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Working Wood In The 18th Century

26th Annual Working Wood in the 18th Century: By the Book

January 25-28, 2024

In-Person & Virtual Options available
Registration launching fall of 2023

Printed words and images: how did 18th century craftspeople turn them into actions and objects? How did craftspeople fill in the blanks left by what was unwritten or unillustrated? And how can the ink they left on paper inform our understanding of a past in which most craft knowledge was shared orally? Join tradespeople and scholars from Colonial Williamsburg and esteemed guest presenters as they explore woodworking by the book.

Christopher Schwarz, woodworker, author, and publisher of Lost Art Press will open the conference with a keynote on the long historical arc of woodworking books. Later, he’ll demonstrate the low workbench illustrated by M. Hulot in L’Art du Tourneur Mécanicien (1775) to explore how the design has persisted among chairmakers up to the present. Chairmaking of a different flavor will be the focus of demonstrations by master cabinetmaker and educator Dan Faia who will explore the structure and ornament of a high-style neoclassical chair design published by George and Alice Hepplewhite in The Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer’s Guide (1789). Colonial Williamsburg cabinetmakers Bill Pavlak and John Peeler will then explore how 18th century craftspeople could use Thomas Chippendale’s elaborate published patterns as a springboard for designing and building chairs in the “plain and neat” manner favored by colonial Virginia’s fashion-conscious consumers.

In the realm of architectural woodworking, Colonial Williamsburg’s joiners, Brian Weldy, Scott Krogh, and Peter Hudson, along with carpenter Matt Sanbury, will employ a variety of 18th century pattern books to design and build a door, its frame, and the decorative woodwork that surrounds it. Apprentice carpenters Harold Caldwell, Mary Herbert, and McKinley Groves will crack open Joseph Moxon’s late-seventeenth century work Mechanick’s Exercises to put his lessons in carpentry to the test – does Moxon’s writing accurately reflect the practices of carpenters?

Decorative techniques are discussed at length in period writings, though usually in an incomplete manner. Conservators Chris Swan and Sarah Towers will introduce their recent exploration into traditional silvering techniques for carved picture frames. Harpsichord makers Edward Wright and Melanie Belongia will explore decorative veneering methods that are useful for furniture and musical instruments alike. In both cases, presenters will show how the written word combined with hours of experimentation at the bench led to successful results.

In addition to bringing the techniques and designs from books to life, we’ll also explore books themselves from a variety of perspectives. Whitney L.B. Miller, author of Henry Boyd’s Freedom Bed, will share how she was inspired to turn her research on Henry Boyd, a free Black furniture maker, inventor, and abolitionist who was born into enslavement, into a book for today’s children. Colonial Williamsburg’s curator of furniture Tara Chicirda will introduce the role pattern books and price books played in the cabinetmaker’s trade. To learn about what went into making detailed printed illustrations, master engraver Lynn Zelesnikar will demonstrate her craft while reproducing a plate from Chippendale. She and Bill Pavlak will also compare notes on how to turn the same ornamental pattern into a two-dimensional engraving or a three-dimensional wood carving. Any collection of books needs shelves, and decorative arts historian Thomas Savage will deliver our banquet keynote on the acclaimed Holmes-Edwards library bookcase – a beautifully crafted home for books with a compelling story of its own.

Registration is now Live for the 2024 Working Wood conference!

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