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.


greg said...

Your photographs of your work are wonderful. Taking pictures of furniture this nice is a talent in itself; you might want to consider offering some pointers for us in some future edition of your blog.

I think your blog should be arranged into a book. Some of what you say is already published but you have a lot of original ideas and a sound approach to solving chair making problems. But most of all you're a natural teacher. Thanks for taking the time for writing this blog!

Peter Galbert said...

Thanks Greg, finally that degree in photography seems like it was worth it! I'll see if I can't come up with some pointers. Honestly it's pretty easy, I've never found an object as photogenic as a windsor chair.

Jean-Francois Theoret said...

If I may suggest (I am not a professional photographer, just a chairmaker), your pictures must tell a "story".

Take some time to find an angle that says something to your viewer. Zoom in/out (or move closer or further if you don't have a zoom). Roll on the floor if you have to ;-) Try different camera heights. Try rotating your camera to see what it looks like.

Use, on occasion, the "rule of thirds" - don't center your subject.

You can have a look at my own blog (shameless plug...) to see some more chair pictures. They're not as nice as Pete's though.

One thing that I particularly like, if your camera supports it, is to use a large aperture and focus on your subject. This renders the background a little blurred, putting more emphasis on the subject.

Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

Great photography. Your pointers are excellent.