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Mortise & Tenon Magazine, Edited by Joshua Klein

by J.Norman Reid
Delaplane, VA

My much-anticipated copy of Mortise & Tenon Magazine finally landed in my mailbox. Frankly, I didn't know quite what to expect. From the advance information, I knew it would include coverage of traditional furniture and cabinetmaking, but little more. Yet, its promise to treat these subjects beautifully and informatively were enough to entice me to subscribe.

When I opened M&T and handled its richly-illustrated pages, I was in no way disappointed. The many photos—both color and black and white—drew me into its stories and created an immediate desire to read it cover to cover, something I did in very short order. What I discovered, when I did, was a magazine that plows ground not currently cultivated by any other single publication on furniture or furniture-making.

Unlike traditional woodworking magazines, Mortise & Tenon is not devoted to the design, tools or construction of furniture, though it does touch on those subjects. Nor is it a set of treatises on the history of furniture styles. Rather, it's an explicit effort to bring together into active communication the somewhat separated disciplines of period furniture-making, furniture restoration, conservation, curating and scholarship. In doing so, it recognizes the interdependencies of these related fields and the value of sharing their contributions more freely across their combined areas of specialization. The editor, Joshua Klein, himself a restorer of traditional furniture, sets out to achieve this through a series of articles and interviews that probe ways these fields complement each other.

The lead article sets out seven guiding principles for M&T, what Klein calls his "manifesto." M&T will extend to furniture in both high and vernacular styles, focus on pre-industrial era furniture, emphasize hands-on research, honor original construction methods, respect the cultural heritage of extant furniture pieces, serve as a bridge among makers, conservators and scholars of furniture, and celebrate historical furniture.

What then follow are a dozen articles and interviews that address a fascinating set of subjects representing the promised mix of viewpoints. First are interviews with Jon Brandon, a furniture conservator and founder of East Point Conservation in Brunswick, Maine, and Phil Lowe, period furniture-maker and teacher in Beverly, Massachusetts. They are succeeded by a pictorial analysis of a Federal Boston secretary that displays its construction and joinery in an extended series of close-up photographs, allowing the reader to examine its details both inside and out.

Klein then presents the only construction article in the issue, the reproduction of an ovolo top, grain-painted card table made by 19th century Maine minister and cabinetmaker Jonathan Fisher. The article illustrates pre-industrial work methods rather than a specific plan, but offers enough detail for the reader to replicate the table or a similar model if desired.

An interview follows with Gerald W.R. Ward, Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture Emeritus of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Ward offers a glimpse into his rule as a curator, which, as distinct from a conservator's role, is to collect, preserve and interpret the items in a museum's collection.

An article on the origins of classical proportions by George Walker is next. Walker points to an archeological site in southwest Turkey dating to about 9000 B.C. and argues that it was constructed by a simple "artisan geometry" long before the methods could be expressed in words. He points to the relevance of this simple geometry for today's workshop as a means to express ratios and shapes using simple tools.

Walker's article is succeeded by Al Breed's lesson on carving a feathered eagle's tail as often featured in Salem, Massachusetts, Federal furniture. Then, Klein reports on his interview with Charles Hummel, Curator Emeritus at the Winterthur Museum, on new discoveries about the Dominy Shop since Hummel's 1968 book on the workshop was published.

Freddy Roman discusses the path that took him to his present role as a professional furniture-maker and restorer and the skills and practices that enable him to survive in this chosen field. Martin O'Brien, a North Carolina furniture restorer and craftsman, explains the clues that help uncover the provenance and dating of period furniture examples. These include irregularity, joinery, fasteners and hardware, tool marks, surface coatings and other elements.

An interview with Eric Litke of the Furniture Study at the Yale University Art Gallery follows. The Gallery holds numerous examples of period furniture objects of all types that are available for examination by furniture-makers and researchers. A review of Christopher Schwarz's 2015 book Workbenches and a sponsor directory conclude the volume.

This rich collection of material, presented without advertising, touches a space little covered in more traditional woodworking literature. I found it refreshing to explore perspectives with which I was largely unfamiliar. The magazine's presentation is beautiful, making it a feast for the eyes as well as for the mind.

M&T is intended to be published annually. Perhaps, in addition to this issue's concentration on furniture and institutions from Klein's own New England, the next issue will venture into the high styles and vernacular furniture and museums representing the mid-Atlantic and southern states as well. In the meantime, I for one will eagerly await its publication.

CLICK HERE to order your copy of Mortise & Tenon

The author is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of the forthcoming book Choosing and Using Handplanes . He can be reached by email at .

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