The Accidental Mannerist
One thing about being a furniture maker these days is that you tend to get commissions that are all over the place stylistically. Nineteenth Century rustic followed by mid Twentieth Century Modern, a built-in piece and then back to the Seventeenth Century. It’s hard to specialize in a particular style. Recently though, I have had back to back to back pieces in the Mannerist style. The style came to England in the late Sixteenth Century through Continental (European) artisans and pattern books. It was based on Northern European renaissance ideas of classical design which gives the pieces a naive quality. Roughly speaking there are two groups of Mannerist-style furniture in Colonial America ; a low relief carved strap-work variety and an applied ornament variety with deep moldings and architectural elements. I’ve got both types here, starting with this valuables cabinet based on the one the Symonds shop made for Joseph and Bathsheba Pope in 1679. It has the applied elements and the strap-work carving and is at once both crude and remarkably refined. The applied turnings and moldings really throw light around to dramatic effect, especially in low or raking light. Inside is an arrangement of drawers which I have dovetailed though the original has butted and nailed drawers.The center medallion was typically carved with the owners initials. (this one is available, and can be carved to suit).The next piece is a desk box I designed based on the Mannerist carved Hadley chest tradition of the Connecticut River Valley. Interestingly the Valuables Cabinet above could have been made by John Pease who later moved to the Hadley area and may have helped to start that school of carved furniture.In all, I’ve made five Mannerist style pieces this year and it has been great to soak in the period and try to get into the heads of these early masters.The awesome hasp-lock on the desk was made by Matthew Stein. Below is another Hadley style trunk which is also available.Lastly, I rarely post things on this “blog” but you can see more recent, up to the minute, or week, posts on Instagram at davidsantickdavid
I start each piece by cutting parts out of boards, or some times one board. It’s a stressful time in the process of making furniture. I have a limited amount of material and have to make the best decisions regarding grain and figure. I’ll be working on these parts for a while and when it’s finished the parts will be that way forever.
Then there is a point where the parts start to take shape. The goal is to make each part like it was made of the same piece of wood. The grain should do the same thing in the same place on every leg, post or crest rail. It’s hard to do. You have to be sure the growth rings are facing the same way when cutting out the shapes. Things start to happen quickly at this stage.
This is my favorite time at the shop. Joints have already been cut and can be assembled. The board starts to come back together again and look as if it is completely natural. I’m no longer making smaller boards, I’m making arms, legs, feet!
This is a keepsake box for a new born named Ellie. It is a copy of a box made in the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts between 1695-1725. Wallace Nutting calls it a trunk in his book Furniture Treasury.
I painted it green to emphasize the symbolism of the the growing vine, and a new life.
The pattern of the carving is an expanded version of the pattern on Hadley chests. In fact, I used the same pattern that I used for Ellie’s parents wedding chest, and it fit the boxes measurements perfectly. I just “grew” the vine to fit the height of the box.
I made the box out of a wide board of sassafras that was re-sawn into half inch thick sides. Sassafras has a wonderful smell and carves well, the original was made from riven oak with a pine lid and bottom. Ellie’s box is joined by half blind and through dovetails. I made another box joined with nails and a rabbet like the original.
The carving on this box is more “developed” than most Hadley chests because it is carved partially in the round, it is still charmingly naive and child like. The ground of the carving has been dressed with punch-work.
Here is a bible box I made in comparison. Ellie’s trunk is 25 1/2″ long, 16 1/4″ wide, and 9 1/2″ high
Stool, Coffee Table, Bench?
This is a stool I had been wanting to make for a while. It is based on a stool possibly made in Philadelphia between 1680 and 1720. I just love the square structure and simplicity of the doric columns. The original piece is quite small so I scaled it up a bit for a more comfortable seating height.
I upholstered them with jute webbing, burlap, horse hair stuffing and muslin. they need a layer of cotton batting when the fabric goes on. I think a solid color would be best, maybe velvet? maybe tacks?
Once I began making the parts for the stool, I realized how great it would be to make a set. They could be used a number of ways and they don’t take up much space. Arrange them in a square and they become a coffee table, though they could still be used for seating during parties (or for tying your kids shoes). They can be used as a window seat or set up in tetris shapes as room dividers.
I had a lot of fun making the columns. I lined them up in group of 18. It was cool how light and shadows changed inside as you move around. It would make a great lamp base.
The stool’s legs and stretchers are made of walnut and the rails are made of ash. It is held together with pegged mortise and tenon joints. There are sixteen joints in each stool.
They can be used around a table, like this one or something more modern. This is a curly maple tea table based on examples made by John Townsend in Newport, Rhode Island c.1760-1790.
I made a double seat one too!
This is a joined chest that would have been made in the Connecticut River Valley near Hadley Massachusetts from 1680 to 1730. It origins go back much further, it’s medieval really, The designs decorating this chest are said to derive from pagan fertility symbols.
They were made for young women as hope chests, as this one was. It is made of red oak, sassafras and aromatic cedar.
The carving on these chests is of highly stylized, and abstracted, leaves flowers and vines, using a flat chip carved technique. You can see in the first picture how the pattern is repeated and flipped again and again. It was fun to do. It makes me think of Celtic stone carving. On top of the chest is a bible box made of sassafras carved with a similar tulip-vine pattern. A raking light really shows it off.