more carving patterns

regarding the carved pattern I showed last night. Several readers commented asking about & speculating on the source for the motif. I never really give much thought to it myself, mainly because there is no evidence of what the joiners based their stuff on. While it can be fun to speculate about these patterns, I concentrate on how to carve them, which ones relate to what, etc.

detail, Plymouth Antiquarian Society chest
detail, Plymouth Antiquarian Society chest


While I like this Marshfield chest, its carving to me is actually rather bland.  Is it a sunburst, a flower, maybe points on a compass, degrees in a circle, etc…all good ideas, but who knows. Not me. It is very regimented, just not very accurate. The deeper gouge cuts are not really  lined up with the centerpoint. As far as the tools go, I will shoot something about carving this pattern when I get back to the shop on Sunday.

Below is a carving that I have favored for years, this example from the top rail of a joined chest. It always is pleasing to my eye. Clearly flower-based, but as always, quite stylized, as all these carvings are. An excellent carving from a much more accomplished carver than the preceeding.  While there are better seventeenth-century carvings than this, it remains my favorite.

carved lunette
carved lunette

6 thoughts on “more carving patterns

  1. Well, while the carving Peter likes maybe technically more accomplished, especially in detail, i like the look & connect emotionally much more to the chest from the Antiquarian Society. Naturally, i might feel differently if i saw the entire chest as opposed to detail of rail.

    I came across this passage in Desmond Fitz Gerald, the Knight of Glin, and James Peill in their book Irish Furniture

    “FitzGerald attributes the new popularity of Irish furniture to its distinctiveness, both in terms of carving and the quality of the timber. Over 500 images, many specially commissioned, illustrate his point beautifully. Where else but Ireland do you find such fantastical carving? However, the lot of the carvers was far from easy, as a chapter on the influence of Irish craftsmen in the American colonies makes clear.

    In Massachusetts in 1666, an Irish immigrant apprentice carpenter, John Queire of Cork, was required to not only to keep his employers’ secrets, but to refrain from drinking, gambling, fornication and matrimony during the seven years of his apprenticeship. Is it too fanciful to wonder if at least some of those fantastical carved figures represent a release of pent-up frustrations?”

  2. James

    the quote about the apprentice – is there a footnote? Where in Massachusetts, for instance? But generally speaking, carpenters did not do much carving, if any. It was generally joiners’ work. Also, the details of the apprenticeship are standard language – for an English apprenticeship, which is what a Massachusetts contract would be in 1666.

    The lunette that I posted for comparison sake is from the Savell shop in Braintree, Massachusetts. An article I did with then John, now Jennie Alexander appeared in American Furniture 1996, and is available online at
    It shows several examples of this work.

    I really like the Marshfield chest a lot, I just don’t think it’s very good carving. However, these joiners, whoever they were in Marshfield, achieved a good effect with little effort.

  3. Peter
    On the Irish carpenter thingy, i was googling various combinations of search terms trying to find if any research has been done on the origins/meaning of 17th century carvings in wood. (very dang little OR, i was using the wrong search terms, lol)

    Very good article you & john/jennie did on chipstone, i spent over an hour reading it and looking at the many pics/footnotes. I was struck at how repetitive the carving motif was in Savell’s shop, the desk box carving in figure 3 is almost exactly the same as the chest carving. Was that the usual practice for joinery shops in america during this period, that once a carving motif was chosen, it was repeated over & over no matter the furniture form?

    I notice when William died, he left behind
    “a square table a wainscott chest and a bedstead”, i wonder where that bed got off to, i dont think i have ever seen an american 17th century wainscott bed, are there any that still exist?

  4. The Savell shop was particularly fixed in its design selection. Other shops had more variety, but in many cases it’s just slight variations.

    Bedsteads – forget it. None have ever been identified as New England survivors from the seventeenth century.

  5. .

    On the subject of indenture conditions, I have my Gt Grandfather’s indenture agreement as a carpenter from the late 1870’s containing similar prohibitions.

    They were a generally more honoured by time than observance. By the time that his son (my Grandfather) became indentured as an electrician in 1911, they had largely disappeared and replaced by a more practical form of word.

    In Jacobean times they were taken very seriously given the social and political attitudes at the time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s