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The art of marquetry
March 17, 2013 6:34 AM   Subscribe

Marquetry is the art of making pictures composed of cut pieces of wood veneer which are then attached to a piece of furniture. Silas Kopf is perhaps the best known American doing marquetry. He works in Easthampton, MA on cabinets, desks, and at one time, pianos for Steinway. He also decorated a piano for Walden Woods using indigenous wood.

If you'd like to learn more, you can read his book, A Marquetry Odyssey, watch a marquetry video, an audio slideshow, a video podcast of a visit to his studio which shows techniques and his philosophy on the creative process (NB: the music stops fairly quickly into this 30 minute interview/technique demonstration), read a blog entry about another visit, a newspaper article about a visit, or read an extensive interview with the "wood picture guy".

If that piques your interest enough that you want to try it yourself, the American School of French Marquetry is in San Diego, CA and there are two societies to join, the American Marquetry Society (for North Americans mostly; warning comic sans) and the Marquetry Society (for UK inhabitants, mostly).
posted by sciencegeek (16 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

I'm always puzzled by marquetry. It seems incredibly difficult to cut/line up all the pieces and even the best reminds me of those airbrushed wolf t-shirts.
posted by foodgeek at 7:35 AM on March 17, 2013

I love marquetry. It's Ike mosaics but a million times more difficult. The desk you linked to is marvelous and subtle.
posted by bq at 7:37 AM on March 17, 2013

I've been lucky enough to see some wonderful examples of pietra dura, which is basically stone marquetry, in Florence.
posted by bq at 7:41 AM on March 17, 2013

I'm always puzzled by marquetry. It seems incredibly difficult to cut/line up all the pieces and even the best reminds me of those airbrushed wolf t-shirts.

I'm also puzzled by it because I cannot imagine how people who are really good at it actually manage it. Yes, it DOES seem incredibly difficult to manage all the pieces but we differ in that I think good marquetry is fucking AWESOME. Thanks for this post!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:43 AM on March 17, 2013

Oooh also from the main link there are seahorsies and a beautiful octopus and the desk with the fish is called a school desk and the magazine desk is amazing. This is seriously really, really cool, thanks.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:49 AM on March 17, 2013

Sorry, I swear I'll stop now, but it's totally worth reading the description for the aquarium chest which is really, really thoughtfully crafted. The last part tells you "The final touch was to carve a piece of satinwood (the primary wood that I used to make the octopus arms) and make it appear that the creature had opened the lid and was reaching out. This arm becomes the handle for the top." Check this part out, it's amazing.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:52 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have always found marquetry and pietra dura mind boggling. I just don't understand how it's humanly possible to carve things so precisely. I can barely make a dovetail -- strike that -- I *can't even* make a dovetail.
posted by PigAlien at 8:05 AM on March 17, 2013

Oh, and I find most marquetry, and especially pietra dura, exceptionally beautiful, along with mosaics, and I'd love to live in a palace filled with all 3 of those.
posted by PigAlien at 8:06 AM on March 17, 2013

Love this post. Patrick Edwards from the ASFM also sells a hardware kit for a chevalet de marqueterie. If you go to and search the projects and blogs entries for "chevalet", you'll find lots of directions for building one. Also, Lost Art Press will soon be publishing a translation of Andre Roubo's 18th century masterwork on cabinetmaking; the first volume “To Make as Perfectly as Possible” will deal mostly with marquetry.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:57 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

And if you read French, the Roubo work is on Google Books with a non-obvious title. The plates are at the back of the book.
posted by sciencegeek at 12:30 PM on March 17, 2013

Every year I enter my knitting in the Sydney Royal Easter Show (which is basically our version of the State Fair). And every year I wander over to the woodworking section to see what Gary Gentle has entered. Every year that I've been there, he's entered naked lady marquetry. It's really very cool. (I'm a little miffed though, as there's no way if I knitted a naked lady that the knitting judges would display it.)
posted by web-goddess at 1:45 PM on March 17, 2013

I dare you.
posted by bq at 2:03 PM on March 17, 2013

Oh, I've been tempted. Very, very tempted.
posted by web-goddess at 3:18 PM on March 17, 2013

I love the marquetry that Kit Williams has done.
posted by plinth at 6:03 PM on March 17, 2013

Damn. That is amazing.
posted by bq at 6:12 PM on March 17, 2013

You know, I honestly cannot find any examples of knitted portraits of naked ladies.
posted by bq at 6:14 PM on March 17, 2013

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