Explaining the Unexpected
If you never thought that Arts and Crafts collectors were obsessed with their pieces, you will be convinced otherwise after reading this.
During last week’s Zoom session entitled “Furniture 101” hosted by the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms, a viewer asked me a question about his Craftsman Workshops magazine cabinet, model #79, commonly referred to as Gustav Stickley’s D-handle magazine stand.
I happen to have the same model of magazine stand in my collection, as I purchased it several years ago from Dalton’s Antiques at the National Arts and Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn. This design first appeared around 1905 and remained in production through the end of Stickley’s career. As author David Cathers noted, “With little more than a few plain oak boards, Stickley created, in this stand, a functional yet elegant piece of furniture.” The graceful arches and eight exposed tenons, each secured with a peg, along with the quartersawn oak grain, provide the appropriate amount of decoration for this modest magazine stand.
So, I knew what the viewer was wondering when he asked if the peg at the top edge of each slab side was actually a 10-inch dowel which extended completely through to the opposite side.
The reasoning would be that the dowel would strengthen what could be a weak flaw in the design of the handle, where the wood could break along the vertical grain lines if the magazine stand was lifted by the D-handles when fully loaded with heavy books.
The question prompted me to do something I had thought about doing several times: have it x-rayed. Rather than make an appointment with my medical doctor, I hauled it over to my wife’s veterinary practice, where Leigh Ann was curious to see if her x-ray machine would penetrate the oak sides and reveal the answer to our question: were they two shallow, decorative pegs or a one long, strengthening dowel?
The answer was a definitive “Neither.”
Which, as an amateur woodworker, has left me baffled.
I fully expected that we would discover a single 10-inch dowel extending from one side to the other, designed to strengthen the wood above the cut-out handle. Instead, we found on both ends of the magazine stand two 3-inch dowels, both of which stopped short of spanning the opening created by the handle. Neither of the dowels appears to provide any additional strength or support for the top of the magazine stand.
So, why go to the trouble of drilling, gluing, and hammering in two 3-inch dowels on each side of the magazine stand if (1.) they don’t help prevent the handle from breaking, and (2.) in truth don’t add a substantial decorative element to the design?
I have no idea.
If I am missing something here, please click on the link below, which will take you to our Facebook page where you can share your theory with everyone.
Until next week,
“The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.” – Francis Bacon
PS – For information on how you can watch our second and final Zoom session on Arts and Crafts furniture airing Saturday, August 8 at 4:00pm EST, please click on this link to the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms for more information.