higher education and culture in that I am distinctly uni-lingual, (and barely so at that) and though the Architecture Dictionary has been translated and is available, the Furniture Dictionary is still stranded in French. This leaves the unsatisfying task of filtering the book through Google Translate followed further deciphering of what has passed through.

This morning I started work on the chapter on Beds.

Bed shown in Morgan Bible Folio 38 Recto shows Ishbosheth, Son of Saul, Slain in his bed 
by two of his own captains after the support for his kingship had eroded away. 

The beds shown in the Morgan Bible are frustratingly without substance beyond their bulbous feet. Every one is heavily draped in textiles. When the bible denies me enough detail to work from I am forced to search for other credible and connected sources.

The first and best clue came from the stained glass windows of Chartres Cathedral. They were created in the same window of time as the Bible and you'll notice a similarity in style that has lead some to speculate the artisans who illustrated the Book were truly stained glass artisans who were "moonlighting."

The Charlemagne Window- Bay 7 Panel 3 -  in Chartres Cathedral.

Now I have some idea of what a headboard, footboard, and side rails might look like. Unsurprising it's similar to the construction of the chairs shown in the Bible. It still doesn't tell me anything about the suspension of the mattress. I had this image from "The Illustrated History Of Furniture" by Frederick Litchfield (1893) showing a "Saxon State Bed"

But the image seemed weird and out of context. It does show a rope suspension system for underneath the mattress, something I suspected to be, but was struggling for documentation on, but Litchfield doesn't give the source or location for the original image. How can I trust or work with it then?

This morning, working through Viollet-le-Duc's tome I same across this image ;

The complete image! Obviously Litchfield had borrowed from Viollet-le-Duc in a way not all that unusual. Better yet Viollet mentions the source! I gleefully began to click around the internet, there are many archives of medieval manuscripts about and the trick is finding access to the right one through strong Google-Fu.

The manuscript is called the Hortus Delicarium, started in 1167 as an illustrated encyclopedia by the Abbess Herrad of Landsberg. What a source! An illustrated encyclopedia? How Had I not heard of this before?


Unfortunately the manuscript itself was lost to history. In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, German bombs on the boarder town of Strasbourg destroyed the Municipal Library. The manuscript (and many other valuable historical treasures and documents) burned. All that remains are some of the images copied by those able to study it. You can find a taste in the Digitized Archives of the British Library.

Morgan Bible Folio 42 Verso  showing Bathsheba abed with the son she bore King David in the cradle. 

The end of this is both happy and sad. I gathered enough circumstantial documentational evidence to move forward on a piece that's been difficult to figure out, and in the process I've learned about yet one more fantastic bit of knowledge removed from our consciousness through the useless aggression of mankind. We often talk about the cost of two World Wars in terms of cultural history but forget the shit did not start or end there.

Still, I am decidedly not a lament what's past kind of guy. Remember no matter where you go, there you are. but if we go here, then what.

This is Viollet-le-Duc's illustration of a Carolingian Era (8th to 9th century) daybed taken from a manuscript and cleaned up for perspective by his artist. I'm having trouble deciphering the source, but I've seen representations with a side rail from this time before too, and this could be an answer as well. a bare bones frame held all around with ropes, and check out those far out corner brackets. . .

It's always interesting.

Ratione et Passionis