Oak furniture from Dedham & Medfield Massachusetts

For a number of reasons, I was looking through some photo files here tonight. During the past year I have had a couple of chances to revisit some old favorite piece of oak furniture, and saw a couple related fragments for the first time. There is a group of chests and boxes made in Dedham and Medfield, Massachusetts during the 17th century. Years ago they were the focus of a study by Robert St. George, culminating in his article “Style and Structure in the Joinery of Dedham and Medfield, Massachusetts, 1635-1685” Winterthur Portfolio; vol. 13, American Furniture and Its Makers (1979), pp. 1-46. You can join JSTOR and read it here – https://www.jstor.org/stable/1180600?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

But like all oak of the period, our friend Robert Trent was all over them too – thus several examples were featured in the exhibition New England Begins at the Museum of Fine Arts too.   (Boy, did that set come down in price – https://www.amazon.com/New-England-Begins-Seventeenth-Century/dp/0878462104  -If you don’t have it, and you like the furniture and decorative arts of the period, get it. Used to be way more than $90…)

This chest is in a private collection, I had it years ago to make a new oak lid for it. Typical for this group, 3 carved panels, moldings on the framing parts. Not great work, but real nice. Black paint in the backgrounds, originally bright red on the oak, dyed with logwood or brazilwood dye.

This one was made for the Fairbanks house in Dedham, was illustrated in a late 19th/early 20th century article about that house. For many years it was MIA – then the Fairbanks Family was able to buy it at auction either late 1990s or early 2000s…I forget which. Has the only oddball center panel. (see the detail, top of the blog post) Refinished.

 

A reader sent me these photos once, shot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. These boxes are often pretty tall – maybe 9″ high. Pine lids and bottom, oak box. I made a copy of this one for a descendant of one of the joiners credited with this work, John Thurston of Dedham and elsewhere.

Now it gets really wiggy. I cropped this shot from an overall of a chest in a museum collection. Notice the panels on the left & right. They look good, right?

Here’s one – then compare it to its cousin below…

The other. Amazing what your eyes & brain can tolerate and still accept as a repeating pattern. I’ve carved this design a lot, and I can carve a panel about 10″ x 14″ or so in under an hour. I bet this guy was flying right along. Or old and infirm. Or somehow incapacitated, or compromised. Or something. Notice too the holes in the corners where I presume the panel was nailed down to hold it still for carving. I nail mine to a back board, and fasten that to the bench with holdfasts. That way I don’t have to move the holdfasts – they’re out of the way.

A related, but dead-simple version. Why all that blank margin? No applied molding, the framing is beveled around the panel. Ahh, everyone who knows why is dead.

These next two are the lynch pins for the attribution to John Houghton, joiner. These are fragments from a meetinghouse in Medfield from 1655/6. The town records cite a payment made to Houghton for work on the desk, a table and more. The “deske” in the records is the pulpit. These panels are believed to be part of that pulpit. This panel is about 6 5/8″ x 14″.

a detail of the  rectangular panel.

This diamond-shaped panel is nailed to a piece of oak that looks like some framing stock – but it tapers in width. Tradition says that these pieces were saved when the 1655/6 meeting house was demolished in 1706.

One more – this one’s in Nutting’s books, now at Wadsworth Atheneum. “Refreshed” paint, or completely re-painted. I forget which. Really nicely carved.

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moldings

I have been cutting some moldings lately for a chest with drawers I’m building. The moldings surround the panels, and the drawer fronts. While I was cutting these, I was thinking about this blog. I started it in 2008, and never thought it would keep going this long. Because I didn’t know what I was doing, I never really organized it well. So there’s lots of photos spread out all over the blog that are useful…but sometimes hard to find. Today, I thought I could just post some photos of period moldings found on New England joined works. So here’s pictures.

a chest from Salem, Massachusetts: Tearout, anyone?

moldings detail

a chest with drawers, Plymouth Colony. This large molding (2″ tall) is integral to the rail, not applied.

molding details, Plymouth Colony chest
molding details, Plymouth Colony chest

Inside one of the Plymouth Colony chests, moldings on the rails and muntins:

interior, Ply Col chest w drawers
interior, Ply Col chest w drawers

Here’s a panel detail from Plymouth Colony. This is a common profile for the period, technically an ogee with a fillet, I think:

molding-details

This one’s from Chipstone’s website – a Boston chest panel:

cf-chest-middle-panel-just-moldings

This is a muntin from a chest made in Braintree, Massachusetts. I used to make this molding with a scratch stock. I think that cutter is gone now…

molding

This Connecticut (Wethersfield? Windsor? I can never get it straight) chest with drawers was the model we copied last time at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. These moldings are oak:

center panel_edited-1

A lousy photo, but if you squint at the ruler’s shadow, you can see the profile of this molding. Dedham Massachusetts chest.

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Also Dedham, different chest:

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Back to Connecticut, more Wethersfield, Windsor, etc.

vine-carving-3

a drawer from a Woburn, Massachusetts cupboard:

molding-detail

An ogee on the bottom edge of a table’s apron. Maybe this square table is Boston?

ogee-and-bracket

 

the rest of my teaching schedule for 2016

An update about classes remaining for 2016, and slightly beyond.

spoons & bowl

First up is spoon-carving at Lie-Nielsen, on Sept 24 & 25 https://www.lie-nielsen.com/workshop/USA/126

hatchet

I have lots of new tricks I learned at Spoonfest and Täljfest, so come to Maine & we’ll explore all kinds of ideas. I also have some new spoons by outstanding makers to study, as well as a couple old ones.

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October begins with the opening of the full-tilt chest class at Bob Van Dyke’s Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. http://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/class-schedule/29-speciality-weekend-classes/534-build-a-17th-century-joined-chest-with-peter-follansbee.html    We did this last year, one-weekend-a-month, for five months. One by one, students from last year have finished their chests, here’s one from Dwight Beebe:

This class is the best way to learn all the steps in making a joined chest with drawer.

This year, we’ll include a trip down to the Yale University Furniture Study, to examine the chest we’ll base ours on. Riving, hewing, planing, joinery, carving – the whole thing. One weekend at a time. First class is coming up, Oct 1 & 2.

—–

Later in October, we’ll do the riving class with Plymouth CRAFT – right now we don’t have it listed yet, but a weekend in October, I think the 15/16 . (I’ll post it here, and Plymouth CRAFT will send out its email as well, if you’re not on their list, you want to be, even if it’s just for Greenwood Fest next year! http://www.plymouthcraft.org/  )

UPDATE: Here is hurdlemaking: http://www.plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=riving-now-two-days
We are excited to be returning to the wonderful venue we used for Dave Fisher’s bowl carving class in July. That massive marsh should be gorgeous in the autumn light.

shaving

In this class, we split apart an oak log, learning how to “read” the log for best results. Then using a froe, we further break the stock down, and make garden hurdles. So, riving, hewing, shaving at a shaving horse, mortising – a busy weekend full of old techniques still applicable today.

test fit

THEN – Paula Marcoux reminded me about the spoon carving at Plymouth CRAFT on Dec 10 & 11,  at Overbrook house in Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts.

stay tuned to Plymouth CRAFT for details… http://www.plymouthcraft.org/

UPDATE: And here is spoon carving: http://www.plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=spoon-carving-with-peter-follansbee
For this one we’ll be back at our beloved winter home, Overbrook House. Always cozy; always fun.

Connect the dots

Remember the other night when I showed some drawings and carvings, I included this one that I was working for the frame I’m cutting.

devon pattern cropped

Here is the brace with that design on it – done in pine, frustrating carving softwood. It’s not like carving oak.

brace

I know this pattern from surviving carvings on oak furniture made in Devon in the 2nd half of the seventeenth century. I have a fair number of reference photographs of works I studied over there, and related ones made here in Massachusetts. But by far, the best on-line reference for Devon oak furniture is Paul Fitzsimmons’ Marhamchurch Antiques website. I always open his emails, and always take the time to look at his newest offerings. They never disappoint. http://www.marhamchurchantiques.com/current-stock/all/

Here’s that motif from a chest Paul posted some time back:

OSM chest

The bottom rail is the one I’m thinking of, the top rail is related, but a variation. Here’s another, I forget where this photo came from, the chest is Devon, c. 1660-1700.

chest w drawer feb 2010

While scrolling through some reference materials here at home the other day, I remembered Thomas Trevelyon. His story is complicated, but he produced perhaps 3 manuscripts, c. 1608-1616 of various subjects. Astounding stuff. In some of my last years at the museum, our reference library received a facsimile copy of one of these, I think I might have been one of only two  people to even look at it. These aren’t pattern books, because they were never printed – they’re manuscripts. I never got straight what the purpose was.  BUT – purpose or not, here, the border of this illustration is what I was remembering:

124v-125r

This one’s from University College, London – I got it from here,  http://collation.folger.edu/2012/12/a-third-manuscript-by-thomas-trevelyontrevelian/

where you can read much of the story about Trevelyon. One of his manuscripts is now digitized & available here:  http://folgerpedia.folger.edu/Word_%26_Image:_The_Trevelyon_Miscellany_of_1608

He uses this border a lot in the UCL manuscript. Sometimes there’s a flower between the S-scrolls. This pattern will make its way into all of my furniture-carving classes this year. It’s great fun to connect the dots like this.

 

 

Tamás Gyenes’ riven beech chests

I continue to be amazed at the connections we can make so easily these days. Remember way back when I stumbled across references to these chests:

Der Henndorfer Truhenfund

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/der-henndorfer-truhenfund/

That ultimately connected to another blog post about some visitors to my old shop,

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/a-good-day-at-the-office/

Well, that post brought me a new connection the other day. I got an email from Tamás Gyenes of Hungary. His note said “ I myself build similar chests – from riven beech with medieval methods “  When I asked for photos, he quickly sent some amazing shots.

Untitled attachment 02338

Great, great stuff. I first saw one of these chests at the Brimfield (Massachusetts) Antique show. I passed on buying one for $300 and kicked myself ever after. I had the money and the space then, have neither now.

Tamas & his wife splitting out some beech:

05_riving__my_wife_is_helping

Grooving the framing parts – an ancient method. 

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The shaving horse – an indispensable piece of equipment. 

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Tamas with a work-in-progress

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The decoration: 

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a couple of shots of the original chests that Tamas studies for his inspiration: 

01_approx200year_old_chest_northern_Hungary_IMGP2734

These are old ones he owns, from what I understand. 

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One of his before color & decoration. 

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Tamás’ shots of his working on them are so inspiring – and look timeless, don’t they? Thanks so much for contacting me & sending photos, Tamas. Keep in touch, 

His website is  www.acsoltlada.hu

oak and birds

This weekend we worked on the joined chest project at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. I’ll write a post about it tomorrow, but in the aftermath of that weekend, I had a few wide oak panels to rive out for planing this week. As they were busted from the log, they were grossly thick for one panel, but most were too thin at the inside edge for two. This calls for some tricky froe-work.

these bolts were 22″ long or so. and in this photo, just over 13″ wide. This one was thick enough to split in two, one panel might come out just narrower than 12″ = once I hew & plane them, they’ll be in the range of 3/4″ thick.

two wides

 

The others weren’t quite the same original thickness, so I had to split them off-center. This gets one wide panel, and one narrower panel. It saves wood, saves hewing, and is all-around well worth it. When it works. Below you see I’ve driven the froe in parallel to the wide face, but it doesn’t reach all the way to the inner edge. To split successfully this way requires the straightest grain, and most agreeable oak. This inner, narrow panel will finish about 6″ or 7″ wide.

extra splits

 

Here’s a detail of how the two panels lie in the oak:
wide & narrow

 

 

I did about four of them this afternoon, while unpacking the car & tools from the weekend. Here’s a detail showing a 14″ panel and its 12″ neighbor.

two parts of one

Once I drive the froe into the split, I jam the bolt in the riving brake – I wouldn’t like to attempt this without one. When it goes right, you hear a SNAP when the froe is twisted and the oak breaks free. I’d only try this on short lengths in these widths.

 

 

off splits

Earlier in the day, look who I found – the redtail hawk from the other day:

flight

 

If we hadn’t seen him drop down to the ground, we’d never have found him among the beat-down grass –

 

 

brunch

 

He caught something there, and we watched him for a while. Then decided to leave him to his brunch… (or her…we don’t know. It is a good size bird, might be female…doesn’t really matter, to me anyway.)

well matched

Later, a kestrel, lousy photo though. Can’t get anywhere near them.

kestrel

ditto for a bluebird.

bluebird

But almost every year about this time, I photograph & post a picture of a snipe. Usually I pair it with photos of the hinges I use for boxes and chests. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/setting-gimmals-you-might-know-them-as-snipe-bills/  (Ahh, that post was from Dec, but I found photos of snipe from April 5, 2013. everything is late this year)

Maureen found this one (then a 2nd one) right in front of us in the blind at the Audubon place where we were walking…

One snipe.

snipe

Two snipes. they blend in more than the hawk did.

snipes

 

 

 

2 birds; 1 stone – joined chest class at CVSWW 2015

Today I spent a good deal of time on my hands & knees. I was with Bob Van Dyke, Will Neptune and Christina Vida collecting information for the joined chest class we’re doing at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking this year. (to read the class description, follow this link,

http://schoolofwoodworking.com/woodworking-classes/29-speciality-weekend-classes/534-build-a-17th-century-joined-chest-with-peter-follansbee.html

 

chest w drawers

We’re building a version of this Connecticut chest with drawers. For the class, it will be “chest w drawer” – it’s a crazy enough undertaking as it is.

Here’s some of the materials, Michael Doherty took me to the wall of wood. These were maybe 12′ high, I’d say 10′ long logs, maybe longer.

wall of wood

Some of the larger oaks had been pulled out for us already. Michael had picked out more too. I’ve never ordered wood for so many full-sized chests before. But if we need more, it’s there. Below are some of the oaks (the red cedar top right is Michael’s):

 

 

logs

 

So if you want to see how to turn those logs into a chest, sign up to take the class. It’s a time commitment; one weekend a month for 5 months. But you’ll get to go through the whole process, and learn all the details of a chest like this. (our plan is to start with a field trip – we’ll go to the woodyard, and work the logs in the picture just above – the students will split the logs apart to begin gathering rough stock).

I taught a chest class at Roy Underhill’s last year, but it was a scaled-down simple frame & panel chest. This one is full-size, carvings and molding. All the bells & whistles. There will be at least one field trip to examine the original chest in detail. (Hopefully a 2nd trip to see other 17th-c chests at Windsor Historical Society…) I’m not going into detail on the whole chest now; but it has a lot of interesting features. Of course the carving is a big part of it – almost no blank space at all.

center panel

carving detail

 

The 2-birds-1-stone reference is the chest with drawers I’m going to make based on this 0ne. This repro will be part of the Strong-Howard house interpretive re-installation underway at the Windsor (CT) Historical Society. http://www.windsorhistoricalsociety.org/strong_house.html

Bob Van Dyke and Will Neptune, among others, have been involved in this project from its inception. Her’es a blurb Bob put on the CVSWW site about their work =  http://schoolofwoodworking.com/projects.html

Here’s the project Bob & Will were planning – http://schoolofwoodworking.com/woodworking-classes/29-speciality-weekend-classes/533-build-an-oval-tavern-table-with-will-neptune.html