Archive for Ernest Oppenheim

The Core Stash

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Interior Design, Knitting, Studio Furniture with tags , , , , , , , on January 12, 2012 by johnwiggers

My wife Teresa enjoys reading a blog called Yarn Harlot, which is written by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.

There seems to be three reasons why Teresa follows this blog:

1. Stephanie loves knitting (as does Teresa);
2. Stephanie will enjoy a beer or wine with her knitting (ditto, Teresa);
3. Stephanie writes a good blog (while Teresa enjoys reading good blogs);

At various points in the Yarn Harlot Stephanie talks about having a “core stash” of yarn. A core stash is basically a collection of yarn that is is never going to be knit – either because it is too expensive or special, or because it is so beautiful that it is not worthy of knitting.

“Core stash is the foundation of every good stash” says Stephanie. “It is inspiration. It is beautiful. It is the reason that I knit, but it is not for knitting.”

How beautiful is that?

I am well aware that Teresa has her own core stash of yarn, with most of it having extreme sentimental value since it originally belonging to her Mom, before her Mom passed away.

Not one fibre of this material will ever be thrown away (not by Teresa anyway), but then again it’s also unlikely that Teresa will ever knit anything with it either.

Recently Teresa asked if I too had a core stash of material.

Of course, in my case she was referring to wood.

“Um, yeah” was my reply; but it was only when I really thought about my answer that I began to realize how much wood I actually have squirrelled away.

The bulk of my “core stash” came as a result of a wood auction that took place in the early 1990s. There was a veneer company called William L. Marshall that went out of business in New York around 1991, and the bulk of its assets were picked up by a firm called General Woods and Veneers. General allowed a large volume of inventory to be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to support W.A.R.P. (Woodworkers’ Alliance for Rainforest Protection).

W.A.R.P. at the time was one of the fledgling initiatives playing a key role in developing what would later become the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in 1993.

I ended up buying over 100,000 sq. ft. of veneer as a result of this auction, with the bulk of it being East Indian Laurel, Kila-Kila, Madagascar Rosewood, Mozambique, Afrormosia, and English Oak. There was also a crate of a golden coloured, aromatic species I had never seen or heard of before.

We ended up calling this wood Sabarona, but only because that was the name scrawled onto the side of the crate. Samples of this material were sent to labs and experts around the world, but no one was ever able to identify what it was.

Based on the heavy thickness of the material and the size of the flitches (up to 16′ in length, and 36″ wide in some cases) it was clear that the bulk of this wood was harvested sometime around the 1920s. I ended up becoming so attached to this old inventory that I soon found myself reluctant to use it on anything but the most special of pieces.

I guess this is where my definition of core stash differs from Stephanie’s – namely, I will dip into my stash, but only under the most special of circumstances.

One of those circumstances came up a couple of years ago when we were commissioned by a couple in Michigan to build some custom bedroom furniture. Given their desire to have something unique and special I suggested using some of the East Indian Laurel I had tucked away in.

One of the resulting dressers is shown below, and you can see how the polished chrome pulls helps to accentuate the figure of the grain.

As the FSC began to develop their sustainable forestry standards in the mid 1990s, some field testing began to take place in locations such as the Solomon Islands. Some of the very first sustainably harvested wood to come out of these beta tests was a species known as Narra.

This original sampling of Narra ended up making its way into North America by way of a company called Eco-Timber in California who, in turn, shipped to us via A&M Wood Specialty.

This Narra was quickly sold out, and one of the last pieces we managed to make from this rare inventory was the Solomon’s Desk shown above.

As of today there is only one board of this original Narra inventory known to exist, and it is a heavy piece of 10/4 stock that happens to reside at the very heart of my core stash. I consider this board to be particularly sacred, because for me it represents the proverbial “ground zero” of the sustainable forestry movement. It is the last of the originals.

I cut into this board very sparingly, and usually it is only to make some small inlays on very special pieces.

For example, the turtle glyph inlay shown in the top of the Gentleman’s Valet (below) was made out of this last remaining stock.

This Narra is used symbolically in much the same way that some engineers in Canada will wear an Iron Ring. An Iron Ring is often worn as a symbol and reminder of the obligations and ethics associated with the profession.

In much the same way I will periodically use these small inlays of Narra as a symbolic reminder of the relevance of sustainability in what I do.

The Curly Birds Eye Maple used on this cabinet also comes from my core stash of wood. (Geez, the more I write the more I realize how much wood I have squirrelled away…maybe I’ve got a problem. Is there an AA equivalent for wood?)

Several years ago I was visiting one of my veneer suppliers and he happened to show me an anomalous log of maple. This “freak of Nature”, as he described it, was too Curly to be sold as Birds Eye, and too Birds Eye to be Curly. It was an orphan he wanted to unload, and I was only too happy to take it off his hands as the newest addition to my stash.

Finally we come to the photo below, which is of my own personal humidor. This humidor is very special to me, mostly because it is made of materials that came from my father’s core stash. (Hm, maybe I inherited the gene from him…)

The main body is of some kind of pommelle mahogany which is absolutely stunning because of its heavily quilted appearance. My father hung onto this wood because he always intended to make something nice out of it, but he never got around to doing it.

Although the wood looks like some kind of pommelle sapele, the lightness of the grain seems to suggest a species other than sapele – although I have yet to figure out what it might be.

But the aspect of the humidor that is most special to me is the purfling banding that is inlaid into the faces. This banding was tucked away in my father’s shop for years, because I remember seeing it around since I was a boy – so its been around forever. Over time it has developed an almost luminescent patina with age.

There has always been something special and familiar about this purfling, but I could never figure out what it was until a couple of years ago when I purchased a book called “A Marquetry Odyssey”, by Silas Kopf.

In the early part of the book Silas writes about travelling to Toronto in the 1970s to visit the shop of an old German marquetry master by the name of Ernest Oppenheim. Reading that triggered a boyhood memory of me making similar trips with my father to the same shop – and I’d forgotten about the place until Silas wrote about it in his book.

Therefore, it’s quite likely the purfling was purchased from Mr. Oppenheim by my father, way back when.

That being said, every time I open my humidor to select a cigar I am reminded of my father and a boyhood spent around his workshop. And considering that both my grandfathers were cigar smokers, I should also point out that the ritual of smoking a stogie reminds me of them as well.

In the grand scheme of things there is much good to come out of having a core stash, and for me it is a tether to memories of the past.