Inlay and marquetry can be an extremely effective method of drawing
attention and creating focus, and most importantly for me as designer, a visual
reference or context in which to design the piece. It seems like a traditional
use of inlays in furniture was simply to make a piece less plain, such as
adding a border of Acanthus leaves
might do. I haven’t used inlay in this way for a couple of reasons. First, something
like the Acanthus leaves would have
no particular meaning to me, and second, I don’t think this kind of symmetric
use is particularly effective in creating a focus. Another traditional kind of
piece uses marquetry to create a picture, sometimes so extensive as to obscure
the wood completely. That is something I’m not interested in doing.
What I’ve tried to do is use marquetry or inlay to create a
theme for the piece, focus the eye, and draw the viewer into looking at the
whole design, including the woods. My marquetry and inlay has generally been
asymmetric, high contrast, and organic themed.
A visual reference that has motivated many of my pieces is the
Chinese garden. Sitting in a garden kiosk, you see a plum tree beginning to
bloom or just some leaves framed by a lattice work. The plantings are well
distributed, allowing your eye to focus on just an element of the garden,
framed by the lattice. This was the original
reference that motivated my plum blossom pieces, as in the following Seattle style table.
I like to find ways to connect the visual reference for the
marquetry with the structure of the piece. For example, in the Plum Blossom cabinets,
I am able to carry through the visual reference to lattice work in the
marquetry to an actual lattice work in the apron of the base.
In the Ginkgo console table, my visual reference was the
yellow, windblown leaves of the Ginkgo in Fall. I have two Ginkgo trees, and in
November we have lots of wind, so it wasn’t hard to come up with this idea. I
make the Ginkgo leaves to look like they’re flying in the wind, but they still
have that unique fan shape of the Ginkgo.
But even though these were my immediate references in
designing the marquetry, I love being able to incorporate symbolism into my
pieces. The dogwood and plum blossoms are a couple of my Spring favorites,
signaling the end of winter and beginning of a new cycle of life. Other than
incorporating a “broken ice” fretwork, I’m not sure how else you would capture
these feelings in furniture. Ginkgo’s are symbols of health, life and
endurance, so I like to have Ginkgos around just for good luck. I make the
Ginkgo leaves out of Cascara wood as well, and Cascara bark produces a health
product, so there is another level of symbolism there.