If you’re a writer you should read a lot. Not just read anything but feed on a steady diet of good writing. A painter or sculptor benefits from studying masterworks, the architect from closely examining fine buildings. It goes without saying that the same applies to a furniture designer. I look at a lot of furniture in books, museums, or wherever the opportunity presents. I also find that over time, as I learn more about design, I go back through those same books and notice things I missed earlier. Sometimes my admiration grows as I have a greater appreciation for the design behind the piece. There are times though when work I once admired, no longer shines. My taste has broadened but also as a result of studying design my eye is more critical. Less gray area and more prone to strong opinion.
Sometimes I go back and look at some of my old writing to see how it holds up. I have published pieces in number of national periodicals and unpublished manuscripts going back twenty years . It’s interesting to see if it holds up five or ten years later. I have to admit, only a few things in those early attempts still sparkle. Much that’s best left in a drawer.
Same goes for furniture. Sometimes it’s good to look at something done years ago and ask myself. “George, what were you thinking?”
The last few weeks I’ve been helping Barb’s mom move out of the home she’s lived since 1947. I ran across a mirror I made for her about 20 years ago. I went through this mirror phase when I built six or eight of these based loosely on a number of period looking glasses. Also went through a tall case clock phase, but that’s another story. The decorative ornament flanking the mirror frame was fun to experiment and play with. You can find an almost infinite number of these whimsical compositions in original period looking glass frames. A bit odd now to think about framing your face in what is essentially a wooden ink blot.
When I look at this mirror today, I see things in the design that I wasn’t aware of originally. There’s a lively contrast between convex and concave shapes. It avoids repeating shapes on a similar scale thus avoiding monotony. I also see the small horns punctuating the large arch at the top, telling the eye that something is about to change.
Would I change it if I were to do it again? Hard to say. I’m doing different work now and interested in different things. More interested in being inspired by, than copying period work. I’d probably want to make a frame with more dramatic moldings or mix woods or mix textures. Still, sometimes it’s fun to take a look back. Hopefully I have a lot of work ahead of me to look back upon.
George R. Walker
I am pretty new to woodworking. I found your advice about keeping one’s eyes open to be helpful. Today I went to an antique mall and there were a great number of high quality pieces, which I didn’t spend much time studying. An opportunity lost, but perhaps I will go back tomorrow.