Following yesterday’s dovetail drama, I returned early this morning to continue fitting my joints, and eventually with the help of master craftsman, Jonathon Rose, I had one of the most relaxed glue ups ever. My drawer was nearing completion.
Prior to the drawer’s assembly, however, we had visited the local furniture studio and workshop of Matthew Burt. We soon learnt that he is a Rycotewood alumni and a designer-maker with a distinct ethos for solid wood and handmade veneers. Although self made veneers carry with them labour intensive processes, they can have visual and sustainable benefits; meaning that pieces of furniture, for example the yew dining table and chairs that Matthew showed us in his workshop, are able to have a consistent aesthetic across the solid and veneered components, as they both derive from the same tree, which would otherwise be difficult if using pre bought veneers. As we witnessed, self made veneers of 3mm have the advantage of being able to be sanded back over the years if and when a piece becomes damaged or marked, thus increasing the longevity and durability of the piece.
I liked the way Matthew referred to trees, as “recycled sunshine and rainwater”, as it demonstrates how timber is a renewable resource if properly managed and sourced. His designs celebrate the character of the tree, through figurative grain or beautiful defects, such as spalted beech or bur Oak. Often these defects within timber render the material useless for certain applications, due to the timber’s reduced structural strength. However for fine furniture making, these figurative pieces of timber can still be utilized, despite their instability, if they are made into veneers or used for frame and panel construction, for example doors.
After all this talk of veneers, the group had an opportunity to glue our marquetry designs onto the Plywood tops. This is a process I have had a fair amount of experience with during my two years at Rycotewood Furniture Centre, however it was the first time I had used a manual veneer press- “put your back into it, Hattie!”
Following our visit to Matthew Burt’s we headed back to the Messums tithe barn where a journalist from Country Life Magazine met us for a quick interview over our lunch break. The discussion that followed was an ideal opportunity to debate the state of craft education in the UK at present. It was interesting to hear how each of the student’s experiences varied, and how valuable the summer school experience would be for each of us. As William Warren pointed out, the closure of several craft courses and institutes from across the country does give the impression that we are in dark times, however as the LINLEY summer school’s very existence demonstrates, the future does look hopeful for the industry.
It therefore seemed fitting that that evening we were fortunate enough to be present for a talk from John Makepeace surrounding his book Beyond Parnham, which described how he came to establish the college at Parnham hall that so many influential people within the furniture industry graduated from, including Lord David Linley (now Snowdon), himself. Upon hearing that the fees for Parnham would have set its pupils back further than those studying at Eaton, I was shocked, although after further though, somewhat unsurprised. Specialist education of such standard is surely going to cost a good amount, and it therefore made me realise how fortunate I am to benefit from higher education, despite the necessity for a student loan.
This theme stuck with me for the rest of the evening, and as all the students retired for the evening, my roommates and I discussed how the craft industry could be considered elitist and/or indulgent; a hot discussion, and I went to bed that night still considering where my thoughts lay…
For more information on John Makepeace’s talk, visit: http://messumswiltshire.com/talk-furniture-maker-john-makepeace-beyond-parnham-legacy-british-design/