If I’m granted another lifetime, one of the things I’d like to do is to create audio tours of museums designed for furniture makers.
Yesterday, Lucy and I spent several hours in the British Museum, and I kept thinking: “Dang it, I don’t want to see any more sculptures of battles or boobies. Show me people working.”
If you look close, there’s a wealth of information on furniture, tools and craft in general in almost every room. You just have to look with care and at the right things. For example, instead of looking at the mummies in the display case, check out the corner joinery on the box that held the mummy. Is that a nailed butt joint or something else?
In the Greek sculpture section, you can skip the people reclining with a jug of wine and instead check out the klismos chairs (shown above). These early chairs look insanely contemporary with their curved legs and (in some images) curved backs. The design of this chair rears its head every time classicism makes a comeback in the decorative arts. During the last few thousand years, furniture makers have made the curved legs in a variety of ways – cutting them from solid, steambending and bent laminations. I wonder how the originals were made?
Exhibits of Roman artifacts (every European town has them) always display a wealth of tools and nails. The British Museum calls out this tool as a drawknife used for making barrel staves. They could be right. I think it looks like a scorp, which could be used for hollowing out many objects, including bowls and chair seats.
Even the religious stuff can have woodworking undertones. These small bronze bowsaws (about the side of a quarter) were left as a votive offering at early Christian churches during Roman times. I love how these slightly stylized representations of bowsaws even show which way the teeth cut.
After I finish making audio tours of all the world’s museums, then I’ll compile a book of all the best woodworking scenes in literature. And a film of all the best woodworking parts in movies.
— Christopher Schwarz
29 thoughts on “I Want to See the Woodworking Parts”
It could very well be that the British Museum would do something like this on suggestion. It’s really a great idea – a meta-exhibition with all the objects already in place. A good curator should jump on that instinctively.
Come to Hartford Connecticut’s Wadsworth Atheneum for The Mathematics of Elegance: An Icon of Early Connecticut Furniture, November 20, 2019–January 12, 2020. It’s about cabinetmaker Eliphalet Chapin and The study of classical architecture’s five orders. Will Neptune and Bob Van Dyke are collaborating with the museum on the show. It won’t be British museum sized, but it will be a nice show and the museum is a great place to visit. Outside of the show, there’s some other interesting period furniture and the parlor from a colonial era house (go down the narrow hall next to it to see the backside of the built in cabinets). The Wadsworth was included in Peter Follansbee’s acknowledgements in Joiner’s Work.
The American Museum in Bath, has a room decorated in every period of American history using furniture, floors, walls EVERYTHING genuine. From a log cabin to a saloon to a bordello bedroom. Plus a permanent collection of 200 quilts. BEST Museum I’ve ever visited.
here’s the link
A man after your own heart.
The shape of the seat in that video hurt my eyes and made me cringe, but I found out there’s a revised version of this video, better link to that: https://youtu.be/-ke85OBjjWE
To be fair, most people consider war and boobies more interesting than furniture.
Battle of the Boobies would probably be a best seller….
War of the Anarchist Boobies.
I saw that movie when I was in my 20’s. Only got through 15 minutes of it.
Off point but not too far afield:
The Berman Art Museum at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, recently filmed a performance piece featuring 150 “carpenters” hammering and sawing. The film will be shown at the the museum starting November 7:
Long live the Schwarz!
A scene of the best woodworking scenes in films! Great idea. If you don’t do it Chris, somebody needs to.
I nominate Sidney Poitier in “The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn” It’s been years since I’ve seen it but if I recall, the opening scene shows a construction foreman trying to figure out how long it’s going to take to have custom made replacement for a historic building’s entablature or architrave that his crew just damaged. Weeks, maybe months to ship it out–they don’t have that kind of time. When up walks Noah Dearborn (Poitier) with a set of molding planes and says he can do it in a couple of hours. Brilliant!
Thanks Chris. While you are at it, can you please make a woodworking version of the Lost Planet travel guide books? One summer I got to work on the east coast in Connecticut. While I saw lots of nice things and many woodworking things, I am sure I still missed some big stuff.
Actually this seems like a great crowd sourced podcast idea. I’d think there are some of us in our own corners of the internet/world that would be willing to contribute an angle to a place we enjoy going near us….I really appreciate the bits Joel from TFWW blog shares on his visits to NYC museums etc. just need a good index of this stuff together. I mean the Art Nouveau wing at the Orsay… Oh and seriously the tool museum in Troyes…
If you ever make it to Iceland, almost every small town has a maritime museum. (Some small towns have two; warring brothers I guess.) They all have some woodworking content. One very small museum had an entire wall of pattern sticks from when the town’s cooperage shut down. There were patterns for 25+ different barrels and my camera batteries were all dead.
I understand your frustration. I often feel like I’m the only furniture nerd in the crowd.
I just want to say, I have been following your blog for sometime, and have several of books published by Lost Art Press (authored both by you and others), which have altered my thoughts about design and woodworking. As I make my first attempts at bowl-turning, I have been constantly asking my self: does this shape “look right” or can it be tweaked, or “what if I did this”… A few weeks ago, I went to see the Pompeii exhibit at the St. Louis Science center, and I went in there to specifically to look at the aspects that you are talking about here. And was truly blown away by the care/thought/accuracy/technology of the builders. And wound up looking at the connections versus the overall shapes. We think we need the laser guided, accuracy to the 10,000th of an inch, tooling. But all we really need is some sharp tools (electrified or human powered) and geometry, no rulers required. All that to say: “Thank you” for your efforts to explain design and challenge us to think.
Nick, I live in the St. Louis area and had heard about the Pompeii exhibit but wasn’t planning to the take the time to go see it. Now I will. Thanks!
I’ve got a log of woodworking scenes I encounter in literature. Don’t worry. Someone’s working on it.
Ryan Gosling uses a vintage Oliver lathe to turn banisters in “The Notebook.” I think that deserves an Oscar right there.
Absolutely! I have always looked past the glitter and glitz of bright and flashy museum pieces and been drawn to the furniture and the tools that helped shape them. Thanks for your blog. Richard
If anyone is ever at the Met in NY City, they have a couple of “high style” furniture rooms from the 1700’s and early 1800’s. One floor up from the American sculpture room, there is also a section that is called viewable storage or something like it. It has many (40-60) period chairs as well as other types of furniture along with a variety of sculptures- some wood. No Welsh or Scottish stick chairs though.
I hope you’ll still have time for that Interpretive Dance you promised me??
Only if you’re still up for the part with Wesson oil, wax paper and glitter.
I once met my brother at the Baltimore museum. At the entrance he ran into an acquaintance who asked why he was there. Upon being informed he was there to meet his brother who was a furniture maker the fellow told him I was up stairs. My brother, being surprised, asked how he knew it was me. The fellow said, He’s on his back under a sideboard on the second floor.”
I try to remember to bring a mirror now.
Klismos chair legs look to me to be made from tree branches grown to shape, either with a template strapped on ( In Australia they used to make boat stems and ribs that way from quick growing timber) or by holding the bend with ropes. If you look in public parks where there are a lot of people who practice ‘Tai Chi’ you often find trees with branches that are bent out parallel to the ground for several feet then grow straight up as a result of people using the reachable branches for their bending and stretching exercises, so you probably don’t even need anything permanent, just repeated bending of the limbs.
The Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum in Kobe, Japan was an absolute great way to spend an afternoon. They have a bit of everything from ancient tools and woodworking, the various ways producing lumber from a tree (quarter sawn, etc) and boxes filled with plane shavings to experience the different aromas of various tree species, and both western/European tools and methods as well as Japanese tools and methods. There’s an NHK episode of Begin Japanology that you can find easily on Youtube, and the website (exhibition page) is here: https://www.dougukan.jp/exhibition?lang=en .
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