Menushopping cart
Tools for Working Wood
Invest in your craft. Invest in yourself.

JOEL Joel's Blog

Architectural Woodwork and a Look at Thomas Moser


Architectural  Woodwork and a Look at Thomas Moser 1Architectural  Woodwork and a Look at Thomas Moser 2I was walking to the subway after 11:00 PM after seeing "The Taming of the Shrew" (Not Will's finest hours) in Central Park. On Madison Avenue I was pleased to see the Thomas Moser's showroom has moved to the ground floor. As Madison Avenue has some of the most expensive rents in the world for retail ($500-$1000/sq foot/year) I am hopeful that business is good. There just aren't too many traditional American furniture makers left. Moser, rightly so, has chosen the high end, and seeing his solid wood wonderfully made pieces in a lit window at night next to stores with thousand dollar bathing suits and three thousand dollar purses made me hopeful.

Architectural  Woodwork and a Look at Thomas Moser 3I've been busy this past week with my son's graduation and getting ready for our scratch and dent sale next friday (july 8). But last Friday my son and I wandered by the 42nd street Library (to see the Hamilton exhibit) and once again the architectural woodworking caught my eye. The ceilings of the entire library are grand but far up in the sky. Take a look at some of the details that are closer by.
Architectural  Woodwork and a Look at Thomas Moser 4
The bench is very simple, at least in concept. It's a bench, one of many set all around the library. The library was build between 1897 - 1911 so this bench would most probably have been made by machine. Looking at the detail there is a lot of shaper and pin router work. The big difference between it and public furniture from the post depression period is that while machinery was used in its construction the design, especially the details of the design, the flowing curves and worked moldings go back to an earlier Victorian age of detailing. The Bauhaus movement argued that something made by machine should also like like it was made by machine and there was no need for detailing. But this bench, from a previous generation of design, really uses machines to enable detail. The designers still want to entertain our eyes, even while also making a comfortable place to sit.

The last photo is of a bit of molding on a wall near the bench. This must have been done nearly entirely by hand. I don't know if work like this was done to print and installed or if the rough moldings were fitted then taken down for carving. In any case this is a tour de force of architectural carving. This period was at the height of decorative architectural detail in the US. and it shows. It's just a decoration but it is solid - because it is at human height and it needs to withstand damage. It's detailed without being prissy, and fairly big. And the building is full of it. In wood, stone, and plaster. This isn't a single carving that is a centerpiece of something, it's a fairly nondescript decoration in a room full of decorations and a killer ceiling.

N.B. I was very annoyed when a remodeling of our local library removed lots of indestructible oak chairs and tables and replaced them with melamine :(.
Architectural  Woodwork and a Look at Thomas Moser 5
Join the conversation
06/29/2016 Gavin
On the local library-It is a sad state of affairs when this occurs with not only the furnishings but also the interior detailing to make way for 'the new' and err, improved. The little we have in Perth Australia tends to be overlooked or dismissed, the majority of the time really only becoming visible to the public when some noise is made by a passionate interest. It is not uncommon for buildings to be demolished for new due to it being uneconomic or unviable in the eyes of the developer. This is in a city that has so little history a 100year old building is very old by our standard. Who bothers to refinish melamine? or would desire to ? Aside from cleaning it you really can't anyway. The life cycle and embodied energy in a solid timber piece makes so much more sense on so many levels including the aesthetic and historical. Mass produced composite simply cannot compete with this, except on immediate price. As far as I can see this is the crux of the issue- immediacy, superficial and temporary traits due to a lack of depth and consideration. I hope that the furniture removed from your local library went to use somewhere else and was not wasted. I think it is forgotten sometimes that a layperson, for want of a better term, let alone an enthusiast or craftsperson can appreciate and enjoy the surrounds of a space as much as its central purpose.

06/29/2016 Ken De Witt
Have said it before, love your posts about details in New York City. Some I know from over the years and some not.

Three weeks ago I found a jewel on Sy Marks place. Three story building that was a German gun club and assoc.
My daughter found the history of it on the web which pointed out that from the East Village to the mid 40's on the east side was all German from the 1890's to the 1930.

Love Thomas Moser, have been to home store in Maine several times. Just wanted to say they have a program that if you buy something on order you can go to the shop and assist in the finish process. They also have classes for repeat buyers that get you into the making process.
06/29/2016 John powers
Years ago I managed federal buildings. WPA building in Charleston WV has glazed locally made tiles below each window. When AC came along the units in the office were below the windows and needed to exhaust so they punched holes through the tiles and slapped on aluminum grilles. They know better now. I understand whil renovating a post office they found a Thomas Hart Benton behind a wall.
06/29/2016 Jeff Polaski
Joel, you are a patient man, having obtained a ticket (or two) to Shakespeare in the Park. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made a movie of it in the late 60's, and it sure wasn't "The Taming of the Shrew's" finest hours (They might have retitled it "Taming of the Shrew, with Elders"). We were in Manhattan during the run, couldn't make it but hope you enjoyed it nonetheless.
Next time we go, we'll be sure to stop in to see Thomas Moser's showroom. Your recommendation comes high.
06/29/2016 Jim Alguire
I truly enjoy your posts. Thanks for taking the time.
06/29/2016 Anthony Kennedy
Thanks for the great pictures. It truly is a treasure.
07/04/2016 Michael Price
Thank you for your posts, truly enjoy them. Moser Furniture's manufacturing operation is right next door to my office, in fact we installed the fire protection sprinkler system in his building when he relocated to Auburn years ago. I was in the building a few months ago and was fortunate enough to bump into him, chat a bit and he gave me a signed copy of his latest publication a nice keepsake!
07/06/2016 Joe M
The shoe will be on the other foot when the library's books get displaced or thrown away and replaced with streaming and downloaded medias......But wait that's happening now...they do how it feels.... and they still do it.....We never learn that improving technology and our surroundings is not always improving our future...
Comments are closed.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.