Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Risk of Living as a Process of Life


On the Bench I Saw a Holdfast 
Next year I will be entering my 8th decade of walking on this earth.  I am happy and healthy and I have no immediate needs.  I cannot complain, but I do it anyway, just for sport.

A few years ago I was on a cruise ship and I made it a daily ritual to approach the front desk and complain about something trivial, like a pen that didn't work or something.  The patient young lady at the desk was named "Lovely" and she was, always smiling at this funky old man who stood in line to complain about nothing.  At the end of a magnificent cruise, just before I left the boat, I approached her one last time.

"Good morning, Mr. Edwards," she smiled pleasantly.  "How was  your cruise?"

I said, "I want to register a complaint!"

I paused just long enough for her to think to herself, "What is it now?"

Then I said, "There's nothing to complain about!"

In my mind that was funny, but I can understand how she must have been relieved that this was the last time she would have to talk to me.  She smiled nicely and said, "I look forward to seeing you again."  She was one of the most optimistic and happy people I have ever met.

Life is a process, getting through every day with as little pain as possible and as much pleasure as you can create.  If you are happy then the people you meet will be infected with happiness.  Life is also a great risk.  The only certainty of living is that we will eventually die at some point.  Knowing that I will be 70 puts a rather uncomfortable limit on the time left to do the things I need to do.

On the other hand, celebrating the past 50 years of living as a woodworker has been very satisfying and I hope that the rest of my time in this business will continue as much as possible with the same satisfaction.

People I meet often say that I don't look my age.  My hair is not grey, my face is not wrinkled, and I am still very physically active.  I usually tell them my secret rules for a good life:

Go to bed at 9 and get up at 5.  Eat healthy organic food.  No alcohol, drugs or tobacco.  As little social life as possible.  Most importantly, work every day at a job you love.  Live with passion.

This year I have been invited to return to Williamsburg as a speaker.  They are celebrating their 20th annual Working Wood in the 18th century conference, and the topic is "Workmanship of Risk: Exploring Period Tools and Shops."  I am honored to be included.  My good friends, Roy Underhill, Peter Follansbee and Don Williams will also be presenting, along with staff members of the Williamsburg cabinet shop and curatorial departments.


This is What Greets the Worker Every Day as He Opens His Tool Box


For the project we will be discussing an amazing marquetry tool box lid,  currently on loan to a museum in England and the property of Jane Rees, a tool historian who lives there.

Her website is: Jane Rees, Photographer and Tool Historian

Jane will be bringing the tool box lid to the conference and she will be discussing its history as well.  I look forward to meeting her and listening to her perspective on woodworking tools, many of which I use on a daily basis in my profession.  She has been kind enough to send me detailed photographs of the marquetry, and those which I post here are under her copyright protection.

When I "retired" from my career working in High Energy Particle Physics, back in 1973, I made a conscious decision to abandon technology and live, as much as possible, a pre industrial life.  Of course I own a car, but I walk to work every day.  Of course I own a clock but I never use the alarm.  Of course I have a computer but I killed my TV.  Of course I have a woodworking shop but I never use power tools.  My lumber is naturally air dried over many years.

Early on I was influenced by David Pye, who introduced me to the "Workmanship of Risk" and the "Workmanship of Certainty."  Recently I read his book again to prepare for this conference.  It still resonates with wisdom and insight.

I have struggled to reduce his philosophical perspective to simple concepts that are more easily transmitted to students who are curious about how I approach my work.  There are three elements to working wood: Worker, Material and Tool.  The difference between "risk" and "certainty" is in the relationship between these three elements.

In the "Workmanship of Risk" approach the Worker manipulates the Tool against the Work.  Using basic hand tools, like a chisel, plane or saw, the Worker learns to control the Tool and takes risks producing the final Work.  Learning from his failures the Worker gains a deep sense of pride when the Work is successful.

In the "Workmanship of Certainty" approach the Worker manipulates the Work (material) against the Tool.  If the Tool is properly adjusted then the result is certain.  Setting a fence on a table saw to 2" produces a 2" board every time.  The Worker basically is feeding the Machine.  If the Worker wants a better result he purchases a better Machine.  Thus consumerism was created by the Industrial Revolution.  Bigger, Better and Faster.  Also Cheaper!

The pride of ownership replaced the pride of workmanship.

The marquetry tool box lid, which is the centerpiece of this conference, is very interesting.  My initial analysis from photos is that it represents several different historic marquetry processes, and was probably made in England around 1800 or so.  It shows a worker at the bench, surrounded by his tools and work, drinking a beer.  This image is in the center of a sunburst ray of veneer with flowers on the corners and decorative banding around nicely figured crotch mahogany ovals.

I can identify "tarsia geometrica" and "tarsia a toppo" and "tarsia a incastro" and I am researching the images provided by Jane for evidence of "Classic Method" but so far the results are inconclusive.  There is also a great deal of tinting and additional decorative lines in both black and brown ink.

I will be producing copies of each of the decorative marquetry elements in this lid for the conference, and the Williamsburg cabinet shop is actually making a full tool box copy to complete the lid.

I can easily relate to the image of the woodworker as executed in the center of the design.


Working At the Bench


He is surrounded with the necessary hand tools of his trade: the glue pot and brush, mallet, hammer, planes, brace and bit, compass, try square, chisels, hand saws and the toothing plane (under the beer.)  On the end of the bench he quietly admires the result of his hard work and experience: a decorated tea caddy.  Tea caddies of this style were purchased by wealthy clients who could afford the elaborate marquetry decoration shown on this example.


Put Down the Hammer and Pick Up the Beer

This worker is dressed in fine clothes, representing a good income and his respected position in the professional trade. He would fit right in with the other workers at the shop in Williamsburg or in any shop in any large city at that time.

His face shows the faint glimmer of a smile.  His work is done for the day.  He is satisfied with the results.  His reward is a tall glass, with a nice head of foam.

Tomorrow he will deliver the tea caddy to the client, and get his well deserved paycheck along with sincere appreciation for a professional job well done.

Tomorrow is another day to live and work, take risks, learn from failure and take satisfaction in success.  Make someone happy and remember...there's nothing to complain about.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

WPE and OBG and ASFM return to MASW!


A French Marquetry Atelier in Indianapolis

I am pleased to be invited back for another teaching period at Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

I enjoy the atmosphere and support by the staff at MASW.  It is an environment which is full of energy and ideas.  The students all work together and many of them seem to actually live there full time.  Some of them really do.  Others return again and again to share and learn more about different and diverse aspects of woodworking.

I also enjoy meeting other teachers who are working there at the same time.  These are professional woodworkers that I read about and follow online, but, without actually teaching at the school, I would never have the opportunity to spend quality time with them.

This year I am teaching three classes, and I welcome you to check out the schedule and see if there are any openings left.

The main class is, as usual, working a full week with the "chevalet de marqueterie."  Marc has made 8 of these tools, and it is exciting to see (and hear) a full class sawing away, cutting precise elements from marquetry packets.  I should mention that in North America there are only three schools where you can have this instruction.  Paul Miller, in Vancouver, is a past student of mine and has the Canadian School of French Marquetry, with 4 chevalets.  Of course, I was the first to open such a school, the American School of French Marquetry, in San Diego.  I have currently 8 such tools, and have ordered more from David Clark, in Missouri.

David Clark has set up a business making custom chevalets, following my blueprints, and builds tools that are cost effective and precise.  His website is www.chevaletkits.com.

A few years ago I convinced Marc to also build 8 such tools and he sets them up each year in a classroom for me to use.


Waiting for Students to Arrive

All instruction is following as close as possible the lesson plan developed by Dr. Pierre Ramond, who taught for decades at ecole Boulle, in Paris.  I was fortunate to have studied under Pierre for most of the 1990's, and have dedicated my teaching career to continuing his efforts.  French marquetry is the only method in the world which uses a horizontal blade, cutting the packet at 90 degrees on a special tool, the chevalet.

There is more information about this process in previous posts.

This year, from October 9 to 13, I will teach a 40 hour class on French marquetry, focusing on the Boulle process (tarsia a incastro) as well as the Painting in Wood variation of this process, depending on the student's experience and goals.  If there are any returning students I will be happy to include the Classic Method ("piece by piece").

Simple Method for Veneering Columns

On October 14 I will spend the entire day teaching about my method for gluing veneer onto turned wood elements, like columns.  Years ago I had such an article published in Fine Woodworking ("Master Class") and one of my pieces with veneered columns was on the back cover.  I have worked out a simple method which is easy and low tech.  You can turn the elements out of any wood you want and then veneer them with exotic veneer to match the rest of the project.

On October 15 I will follow up this with a full day discussing the properties of traditional protein glues.  For nearly 50 years I have used protein glues exclusively, and have researched them extensively.  I was involved in an international conservation group in Paris that did specialized research into these glues and I have developed my own liquid protein glue formula, Old Brown Glue. I will be sharing my knowledge and experience about how these different protein glue work and what you need to know to use them in your shop.

As they say, "It is worth the price of admission."

I look forward to meeting you there.  Contact www.MARCADAMS.COM for more.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Traditional Upholstery Conservation: Uncovering Evidence




American Victorian Louis XV Bergere circa 1850
I have spent the past few weeks doing upholstery projects.  I finished conserving a rather large marquetry armoire and wanted something different to work on.  Upholstery allows me to hammer and that relaxes me...

You may have read my post recently about how modern museum methods are causing traditional upholstery methods to be lost and the craft of upholsterer subjugated to that of the frame maker.  As I was working on restoring upholstery I thought it would be a good educational post to demonstrate how I approach conserving upholstery in my business.

I had to recover two English Georgian Lolling Chairs, an early crewel wing chair, some embossed leather Belgium side chairs and a nicely made circular Victorian bergere chair.  All of these are now completed and the last one, the Victorian chair, provided me with detailed step-by-step photos of the seat conservation.

In general, I follow as close as possible the methods used by the original upholsterer , conserving the springs and stuffing material, except the cotton batting.  I replace the damaged elements using materials which are as close as possible.  Jute webbing, spring cord and twine, burlap, muslin and cotton batting are added as required.  If necessary, new 100% sterilized horsehair is added where previous stuffing was lost.

Here is a photo sequence of the procedure as it normally happens:

Bottom "Cambric" 
Usually a black muslin (called "cambric" is used underneath the seat.  This acts to keep dust from falling out during use.  These days it is a cheap fiberglass material which I detest.  I use more expensive black cloth when I can find it.  However, this chair was recovered at some point and the worker used burlap.

Replaced Jute Webbing
Removing the burlap exposes the springs, which are sewn to the jute, but only in a few places.

Evidence of Original Webbing
Under the replaced jute webbing is a fragment of the original webbing.  This narrow webbing was common during the 19th century.

Webbing Removed
Now you can see the failure of the burlap on top of the springs.  This is usually what happens when the cord breaks or the burlap tears.  The stuffing falls into the spring package and is damaged.  I always tell clients to stop using the seat when this happens and bring it to me for conservation before it is damaged beyond repair.


Back Foundation Still Good Condition
On this chair the original upholsterer did a fantastic job of building the back foundation.  It is not easy to work on circular backs and his work has stood the test of time.  I plan on leaving it in place as it is still serviceable.

Maker's Mark 
This chair was probably made in a large workshop where the number system was used on different styles of furniture.

Torn Burlap/Hair Dislodged
This is a close up of the torn burlap and the horsehair falling out of place.

Previous Conservation Stitching
This photo is sideways.  It clearly shows the original burlap and stitching used by the worker to create the front edge of the seat.  At some point another upholsterer was asked to recover the chair and he added stitches to the edge to hold it in place.  His stitches are the newer twine.  I was the first person to remove the seat foundation, which lasted 150 years.

Back Layers/Original Burlap and Stitching
This shows clearly the layers of the back upholstery.  The fabric is lifted up and the cotton batting is pulled aside.  You can see that someone added white horsehair to the original black horsehair.  Also the original burlap is stitched and tacked around the edge of the frame.  Undisturbed.

White Hair added by Previous Conservation
Now that the springs are clean on the bottom, it is time to remove the top foundation.

Original Burlap/Spring Cord/Twine
The horsehair foundation is removed and the original burlap is exposed.  It is rotten and must be replaced.  Note it is stitched to the tops of the springs.

Seat Foundation Removed/White Hair Added Previously
This is the complete original horsehair seat foundation, with white hair added later.


Underneath Seat Foundation
This is the underside of the seat foundation.  Care must be taken to remove all tacks from the edges.
It can be cleaned with a vacuum or actually washed and dried using TileX as a detergent.  If necessary it can be fumigated by a professional.

Original Spring Cord Undisturbed
Chair with seat completely removed.  The original spring cord is left in place.

Back Foundation Stitching Original
Again, the back is fine.  Just leave it in place for future upholsterers to admire.

Same Mark on Seat Frame


Cleaning With Alcohol/ Fresh Shellac Added
A quick cleaning with alcohol and a fresh coat of shellac restores the wood nicely.


Springs Sewn to Jute Webbing (4 knot)
It is important to stitch the springs to the webbing.  They must be placed carefully in a vertical position.  I use a curved needle and tufting twine.

Springs Sewn to Webbing
This shows the bottom with all the springs stitched in 4 places.

Original Spring Cord Pattern (8 knot)
The original spring cord in place.  I noticed that the outside springs are missing the diagonal cord.  This contributed to a weakness in the front center of the package, where the burlap broke down.

Note Method of Holding Springs
The proper technique for tying the springs is to hold them at different levels on the seat edges.  This makes the spring sit flat on the top and move directly up and down under load.  If the top only was tied then the middle of the spring would bulge out sideways under load.

New Cord Added over Old (8 knot)
I use Italian Spring Cord and tie each spring with 8 knots.  All cords are also knotted where they cross.  I added cord directly over the original cord.  I also added the missing diagonals which will provide more support to the front center.

This Will Last a Century More
Some might call this "overkill" but I want it to last under use for a long time.

New Burlap Cut to Fit Around Arms
To cut fabric around a wood element use the "Y" cut.

New Burlap Sewn To Springs
The first layer of burlap is added, tacked to the top of the frame and sewn to the springs.  If I were building a new layer of fresh horsehair I would also use twine to hold the hair to the burlap.

Lead Weight Holds Seat in Place for Tacking
One of the tricks I use in upholstery is to add a heavy weight to the seat while I am fitting the fabric or stuffing in place.  This tends to simulate the person sitting on the seat and allows me to pull the material from all sides without it moving around.  Note I added new burlap to the top of the seat foundation and this burlap layer is carefully tacked to the outside top edge of the frame.

Seat Conserved Ready for Fabric Selection
I use tufting twine to hold the seat foundation in place.  Since it is stitched to the new burlap it will work properly and not shift around.  I left all the older stitching in place and I suspect that the next worker who uncovers this seat will understand the various methods which were used to create it as well as the process used to conserve it.  It will survive as an historic artifact with all the evidence conserved in place.  In addition it will be providing comfort for the owner for many years to come.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Curious Collector Cabinet

Beautiful and Functional But Why?



I need your help.

A few weeks ago one of my old clients came in with this curious box.  He hangs out at estate sales and finds things on Craig's list and is always looking for something unusual.  He often discovers amazing things.

After all, isn't that one of the reasons we collect stuff?  Not that we need it.  If we need something essential we go out and get it.  If I need gas I go to the gas station.  Not much excitement there...

On the other hand, when I travel I always take time to explore old used book stores, antique stores, used tool shops and even, in some cases, thrift stores.  It's the lure of the unknown which keeps me searching.

So this client walks in with this box.  It is amazing.  Made of Brazilian rosewood with boxwood trim. Made by a professional, probably British.    It is about 11 x 12 x 22" in size.  I think it' either British or even American since the writing on the drawers is in English.

The locks, keys, hinges and screws all indicate a period before 1850.



Mid 19th Century Script?

The secondary wood is Spanish Cedar.


Lift Top With Two Trays Inside

The front has double glass doors and the top lid lifts up.  There is a lock on the glass doors and a second lock on the lid.  Whoever had it wanted to keep the contents secure.

When you lift up the top there are two trays in a till.  A very shallow tray on top of a deeper tray.  The deeper tray is missing a divide which would go from side to side.



What Are These Trays For?

Inside the double glass doors are 4 fake drawers over 6 functional drawers, each with turned ivory pulls.

The amazing and curious feature is how the drawers are divided into strange and complex compartments.  I have no idea how these compartments could be used.  My only guess is that there was a fad of collecting exotic sea shells in the past.  Perhaps these compartments could be designed for shells.



When I Saw These Drawers I Was Speechless 

However, as the drawers are fairly deep and the compartments rather small, it would be difficult to reach some of the contents.



What Would You Keep In These???

Please help me find out what this is.  If you have any idea just post in the comments.

Understanding the lost mysteries of past cultures is why we explore.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"Modern" Upholstery Conservation Methods Destroy Evidence



Grecian Sofa with Modern Upholstery
For the past several years (actually, since "alternative upholstery conservation" methods were first introduced early in the 1980's) I have had a serious problem with museum conservators destroying original upholstery and the evidence of its traditional construction.  I am a scientist by training.  I believe in analysis, documentation, evidence gathering and research.  I am shocked constantly by what I see in the most important museums in America as the practice of upholstery "conservation."

Two recent events are now pushing me to blog once again about my concerns.  First, as you know, I just got back from an extensive tour of the East Coast.  From Williamsburg to the Met to the Boston MFA  and the Getty, I saw the same thing over and over:  Important and iconic examples of early upholstered furniture with obviously fake upholstery, evident from across the room.  It doesn't even pass the smell test.

The second event occurred this week as I picked up a copy of the 1997 book "American Furniture" edited by Luke Beckerdite.  I love this series of books, published each year by the Chipstone Foundation.  They are wonderful and full of research.  But, when such a distinquished journal publishes articles which can damage the field of decorative arts they need to be identified as such and the article needs a full discussion among professionals.


Surviving Example of Easy Chair Upholstery

This is what concerns me.  The process of removing original upholstery and replacing it with modern materials has been established by "tradition" for so long that it is no longer questioned as valid.  I feel like I'm fighting an uphill battle to get authentic upholstery methods understood and properly conserved before they all are lost forever.

The article which caught my eye is by Leroy Graves and F. Carey Howlett, titled "Leather Bottoms, Satin Haircloth, and Spanish Beard: Conserving Virginia Upholstered Seating Furniture" (Pages 267-297).  It represents the state of the art of this process of saving the wood frames at the expense of the upholstery, and, if you go to the Wallace Collection at Williamsburg you will find nearly every piece in the collection has been treated this way.

Let me quote from this article and then respond using simple logic and scientific questioning.

"Because so few objects survive...the preservation of the chair in its current state takes precedence over restoration to its original appearance."

This statement indicates the concern that more and more examples which retain original upholstery layers are being lost.  I would therefore conclude that the surviving examples must be protected in their untouched state for future analysis by more competent conservators.


Untouched Upholstery 

"The conservator is faced with two difficult tasks: preserving extremely fragile upholstery materials when they survive and reconstructing the appearance of the original upholstery..."

Of course the visitor to the collection should be presented with an object which reflects, as nearly as possible, its original condition.  My question is: does the replacement of original upholstery with copper, plexiglass, Ethafoam and Velcro effectively present a visually authentic result?  Also, what methods are to be used to conserve the fragile materials which are surviving?  Are they to be placed in a drawer in a research laboratory completely removed from the object to which they belong?


How Does This Preserve Upholstery Methods?

"The conservator's work is typically complicated by the overlapping evidence of numerous upholstery schemes.  Distinguising individual schemes can be time consuming and in some instances virtually impossible.  To produce a credible reconstruction of historic upholstery, one needs to develop a thorough understanding of the techniques, materials, and tastes of the period and place of production."

This single statement reveals the most important flaw in the logic of this process.  Frankly current museum conservators are not seriously researching the upholstery methods, including subsequent upholstery commercial restoration treatments, as much as they are researching the wood frames.  When a conservator uses "time consuming" as an argument, he is neglecting the most essential part of his job description.  He is tasked, by definition, with taking all the time he needs to fully understand every aspect of the historic object under his control.  Upholstery is actually more important than the frame, but the frame gets all his attention.

There are still many old professional upholsterers in most large cities who understand traditional methods of upholstery, and how those methods changed over the centuries.  I am a good example.  You can just search this blog for "upholstery conservation" and see what I have learned over the past 50 years or so.  In particular look at the post from last November (11/29/16) and see what simple conservation methods can produce.

I have learned traditional methods of upholstery by careful deconstruction of original layers, which allows me to understand what was original and what was restored, and when the restoration must have occurred.  I then simply replace any damaged or rotten materials with similar materials as closely as I can to the original.  Jute, burlap, muslin, cord, twine, cotton are used to replace the same. The springs and organic stuffing are cleaned and retained in all cases.  That means treating horsehair, wool, Spanish moss, straw, excelsior, and any other organic material used as stuffing with respect and care.  The final result is as close to the original appearance as possible, and can still provide comfort for many years.

As to the damage the upholstery nails cause to the wood frame, which is the main reason for this new "non invasive" upholstery method, that can be resolved with proper techniques.  Using the smallest upholstery nail which works is one way.  Using a protein glue and a covering of muslin or burlap on the wood is another.  In serious cases it is also possible to remove a portion of the damaged wood (which is under the upholstery) and replace it with similar wood.

In the worst case, where the wood frame no longer supports the upholstery a "chassis" or new wood frame can be built to fit inside the old frame.  This new frame can then be properly upholstered with traditional techniques and that serves to provide understanding of traditional methods for future analysis.


This Is Not Period Upholstery

"The goal of treatment may be to re-create the appearance of one of the early schemes, but this task must be accomplished using unconventional, nonintrusive techniques."

This final statement, which is at the beginning of the article, represents the actual failure in the logic of this approach.

I consider the task of deconstructing upholstery layers similar to that of archeology.  In each profession it is the job of the scientist to carefully analyze and document each layer in succession as it is exposed.  During the 1870's there was a German archeologist and con man, Heinrich Schliemann, who claimed to have discovered Troy.  In fact, he dug without any consideration to the process, throwing all the debris in a trash pile, passing through the historic layer of Troy itself, continuing until he found gold.

Subsequent archeologists now have the difficult task of digging through the trash pile in an effort to understand which object came from which strata.

I see a similar fate for future conservators who struggle to understand historic upholstery methods by looking at a naked frame, covered in nail holes, without any context or relationship to the missing materials.

The next time you wander through a museum looking at the upholstery, take a moment to determine if what you are looking at is authentic or fake.



Sunday, May 28, 2017

What A Long Strange Trip It Has Been

I Miss John Every Day
I apologize, dear reader, for not posting in several months.  I have the standard excuse: I have been rather busy with my life, having fun and working in the shop.  In fact, they are the same activity.

Every year around this time I make an effort to do something special for Kristen, who has a birthday in April.  Spring is the best time of the year to get out and enjoy the outdoors, so we usually end up at a nice hotel with gardens, ocean, lakes or mountains.  This year I thought I would put them all together.

I made a promise to spend her birthday at the Du Pont Hotel in Wilmington, where they have one of the most famous Sunday brunches on the East Coast.  I started planning the trip last November, and carefully plotted the activities, using maps and the web so that the trip would run like clockwork.

Just before we left I completed and delivered Clock #6 (photos to follow in another post) and an Art Deco cabinet for a special client in Bel Air.  That provided the funds and a good excuse to take a trip. My partner, Patrice, ran the business in our absence and spent his time building a large Renaissance Library Table for another client.

Kristen is a dedicated gardner and I am somewhat of a woodworker.  Here is our home in San Diego with the Craftsman house we built using a 1926 design, and her front garden.  The back garden is much larger and more spectacular.

Home is Where the Heart Is.
 We took a Holland America ship from San Diego.  We like the smaller ships (with no kids!)
Leaving San Diego
Our cruise went South along the Mexican coast, and we stopped in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama Canal and Columbia.  The best coffee was in Guatemala.

Back Country Transportation in Mexico


Beautiful Mexican Coast 

Wonderful Town in Mexico 
This stop in Mexico was amazing.  They had a first class museum and an ancient pyramid to visit.  They also recycle 100% of their water!

Jungle in Costa Rica

First Time on Panama Canal

Impressive Doors in Columbia
After we left Columbia, we headed North to Florida with only one more stop.  Holland America has a small private island and they usually end up the cruise with a rest stop.  It is a real chance to completely forget everything else in the world.  One of the best beaches we have ever seen.


Time to Rest
When we arrived in Florida we picked up the rental car and began our land portion of the trip.  The first stop was in Savannah.  Kristen got an ice cream and I got some oysters.  The city is designed around parks which are situated about every other block.  It is a wonderful place to walk.

Ancient Trees in Savannah
Our next stop was with an old friend, Bert Declerck and his family.  Bert is a true genius in many areas, and, in particular, in woodworking.  When he was 19 he taught himself how to build furniture and cut marquetry.  His first project was to copy the Oben desk which is sitting in the library at Musee Nissim de Camondo.  Everyone thought he was crazy, but he proved them wrong.  His copy is absolutely perfect in every respect, and is the only copy ever made of this iconic desk.


Bert's First Woodworking Project
From Bert's home, we traveled to visit Roy Underhill.  Roy and Jane live in a Mill House on a river.  It is a magical place and Roy has imprinted it with his particular personality.  I have said many times that Roy is a National Treasure and has single handedly kept alive the tradition of hand crafts for the past 30 years, with his PBS show, "The Woodwright's Shop."



Tree Grows Through Tractor


I Love This Man!

Roy and I went to his School for a visit and I had to spend some time (and money) in Ed Lebetkin's store above the school.  Ed is a great tool dealer and collector and I always find something "necessary" when I visit.

Must Have Tools!!!
The next top was visiting Andy Rae and Brian Boggs in Asheville.  Andy is coming to San Diego this Fall to speak to our local woodworking group and Brian is actively designing some of the best new furniture in this country.

In Asheville, Kristen and I spent the day visiting Biltmore, the largest residence ever built in this country.


"Just a Modest Summer Home"
Driving up the Blue Ridge Parkway along the mountains, we came to Monticello, where I had a chance to sit and reflect on life.

Sharing The View With Jefferson

They Use Old Brown Glue To Repair Furniture Here
We also stopped at Madison's place down the road, driving to Fredericksburg and ending up in Washington at the Capitol.  We were invited to tour the workshops on the House side of the Capitol.  I must say that after the tour, wandering around the tunnels under the Capitol and observing the creatures who work there, I have a new opinion of the TV series "Veep".  It is not a comedy.  It is a reality show.

My host was Josh English, who has taken some classes at the American School of French Marquetry, and was kind enough to take me on a tour of the cabinet, finishing, upholstery and drapery workshops, as well as other interesting stops on the House side.  It is important to note that there is an invisible line down the center of the Capitol where the House and Senate population never cross.

Josh English, House Cabinetmaker
While we were in Washington, I made a point to stop at Hillwood House, built for Marjorie Merriweather Post, of cereal fame and fortune.  Her collection is certainly one of the best I have ever seen, and in the best condition.  It is a pleasure to visit and the gardens are spectacular as well.

Amazing Tapestry

Italian Pietre Dure Table Leaf
Ms. Post had several homes and is responsible for building Mar a Lago, in Florida.

When she sold Mar a Lago she kept only one piece of furniture, which she had transported to her Hillwood House in Washington.  This was a Dining Table, with leaves, which weighs over 6 tons.  One of the leaves is shown here, and it takes 4 strong men to put it in place.  The table was made for her in Italy and took several years to manufacture.



One of a Thousand Flower Photos I Took On the Trip
Leaving Washington, we went next to Winterthur for a conference organized by the Society of American Period Furniture Makers.  It was extremely well managed and we were able to spend the day visiting the Conservation Lab, Scientific Lab, Research Library and Selected Objects Study room.

For me it was a chance to reflect on the summer of 1978, when I lived for 3 months in a camper on the North edge of the parking lot.  I was attending the Summer Institute, and fondly remember Frank Sommer, who gave me full access to the library and its collection of rare books.

I had a chance to meet and talk with Charlie Hummel during this conference.  He still works there and seems to defy aging.  Remember, he first came as a student to Winterthur in 1952!  His book, "With Hammer in Hand" and the purchase and installation of the Dominy workshop at Winterthur was one of the first inspirations I had to encourage my career in woodworking.

Charles Hummel in the Rotunda


Dominy Workshop at Winterthur

We spent two beautiful days at Winterthur and the gardens were in full bloom.

Not Photo Shopped!

Springtime at Winterthur
Driving all the back roads and avoiding the Interstate meant that we had time to stop in bookstores and shops out of the way.  We found this ancient barn in Bucks county which had 5 floors of books.  I managed to find quite a few that needed to go home with me.


Bring Money Take Books
Finally, it was time to enjoy Kristen's birthday at the Du Pont Hotel in Wilmington.  We had a nice evening, great room and took 4 hours to consume the brunch the next day.  If you are ever in Wilmington on a weekend, take the time to visit.  It is very civilized.

Looking Better Every Year
Leaving Winterthur we next went to Longwood Gardens.  Open 365 days a year, this is clearly the largest and most interesting garden in the country.  The green house is over 4 acres in size!  What a joy it must be to work there.


My Favorite Tree

More Tulips Than You Can Count

One Small Area of Longwood Gardens
On the way to New York City, we had a chance to have lunch with Frank and Edith Klausz.  Frank made us Hungarian Goulash which was one of the most memorable meals on this trip.  He is happy in retirement and we had a wonderful visit with them both.  Frank has always supported me and my work and I owe him a lifetime of gratitude and thanks.


I Love This Man Too!
We were able to stay in New York City for three days, thanks to a good friend, who lives on the upper West Side.  We had a free parking space on the street in front of the apartment, which is amazing, and we were directly across Central Park from the Met.  I spent some quality time with Joe Godla at the Frick and Cynthia Moyer at the Met, both old friends from the Getty Conservation Lab years ago at Malibu.

We first went to the New York Historical Society museum to see Duncan Phyfe's tools.

Very Clean and Sharp
Then we went to the Frick.  Joe said that they don't allow photos in the museum.  They tried it for one week and people were falling all over themselves taking selfies, so they decided just to forbid any photos.  I find it sad that people go to museums and take photos of themselves.  However, when I do it I think it is fine...

Perhaps the Best Museum in America

Three days is not enough to even walk through the Met.  I was able to see most of the objects I like, but every time I turned a corner I was faced with the choice to go ahead or turn one way or another.  No matter what route I took it was wonderful.

The American Wing

American Craftsmanship
The Met has the most precious work of art from the Italian Renaissance in this country, the Studiolo from the Ducal Palace at Gubbio.  It is a room 12' x 16' (ironically, the same size as my workbench room at the shop) and to stand in it is a real thrill.  How many people have had the chance to stand in this space during the past 500 years?

Standing in the 15th Century

The three days we spent in New York City were sunny, warm and clear.  It was San Diego weather.  The day we left they had a record 3" of rain.  The subways were flooded.  We didn't mind; we were driving away from the storm, up the Hudson.  We stopped at Olana and then spent the night at Pittsfield, in the Berkshires.

I have written many times about my relationship with the Shakers and Faith Andrews.  I am always excited to wander around Hancock and experience the energy left behind by the Shakers.  It is a magical place.  I am not crazy, but their ghosts speak to me.  

Hancock Shaker Village

It's A Gift To Be Simple

We drove across upper Mass, avoiding large roads, exploring the mountains, on our way to Salem.  There we spent 4 days, enjoying New England and visiting with Phil Lowe.  I was able to give a lecture to a small group at his school, the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts and have some more oysters.

I did not visit the Salem Witch House, but stuck the camera out the window and took a shot as we drove by...

Tourists Stop Here
We ended up our tour in Boston, and spent the day at the Museum of Fine Arts.  This is another great museum, and they are always changing their displays. 



MFA Boston

Interesting Floor under 18th Century Room Group
We flew back home from Boston and reflected on our journey.  First of all, we live in a great country and it is essential for all of us to take the time to enjoy our riches.  Travel while you are able and spend time off the beaten path.  Take the road less travelled...

And finally, in the immortal words of a young actress, "There's no place like home."

"There's no place like home."

"There's no place like home."