The Art of Marquetry
Definition of marquetry: decorative work in which elaborate patterns are formed by the insertion of pieces of material (as wood, shell, or ivory) into a wood veneer that is then applied to a surface (as in a piece of furniture) – source Merriam-Webster
Artist Christie West has some intriguing fine wood creations in this month’s show, Romance of the Figure and Nude, that you may be curious about. Marquetry is an exquisite woodworking art that has been practiced for thousands of years. Popular all over the world, it has most often been associated with luxury furnishings. However, the degree of difficulty has produced an elite group of artisans that undertake this exacting art form.
We asked West how he got started:
“I was a furniture maker of custom Arts & Crafts Style furniture for many years, and about the time I turned 50, I started having a yearning to be able to add some narrative into my work, something that would talk to the customer or the public in ways other than I had just made an attractive new box. I tried woodcarving and liked it, and did a few nice pieces but that was not what scratched the itch. I finally saw an article on some marquetry in a trade magazine, Fine Woodworking, on marquetry by Silas Kopf, and all the alarms started going off in my head, ‘Yes, this is what I wanted to do!’
I was having a devil of a time figuring out the mechanics because all the instructions I found just never seemed to make any sense to me. Finally, I learned about John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC. The instructor was Clyde Badger, and his method, which was a beveled cut, working from the front on a fixed angled table made immediate sense to me, and I grasped the concept and ran with it. I also took a course from the aforementioned Silas Kopf, who I had become friends with him through the Furniture Society.
I started to learn watercolor and Chinese brush and ink as adjuncts to see where I wanted to go, and to also learn about what was art and what was not. At some point 6-8 years ago, I realized that I wanted to make art using marquetry as my technique more than I wanted to make furniture, and so I have progressively shed the labor of the furniture for the pleasure of the art, and now I make art pieces that I enter into juried competition as well as seeking out appropriate galleries.”
Christie shares that as he is just now turning 71, he is not setting specific goals for his work. But he continues to sharpen his skills and perceptions, and to grow as an artist.
Be sure to stop by to see this very complex art form by a talented artist on exhibit during this month’s show.