Ever since the discovery by the Keno brothers of a rare John and Thomas Seymour card table on the Television show, Antiques Roadshow
, in September 1997, there has been unabated interest in the furniture of this father/son team.
This little table, with its crackled, darkened surface, worn feet, and warped top, was acquired at a New Jersey yard sale in 1970 for $25 and eventually sold at auction for $540,000. As antique furniture goes, that’s a pretty spectacular price! And that might be enough to picque ones interest. But there is more. . . .
American furniture in the federal period (1790-1830) adopted many classical elements of both Greek and Roman architecture and furniture. This classical style went through various phases, with elegant proportions, symetrical design, and fine details remaining constant.
The Seymours totally mastered the elements of this beautiful style and created furniture that adhered/followed to the basic characteristics of the classical style, but also celebrated American indepdendence, innovation, and ingenuity. Athough their pieces were often/sometimes inspired by English furniture, they exhibited a free and energetic spirit that set their work apart from that of their contemporaries.
After researching the Seymours on line, looking at several books, tearing through hundreds of photos, I chose a small (10 3/4″ deep x 23″ wide x 21″ high) dressing mirror as PFW’s next Master Class project (scheduled to begin in Febuary 2013). Why a dressing mirror? It’s not the most useful or practical piece for contemporary life/living.
Well, the piece doesn’t “grab” you right away. The first time I saw it left me unimpressed. However, I always came back to the dressing mirror; something always brought me back to it. There was something about the successful combination of clean straight lines and exquisite curves, that intrigued me. And where the use of contrasting veneers could upset the visual balance, on this mirror it worked perfectly. This was a subtle, but sophisticated design; one that took some time to appreciate.
Like most of our Master Classe projecets, this one also has a series of small challenges. There’s a modest and manageable amount of veneering, some inlay and banding, resawing, fine drawermaking and installation, and small carcase construction. All in all, its small size and interesting range of skills makes it perfect candidate.
After deciding on the mirror, I had to develop dimensions in order to build it. I obtained good quality image of the piece and was able to scale it up using an architect’s ruler. Although not exact, I’m sure the dimensions are close.
Preparing the veneer
In the foreground is a leaf of mahogany crotch veneer (for the top). In the background are a full-size drawing, templates for the legs and the shaped apron.
Usually crotch mahogany veneer has to be conditioned before it can be worked. Its often very brittle and prone to cracking and splitting. At the shop we prep it with a solution of water, gylcerin, denatured alcohol, and glue. This solution is sprayed on until the veneer is fairly soaked.
The flattening solution is sprayed on before laying it up in the press.
Then the veneer is laid between 2 pieces of MDF and sheets of newsprint then set into the cold press. This pressing allows the veneer to absorb the softening solution, while the weight and pressure flatten it. The newsprint absorbs the excess water and accelerates the drying.
The "package" of veneer is placed into the press and screwed down for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, the veneer is removed from the press. The package is unwrapped and the veneer is examined for flaws that might show up later.
After flattening, the once brittle veneer can be safely handled.
Now the veneer is supple and soft, ready to be worked.