Changing seasons, hairy legs, and a chair
by, 03-01-2011 at 10:31 PM (5798 Views)
Here in the northwoods of Wisconsin XC ski trails are starting to get soft, the birkebeiner has concluded, roads are still too icy to bike, and our dictator (err governor) has managed to divide a pretty easy going population. Perhaps it explains the highest concentration of taverns per capita in the US.
Might as well use the time between seasons to get cracking on the major project for 2011.
Having never been big on upholstered furniture (except for the comfy one in front of the TV), I was reluctant at first to even consider building it. But after a day at the museum pawing over some of the most incredible early American carving, I am convicted to build one of my own. Hopefully you will enjoy the journey.
A Little History:
The chair has a somewhat unique history. It's claimed to have been built in the shop of Benjamin Randolf in Philadelphia circa 1770. There's discrepancy in the literature on exactly who did the carving, but in Beckerdite's 2007 edition of American Furniture, Andrew Brunk attributes the carving to John Pollard, and I tend to agree with his conclusion. The chair then passed down through the family of Randolf's 2nd wife and ultimately into the collection of Howard Reifsynder. (If anyone knows the chronology between these two points, please let me know...having trouble finding it). Anyway, in 1929 Reifsynder's collection went to auction and this piece was purchased by the Philadelphia Museum of Arts (PMA) for a then-astounding $33,000. After this sale, newspapers wondered if the collecting public had gone bonkers....I'm second guessing my own sanity for trying to replicate it. Anyway, there are a couple of other tidbits that may be of interest. At auction time, there was some discussion that the chair may be English rather than American. Apparently that was hotly debated and would have made a large difference in price, but attribution was finally made to Randolf (probably because of the provenance). Also, somewhere back in the 1970s, a curator at PMA decided to coat the chair in a lovely shade of lacquer...you'll have to take my word for this not being pretty. Anyway, a few years ago Chris Storb did a phenomenal job restoring it to it's original beauty. Props to Chris...very talented individual.
Putting together drawings has been a minor pain. Mostly I use deltacad and it's done ok, but there's a couple of annoyances when it comes to generating carving templates from photos in this tool. I have no doubt there's a better way, but haven't been able to find it yet. The approach used is to bring a photo into deltacad and scale it. Here's where the first frustration comes in. If I create a known-length reference line and then place the photo on a layer below it (so that the line is visible on top of the photo) every time I scale the photo it gets brought to the top of the viewing stack again. What a pain to have to move it back each I need to move or change magnification to get the scale correct. Sure would be nice to pin it to a layer and be able to edit it there. Once the photo is scaled correctly, it's really pretty easy to draw straight lines and get all the dimension measured at the museum in place, but creating carving templates is another story. One of the most difficult things is dealing with camera distortion on curved surfaces. I suppose there's some mathematical was to resolve this, but for now I get as close as possible in a 2D view and adjust on the real piece as needed...not necessarily fun, but it does work. However, the only way I know of the generate the intricate curved patterns in Deltacad is by using splines. These things are a PIA compared to other Bezier curve drawing tools. Anyone know of a Deltacad add-on or other solution to improve this. Seems like an inordinate amount of time is spent nudging spline points to get nice curved surfaces. You're probably thinking "what a whiner," and you're right about that, but to even the scale a bit I must say that the combination of cad and digital photos for generating drawings on something as complicated as this chair is astounding, and for the price Deltacad does a pretty darn good job. The net is, drawings are almost done and now it's on the the fun part.
This project starts with the legs, and one of the coolest features on these legs compared to other early American chairs is that the legs aren't ball & claw...rather they have hairy paw feet. General Cadwalader's suite of furniture also had hairy paw feet, but after inspecting several of those pieces in person, it's clear that the Randolf easy chair carver (Pollard) did a much better job. I keep comparing our dog and horse feet to the photos and am amazed how life-like they are. After a little trial and error, the hairless feet look like this:
Next it's time to carve the knees with bold Rococo styling. After basic shaping and some template adjusting, the knee is ready to be carved:
This photo shows the knee partially carved. The basic heights have all been set, but very few details are in.
Then finally details are added and the knee is complete. (Excuse the knee color as I wiped mineral spirits on the leg thinking it would photograph better...not!)
I'm still stuck on the hair though. Have one practice piece to play with and then the rubber meets the road. Hopefully it won't be long and the chair base can be assembled.
If you are interested in this project and in the Kansas City area, Calvin Hobbs has agreed to tolerate me for a presentation on the history, joinery and carving of this chair on July 30, 2011. Contact Calvin or check the sapfm local chapters bulletin board for more info. Now I just need to ok travel outside of the state with our governator.