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JOEL Joel's Blog

A Desk I Would Like To Make


A Desk I  Would Like To Make 4I spoke to Ron Hock one morning last Tuesday and mentioned that I had taken the day off to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met in local jargon) by way of a one day vacation. He said he likes reading about museums and I should give him a full report. To be frank a lot of the stuff I saw - well let's just say it's questionable if it should be in a museum, but more on that in another blog post.

The museum is huge - just walking the halls with no looking would take a few days so when we go we typically only have the energy to see a few things. This time we saw exhibits about treasures from the Forbidden City, Photography from 1910, Ringo Starr's gold plated drum, musical instruments, cabinets and boxes (worth a blog entry on their own and the best stuff we saw on the visit), other stuff, and lots and lots of sculptures of topless women with long hair (a perennial favorite). But this trip, like most to any museum isn't about the breath of the visit, or how many miles we walked, it was about a few pieces that ring my bell.

In a mostly forgotten exhibition hall that gets what little traffic it does because it's on the way to Arms and Armour is a little folding desk. It was made by some unknown joiner in 1508 (the date is carved on it). In use it was dragged around France for some number of years. Eventually at some point it was sold to an American tourist/collector. And it ended up in a glass case stopping me in my tracks every time I pass it.

A Desk I  Would Like To Make 5Sorry for the poor quality of the pictures - I need a new phone. The desk is fairly small, and the exhibit shows the desk assembled but with the top folded over. In use, the two sides that form the front fold out like a gate leg table and the desk top unfolds to full width. The whole desk is held together with a couple of removable stretchers and tusk tenons. What makes the piece is the moldings and the carvings on the wood. The carvings are simple in comparison to most of the contemporary stuff I have seen, but far more decorative than modern stuff of the past century. When the gate legs are folded in (as shown in the photo) the two gatelegs form what looks like a single carved rail. The illusion is done first by the join between the legs. It isn't in the middle and straight, it's offset and and at an angle. Also the legs aren't carved with matching patterns. The carving is one continuous design. The effect is very clever and more interesting than matching legs would be.

I have been looking at the desk for about 40 years and I have always liked it. It's small, knockdown, and designed for the wandering scribe to be able to store it on a wagon, and then set it up very quickly. With laptop computers, and IPads I wonder if it's a useful design for the twenty first century. I don't really need a portable desk but I find myself drawn to it every time I visit. It's a simple project, and it has just enough carving on it to make it interesting and not above my beginner carving level.

I have written previously about the importance of seeing real stuff and how visiting museums is a great place for inspiration. This is a great example of that. I started making things as a kid because my parents took me to the Met almost every week (it was free then, not very crowded, with a children's museum and library). They wanted me to learn about culture. What I got out of the visits was that 1 - rich people have lots of cool stuff, 2 - I would have to either make a lot of money - or - learn to make the stuff myself. I did the latter, never having figured out the former. As a kid I made models, as an adult I live in an apartment with lots of furniture I have made. It's very satisfying. As for design and inspiration, my education continues.

Ron also told me about a new Google project where you can wander parts of museums just like google street view. It's not as much fun as being there but it's really cool to play with. Check it out!!!
Join the conversation
02/03/2011 Nick Dunten
Very cool desk. I'm not near the Met so must miss a personal visit.

Did you make any sketches or measurements? I'm looking for a new challenge.
02/03/2011 SFPaul
The desk is indeed very unique. I'm always amazed how an object can survive the centuries and this is no exception. The builder had no idea that the desk would end up in a world class museum.
02/03/2011 Frank Vucolo
Very interesting desk.
I will have to take a look next time I'm at the Met.

Make it, Joel.
02/08/2011 Jeremy
That is a very old and yet still functional desk... My favorite projects really are to revive old things and transform it into something very attractive and useful things. I feel so great accomplishing something like that.
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