Some time back Adam Cherubini blogged about his experience “behind the ropes”. I think what he was trying to get at is how different pieces sometimes look in person than they do in a book or magazine. From the comments on his blog, it’s clear that some people are clearly focused on the interior of the piece. Looking solely at a photograph doesn’t really tell you about the unseen surfaces or the details the maker put into his structural elements.
What I think the readers of his blog missed is that it’s often the very visual elements that are missed by solely looking at photographs. The thickness of a cabriole leg’s ankle, the subtle curves of a crown molding or the tiny scribe lines left by a turner are all details that go into a piece that contribute to it’s overall appearance. It is those very details that are the basis of the book my friend Glen Huey holds so dear, Albert Sack’s “Fine Points of Furniture”. What the book lacks is an in-depth textual study of the differences between the “good, better, best and masterpieces”. There’s a fair amount of information to be had in the book and I’m not knocking the book in any way. What I’m saying is, for most period furniture makers it lacks the up close, personal, “behind the ropes” information that Adam got to see hanging out at the event in Fairmount Park (that’s in Philly…and the house tours in the park are worth the trip to the city no matter where you live).
Some of Adam’s commenters suggested heading to auction houses and antique dealers to get your education. This is a great idea. It’s how I got much of my experience with period furniture. The difficulty there is, you may not have the knowledge base to discern a good piece from a better piece. Just because an auction house or antique dealer describes a piece enthusiastically doesn’t mean it’s a prime example of the form. Remember, they are trying to sell the piece and you are a prospective buyer.
This is where regular visits to museums come in. And I realize that not everyone has the availability to trek off to Winterthur on a monthly, or even yearly, basis. The more you can visit a good museum, the better you’ll understand the pieces you want to build. You’ll see and read about some of the “good” pieces that are in the collection and you’ll also learn about the “masterpieces”. You’ll also know better what you are looking at when you head off to that auction house or antique dealer.
Popular Woodworking (as referenced by the link connected with Glen Huey’s name above) wants to feature reader’s work. They are offering to critique the work if it’s published. I think this is a great idea. What I hope comes from this is a discussion of the details that set the pieces apart. Those details, provided the piece is a reproduction, that were astutely observed by the craftsman in the original piece and faithfully executed in his or her copy. It is those very details that take a modern reproduction from “good” to “masterpiece”.
I may have more to say on this subject in coming posts…