Sprawled Below Tables and Chairs

Lignarius noseyparkerus exhibiting a behaviour often seen in the wild. They frequently travel in small packs and have the ability to flop like flounders as soon as a docent has turned her back.

“While publications of the 1930s and 40s explored the origins of design, principles of construction and the materials employed, it was not until the 1970s that the joinery of such furniture was discussed in print. In a developing field where scholars and art historians were puzzling over dating, types, functions and materials this neglect is understandable. In addition, there lurks the suspicion that learned investigators, accustomed to intellectual pursuits, found the exploration of furniture making unbefitting to their station. Undoubtedly, ladies and gentleman at work on paintings or jades cut a more poetic and elegant picture than those sprawled below tables or chairs.”

Grace Wu Bruce, a noted expert and dealer specializing in Ming and Qing Dynasty furniture was commenting specifically on the dearth of information on the joinery of Chinese furniture.

I think there are parallels in the study of Western furniture styles and the availabilty of information on joinery. Scholarship and publications on furniture styles often focused on classifying when a piece was made, where it was made, what woods were used and who was the maker. How the furniture was made, if investigated, was not always published.

In the last forty years or so finding out “the how” has become easier as woodworkers took on the task of researching and replicating historical furniture styles. In their research they opened up a world of variations in methods and tools. Publications that were previously limited to one language or one continent were made available to all readers and makers. Pushing these efforts along was the expansion of online resources and the use of blogs to document research and experiments in making furniture.

However, not everyone is conducting research for an article or a book. We still need those curious and intrepid souls who enjoy exploring out-of-the-way shops and regional museums and know how to charm their way into taking a closer look at that one piece that has caught their eye. If need be, they are perfectly willing to sprawl on the floor and get a bit dusty.

Suzanne Ellison

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14 Responses to Sprawled Below Tables and Chairs

  1. Looks like your carburettor gone again. It often happens with these foreign imports.

    On a serious note, if you ever do anything like this in a stately home in the U.K., you’ll be yanked out be the unmentionables.


  2. amvolk says:

    So just who are these sprawlers?


  3. paul6000000 says:

    One of the guards at the top floor of the American wing at the Met Museum was a real prince when I went a few months ago. I didn’t try to crawl right under but I was able to put my camera under and take a lot of pictures.


  4. Mark Baker says:

    what happens when really Bad coffee is all that you get .


  5. I’ve managed to get away with it in the UK, you just have to explain what you are going to do first, and not give anyone the opportunity to object.


  6. bsrlee says:

    That takes me back to my trip to the Cloisters in 1984, when I was trying
    to look under a table in the Unicorn Tapestry room. One of the guards
    wandered in and, after asking me to stay behind the rope, called out
    loudly to some of his fellows – “Hey, is the alarm still broken in here?”.
    There went my big chance to become an international ‘art’ thief.

    As for ‘stately houses’, one of my friends was going through Dover
    Castle’s reproduced chambers a couple of years ago, doing the usual
    Medievalist’s thing of trying to look under everything. The guard lent
    over and said ‘So, you’re one of those Re-enactors then’ and left him to
    carry on photographing.


  7. Chris, did you happen to catch the staked bench in the bathroom hallway at Handworks? Tapered octagons, double wedged tenons and the works.


  8. Steve Hill says:

    First time in the Taft museum in Cincinnati I found myself under the dining table, carefully positioned between the chairs with their elegant, “Do not sit” signs. Another patron asked me if I was OK. I just muttered, “yes, just fine thank you.”


  9. Paul Huckett says:

    Many years ago I visited Corsham Court , near Bath UK. It is one of England’s finest stately homes still in original family . Well documented and many books published with reference to the furniture .I couldn’t see the large room with the John Linnel, Chippendale-style suite of seat furniture supplied to the house in 1772. It was roped off . A chap was sweeping in the hall and I asked him why it was closed . He told me the ceiling had collapsed months earlier from woodworm in the roof . No real damage to furniture of the famous Van Dyke painting but the old ceiling was being repaired .I told him I was from Australia and had read for years about the collection . So this old fellow in dirty track pants and a broom says he can let me in . He then introduces himself …’ Lord Methuen but call me Paul , all the staff do ” I had an hour in there chatting to him , turning chairs upside down , handling the wine tables , sitting under the Van Dyke painting !!! Then he offered coffee in the private quarters , stuffed full of eighteenth century furniture and decoration . Fantastic experience .We corresponded spasmodically and I visited again , welcomed like a returning colonial family member . He died a few years ago .


  10. neitsdelf says:

    I did this under the Liberty Bell and took a picture of it in the 70’s. Aaahhh, the 70’s….


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