The trades of the carpenter, joiner, cabinetmaker and turner, and their tools, have long been an inspiration for artists. Woodworkers and tool historians have, in turn, studied artwork to learn how tools were used in the past and how they have evolved. Some artwork centers around a celebration of just the tools and in some cases tools are arranged as amusements.
Note: If you are a long-time reader of this blog you will see some familiar images.
This title page for a portfolio of 12 plates about the childhood of Jesus is one of the iconic images in the woodworking world. Wierix used a square cartouche for the title with a surround of tools. The clutter can be overwhelming, however, when all the plates are assembled and each page studied the title page gets easier to figure out.
All of the tools used by Jesus, Joseph and the helper angels, as well as the implements used by Mary, are “summarized” on the title page. Wierix essentially made a tantalizing opening sequence of just the tools, perhaps not surprising as his father was a painter and cabinetmaker.
The construction of Noah’s Ark has been a rich source of information on early woodworking tools and methods.
The four volumes of Scheuchzer’s ‘Physica Sacra’ contain numerous engravings illustrating the Old Testament and its natural life. Each engraving is augmented with a tableau which provides a frame for the image. At the top, the spool of the line marker (to the left of center) unwinds, the line wends it way to the right, drops over the side and draws the eye to the bottom set of tools.
Of course, the top and bottom tableaux let us look at the tools in use at the time of Scheuchzer, but not necessarily available to Noah.
How better to honor a woodworker than to surround his portrait with his tools?
Hans Bach is portrayed with his carpentry tools, his fiddle and his favorite beverage (?). The placement of his tools is similar to a trade card. As can be seen in Billaut’s portrait a more formal arrangement is to form the tools into trophies.
A trophy is a celebration of victory and achievment. The items in a trophy are tied in bundles with a line or ribbon and the bundles hang vertically. Trophies often feature weapons and armor (spoils of war) or tools of a trade. Other than a plaque or maybe a mythical being the trophy is all tools. In the Wierix engraving two small trophies hang on either side of the title cartouche. And on the title page to Plumier’s opus on turning (above) two very neat trophies help introduce the tools used in turning.
Delafosse crammed in so many extras into his trophies for ‘La charpente et la Menuisier’ that it is hard to see the tools for the flourishes. These trophies are more a tribute to the professions than an attempt to fully display the tools.
Completed two hundred years before Delafosses’s work, this trophy (one of four on the same paper) gives a clearer view of the tools. It has the surprise of including a workbench with a holdfast. I am convinced the most appropriate method of viewing a trophy is to first drink a glass or two of beer or wine. A relaxed mind is crucial.
A 19th century cabinetmaker’s sign with a spectacular asking price of $18,000.
Two modern versions of a trophy from the delightful ‘Grandpa’s Workshop’ by Maurice Pommier. Maurice fills his book with creative depictions of tools and I urge you to get this book (from Lost Art Press).
There are many books illustrating trades with a small engraving and a short paragraph. The lighter side of this category is the Costumes Grotesques, or Costumes of the Trades in which the tradesman is dressed with the tools of his profession.
While both versions of the menuisier are fascinating, de Larmessin’s is the more creative rendition. He “clothed” his menuisier in finely worked wooden panels. Engelbrecht, on the other hand, provided a legend for the tools and a corresponding female, or wife, of the tradesman. Unfortunately, the wife of the menuisier is not yet available in the public domain.
We do have the charming carpenter and the carpenter’s wife with actual hats on their heads instead of glue pots.
Cross a tool trophy with a cariacture of a tradesman and you get a blacksmith and a woodworker composed entirely of tools. If you have visited the Lost Art Press storefront and made a trip to the men’s room (the one with the urinal) you probably have seen the black and white version of this image.
How tools are stored can also be a work of art.
Studley used exotic woods and incorporated architectural elements to display his many tools. His artistry is such that the tools and the design elements are in harmony; the gothic arches and chisel handles sit comfortably together and the hand plane is not lost in the arched niche.
In the photographer’s own workshop his eye for composition and balance offers another way to store tools in his ‘Tool Triptych.’
The Tool Chest Lid
The woodworker’s tool chest is another canvas for artistic displays of tools.
The Bath joiner, with beer in hand, gives us a warm wecome to his shop and a gander at his most important tools.
Finch & Co. Auctions in London had a Prussian cabinetmaker’s tool chest up for sale a few years ago. The chest was made in Mewes, now known as Gniew in northern Poland.
No lock is visible on the front of the chest and how it opens it is a puzzle (see the gallery for the solution).
In 2015 there was a collaboration on this traveling tool chest. Chistopher Schwarz built the chest with bomb-proof joinery. The fancy-pants lid was created by Jameel Abraham.
As long as there have been woodworkers artists have been beside them documenting their tools and work. From orderly arrangements to dizzying aggregations, the artwork of tools gives recognition to the hands that make and use them.
In the gallery: 1. the full page of four trophies by van Doetechum (Rijksmuseum); 2. ‘Implements Animated’ by Charles Williams, active 1797-1830 (Met Museum); 3-5. the front, top compartment and hidden lock of the F.W. Ballack chest (Finch & Co.); 6. arranged for sale: French gimlets (Objects of Use) and antique breast augers (Robert Young Antiques); 7. tools from the ‘Book of Plates’.