Friends in high places


Handmade bespoke artisanal kitchen cabinet exquisitely curated by Kim F
Hashtag intertextuality

A delivery arrived yesterday from our friend Kim, who lives just outside our nation’s capital. As a source of cultural information relevant to my research, Kim is my version of Chris’s Saucy Indexer (though Saucy’s finds, encompassing everything from erotic Roman cow costumes to the hurricane-shaped vise nuts on Saint Joseph’s workbench as portrayed in Peruvian art, are arguably a few notches up the cultural scale from our quotidian pursuits). A few weeks earlier she’d sent a snapshot of a Hoosier-type cabinet she recently acquired and asked whether I’d like to have it. Of course! I wrote back. I will gladly reimburse you for the cost of shipping. The cabinet is shown above.

At this point you may be wondering why Lost Art Press would ever have invited me to write a book about kitchens. This cabinet is a monstrosity: a plywood base without so much as a counter overhang, its floor-scraping doors hung on surface-mounted butt hinges and adorned with giant cherry decals…topped by an upper section that not only doesn’t match (to put it mildly), but offers a textbook example of the need to gauge shelf thickness according to depth, load, and span.

So let me assure you that I do not consider this cabinet an exemplar of the kitchen furnisher’s art. The key to its value (at least, to me) is its size: It’s only 18″ high — a toy, apparently made by someone of modest means for the delight of someone he or she loved. It is a perfect illustration of the kitchen’s magnetic appeal.


This one, which I keep in my shop, has proved irresistible to children, perhaps because of the peek-a-boo “TRY ME” window.

This is not the first toy kitchen cabinet I’ve been fortunate to have been given by Kim. The first was the colorful “Just Kidz” playset from 11 years ago; Kim made sure that I was the winner of this particular prize in a Thanksgiving parlor game played at a condo on the Delaware beach during a Nor’easter. I was charmed by the tiny plastic version of the kitchen-in-one promoted by the Hoosier Manufacturing Company in the 1930s that incorporated storage, cooking, prep space, and a sink.


Illustration from my 2009 book The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History, published by the Indiana University Press

You can dismiss these toys as gender-role enforcers along the lines of the Suzy Homemaker appliances my childhood friend Faye got on birthdays and holidays (kudos to my parents for agreeing to my requests for such gender-bending gems as Tonka Toys and a Thingmaker), but I’ve found that boys who visit my shop are just as intrigued as girls by the “housekeeping playhouse.” Such is the draw of the kitchen.


Image from

As for Kim, my friend in a high place, she’s also the one who hooked me up with a treasure trove of information about post-war construction, remodeling, and design published by the United States Gypsum Company (who knew?) that I’ve mined for info to use in articles and books.


Thanks, Kim!


Here’s a recipe I made last weekend in my own kitchen: my favorite pound cake, made in this case with dried Montmorency cherries that Mark brought back from a recent trip to northern Michigan. The recipe is adapted from one for pound cake in New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant. Those hippies knew their dairy products.–Nancy R. Hiller, author of Making Things Work


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New Face Vises; New Title for a Book


Before heading out for Charleston, S.C., to visit my dad, I added a couple face vises to my circa 1505 Holy Roman Workbench. These vises have no screws and no real jaws. Instead they clamp the work with a wedge.

The vises are merely large notches in the benchtop, so “installing” them took about an hour of time.

These “vises” – if you can call them that – are based on paintings and drawings of workbenches that Suzanne “Saucy Indexer” Ellison and I have dug up during the last 18 months for my next book. In this case, I’ve made a notch in the end grain of the benchtop and in the edge of the benchtop. Both sorts of notches are shown in paintings and I want to sort out if there’s any difference between them.


I cannot say yet if they work differently, but I can say the notch on the edge grain was much easier to saw and bash out. When I return home on Sunday, I’ll get to work installing a wide variety of other long-forgotten bench accessories that Suzanne and I have unearthed.

As I mentioned earlier, the scope of this book has expanded far beyond where it began, with Roman workbenches. The workholding schemes we have found are ideal for both low benches and high benches. And both sorts of benches – high and low – have always existed side-by-side, as they do today.

I’m also exploring how low benches developed lots of accessories for building chairs (both shaved and turned), boats, baskets and all sorts of items that require steam-bent wood. I think I’ve also convinced Suzanne to write a chapter of the book that will detail the paintings we’re exploring and the socio-economic conditions in which they were made.


Oh, and the book is also part travelogue. It begins at the summit of Mount Vesuvius and ends below the ground in a German forest.

Believe it or not, all these disparate elements are stitched together without any Kierkegaardian leaps.

So, after a lot of thought, I’ve decided to title the book: “Ingenious Mechanicks: Early Workbenches & Workholding.” We’re on track to finish writing it by the end of 2017. So we should have it released by March 2018.

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site:

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Tickets for Our Dec. 9 Book-release Party


You can claim your free tickets for the Dec. 9 book release party with Mary May and George Walker using this link. The event is 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at our storefront: 837 Willard St., Covington, KY 41011.

Each author will give a short presentation on their work, answer questions and sign books. Drinks and snacks will be provided by Lost Art Press.

— Christopher Schwarz


Posted in Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Gentle Reminder: Still No Public Email

LAP_logo2_940In 2015, I closed my public email address to preserve my sanity, though some would question whether I succeeded in my goal.

Lately, a lot of people have attempted to seek advice, feedback or whatever through my personal site: and through I’m up to about five messages a day now.

Please don’t waste your breath, your fingers or your 1s and 0s. These messages are all simply deleted.

I know deleting them might seem rude. And some of you have told us how rude you think it is in long rants… which get deleted.

Trust me. It’s not you. It’s me. I had multiple public email addresses for 17 years and answered every damn question sent to me – no matter how odd or how much research it required. I helped lazy students with their papers on hand craft. I found links for people too lazy to use a thing called Google. I answered sincere but incredibly time-consuming emails from people who wanted to tell me their life story and get detailed advice on the steps they should take to become a woodworker.

And those weren’t even the ridiculous requests. It’s too early in the morning for me to even think of those.

It was all too much. I was spending hours each day answering emails. It cut into my time researching, building, editing and writing (not to mention time with my family). And then one message snapped my head in two. Out of respect for the individual who sent it, I won’t go into detail because he would be identifiable.

The email he sent was longer than my arm. It was going to take me hours to formulate even a half-a$%ed reply.

I deleted it. Then I deleted my inbox and my old email address.

So now I’m half-sane.

— Christopher Schwarz


P.S. If you really want to ask me detailed questions, the best way to do that is to visit our Covington storefront on the second Saturday of every month. I’m happy to talk to anyone about anything. I know some of you will whine that you are too poor to travel (while typing on your $2,000 computer…), but people have made the trip from almost every state in the country.

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The History of the Acanthus Leaf in the Decorative Arts


FIG. 1.16. A Greek capital, “Historic Ornament, A Pictorial Archive,” Dover Publications.

This is an excerpt from “Carving the Acanthus” by Mary May. 

Walking through a historical journey of the acanthus leaf has its challenges, as the different art periods often overlap and the styles frequently migrate from country to country. There are numerous volumes written on the history of decorative arts, and this brief explanation is not intended to be an exhaustive historical account. Focusing on the acanthus leaf and its significance in architecture and furniture,  we will follow the leaf as it evolves through each identifiable art period. At times, the design transition spans multiple years, and there are periods where this motif is nearly unrecognizable or almost disappears, only to regain in favor again in the following art period. There are certain art eras that I have omitted because of no evidence of acanthus leaf usage in their design. I hope this brief historical overview builds a curiosity and desire for further research and discovery.


FIG. 1.14. Egyptian chair, “Handbook of Historic Ornament, From Ancient Times to Biedermeier,” Dover Publications.

Ancient Egypt was not plentiful in trees, so the use of wood in furniture making was reserved strictly for the wealthy. Many of these pieces of furniture were well preserved in the low humidity of the Egyptian tombs. Native woods included acacia, sidder and fig, while ebony, cypress and cedar were imported from Syria and Lebanon. Ebony, ivory and bone were often combined with wood and overlaid with gold and silver. Lion paws, bull feet and goose and duck heads were carved into the legs of stools and armchairs. There is no evidence that acanthus leaves were a design element during this time in either furniture or architecture, but the lotus, papyrus and palm were common.


FIG. 1.15. Example of traditional a Greek anthemion, “Handbook of Historic Ornament, From Ancient Times to Biedermeier,” Dover Publications.

THE GREEKS: (1600 BC TO 100 BC)
The art of furniture making, which often included woodcarving, was highly valued in ancient Greece. Influenced by Egypt and the Orient, much of the early furniture was ornately decorated with marble, bronze, inlaid ivory, ebony and precious stones. Because wood is not as durable as stone, few remaining examples of woodcarvings from this period are available, and are mostly made of cedar, cypress, oak, maple, beech, citrus and willow. Even the famous Greek author Homer remarked that car penters were “welcomed the world over.” There are examples of the legs of some of the couches  (“kline”) or chairs having carved animal legs and feet, with the backs shaped like a snake or horse head.

The first known example of the acanthus leaf as a decorative architectural element was in the  Corinthian capital, originating in Greece in the 5th century BC. Based on the anthemion design popular in Greek architecture, the first carved acanthus leaves contained sharp points, deeply carved corners and sharp ridges between the lobes, creating  clear shadow lines that were visible from a distance. Most examples of this early style of acanthus leaf are found as architectural stone carvings.


FIG. 1.17. Roman carving, “Historic Ornament, A Pictorial Archive,” Dover Publications

After Greece came under Roman rule in 146 BC, the Greek decorative arts were eagerly absorbed by the new Roman Empire. Evidence of early Roman wood carvings show that arms and legs of chairs and couches were often carved to represent the limbs of animals, while chair backs and table supports were of carved griffins or winged lions. Common motifs used in architectural details are the anthemion, the scroll, the rosette, the acanthus, birds, cupids and reptiles. Woods used in carved furniture during this period were cedar, pine, elm, ash, beech, oak, box, olive, maple and pear.

The Roman period produced a richer, more flexible acanthus leaf, where the sharp points of the Greek style became softened. With its endless and  varied possibilities, the acanthus leaf reflected the Roman love of art and beauty, and was incorporated into a wider range of decorative ornament.  The details of the leaf contained deep “eyes,” which represented holes where the different lobes  of the leaf overlap, and sharply defined ripples in the leaf, giving a dramatic feeling of movement. The leaf took on a more naturalistic feel, with the tip of the leaf often curling and twisting in a lifelike manner. From the Roman era on, there was scarce  a time where the acanthus leaf was not a significant part of Italian ornamental design.

Meghan Bates

Posted in Carve the Acanthus with Mary May | 2 Comments

Original Moravian Workbench on Display

In October 2011 my uncle and I headed down to Old Salem one Monday afternoon to go see the workbenches they have in storage. Christopher Schwarz had visited a few months before and written a blog post about the benches there; I could not just take his word for how great they were, I had to see them in person. The museum is closed on Mondays and my friend Chet Tomlinson, who is an interpreter there, came in on his day off to show us around. At the time I was building a Roubo workbench and was really curious to see the benches in there collection. I took lots of photos of the workbenches (and dozens of other things!), the conversation was great, and the three hours we were there flew by in what seemed like five minutes.


Portable Moravian bench on display at the J.Blum House.

In the days after the trip I looked thru the pictures I had taken many times and kept coming back to the photos of the portable workbench. A few weeks later I went back to Salem, poor Chet came in on his day off again so I could get some measurements of the portable bench. After the Roubo bench was complete the first project I used it for was to build the portable Moravian bench and wrote about the build on WK Fine Tools. A year or so later we started doing a class at the Woodwright’s School on building the bench. Another year later I filmed the video on building the bench with Joshua Farnsworth.

I wish I could say that I had foresight to know that this little workbench would be as popular of a project as it has become, but I did not. The response to the article and the video over the past several years was totally unexpected.

The interest in the bench has also had an effect at Old Salem. Visitors have been asking about the original bench, where it is, if they could see it. The original has been in storage all this time up until a few days ago. The bench is now on display for the foreseeable future at the new joiners shop at the J. Blum House. If you are in the area, even if you don’t have any interest in the bench, Old Salem is well worth a visit.


You can even get your own glamor shot with the bench!

Will Myers



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Carvers & Compassers: Save This Date


I am pleased to announce that Mary May and George Walker will be at the Lost Art Press storefront on Dec. 9 to celebrate the release of their new books.

Mary, the author of “Carving the Acanthus Leaf,” and George, one of the authors of “From Truths to Tools,” will each give a short presentation on their work that evening, answer your questions and sign books. Lost Art Press will provide drinks and snacks for this free event.


Only a limited number of people can attend (fire marshal’s orders), so we will offer free tickets to this event starting at Friday at noon Eastern time.

Note that Saturday, Dec. 9, is also the last open day for 2017. So if you need books signed by me (note: I am happy to fake any signature, including: Tommy Mac, Roy Underhill and André Roubo) that’s the day to do it.

We hope you can come!

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Carve the Acanthus with Mary May, From Truths to Tools, Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized | 4 Comments