Tucked away in an alcove in the Springfield Museum of Art this 19th century desk begs more questions than answers. The form itself is typical of furniture built in a rural setting by a cabinetmaker who sparingly added a few touches of ornament in arches above the doorways and a few curves on the base apron.
Then something wild happened. Another artisan, possibly 50 – 100 years later carved the existing desk lid and chest facade with a riot of poppy flowers and vines.
If that was not enough, they put an exclamation point on this oddity and ebonized the carved panels. The museum attendant had no idea of the story behind it and one can only guess. The carving is expertly done, so much so that it makes one wonder why the carver went to so much trouble to mis-match it with this vernacular piece. It’s hard to imagine someone with so much talent choosing this chest for a canvas. Did they do this at gunpoint? Perhaps they were making a statement or making a joke. Any ideas why this might have came about?
Richard applying the last touches on a finish process with too many steps to count.
We’ve heard the unbelievable stories about how workers of yesteryear cranked out huge amounts of high quality work in an insanely short period of time. There’s no way to confirm the exploits of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, but I can share with you the work of one amazing chair maker. I stopped by Richard Grell’s shop today to see an order of chairs and tables he’s been building all winter. Here’s a peek at the 54 chairs and nine tea tables that will ship this week.
Every part, every spindle, and chair seat fashioned by hand. Richard did call on a few trusted helpers for items like the painstaking job painting the miles of pin-striping.
He’s been making chairs for a living for over 40 years and still passionate about the craft. That makes him a hero in my book.
George R. Walker
Three on a hill by Barb Walker
My lovely wife Barb is a painter and when the weather turns mild you can find her outside with her easel and paints. She’s helped me to see the world through a painter’s eyes and it’s helped me dig deeper into this design language of the artisans. Here’s a link to an insightful article – It was my understanding there would be no Math – about the underlying design in a painting by one of the most outstanding contemporary impressionists in America, Anne Blair Brown.
There’s much in the article that applies to furniture design. If you would like to learn more about the underlying design in furniture, you might want to visit my other Blog By Hand and Eye, where Jim Tolpin and I both are writing and exploring the design language of the artisans.