My late and dear Uncle-in-Law Tommy Limmer first introduced me to Thomas Chippendale’s marquetry. He not only taught me most of what I currently know about 18th century marquetry techniques, but he took me to see Chippendale’s work in nearby Harewood House on the outskirts of my home city Leeds, where I live. This was about 1994 when I was in my early 50s.
One glance was all it took to make me realise I would never see anything as beautiful if I lived to be a hundred.
I was well and truly hooked.
Symmetry and continuity was the theme I saw before me, consisting of swags of laurel leaves, flowing graceful acanthus leaves and a plethora of fans in all shapes and sizes abounded throughout each commission. Tommy showed me how the fans were constructed, by simply drawing out the shape on a flat piece of wood, using a compass and protractor to achieve accuracy. As he explained it is what every woodworker does when building a design. His favourite saying was “if you can’t draw it out to size, then you cant make it” It was clear that once the template was drawn out, the fan could be repeated time and again with the knowledge that every fan was exactly like its predecessor. So, thanks to Tommy the ‘Template Method’ was borne.
I started teaching at the Leeds College of Art & Design in about 1997 to students studying cabinet making. I was given one day a week to show each student (about 80 in total) the basics of Chippendale’s marquetry work. After a couple of years I wanted more teaching hours, but less students, and how fortunate I was to be invited to teach at nearby York College under their then head of furniture John Apps. He offered me a full ten-week course whereby I could teach a small group of cabinetmaking students the full range of neoclassical designs that Chippendale applied to his furniture. That started in 1999 and ran until 2002, after which the college closed down and cabinetmaking ceased at York.
By then I had secured enough knowledge to write and design my first book The Marquetry Course and I invited John Apps to join me as Co-Author. That book was published in 2003 and the book was launched at Harewood House to celebrate the publication. I was the first author to be given freedom of the stately home to perform a book launch. It was a memorable event and one that set the book onto Amazon’s bestseller list for that class of book. During its time it sold over 20,000 copies and was also translated into three foreign languages – Dutch, German and Hungarian.
I started researching Chippendale’ commissions at this time and travelled the length and breadth of England to see, at first hand, his amazing creations. In addition to the four Yorkshire stately homes, Harewood, Newby Hall, Temple Newsam and Nostell Priory, my travels included Constable Burton Hall in Humberside, Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire, Firle Place in Sussex and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Three replica copies of Chippendale’s commissions took place commencing in 2004 through to 2012. These included a replica of a draw and door of the Harewood Library Writing Table at Temple Newsam, followed by the most prestigious replica – the Diana & Minerva Commode. Finally I added the replica table from that made initially for Harewood’s Circular Dressing Room in 1772 and now the property of The Chippendale Society.
Each of these are detailed in step-by-step fashion in my second book: “Chippendale’s classic Marquetry Revealed”
In total my research for this second book spanned fifteen years from 2003 to the launch in 2018. Many events filled that period, not least the loss of my dear wife Gloria in 2013 from Motor Neurone Disease. Now, five years on, I use her love and strength to guide me forward to fulfil my dreams and aspirations which she always new I needed to achieve. The book starts its journey, as all books do, with the hope for success and recognition of the contents that lie within its 304 pages and over 700 coloured images.
Now approaching my 80th birthday I reflect on the past and wish for hope and good health for the future, in the hope that my latest book transcend time, fashion, knowledge and skills and through its publication unites my worldwide woodworking fraternity for many years to come.