Friday, January 2, 2015

Major decorative progress on my chest of drawers

I don't have a ton of pictures of my work in progress over the past week, but you can see some of the results below.

You may recall that I had a decision to make regarding the front feet. The turnings in place on the piece (at the Met, by the way), do not appear to be the original. In the internal photos of the piece I obtained, the front stiles show clear evidence of being cut off. You can see saw marks on the end grain and the fact that the mortise has been cut into tells me that the stiles themselves originally extended to the floor to serve as the feet.

Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
I was torn if I should omit the turnings and simply extend the rails. However, given that I'm not 100% sure that the turnings are not original (and the fact that I like the look they provide), I decided to go ahead with them. I turned this pair out on New Years Eve.

The lines delineate bands which will be painted red. All other parts of the feet will be black
With the final real decision made, I turned my attention to paint. The original was wildly colored but has muted in the three centuries since it was done. Adding to that effect is a history of degraded varnish and poor cleaning attempts by past owners. You can see some of these effects on the faux wavy grain on the top drawer... much of it was lost in one of those cleaning attempts.

Original piece after its 1994 cleaning / varnish removal.
Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The information for painting this piece was derived from two sources: Frances Gruber Safford's article on the piece in Painted Wood: History and Conservation and the piece's writeup in American Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: I. Early Colonial Period: The Seventeenth-Century and William and Mary Styles.  I have replicated period paint making practices to the extent possible and utilized the pigments originally used as derived from chemical analysis (with the exception of white lead and realgar which is are lead oxides and highly toxic). 

Using those period-correct paints, I completed the ground work yesterday. I need to do a little touch up on the black (scuffed it while moving the piece into my basement painting studio from my shop!) and paint the feet before doing the decorative work, but this shot (however poor) gives you some idea of the vibrancy of the original piece. I'm looking forward to completing this piece and enjoying it in my home.


Once this is complete, I may look to tackle a Boston chair. I'm not much of a chair maker but I'd like to change that and I understand this style is quite simple to do. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

c. 1690 Dutch cabinet at the Toledo Museum of Art

This past Saturday, I was able to take a brief excursion down to the Toledo Museum of Art. I had never been before, which is ironic given that it is less than two hours from my home and I make it a point to visit art museums wherever I go for work, vacation, etc. It has a superb collection of 16th, 17th, and 18th century fine and decorative arts. They also have a modern arts wing, but as you might expect I'm not terribly interested in most things post-1800.

The furniture collection, while not large, has a number of very nice pieces representing the Middle Ages right up to the early 20th century. To me, the absolutely masterwork of the decorative arts collection is this c.1690 Dutch cabinet.


As the information card says, this piece is an absolute tour-de-force of the Dutch cabinetmaking trade. This real tortoiseshell, ivory, and ebony masterwork is even more stunning in person than in these admittedly questionable photographs. I was nearly kicked out of the museum for trying to see under the piece, and it took a decent explanation of what I was doing to keep me in the Museum. I spent more than 30 minutes studying this approximately 6 foot tall marvel.

I would say that I would like to replicate this piece... but there are two problems. One, the material is virtually impossible to find, and certainly in the amounts needed. Two, I doubt I have the skill! W. Patrick Edwards could pull off the marquetry I'm sure, but it is, for me, nothing more than an aspiration.

This is an incredible object on its own, but the most interesting this about it to me is that one can certainly trace the design elements from the Northern Italian baroque, through France and Holland into England, and ultimately into the William and Mary style pieces we find here in the States.

Here are more photos, again questionable given the no-flash rule in the museum, that show the intricate marquetry, ivory, moldings, and brasses. I would love to own such a piece but, alas, it is likely out of my budget... HA!















One update on my polychrome dresser... the drawers are done, now I just need to decide on a front foot... the turned foot on the original is likely not the original... the front stiles probably extended all the way to the floor. So... square extensions of the leg or turned foot? That's the next big challenge, then its on to paint!

Zach