The President's Frame

It is always a special honor to be asked to design and build a piece for a public or semi-public space.  In this case, I was asked to design and build a frame, which would house a very special photograph, taken in the Swedish archipelago from the shore of Jussi Björling's summer cottage. The photograph (taken by Anders Björling, Jussi's son) now hangs in the entryway to the President's House on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota.  Gustavus was founded by Swedish Lutheran immigrants in 1862 - a four-year liberal arts college known for broad academic excellence, including an outstanding Department of Music.  Jussi Björling was clearly one of the finest operatic tenors to have ever lived; Gustavus uses his name (by permission from the family) for several music-related associations:  Jussi Björling Recital Hall, The Björling Music Festival, and the Jussi Björling Music Scholarship.

The photo shows the beauty of the Swedish archipelago in summer's full bloom - birch trees, water, shoreline, boats, and homes painted in Swedish red are prominent. My assignment was to create a frame, which would compliment "all things Swedish."

Anders Björling, President Rebecca Bergman, and I, worked closely together on this piece over a period of months.  I made two video presentations, offering a number of options in design and color for the frame, as well as a number of frame samples, showing size, profile, and color.

After a number of meetings and subsequent design adjustments, we decided upon the following concept:  The frame would be built of birch - the most prominent tree in the foreground of the photograph.  The main part of the frame would be ebonized (dyed black) to compliment the black color on the birch bark, while the accent profile lumber would be dyed red, to compliment the building color.  The black and red combination is broadly known in the visual arts as the "colors of drama," a point, which offers dual meaning in this case. 

After applying the dye to the lumber, I glued the red accent pieces to the main frame, and applied three coats of satin urethane, sanding lightly between each coat.  The final finish was burnished with #0000 steel wool, and polished with a soft cloth.  The frame measures 29" x 67".

 

Summer in the Swedish Archipelago 

Summer in the Swedish Archipelago 

Anders' Photo2.JPG
Details of the ebonized frame and finish.

Details of the ebonized frame and finish.

President Rebecca Bergman and photographer, Anders Björling

President Rebecca Bergman and photographer, Anders Björling

Douglas Nimmo and Anders Björling

Douglas Nimmo and Anders Björling

Small (important) Projects

As a furniture designer and builder, sometimes it is tempting to become "captured" by designs that are unique, new, or adventuresome, and to not pursue more standard smaller/important projects, which are (and should always be) equally important. Recently, it was my honor and privilege to build two such "smaller and important" projects for former students.

The first was a frame, given as a wedding gift from the bride to her parents, to honor her love for them. Upon hearing the "why" of the gift, I was captured by the privilege offered to me to make this gift!  The bride and I spoke about the many options available to her in terms of size, wood type and color, and of course, design.

In the end, she chose one of my favorite combinations - cherry and hard maple.  The collaborative attitudes of these two domestic lumbers toward each other is both gentle and cogent - I love it!  Thank you, Caroline!

Caroline's Frame.jpg

Another smaller/important project involved a gift, to be presented by a former student to her sister, on the occasion of the sister's wedding.  It was to be a box for special items, the top of which needed to "house" a needle work piece, which the client had made for her sister.  The client had seen examples of my work on FB, so based upon that, she asked if the box could be built from maple burl and padauk.  I sent her photos of the process throughout, which allowed her to offer feedback. (I like that kind of "collaboration.")  Thank you, Michelle!  

Michelle's gift.jpg
Michelle's gift2.jpg

Fraternal Twins

In the spring of 2015, I built a piece that would fit generally into the furniture category of "occasional table."  It is really not a very descriptive title, but refers to, essentially, a table that one might find in a living room, as a place holder for a lamp, artwork, or perhaps everyday items such as a book or newspaper.

In this case, the table itself is the artwork, and holds two "opposite" point of interest - the outside, and the inside.  The title of the piece is the "Balanced Helix."  I am pleased to say that I have built and sold five of these.  Two reside in the Twin Cities area, one near Madison, Wisconsin, one near Washington, D.C., and one in Switzerland.  Four of the five have been built from African mahogany and ebonized African mahogany, while one was built using hard maple and cherry.

This past fall, I decided to build another two, but in contrasting architectural styles, using jatoba and ebonized maple.  Each has twenty-two levels of "frames," and while the configuration of one is in the rotational helix format, the other is all set at 90º angles, showing a Mayan influence.  Save for the fact that they are in "opposite" configurations, they are the same - thus the designation, "Fraternal Twins."

 

The Fraternal Twins:  To the left is the "Balanced Helix, to the right is the "Mayan Pedestal."

The Fraternal Twins:  To the left is the "Balanced Helix, to the right is the "Mayan Pedestal."

Here is a view of the internal structure of the twins, viewed through 1/4" plate glass.

Here is a view of the internal structure of the twins, viewed through 1/4" plate glass.

Looking Ahead

One of the great joys inherent in my business of North Light Art Furniture lies in the final preparation time, about two to three weeks preceding an art show.  It is an exciting time, when I am working toward refining all the details of my involvement with the forthcoming show:  which pieces to show, piece placement within the booth, re-reading the expectations of the show manager, preparing for all types of weather (protection for the furniture, proper clothing for me, sunscreen, rain gear, etc.), painting of the booth display boxes, trailer and car maintenance . . . 

One of the items that is always a part of the final preparation time lies in the completion of pieces to be exhibited.  Sometimes, I am not able to complete a piece prior to a show - there is just not enough time.  But as a great teacher once said, "Delay is not denial."  So - there will be another show for any unfinished pieces.

The images below are of a number of pieces, some of which I am planning to take to the forthcoming show in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  All of these are in that "not quite finished" stage.  Yes, all of the construction is complete.  But each piece tends to need special attention regarding the finish.  At this point, I am working toward achieving the "just right" luster.  When using tung oil as a finish, I have found that most pieces require nine to thirteen applications.  Depending upon the lumber, I usually do not notice a foundation of luster until the sixth or seventh application.  That is when the details of the finish become joyful.  Most of the pieces below have three applications - two have four.  Onward . . . 

L to R: A Bayfield Collection Burl Mirror, Bent Lamination Coffee table (on the saw), 3-leg Showcase Table, Open Portal Lamp, and a small Showcase Table (live edge top).

L to R: A Bayfield Collection Burl Mirror, Bent Lamination Coffee table (on the saw), 3-leg Showcase Table, Open Portal Lamp, and a small Showcase Table (live edge top).

Here is an ebony spline on the corner of the Bayfield Burl Mirror.  I have to say - I love ebony!  It adds a powerful sense of drama to art furniture.

Here is an ebony spline on the corner of the Bayfield Burl Mirror.  I have to say - I love ebony!  It adds a powerful sense of drama to art furniture.

Here, one can see the full range of color on the mirror.  From inside to outside - tiger wood (goncalo alves), maple burl and purple heart, cherry, and bloodwood.

Here, one can see the full range of color on the mirror.  From inside to outside - tiger wood (goncalo alves), maple burl and purple heart, cherry, and bloodwood.

Bayfield Burl Mirror

I have built several "Bayfield Burl Mirrors," employing various lumbers.  The constant elements (in terms of lumber) have included maple burl, harvested near Bayfield, Wisconsin, and ebony.  Moreover, all of the mirrors have thumbnail outer profiles on arced edges.

I have included a number of photos, showing elements of the construction process.

Early on in the process, I have glued and taped the burl and ebony to a plywood substrate, to provide stability in all directions

Early on in the process, I have glued and taped the burl and ebony to a plywood substrate, to provide stability in all directions

Here, one can see the outside edging of walnut and hard maple, glued and clamped to the burl/ebony interior.

Here, one can see the outside edging of walnut and hard maple, glued and clamped to the burl/ebony interior.

This image shows the back side of the frame, following glue-up.  There is an interior spline and an exposed ebony spline at each corner. 

This image shows the back side of the frame, following glue-up.  There is an interior spline and an exposed ebony spline at each corner. 

Following general shaping of the frame, sanding begins.

Following general shaping of the frame, sanding begins.

At this stage, the frame is nearly finished.  The outside edges have a thumbnail profile, followed by sanding up to 400 grit, followed by nine coats of tung oil.

At this stage, the frame is nearly finished.  The outside edges have a thumbnail profile, followed by sanding up to 400 grit, followed by nine coats of tung oil.

Open Portal Lamp

I just finished a pair of Open Portal Lamps with the portals being ebonized.  One is an eight-panel symmetrical design, and the other - a seven-panel asymmetrical design.  Both are built with African mahogany.  I have built several Open Portal Lamps in the past, but these are a new "edition," being having a slightly larger footprint.

The design is simple in concept, but somewhat tedious to execute.  Nevertheless, they are a joy to build!  :)

Eight-panel, in mostly daylight.

Eight-panel, in mostly daylight.

Eight-panel

Eight-panel

Five-panel

Five-panel

Five-panel

Five-panel

Eight-panel, dry-fit and ready for glue up, with 84 glue blocks. 

Eight-panel, dry-fit and ready for glue up, with 84 glue blocks. 

The five-panel design, following the addition of the final panel.

The five-panel design, following the addition of the final panel.

Ginkgo Leaf

One of the great joys in the life of art and design is that of learning something new.  For some time, I have been thinking about broadening my understanding, skill, and insight regarding whatmany furniture builders refer to ask "sculpting." 

I have been observing the work and processes that great furniture sculptors use, and recently, I began my first freehand sculptured piece.

This will be a ginkgo leaf, with nominal dimensions of 18" x 48" x 2".  The lumber began as one piece of Pennsylvania cherry--66" x 7.25" x 2".  I cut 18" from one end, and edge glued it to the other end.  Then, I shaped the stem very roughly, and used the cut-out from that to add to the opposite side of the first glue-up for visual balance.  At this point, I have started the general surface shaping of the top of the leaf.

Basic Shape Glue Up

Basic Shape Glue Up

General Surface (Top) Shaping

General Surface (Top) Shaping

The coming days will provide many more opportunities to learn!  :)

Live Edge Bench

One of the pieces that I will add to my 2017 Show Inventory will be a "live edge" bench, in walnut. This past September, I was at one of the very best places to purchase lumber - Logs to Lumber - in Invergrove Heights, MN http://www.logs-to-lumber.com/.  Brian always has top quality lumber! While shopping for some cherry, I decided to pick up a live edge plank, which I have now begun to shape, from rough bark to a "coin stacked" look, with arced ends.  The legs will be a "double-shadow" design.

This week, I finished the walnut bench (30 December 2016).  The design includes "double shadow" legs, a "stacked coins" live edge, and contrasting sapwood and heartwood.

PC300009 1.59.44 PM.jpg

In this image, one can see the "stacked coins" design element.  I am drawn into the beauty of the bench top, particularly by the nature of Nature's design, found in the subtle linear movement within the bark.

Part of the drama of the piece comes from the element of contrast - sapwood next to heartwood, next to the live edge, which is imitated in the legs - heartwood in the center, sapwood at the edges.  In all of art, we tend to become more interested when contrast is evidenced in both subtle and dramatic ways.

Ginny's Request

From April to August, I invested nearly every day, doing a complete demo/reno of our master bed and bath.  The very last project - at Ginny's request - was to build a new king bed.  We decided upon natural cherry, with an ebonized North Light Art Furniture logo on the headboard.  We both are happy with the results!  :)

To increase the support for the king mattress, I added two center beams.

To increase the support for the king mattress, I added two center beams.

As a platform design, there is no need for a box spring.  However, there is need for a "platform."

As a platform design, there is no need for a box spring.  However, there is need for a "platform."

A Showcase Table for Bonnie and Michael

One of the great joys resulting from creative work is that of discovery.  In other words, when I design and subsequently build a piece, I have a good sense of how it will look when finished, but I do not always have a good sense of how every construction detail will be accomplished.  First, I designed the table, intended to showcase a beautiful vase atop plate glass, with a precious original piece of music beneath the glass.

Showcase Table with glass top, scalloped aprons, and arced legs (ebony capos)

Showcase Table with glass top, scalloped aprons, and arced legs (ebony capos)

The challenge was to design a support system for the 1/4" glass plate, without disfiguring the apron.  The result was a dadoed ledge, which would also be able to support the ebonized table base.

The ledge is glued to the inside perimeter of the apron.

The ledge is glued to the inside perimeter of the apron.

A close-up of the ledge as it meets the corner.

A close-up, showing the roughed-in dadoed edge.  The legs (ebony capo) and ledge are cherry, the aprons are goncalo alves.

A close-up, showing the roughed-in dadoed edge.  The legs (ebony capo) and ledge are cherry, the aprons are goncalo alves.

Bonnie and Michael really liked the idea of scalloped aprons.  (I have always enjoyed this design possibility!)

One of the great joys of finishing a commissioned piece is when the clients see it in its new home - AND - when they love it!  I am happy that Michael and Bonnie have pronounced the Showcase Table as "perfect!"

Here it is, displaying a manuscript beneath the glass, written by Norwegian composer, Theadora Cormonton.  On the top rests a vase, created by the owner of the home where Theadora spent her final years.