Sunday, January 29, 2017

Developing an Eye

Chris Schwarz has written about it several times before and I agree that the best education in furniture design you can get is to look at furniture. Lots and lots of it. Books and books, web page after web page, antique gallery and museum exhibit, old stuff and new stuff, it seems I never get tired of looking and studying. A few weeks ago I took my family for an overnight trip up to the Twin Cities to visit The Minneapolis Institute Of Art. A place I've not visited in more than 20 years.

I'd found out, almost too late, about a curated exhibit on the life and influence of Martin Luther. Though I was baptized and raised in the Lutheran church I made plans to attend once I heard there was several pieces of furniture from the 16th century as part of the multi-room display. Considering the book I am writing (and re-writing) on medieval furniture I felt a moral obligation to travel and see these pieces, There is a lot of time between 13th c. France and 16th c. Germany but just having a chance to view the oldest pieces I've been able to see in person was too much to pass up.

The display from the apartment where Martin Luther translated the bible from Latin to German.
I love subversives of all shapes, sizes, and flavors. 

A Kastentisch, an interesting piece that combines a table with a desk.
The table top should lift or slide off to access the box underneath which may have drawers
or dividers. 

A 16th c. window seat that was probably not original to the Martin Luther room as the
window is wider than the seat. Still from the same time period and the same house.
I really, really like this piece and wish I had an excuse to build one. 

There were other things to see; great paintings and art, but importantly, the period furniture rooms and a surprise. I have a big thing for Charles Rholf's furniture and this fall front desk is my favorite. To get to see it in person was so cool. For some I could equate the experience of having your favorite celebrity or pro athlete sit down at the restaurant table next to yours.


Still, the purpose of this trip, and of my time spent looking at many other pieces of furniture is to inform my eyes and aesthetic. To get a grasp on what makes a piece successful and what can make it mediocre. To be able to make those decisions myself over having to listen to someone else. (It also helps in critiquing your own work) Let me explain what I saw cruising through the internet this morning.

Jack Plane's website Pegs and 'Tails is one of the must read blogs for woodworkers. The insights and workmanship displayed there are on a level I aspire to. One of my favorite things done there is a series called "Picture This," where an unique piece of period furniture is focused on and discussed. This morning I read the installment "Picture This CII" about a whimsically unique windsor chair.


From the seat up I love most everything about this work. The broad bent mid rail, The crest at the top. The way the rungs flow. Yes I can see some places I'd like to refine, but mostly it's close to perfect. The seat is circular, which I can come around to, but the legs of the chair is where this piece runs off the rails.

To my eye they are heavy and the splay is not lively enough. I like the beads turned below the rails, but I wonder if the lack of rails might make this more successful and align the dramatic scene above the seat with the foundation below.

There's probably only one way to really find out. . . add another one to my bucket list.

Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mentors . . .

The guys over at Mortise & Tenon Magazine recently asked people to post about their woodworking mentor(s) as part of National Mentoring Month. I wanted to participate of course, but had to step back from my initial enthusiasm. Figuring out my frame of reference took a little bit of thought.

At first it was easy for me to confuse a Mentor with one who has Influence. You read and hear from musicians all the time about their Influences. Guitar players will cite Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, or Eddie Van Halen or others as influencers on their art and though the end results might owe homage, sometimes clear homage too, there is a difference between influence and mentoring.

Mentoring, in my estimation, requires direct teaching of a specific subject, probably hands on and in person. I have a hundred influencers on the craft decisions I make, without a doubt the greatest influencers for me personally would be: (1) my father for whom making and repairing was an economical reality instead of a joyful craft, though that was my childhood and he has recently been rediscovering his shop and making sawdust and metal shavings for the joy of it. and (2) some of the surgeons I've worked for over the years and the single minded intent with which they attack a physical problem using mixture of experience, inference, and dexterity. But parsing back to woodworking directly, the list of influencers is broad, but direct mentors is sparse.

I never took a single shop class in school. I've yet to directly participate in a woodworking class in my adult life. I'm lucky enough that my phone calls are answered by guys like Don Williams, Chris Schwarz and Mike Siemsen and they've all given good advice but I try not to bother them until I've paired down to a finite conundrum. Though these circumstances do not leave me Mentorless by the Mississippi.

A pair of crappy bookshelves (I know) at least 3/4s full of woodworking knowledge. This doesn't show the piles I have sitting on either side of my laptop as I'm writing this. 

Books. I was raised in a house full of books, I have always kept a house full of books, I feel at home in a library brimming with books. Yes the internet and the power of Google is wonderful, but it isn't a book. Since I decided to play in this woodworking game for the long haul I have been collecting it's books. There are more books on furniture and woodworking out there than you can imagine and most are not difficult to come by. A little patience and flexibility with online auction and used book sites can bring great bounty. I started small and ramped up to where I was adding 30 - 40 books a year, now I'm ramping down and becoming more selective, but at a recent count I had well over 200 books on woodworking and furniture (with some related subjects like blacksmithing) and the library grows a little more every month.

It may be weird, but I consider this pile of ink on paper to be my true mentor. The collection is my first "Go To" for answering questions, inspiring or informing the next project, or day dreaming over as I revise my woodworking project bucket list. I can often find what I'm searching for without bothering or being beholden to anyone.

Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf