I often get requests for measured drawings of furniture forms, most often lately of the three-legged chair I was making in a recent article in Popular Woodworking Magazine. I don’t usually work with drawings, especially measured & scaled drawings. The closest I come is a set of sketches on which I record the details of a given piece.
Many years ago, Alexander ran across copies of the Dover Publication of John Weymouth Hurrell’s Measured Drawings of Old English Oak Furniture (NY: Dover Publications, 1983) a reprint of an early 20th-century London publication. I think the original publisher was Batsford. I dug mine out recently, because I need to make some drawings to submit for some work I have coming up. (two of which are wainscot chairs, so more on that subject to follow)
Here is a chair in Hurrell’s book. It is clearly a carefully-done drawing, full of details – molding profiles, turning details, carving patterns. All scaled. What’s lacking is the feeling of the piece. No period chair is this clean, this precise. There’s no way in a drawing like these to record surface textures, tolerances, thickness variations, things like that.
Hurrell’s drawings are first-rate; but personally I have a hard time reading this sort of thing. I had a little training in mechanical drawing/drafting, whatever it’s called these days. But they are so lifeless & stiff that my eyes struggle with them. I do much better with a photograph for a carving pattern for instance. Another place where Hurrell leaves me confused is the molding details. Here’s one of his moldings:
It isn’t until I flip it over, either in my mind, or turn the book upside down, that I “see” the molding. At first, I can’t tell what’s positive & what’s negative. Others see it just fine. Here’s the flipped version. Reads better to me…I think because it looks more like it does on the workbench.
Alexander & I have been very fortunate over the years to have first-hand access to many pieces of 17th-century furniture, in both public and private collections. Without these chances to handle the objects, and make detailed examinations, we would never have got as far as we have in understanding the period work. For folks who can’t get to see this sort of material, books like Hurrell’s can be really helpful. They can get you close, but still several steps away. I hope the images on the blog provide people with some notion of what we look for when we see a piece of this furniture. For folks waiting to hear from me about the three-legged chair, I’ll see what I can do. No promises.