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Pierced French Stool at V&A

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  • Tim
    The visit with the curator of furniture at the V&A turned out better than I d hoped. There was no initial awkwardness, because he had pulled out a fascinating
    Message 1 of 46 , Feb 11, 2007
      The visit with the curator of furniture at the V&A turned out better
      than I'd hoped. There was no initial awkwardness, because he had
      pulled out a fascinating little object for us to look at, and we
      immediately became engrossed in discussing it. This was the carved
      15th c. French stool that appears in some references (Charles Hayward
      has a measured drawing of it in "English Period Furniture Designs,"
      even though it isn't English) but has not been on display for a long
      time, if ever. I'll post some photos in a new folder in the Photos

      The stool is constructed of six pieces: the seat, two end-boards, one
      horizontal stretcher with tusk-tenons on each end, and two wedges to
      secure the tenons. Square through-tenons join the seat to the ends.
      The seat has a round central carving and is pierced to form a handle
      in the center. The stretcher is piecred and carved with a repeating
      oval quatrefoil design with a simple four-petal rosette at the center
      of each oval. The end-pieces terminate in cusped ogee arches, carved
      on both sides, and have circular pierced tracery carvings between the
      stretcher and the seat.

      What a fascinating little stool! It's really quite enigmatic in many
      ways. The jury is still out on whether it is in fact authentically
      15th c, or a very clever 19th c. fake, or some hybrid. (It wasn't
      uncommon for collectors to take a period piece of furniture and modify
      it in some way to increase its value.) The museum acquired it from a
      French dealer in the 1890s; nothing beyond that is known of its

      I'll have to post more photos and write a long essay to really explain
      all the details of this object, and why it's so enigmatic. For
      starters, though:

      1. Although beautifully carved, obviously a high-end object, it is
      made from very poor-quality wood: second-growth, with abundant knots
      and other defects.

      2. Saw-marks are visible on the edges and outer faces of the
      end-pieces. Not faint traces of saw marks - big rough lines, as if
      someone had started planing but gave up before completing the job.
      The saw marks are suspiciously parallel; they look just like bandsaw
      marks, in fact. If it was hand-sawn, the guy was damn good.

      3. The projecting tenons are hand-sawn (non-parallel marks) and were
      never planed or scraped - just left rough.

      4. The carving is very well executed, though not quite as "fussy" as
      most Victorian Gothic works looks to me. This is quite at odds with
      the sloppy surface prep and edge cleanup. The back side of the
      circular carvings on the end pieces are deeply hollowed - about half
      the thickness of the board.

      5. The poor-quality wood has cracked and split in several places, and
      the surface is quite rough in several places from pieces having popped
      out. A large "scab" of wood has been added to the lower inside of one
      end-piece to repair a big split. This scab has about the same tone as
      the rest of the wood.

      Taken together, the evidence seems to suggest a fake. Yet when you
      look at it and handle it, the sense that it is genuine is hard to
      shake. It appears to be a completely unique object, which all by
      itself is reason to be suspicious.

      What do you all think?
    • Tracy Swanson
      I finally found my class notes on the metal spinning issue, only to find that the reference was not included. Not wishing to disappoint, I searched out the
      Message 46 of 46 , Feb 25, 2007
        I finally found my class notes on the metal spinning issue, only to find that the reference was not included. Not wishing to disappoint, I searched out the email address of Dave Hout and wrote the following:

        Greetings Dave!

        I attended the wood turner's seminar in Temple TX this last fall where I enjoyed both of your classes, Vacuum Chucking and Metal Spinning. During your Metal Spinning class you mentioned that metal spinning was the predecessor to wood turning. I was wondering what your source for that information might be?

        I belong to a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism, which studies and recreates the Middle Ages. Within this group is a Yahoo chat group called Medieval Sawdust, who's interests are the study of period methods of building in wood. When I mentioned your statement to the group several thought you to be in error. With the name of the reference at hand I will be able to back up your statement to the group and further the knowledge of those involved at the same time.

        Thank you for your help with this matter and keep up the great work!

        DC Swanson

        Magic Mouse Productions

        His response is as follows:

        "The info about the history of metal spinning is from the Metal Forming and Spinning Association. They have produced a video and they site pieces found about 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia that were spun over clay forms from a potters wheel. The pieces were made of lead which could be formed using only a stick. I have been told by several wood turners who have researched that turning dates back to about 3500 years and the use of metal edged cutting tools. I do not know their sources.

        I hope this helps,




        -----Original Message-----
        From: medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com [mailto:medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com]On Behalf Of Ralph Lindberg
        Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 11:50 PM
        To: medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com
        Subject: [MedievalSawdust] Wood/Metal spinng was Tools (was: Pierced French stool)

        --- In medievalsawdust@ yahoogroups. com, kjworz@... wrote:
        > Dave Hout is full of hooey, is my guess, suggesting metal spining
        predating wood turning.
        Chris, I suspect Dave Hout was referring to continuous spin wood
        turning. Metal spinning dates back to(at least) Imperial Rome
        (Auxiliary helm crowns might be spun using water-wheel power, yes I
        have references), while I have never read any reference to that type
        of wood turning before circa 1500.

        Additionally, Dave Hout is a real world expert, one I have heard in
        both my wood turning and metal spinning hobbies. Well enough respected
        that both the AAW and ABANA consider him such, a set of credentials I
        know I can't match.


        > ------------ -- Original message ------------ --------- -
        > From: "Tracy Swanson" <tstar2000@. ..>
        > > " What kind of tools? I've read that metal-spinning lathes
        > > forward turning) were in use in the c16th. But a continuous
        cutting saw
        > > means either a bandsaw or a circular saw, and I've seen nothing to
        > > suggest either that early. "
        > >
        > > According to Dave Hout (Woodturning TV show on DIY), metal spinning
        > > pre-dates wood turning and, in fact, was what lead to wood
        turning. In his
        > > Metal Spinning lecture at the wood turning seminar in Temple TX
        this last
        > > fall, metal spinning was at first done with a clay form. It was
        with the
        > > development of wood turning that wood became the standard form for
        > > spinning. I am taking his word for this, for I have found precious
        > > written info on metal spinning. Any titles you might know would be
        > > helpful!
        > >
        > > In Magical Service,
        > > Malaki

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