Art and design projects. With stories about the people, places and experiences that have shaped my

Monday, September 12, 2016

A New Bronze and Cherry Coffee Table / Bench

This is a coffee table / bench design that I have recently completed. It's made of American cherry wood with a sculptural bronze leg at one end. I have introduced a great deal of textural balance to give the piece extra interest. For instance, the underside of the 4 1/4" thick top has bold tactile passages that transition from rough-carved to very smooth. (The rough looking parts, however, are extremely smooth to the touch).

The light-colored outer 'sap' wood of the log has been removed in the carving process. This exposes the darker colored, more beautiful 'heartwood' seen here. Also all wood has been hand-oiled multiple times. Each coat was wet-sanded with an extremely fine abrasive. Then several coats of wax were hand applied and rubbed for a very handsome and protective finish. It feels silky-smooth to the touch.

The 'flying buttress' style bronze leg has a hand-applied dark brown patina which has also been polished and waxed to a high degree of finish.

The overall dimensions are: Height 18 1/2", Length 90 1/2", Depth 26"

The cherry wood leg tapers from top to bottom. It is fastened to the top with a full-length sliding dovetail joint. A long, curved wood brace adds additional strength as it echos the bronze curve element in the leg (see detail below).

The flying buttress dark bronze leg, shown here at the far end, provides continuity of design between contrasting leg materials.


How things like this get made:

Carving all of the sap wood off with an electric chain saw in May of 2016. This process exposes the harder and darker heart wood underneath. Shown up side down on rolling horses. The original cherry slab was 6 inches thick and quite a bit wider than it is now. I had been air-drying the slab for over 15 years; waiting for this moment to address it.

Step 2: Surfacing both sides of the slab. This gets both sides flat and parallel. And the thickness became reduced from 6 to 4 1/4 inches. In all, about 100 pounds of material was removed by the time this jointing and planing work was complete.

The whole process is not at all like the popular image of, say, Brancusi - whom we see in vintage photos wearing a clean white smock standing next to his pristine and exquisitely polished bronze sculpture 'Bird in Space.' Reality is a little different. Creating sculptural objects in any medium is usually pretty noisy, dusty and messy, just like his Paris shop was most of the time in the 1920s. 

So, how do these pieces really get made? Every medium - clay, plaster, metal, wood - has a different set of procedures. In the end it boils down to this: You have to really want to make something and have faith that it will turn out well... The desire to build has to be in your blood.
Selected Public Collections
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA.
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA.
Bruce Museum, Greenwich, CT.

Education and Training
1995 Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture; Ancient Furniture.
1975-78 Studio assistant to Robert Motherwell.
1972-73 Apprentice to Wendell Castle under a Lewis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant.
1970-72 Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY, School for American Craftsmen.

Bronze fabrication courtesy of 21 Bridge Design LLC:

Also hearty thanks go to Bryon Jurs #wendellcastle for invaluable finishing tips on how to treat this textured piece and Joe Tracy of Mt. Desert Maine for continued technical support in all areas over many decades.

Copyright John E. Scofield 2016