Special Guest Chat

Bob Lang
with Guest Host Chris Schwarz

“Handwork in Arts & Crafts Furniture: Fact or Fiction”

March 22, 2005

Ellis Our guest host tonight is Chris Schwarz, executive editor of Popular Woodworking magazine, and his special guest is Bob Lang, author of four books on measured drawings of Arts & Crafts furniture and architectural elements, and now a senior editor on PW's staff. I'd like to officially welcome you both to the Tuesday night chat. Chris, take it away...
Chris Schwarz Hello Ellis. Thanks.
Chris Schwarz First, an administrative note: Several people have asked if we could adjust the way we converse in this chatroom to make the conversation easier to follow. I agree, and so when you are asking or answering a question, would you please begin your statement with the name of the person you are addressing? Thanks.
Ellis This is cause for memorable and simple nicknames :-)
Bob Lang Hi everyone
Ellis Welcome, Bob.
Chris Schwarz Anyone who has been to my house can attest to the fact that I really like Arts & Crafts furniture - I've been collecting and building it for 15 years now. However, lately I've become disillusioned. Were the high ideals of the movement relating to handiwork just lip-service marketing copy designed to get people to buy furniture?
Chris Schwarz Clearly, low-end makers were guilty of this. But what about Gustav Stickley, the movement's patron saint? Did he see some cool stuff on his 1898 trip to England, rip it off and make it easy to make by machine - and then the philosophy came later?
Ellis :-)
Bob Lang Chris, I think Gus Stickley was motivated by something bigger than the buck. He walked away from a very succesful venture to start United Crafts.
Chris Schwarz OK I think Gus and his brothers were businessmen first.
Chris Schwarz ...and Gus was a philosopher second.
Chris Schwarz Here's what got me:
Chris Schwarz "I did not realize at the time that in making those few pieces ofstrong, simple furniture, I had started a new movement. Others saw it and prophesized a far-reaching development. To me, it was only furniture; to them it was religion. And eventually it became religion with me as well." - Gustav Stickley
Ellis Good quote, Chris.
Bob Lang It's hard to look back 100 years and say why somebody did something. Gus was certainly a businessman, but Morris and Ruskin were his heroes, and I think he was aiming a little higher than just commercial success.
Chris Schwarz But he was a furnituremaker first (after stonemasonry).
Chris Schwarz He started out by making the things he railed against for Brandt Chair.
David_B The Stickleys certainly imported a 'Yankee' incarnation of English A&C, at any rate.
Bob Lang Chris-that's really interesting. a lot of times we get into thingsand don't exactly know what will happen with them, but then they become something big.
Chris Schwarz Bob: I'll buy that he bought into it eventually.
Chris Schwarz but I think it was first and foremost a business venture.
Ellis Stickley's history might be instructive here.
Chris Schwarz Bob: Could you give us a bit on Stickley?
Chris Schwarz Father a stonemason. Poor.
Chris Schwarz Stickley actually hated the labor.
Bob Lang Ellis OK-1898, Gus had 15-20 years experience as a furniture maker, mostly repro chairs. Gets rid of his partner, regroups, tours the continent and comes back and launches a new line of furniture that was certainly influenced by the Brits, but not really seen before.
Chris Schwarz Bob: I might add that it was designed with one thing in mind:
Chris Schwarz Machine production.
Ellis Stickley made a progression from Victorian to his own breed of A&C
Chris Schwarz Standard part sizes.
Chris Schwarz Ellis: Also, Stickley made Shaker chairs for Brandt Chair Co. (I think)
Chris Schwarz Joints made for machine work.
Chris Schwarz Rectilinear designs that are easy to make by machine.
Ellis My big question tonight is about which came first: The design or the ease of production?
Bob Lang Chris- So was the other stuff he'd been making. I think he had aninteresting view on machines. In Britain, they blamed the machines for factory conditions; Gus wrote about men becoming servants to the machines, and not the other way around. He seemed pretty sympathetic tothe working guy.
MikeGnSC I'd have to say the design first Ellis?
Chris Schwarz Bob: But didn't Stickley see the machine as a device designed to remove drudgery?
Ellis That is my question.
Bob Lang Ellis-I've been pondering this this evening, and I think it was driven by the designs, and the ideals he saw behind the designs.
Ellis Ah, my sentiments.
Bob Lang Chris-exactly
Ellis Yet, the design seems almost aimed at Everyman.
Chris Schwarz Bob: But Ruskin and Morris would not like Stickley's factories.
Ellis ...in the spirit of the A&C philosophy
Bob Lang Gus was a pretty talented and versatile designer, and with his experience I think he could have devised ways to build anything efficiently.
Chris Schwarz Bob: So was it just bad luck that his designs were so easy to make on machine?
Chris Schwarz And so everyone in Grand Rapids ripped him off?
Ellis and Upstate New York
MikeGnSC Perhaps he designed his furniture to show that anyone could make it...the simplicity of design on purpose Bob?
Bob Lang Chris- That's a good question. I'm curious to know what his factories were really like. If they were any better to work in than others of the day. When he first started it was promoted as a guild, but within 4 or 5 years he was dealing with labor issue.
shanesy As a concept, I wonder if a person can design without considering the means of production? I mean you must have an idea about how something will move off the drawing board and become real.
Ellis Simple lines are easy to reproduce, whether by hand or power.
MikeGnSC Exactly Ellis
Chris Schwarz Steve: I agree. I think his designs were based on machine production processes of the day.
Chris Schwarz Bob: I also wonder about the conditions in his factories.
Chris Schwarz You don't read a lot about that.
Bob Lang Even today, there are a lot more good builders than good designers.One semi-original idea in the industry sudenly show up everywhere.
Chris Schwarz Bob: One point I'd like to make about "New Furniture" though.
Chris Schwarz It wasn't entirely "new."
Chris Schwarz There were many scattered examples of pieces like Stickley's
Chris Schwarz McHugh
Chris Schwarz Some English stuff
Chris Schwarz I think Stickley saw the common thread and ran with it.
Chris Schwarz Then he got "religion."
Bob Lang Steve-It's hard to separate the two. If you have any production experience at all, how it goes together is always in the back of your mind. We were talking earlier about how a talented craftsman can make the designer look better than he may be.
Ellis Amen to that
Chris Schwarz Bob: But he cannot save a bad design.
Chris Schwarz Can he (or she?).
Bob Lang Chris- You're absolutely right. It's nearly impossible to come up with something completely original.
MikeGnSC depends on how "bad" the design is Chris.
shanesy If a designer knows he can have his work produced by every means available, even a CNC these days, it's probably a liberating situation.
Ellis Only to the extent that he can influence the designer, which is pretty much, usually.
Bob Lang Chris- Salvage maybe
dick The oposite is also true Bob
Chris Schwarz Bob: I think Stickley's genius was in the respect for good workmanship.
Ellis If you look at Stickley designs, there are many formulaic elements...
Chris Schwarz Things that were built to last.
Chris Schwarz The proportions are good (to my eye, at least).
Bob Lang Good designers learn to listen to the craftsman, even if they takecredit for it. I think there must have been a few guys in the factory that added a twist or two.
Chris Schwarz Bob: The historical record bears you out on that.
David_B True, Ellis... whereas many of the English A&C designs were more idiosyncratic.
Chris Schwarz David: I believe we have more in common here with the English designers.
Chris Schwarz Look at Sidney Barnsley.
David_B Good point.
Chris Schwarz David: Look at Gimson. Clisset. Any of the Cotswald makers.
Bob Lang Chris-Gus wrote a lot about honesty and integrity as essentialparts of the furniture. I think he really meant it, and that was a biginfluence on things.
MikeGnSC Bob...only one time have I ever had a designer ask how best to design a project to make it easier on the craftsman.
Ellis How did Gus define honesty and integrity?
shanesy Mike, you need some new clients!
Chris Schwarz Ellis: Frank joinery
MikeGnSC Usually they just give you a set of plans and say build it...lol
Bob Lang Mike-my experience has been that few will give credit, but most ofthem have learned how to take a good idea. They may not always givecredit for it, but the influence is there.
Ellis Evidence of structure?
David_B I see Stickley as a pragmatic American industrialist, and Morris as more the romantic-idealist soon to become Marxist. Both had great integrity.
Chris Schwarz Ellis: Bingo. Unadorned surfaces (at the first).
MikeGnSC I don't care who gets credit...as long as it's a good design and buildable.
Ellis But, expressed joint lines, too, right?
Chris Schwarz David: But Stickley's business was inflexible.
Bob Lang Ellis- Purpose-driven structure, a chair doesn't pretend to be a table or vice versa. Does its job and lasts forever. Respectful of the materials
Ellis good one
Chris Schwarz David: And it failed. Like many of the utopian communities.
Chris Schwarz David: But Leopold continues on (in spirit)
David_B Chris: Ah... that I didn't know. I know 'Fra' Benjamin and the Roycrofters stumbled over their philosophy.
Chris Schwarz David: And he turned bact to Colonial repros at WWI
Ellis Bob, I was more referring to franked joinery being the evidence of the structure of the joints.
Ellis Part of the structural integrity of the designs.
David_B Chris: I didn't know that, either. Very intriguing.
MikeGnSC Ellis...are you talking about the shadow lines common on A&C furniture?
Ellis Mike.. sure, raised through tenons and so forth.
Bob Lang Ellis-that was a big element, and a lot of the time there really wasn't a structural reason for some of the big honking joints. they were there to make a point. One was the skill required to do the joinery.
Chris Schwarz David: I actually think it's a point in Stickley's favor.
Chris Schwarz David: If he were crass, he would have tuened to Bauhaus or something.
David_B Haha... I was just about to say that, Chris...
Chris Schwarz David: instead, he lived his life with his daughterÉ
David_B As several fin d'siecle architect and designers did.
Chris Schwarz experimenting with finishes on the underside of drawers until the very end.
Ellis Yes, but overkill was part of the philosophy.
Chris Schwarz David: I do think he "got religion" at some point.
MikeGnSC Ellis...or over design like a lot of engineers like to do.
Ellis I think Gus experimented all his life.
David_B Chris: It certainly sounds that way. Makes him ever more interesting to me. So glad to have learned that.
Chris Schwarz Bob: I'd like to talk about handiwork when you have a minute.
Bob Lang David and Chris-there's some good evidence that Gus didn't have to go belly up when he did. He had some opportunities to do what his little brother did, and instead chose to walk away. I think he had so much invested philosophically that he couldn't just walk away.
Ellis You can't go wrong with overdesign unless it starts making the proportions too gross.
Chris Schwarz Bob: Agreed. Right on. See above.
Bob Lang Chris Sure-I'm just trying to keep up, typing as fast as I can (just like at work).
Ellis :-)
Chris Schwarz Bob: Ha
David_B Ellis, that's the way my chairs look until you see me sit in one, heh.
Chris Schwarz Bob: You know I'll always blather on to fill the dead air.
Ellis Aren't tangents grand?
Chris Schwarz Just like at work.
Chris Schwarz Bob: The Craftsman was a big proponent of hand work at home right?
Bob Lang Ellis-that's one of the things that I find interesting about so much of what you see today. A lot of the power of the orignal designs was proportion. You can't just stick exposed Mortises & spindles and corbels on any old thing and have a good design.
Chris Schwarz Pam: You missed some high-minded design chat
pam Shoot, sorry about that, I was downloading an audio book, just finished.
Ellis I have a feeling we're still having it... :-)
Chris Schwarz Pam: We'll try to keep it going.
Ellis Chris.. That's my feeling. About the home part...
David_B That's for sure, Bob... I've seen some 'attempted' A&C that does just that, and it's utter kitsch.
David_in_Central_Ohio Bob - I've even seen modern stuff with "through tenons" that magically pass through each other. :)
Bob Lang Chris- Yes. for all the pain that getting his designs copied caused,there was a lot of nice furniture designs given away in the magazine. A little light on the how to, but I think in those days people were more adept at doing things like that.
Chris Schwarz Bob: So what was the message?
Chris Schwarz Bob: Build it at home with hand tools? Why?
Bob Lang Chris (and hi to David)- There's a lot to be gained by making nice stuff out of wood, relationship with the materials the process, thetools . . .
MikeGnSC Chris...back then...everyman couldn't always afford store-bought furniture...at least good furniture...so they made their own.
MikeGnSC At least that's the way I see it
Chris Schwarz Mike: I disagree. The 1880s brought on a lot of inexpensive furniture.
Chris Schwarz Mike: It built Grand Rapids.
Ellis Wasn't part of the philosophy that the pieces should be aesthetically pure and easily made by the average homeowner?
Bob Lang Chris- These were pre-power tool days. Most of the stationary machines we know today were around in some form, but not the routers, belt sanders, etc.
Chris Schwarz Bob: So there was only one way to make it at home?
Ellis And for the people who couldn't make their own, Stickley & Company was ready to fill the bill?
David_B And a lot of that furniture was a garish ghoul-osh of vomited Victorian festoonery with no historical context.
MikeGnSC Chris...You might be right now that I think about it...I think Iwas equating todays cheap factory furniture with stuff made back then.
pam It's hard for me to believe that the percentage of the population that has the time and ability to build furniture has substantially changed in the last century or so.
David_B In the 1880s, that is.
Chris Schwarz Mike and David: Since 1880, there has been no end to the cheap stuff.
Ellis It is quite a shift, Pam
Bob Lang Ellis- Yes to the purity, I'm not so sure about the easy part. Apparently there was a fair amount of recreational woodworking done. Some more challenging than other.
MikeGnSC Chris...at least back in 1880, the furniture was made of real wood.
Chris Schwarz Mike: Pressed wood, sometimes.
Chris Schwarz Mike, and there were some plies.
Chris_in_Iowa I don't know Pam. Think of the percentage of the population that used to can food, or bake breads.
Ellis At the turn of the last century, the average farmer or homeowner had a tool kit full of rustic hand tools, and the skills to sharpen and use them. We've lost a lot, across the culture.
David_B Yeah... pressed wood faux carving appliques.
David_in_Central_Ohio Pam - I don't know how ability has changed but there is no question that more people today have the financial means and the time to pursue a hobby like woodworking. 100 years ago the 6 day work week still reigned.
MikeGnSC I didn't know they had pressed wood back then...I knew they had a version of plywood
Bob Lang Most of the cheap materials and processes we hate about factory-made furniture of today were developed around this time. That's what the rebellion of the A&C movement was against.
Ellis The difference is that a hundred years ago, people needed to do it.
Chris Schwarz Bob Exactly!
Ellis BRB
David_B All the different incarnations of A&C; Art Nouveau, Seccesion, Jugenstil, were simultaneously rebelling.
Chris Schwarz David: Isn't each movement a rebellion against the previous form?
David_B Well, usually... and some are even retrograde, like the Pre-Raphaelites.
Bob Lang I think there has been a shift in the hand skills, and problem-solving abilities of the average guy. My Grandfather, Uncle and Dad could do a lot of things with wood and metal. Some was part of their trade, but other things were out of it. I think we've lost a lot ofthat, and whatever kind of a hole that leaves in us we can fill by working with wood.
Chris Schwarz David: Couldn't it be argued that A&C was a medevial revival?
Ellis Nice insight, Bob.
David_B Well, in several Belle Epoch manifestations, yes... esp. the English with Morris, Sir Walter Scott, and so on...
Chris Schwarz David: And in the look.
David_B And in France, the restorationists of the medieval cathedrals gave rise to Art Nouveau there.
pam These things still need to be done today, it's just a different population doing them.
David_B Right. In the Morris tapestries and carpets...
David_B and even his typography.
Bob Lang Chris- That was also one of the ideals that Gus held up -- the medieval Guilds and what they accomplished and stood for. The first issue of the Craftsman was about Morris, the second Ruskin, and third the guilds
Chris Schwarz David: And the furniture....
Eduardo good evening to all from lima peru
David_B Ha! Yes... some of the English A&C furniture is amazingly medieval...
David_B look at the library in Macintosh's Glasgow school of Art.
David_B It scans space in a medieval sense of sacredness.
Eduardo whats up tonite?
pam A&C
Chris Schwarz David: Agreed.
David_B The chairs in that library are the most medieval furnishings I've ever seen.
Ellis We're talking about the methods and motivations of Arts & Crafts furniture, especially Stickley.
pam David, are the chairs as uncomfortable as they look?
Eduardo well then Ill wach this no?
Chris Schwarz David: The Glasgow School and Limbert in particular had that medieval slab look.
Bob Lang David- There's a lot more in common designwise that I usually think of between Gothic and Arts & Crafts
Eduardo I may learn something new I think
David_B Pam... do you really think anyone's gonna let a 600 lb. galoot sit in an original Macintosh chair?
Ellis How much handwork was done in Stickley's factory?
Chris Schwarz David: If it's built right....
Chris Schwarz Ellis: Great Question.
pam I don't think a 600 lb. galoot could walk over to it. :)
David_B Macintosh chairs are somewhat known for their less than perfect construction.
David_B The teahouse chairs were rather weak.
Ellis Who needs perfect?
David_B The modern repros are of different joinery.
William_OTC But why should all the rest of us be forced to sit in chairs thatwere designed for the 600# galoot? Much less, pick them up and move them around?
Chris Schwarz David: This I did not know.
Andy Rae I own a Stickley Brothers chair, and it looks as if all the mortises were machine cut. Precious little handwork, I'd say.
Ellis Every design is structured for a particular percentage of the population. That is another dimension worth noting here....
David_B This one could, Pam, heh... almost gave David Powell and Tierney atthe Leeds workshop a heart attack when I pretended I was going to sitin one of their saddle chairs.
Chris Schwarz William: I think most Windsors could handle it.
David_B They're light as a feather, pristine, and rosewood.
Chris Schwarz Andy and Bob: On Stickley handwork....
Bob Lang Ellis- I think what there was was similar to factories today. Fitting doors and drawers and final assembly. Prep for finishing. I saw some figures on the breakdown of employees in Cather's new book, and probably 90 percent of the help was machine operators or sawyers, few cabinetmakers or joiners.
Chris Schwarz I have a Gus Stickley rocker.
Chris Schwarz And I can find no evidence of sandpapering.
Chris Schwarz I've stared at it real close.
William_OTC Chris, yes many could, if properly maintained. But not if some 600# galoot "fixed" them with nails and chair doctor.
Chris Schwarz William: Good point.
Andy Rae Do you mean there are machine marks, Chris?
Ellis Right, Andy, but the question is, was it designed that way strictly for production mentalities, or did it have to do with a style that people could copy at home?
Chris Schwarz Andy: No. I wonder if it was scraped.
Chris Schwarz It's perfect on the outside
David_in_Central_Ohio Since we seem to be wandering a bit from Gus (and I've held out as long as I can), what about Greene & Greene? Where do they fit in? Very different from Stickley in that their furniture was never massproduced and the joinery isn't as "honest." Nor is it as spartan but still A&C nonetheless. I'm currently working on a reproduction of the Gamble House entry table and I can tell you that figuring out howthat thing is put together had been quite a chore.
Andy Rae Wow. I'd be really surprised if it was scraped!
William_OTC And, some furniture was designed only for that percentage of the population marketing it. A real shame, since most people can't tell if the through mortises were applied, and hiding dowels.
Chris Schwarz Andy: Me too!
Bob Lang Chris- I've always wondered about the history of sandpaper. When did it become good enough to be in common use and replace the plane and scraper for surface prep? I'm guessing 30s or 40s, but that's just a guess.
Ellis Scraping goes back a long way.
Chris Schwarz Andy: I can usually see scratches where pigment has collected.
Chris Schwarz Ah SANDPAPER.
Chris Schwarz I love this topic.
Chris Schwarz Someone should do a story about it.
Andy Rae Anyone ever rubbed with sharkskin?
Chris Schwarz Or rush?
Chris Schwarz I've been poking through the Gabriel inventory lately.
Ellis Or scraped with glass?
Andy Rae ...or dirt?
Chris Schwarz I have no life.
Ellis Join the club.
William_OTC John Aniano uses rush, or at least has experimented with it.
Chris Schwarz Gabriel's second inventory lists 11 reams of sandpaper at 500 sheets per ream.
David_B Greene & Greene had a somewhat different A&C vocabulary,having been more influenced by Japonism than the East Coast craftsmen.
Chris Schwarz And this was in 1806 (?).
David_B Andy... I have... shagreen and shark.
Chris Schwarz That's more sandpaper than you'll find in stock at Lowe's.
Andy Rae That's a lotta paper, m'boy.
David_B I'll save mine for Art Deco inlaying.
pam I see a lot of Asian design influence in A&C.
Ellis I suspect that Stickley and company used some hand planes for finalsurfaces. Their surfaces are too slick to be right off the planer.
Andy Rae How does it compare, say, with 220-grit paper, David?
Bob Lang David-I think that G&G are real important in design history, kind of their own separate branch of Arts & Crafts period. I also think the Hall Bros. played a major role. Looking at early pieces from that recent auction you can see a tremendous leap in the overall look and feel of the furniture about the time the Halls came on board.
Chris Schwarz I *suspect* that sandpaper has a much deeper history than many suspect.
David_B Well, Japonism was at the root of several A&C branches.
Chris Schwarz David: Prarie
Chris Schwarz Can't spell...
Ellis BL..The interaction between the Greenes and Halls is legendary.
David_B Macintosh, the Viennese secessionists... And FLW and Prairie.... right, Chris.
Ellis Commercially, it is more recent, Chris.
Chris Schwarz David: Sounds right to me.
Chris Schwarz Ellis: I just see sandpaper come up in early texts.
Ellis Where did Swedish come in, David?
David_in_Central_Ohio Bob - there was discussion of this today on a G&G mailing list I'm on. Some of the details in G&G furniture would not (likely) have been found on the drawings. How much did the Halls come up with? Of course, Charles is known to have spent a lot of time in the shop supervising.
pam Late 19th century artists in general were strongly influenced by Asian/Japanese arts.
David_B It was much more apparent in graphics than furniture and architectural woodworking, though.
Chris Schwarz I cannot say for sure, but I need to dig in.
Bob Lang Chris- We're just scratcing the surface on this sandpaper thing. Anyway, in the real high end factories of today, everything gets some serious attention and hand sanding before the finish goes on. Just because you can't see evidence doesn't mean it didn't happen. You'renot supposed to be able to see it.
Ellis I suspect that the collusion had to do with qualitative stuff. Greene didn't need to tell Hall how to make it, only what it had to look like.
David_B Hear, hear, Bob...
David_B There's good sandpapering and bad.
Chris Schwarz Bob: I'll defer to everyone on this issue until I really get some answers. And I will.
Ellis Now I'm really interested in how Stickley sanded his furniture.
Chris Schwarz Ellis: Me too.
David_in_Central_Ohio Ellis - I agree. Charles was giving direction in look ,not construction. I suspect that some of his designs evolved quite a bit during construction as well.
Chris Schwarz Bob and David: What about handwork in G&G?
pam David-in-co, which mailing list does G&G?
Andy Rae We just finished up a huge restaurant job in the "Arts &Crafts" style in downtown Asheville. All quartersawn white oak, fumed with 26% ammonia, pegged mortise-and-tenon, most all surfaces scraped,etc. Big job, and boy are we glad it's done!
Chris Schwarz Was it also influenced by Japan?
David_B There were several good 'papier de verre' makers in France and Belgium in the late 1800s. Apparently Majorelle and Guimard were buyers.
Ellis Cool, Andy. Send pix.
Andy Rae Will do, Ellis. (As soon as I take 'em.)
David_in_Central_Ohio I'll defer to Bob quite a bit on this but I suspect a high degree of hand work. If for no other reason than the Halls coming over from Sweden (and bringing other craftsmen with them as well I think).
Bob Lang David-I saw some of that and meant to comment on it. Even today,there's a big difference between what the architect draws and what goes out the door. Drawings, especially in the day, were a big investment in time and pretty precious. What the existing G&G drawings show isw hat the client was sold on. How that got communicated to the guys who put it together was likely something else. Rough sketches, one on one in the shop, or a general understanding of what was meant by thedrawings.
Chris Schwarz David: Photos I've seen of the Hall's shop look pretty mechanzied.
David_in_Central_Ohio Pam - It is a Yahoo group actually. Started by Darrell Peart. I think it's called Greene-style-furniture
David_B G&G shows details in the pegged 'floating cloud' mannerisms, especially in one hall table that is found in damned near every G&Gbook.
pam Thanks, David.
Ellis The Halls had a big, line driven shop, but they had the carvers with an understanding of the nuances Charles Greene wanted.
Chris Schwarz Bob: Have you compared the drawings online with the pieces ever?
Chris Schwarz Ellis: I think anyone who has been to the Gamble House will attest that it looks like a lot of hand fitting.
David_in_Central_Ohio David_B - I'd bet that is the piece I'm making. It is one of their canonical pieces.
Ellis I suspect that drawings for custom furniture have always been vague when it comes to joinery and the finer points.
David_B Probably. Beautiful piece. The proportions are exquisitely elongated.
David_in_Central_Ohio I have great respect for the Halls. That table is really testing my abilities.
Chris Schwarz Ellis: But the Greenes had some serious woodworking training in St. Louis.
Ellis And, as a veteran of many years of custom work, I concur, Chris. The Gamble house required a lot of on-site work.
Andy Rae I dunno, Chris. If I didn't know better, I'd say the Gamble House has a lot of California Roundover, which of course is done routers and router jigs.
Bob Lang On the handwork part, I think a lot of the actual joinery was doneby machine. I saw some X-rays of chairs showing how the mortises were chopped, and they were kind-of crude where you couldn't see it. If you think about what was produced in a few short years, the guys in the Hall's shop had to be moving right along. There are a lot of handtooled details but they were efficient.
David_B The edge contours alone would be a challenge, David in CO.
David_B They're 'softened' but not mechanically or over-evenly 'rounded'.
Ellis They were well informed, Chris, and that made it easier to communicate with the shop team.
William_OTC Ellis, ours are. The customer doesn't understand the joinery, just our assurances that it is tradtional when the traditional joinery worksbetter. The details we work out as the piece is being built, because it doesn't look the same on flat paper.
Chris Schwarz Andy: Hmmm. Shaper?
Ellis David, that is what has intrigued me about the Greene's work.
Bob Lang Chris-I think one of the reasons that the Greenes designs work so well is that training. They really did know how to build. Something a lot of todays architects don't have.
Chris Schwarz Bob: Glad I'm not an architect.
Chris Schwarz In this room.
Ellis It's best not to know too much, Chris. :-)
David_B Heh.
Andy Rae You can produce a nice, even roundover with a shaper or router bit, and then turn it into a graduated ellipse with very little handwork. Hell, you can even do it with a pad sander after routing!
David_in_Central_Ohio David - yes, I break many of the edges by hand for that reason. Though I don't claim to have anything like the skills of the Halls et al.
Ellis routers weren't around then
Chris Schwarz Ellis: Shapers were. Big time.
Ellis Bingo
Andy Rae Yeah, but shapers and gazillions of cutters were, Ellis. Same thing, really.
Chris Schwarz Andy: I think I'm with you on this. Shapers. Sandpaper.
Chris Schwarz There are just too many edge details to do by hand.
Bob Lang Ellis- Not till the twenties. You can do some nice rounding pretty fast with a spokeshave and a block plane if you practice. Lots of chances to practice working for G&G
David_B DiCO: It's really more sophisticated than expected and conveys a sense of subliminal detailing for such a deceptively simple piece.
Ellis Right, Andy, but line-driven shapers ran at about 3,000 rpm, so they needed bigger cutterheads to get quality results.
David_in_Central_Ohio Returning to an earlier theme: construction was not a religion with the Greenes.
Andy Rae Today it's routers and random-orbit sanders; yesterday it might have been hand-cut shaper cutters and 80-grit sandpaper wrapped around a block of wood.
David_B DiCO: Then again, that's true of most good artisanship.
Ellis I would bet that Stickley & Co. were using shapers daily. I just shot a video of a shaper c. 1860. They were in common use at the turn of the century.
Andy Rae I highly doubt that the Gamble House was done with spokeshaves. It's way too clean looking for that.
Chris Schwarz Andy: And there's just too dang much of it.
Chris Schwarz It's almost overwhelming.
Ellis And it all looks so uniform.
Andy Rae Precisely.
Chris Schwarz I spent 30 minutes once just gazing at that main staircase.
pam Andy, clean or antiseptic?
Andy Rae Clean, in a nice way. With elliptical curves that generate constant interest to the eye.
Chris Schwarz Pam: I think the work is very humanscale and surface oriented.
Chris Schwarz Pam, in fact, it reminds me of a Shinto temple in some way. Very much a timber frame aesthetic.
Ellis Okay, this brings us to a question of how Greene & Greene represented a progression from Stickley?
Andy Rae Good Q, Ellis.
David_B And you want to touch it, Pam. Very tactile.
Chris Schwarz Ellis: They are connected.
Andy Rae I think the use of mahogany plays a big role in that, too, David.
Ellis I think this brings us to the crux of the hand vs. power tool speculation...
David_B Oh, absolutely, Chris... it has a 'balance' that's not at all static.
David_B Just poised.
David_in_Central_Ohio I think that they weren't tied to a philosophy as Stickley was gave them a freedom to move beyond their starting point.
Chris Schwarz Ellis: When clients couldn't afford the Hall's work, the Greene's recommended Gus.
David_B Yeah, Andy.
Bob Lang Historically, the Greenes were keen on Stickley's work, both the furniture and the magazine. Some of the really early pieces look like they were using Stickley themes as a starting point.
Chris Schwarz The Gamble House is furnished with Gus Stickley pieces. On purpose.
Chris Schwarz And I think there is a "room aesthetic" that they both clinged to.
Andy Rae Wow. I did not know that, Chris.
Chris Schwarz Look at the way rooms were shown in The Craftsman.
Bob Lang David, and they weren't occupied with a zillion side enterprises like Stickley was.
David_in_Central_Ohio I don't recall seeing much Stickley in the Gamble house. I've seen pictures of it in others but not in the Gamble.
Ellis Well, the Greenes didn't do furniture out of context, if I recall correctly. They were unique in their custom merging of architecture and furniture.
Andy Rae And here I am, hoping that some day my house will be furnished in Nakashima...
Chris Schwarz The office upstairs is all Gus Stickley.
Chris Schwarz I looked under the chairs and desk myself.
Ellis Not unique. FLW was in the same boat, as were others.
Chris Schwarz Almost got kicked out.
Bob Lang Chris can be pretty sneaky.
Chris Schwarz Ellis: Good point.
dale_L Andy, they sell a lot of George N's stuff on eBay
Bob Lang Ellis- The Greenes couldn't talk every client into going with the furniture too. All that work was very expensive in the day.
Ellis How do you think Nakashima's work relates to all this, Andy?
Ellis I'd agree, Bob. The Greenes stuck to architecture first.
Chris Schwarz Bob: I think the "lifestyle" thing is an important point.
Ellis But, if you think about it, all these guys had an architectural style they were working with.
David_in_Central_Ohio I don't recall the upstairs office. Maybe the tour I was on didn't go there. Clearly most of the furniture was designed for the house. You are correct in general about the use of Gus. I made Gus's bow arm Morris because I saw it in the Duncan-Irwin (using drawings by Bob, by the way).
Bob Lang Ellis-I think they were really happen when they got to do everything. But both FLW & the Greenes used Stickley stuff. To my eye it fits right in.
Andy Rae It doesn't, Ellis, My remark was a quip in reference to Stickley furniture in Greene and Greene homes. (Read: sense of humor.)
David_B But Stickley always appears more massive in FLW homes...
David_B because of his 'problem' with height.
Chris Schwarz David: And usually darker...
Ellis Andy, I got the reference, but I was intrigued by the notion that Nakashima fits into this paradigm.
Andy Rae ..and "flatter."
David_B He was short and he thought everything should be scaled down somewhat.
David_B Used to yell at his brother to 'sit' "you're ruining the proportions."
Chris Schwarz Hilarious
Ellis I would believe that, David.
Andy Rae Perhaps it does, Ellis. After all, George was yet another architect. He was well aware of the influences of his time.
Ellis He also had a production/custom mentality going.
Andy Rae Yes, there are may similarities. There's also the "craft" side, too. Hand-made, intentional furniture.
Bob Lang Hey everybody, I need to wrap this up soon. fingers are going numb, and I have to get to work in the mornign. Any other questions for me?
Andy Rae What's your favorite color, Bob? (jes' foolin.)
David_B Not any that'd lead to a short answer, Bob... So maybe another time? Enjoyed it thoroughly, btw.
Andy Rae Thanks, Bob, for taking the time to be with us.
David_in_Central_Ohio Thanks Bob.
Chris Schwarz Bob you have permission to come in late tomorrow!
Ellis Bob, where did you find all the Stickley furniture to measure for your books?
Bob-florida Thanks for great chat!
Ellis Sorry for the late question. We can take it up later.
pam Nite, Bob, thanks for all the time and books.
Ellis You bet, Bob.
Chris Schwarz Ellis: That's a question I want to know the answer to. Trade secret!
David_B Chris... thank you, too. This was well worth my time.
Andy Rae C'mon, Bob. Out with it, pal!!!!!
Bob Lang Ellis- Wherever I can. Mostly auctions and antique stores. I do a lot of work from photos and I have a bunch. I've learned to measure fast before they throw me out.
Ellis We'll be talking more about this subject. We're making good progress, but we have plenty more to discuss.
Andy Rae Sounds like you and Chris are two peas in a pod.
Chris Schwarz Bob is an *amazing* woodworker.
Bob Lang Andy-it's a real blessing to have a boss like Chris
Chris Schwarz And a great guy. We are very lucky.
Ellis Sorry I missed the A& C conference at the Grove Park Inn this year. Did you go, Andy?
Hhundley Nite all
Andy Rae Nope. I was physically on the way to the Inn, when the flu kicked and I headed home instead.
Bob Lang Thanks everybody. If anybody wants to ask me anything later, I think Im fairly easy to find
Ellis I hate it when that happens.
Chris Schwarz That's like a block away from you or something, no?
Andy Rae But I'm currently surrounded by a lot of the guys that build this stuff, and quite a few that exhibit at the conference.
Ellis Okay, I do appreciate all of you being with us tonight. It was a very informative chat, and the archive will live on in infamy.
Andy Rae The Grove Park is within two stone's throw from my house, Chris. My house is nicer, and much easier to clean.
Chris Schwarz Thanks Ellis. This was a very good chat.
Chris Schwarz Andy: Ha!
Andy Rae Thanks, Ellis. And thanks, Chris. You guys rock.
Bob Lang Thanks again Ellis, good night all
Ellis Chris and Bob, thanks mucho.