The Artisan Woodworker

In 1970 as a young aspiring woodworker, I found a chest of drawers lying discarded on the street. I dragged it home to my little shop and discovered it was an 1840’s American country Empire antique. Stripping off layers of paint revealed beautiful matched cherry boards and rare bird’s eye maple drawer fronts. This was clearly someone’s handmade masterpiece.

Dismantling it for repairs I discovered a signature on an interior part – “Heinrich Schneider” – my ancestor furniture maker, whose pride in his work led him to sign it, not as a promotion, but perhaps to be discovered by the likes of me. I felt a kinship with Heinrich, a sense of responsibility as his beautiful work passed from his hands to mine. I wanted to be like him.

From that day, my passion has been to rediscover the secrets of the old masters which have been lost in the process of industrialization-- Secrets that were inspired, for the most part, by a search to gain the most beauty out of wood. Perhaps I would discover some secrets of my own.

The chest was imbued with a sense of authenticity, a true artisanal product, built in a shop where at each stage the hand of the maker is evident, where the exigencies of mass production and division of labor have not intruded and compromised quality and aesthetic judgement. It was my dream to work like this in a shop like his.

Thomas W. Newman - Apr 10, 2023