Long way to go

I thought a little visual intermission might be in order, after all the geometry and discussion of phi. In an earlier post someone wrote a comment asking about the carving on that kaidan dansu I made, and I remarked that Chinese furniture carving of the classic periods leaves my work absolutely in the dust. It is the quality of work I seek to achieve, and I know the path is VERY long to get there. For now, I content myself with admiration.

So, here’s a few examples of what I mean. First a superb Horseshoe rail armchair, in Zitan:
And some details:

Here’s a different chair, a ‘Fan-shaped Southern Official’s Hat Armchair’:

And a close up of the carving on the back splat, a popular motif in China and Japan, the Peony:

And here are a pair of fairly extensively carved cabinet doors, in huang-huali (a kind of Rosewood):

And a close up:

Japanese furniture is a bit bereft of carving, however Japanese traditional architecture, especially temples, show an abundance of carved work. These are done by specialists in carving, not the temple carpenters themselves – some of these pieces must take months, if not years to complete (let’s not ask about the cost shall we?):

And a close up of one of the panels, each of which is different, and shows an isometric perspective view:

Look above the Shrimp Beam:

And finally, have you ever seen a better dragon than this one?:

Not to mention the superb rendering of a boiling sea. The jewel the dragon holds in its paw, the positioning of the dragon in the space, the use of empty space – superb work I think!

I could go on, but that should give reader an idea of the high standards in woodwork to be found in some of China and Japan’s best pieces of work.

3 Replies to “Long way to go”

  1. Good stuff. I’ve been wondering why “Japanese” woodworkers, and by that I mean westerners who work primarily in a Japanese esthetic using Japanese tools, seem to be more eager, anxious even, to scale their work up and down, from timber frames to furniture to carving, than do traditional western woodworkers. I am not aware of any western woodworkers who build timberframes nor any timberframers that build fine furniture. Any notions why this may be?

  2. Interesting question Mark. I think there are reasons of continuity that bear upon this issue – there has been a longer continuous tradition of timber frame carpentry in Japan than anywhere else, and the timber frame work, as it originated in China, was the source for the furniture building. That is, the architecture developed first, and the furniture second. The joints used in Chinese and Japanese furniture derive largely from the timber frame joinery. Also, due to high fluctuations in seasonal humidity, frame and panel furniture, with a preference for concealing end grain, developed to deal with that, perfected over time. Thus, Chinese and Japanese furniture has closer relation to the timber carpentry than in our culture I think. It is true that in the West that building arts preceded furniture arts, however, the links are not quite so close any more and each field seem quite distinct from one another. Most timber framing is roof-framing in Europe for one thing, and thus even further away from the sorts of forms one might expect to use in furniture. Most furniture work in the N. America has come to revolve around sheet goods and veneers. A further point is the preference to use power tools in western woodworking, which have led to ever more disparate specializations in tools and methods of work for each particular trade. Most western timber frame shops I have seen do not own a jointer, for example. Japanese timber framing often employs less chunky components than in the west, and this the jointer and planer are standard fixtures in Japanese timber framing shops. The norm in Japanese architecture is that all exposed surfaces are hand-planed – this is considered quite beyond the pale by the Western builder, an outrageous idea. And if you make furniture for a living in the West, rather few of the tools of that trade can be carried over for making a timber frame. I think this is less true in Japan- there are more commonalities in tools and technique – not a complete overlap, but a substantial one. There are timber framers in the west who build furniture, and furniture makers who tackle timber frames, usually their own shop, and a perusal of commercial timber frame web sites will reveal some of them.I think it would be an over-simplification to say that a timber frame is simply furniture-making on a large scale, as some would assert, however if you make objects in solid wood, using joinery, then scaling up or down is not much of an issue.Those are some thoughts that come to mind anyhow. Thanks for the question!~Chris

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