Saturday, March 31, 2007
An Unnameable Shape
I recently received a question about the pommel (as I call it) on the seat. The pommel is the sharp arris (a line formed by the meeting of two shapes) that runs between your legs as you sit in the chair. The question was whether there was a purpose for this detail. Now, I am no expert on the history or evolution of the seat shape (See Charles Santori, Nancy Goyne Evans or John Kassay) so I can really only speak from my own interest and experience. In my opinion, the shape of the seat is one of the wonders of chairmaking. Obviously, no single chairmaker walked out to his shop and invented this form before lunch! It is the work of many minds and sensibilities over many versions and years. This is one of the great joys of chairmaking, walking in the shoes of my predecessors and learning their thoughts. To me, the pommel is an aesthetic choice with little or no comfort advantage. It creates an accent that refers to the shape of the human that will sit in it. By mapping a negative image of our bodies onto the seat, we are naturally invited to have a seat! The pommel also serves to draw the eye towards the center of the seat and keep it moving. You'll notice that any successful shape keeps the eye moving, just like a hand following the highs and lows, gathering more information on the shape.
More important than the pommel, is that the sitter has room for their legs on either side of the pommel. If these areas are not properly relieved, it can interrupt the circulation at the back of the legs. I make the pommel with my travisher (another good reason for a flatter travisher profile) and finish it with a curved scraper. I refer to the seat as an unnameable shape because it is really a series of shapes that flow together into a pleasing shape, meeting the our needs for comfort and beauty. By following a clear process, we can achieve a shape that gives no hint of its flat origins, but has an obvious logic all it's own. Truly a marvel.