Tag Archives: chair

Papier Mache Chair

A Papier Mache Chair from 1854

The following comes from “The Illustrated Magazine of Art”, Volume 4, Number 24, page 344, published in 1854. I thought the process they described was interesting. First, it is the first time I’ve heard of using metal molds for papier maché; second, they let each layer dry fully before applying the next (I learned to lay up each layer while the previous is still damp).

The polished French claim the honour of being the original inventors of the papier maché. In Paris the manufacture of the article is carried on very extensively; but far beyond the articles produced there—articles both of utility and ornament—stand those of the Birmingham manufacturers.

The old method of manufacturing papier maché is as follows:

—The paper for use is gray in colour, but similar in texture to ordinary blotting paper. Prior to using it, the paper is well saturated with flour and glue mixed with water, in about equal proportions, and is then laid on the mould of the article intended to be produced. These moulds are of iron, brass, or copper. The mould, coated with the first layer of paper, is then dried for twelve hours. A careful smoothing by a file follows, after which another deposit of paper is made. The processes of drying and smoothing are successively repeated with each additional layer of paper, until the article assumes the required strength and thickness. When the newly-formed article is taken from the mould, the several parts are planed, filed, and trimmed, so as to be quite correct and level. The process of stoving then follows; after which the varnish is laid on, and brought to a smooth, hard, brilliant surface. The article is then coated with several layers of shell-lac varnish, coloured, which, after being hardened, are scraped quite level. The different varnishings and smoothings are carried on for a period varying from twelve to eighteen days, according to the purpose for which the article is required. The exquisite surface is produced by manual polishing with rotten stone and oil; but the finish is obtained by the process of handling alone.

Various alterations and improvements have been made from time to time in the manufacture of papier maché; and sometimes the paper is reduced to pulp, cast to the form required, and then rendered compact and solid.

The specimen which we present is of a chair in papier maché; the grace and elegance of the design deserve especial attention.

Papier Mache Chair
Papier Mache Chair

Papier Mache Chair. The Illustrated Magazine of Art, Vol. 4, No. 24 (1854), p. 344

Chair Backs

Chair Back Styles

From 1995 to around 2004, a magazine known as Proptology was published by a Canadian props professional named Wulf. He published a multi-part series called “A Field Guide to Furniture Styles”, which contained a lot of useful illustrations and information for identifying period Western furniture. One of the parts had a nice little list of chair backs. I have taken this information and these illustrations and arranged them in a nice little grid where they are grouped by similar appearances.

I have some other helpful illustrations in previous posts: analysis of a chair, 40 styles of chairs, and parts of a chair. Armed with these images, we are well on our way to developing a visual guide to identifying the period of a chair based on its appearance.

Chair Backs
Chair Backs, illustrations by Wulf

Bentwood: Late 1800s.

Fiddle: Characteristic of Queen Anne style. 1700s.

Sheaf: Can also be a splat which is pierced in the same style. Late 1700s.

Pierced Splat: Characteristic of Chippendale designs. Late 1700s.

Balloon: Characteristic of Victorian style. Mid 1800s.

Round: Often an open frame with no upholstery. Mid 1800s.

Anthemion: Greek motif favored by Hepplewhite. Late 1700s.

Shield: Characteristic of Hepplewhite. Late 1700s.

Lath: Curved, flat uprights. Very sturdy. 1800-1900s.

Bannister: Like stick back but with turned posts. 1600-1800s.

Stick: Primarily used in country furniture. 1600-1800s.

Bow: Typical form of Windsor style chair. 1600-1800s.

Pillow Top: A narrower top is called “Bolster Top”. 1800s.

Lyre: Popular motif in Empire style designs. Early 1800s.

Ladder: With pierced splats is called “Pretzel Back”. 1400-1900s.

Square: Characteristic of Sheraton’s designs. Late 1700s.

Last Friday Sites

Just a reminder that tomorrow from 9am to 10pm at the Holly Hill Mall in Burlington, NC, is the first Burlington Mini Maker Faire. Check it out if you are in the area and you like making things. The mall parking lot will be hosting a D.A.R.E. carnival that day too, so after you look at the robots and wood lathes, you can ride a cocaine-free ferris wheel.

A career in theatre props” is a well written article about Antony Barnett, Head of Props at the Royal Opera House. It discusses what he does as the lead prop maker at a very busy shop. It is also interesting in telling how British prop makers learn their craft and get started in the business.

Sad news out of Brazil; Tiago Klimeck, an actor playing Judas in an Easter Passion play, died from an accidental hanging during a performance. The article, while light on details, does mention that authorities think “the knot may have been wrongly tied.” The only safe way to do a live hanging is with the rope attached in the back to a harness under the actor’s costume. The loop of rope in the front should be incapable of holding any weight, and should be able to break away when the slightest bit of weight is applied. In other words, there should not be a knot that can accidentally be “wrongly tied”; there should not be any knot. Though this story may remind you of the accidental hanging of an actress in a Halloween haunted house last year (the girl lived), in that case, the noose was never intended for live hangings. It was simply a prop “used for visual affect” (I am not sure why articles on accidental hangings all need grammatical errors).

I just came across this, though it is from 1996. Patrick Tatopoulos is the maker of monsters from Stargate (the film), Independence Day, the John Cusack Godzilla film, and many others. Visual Effects Headquarters has an interview with him and a look at how he got started and what he has accomplished.

I missed this on the first go-around, but in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, Popular Woodworking Magazine has posted free plans and instructions to build the deck chairs used on that infamous ship. It’s a complicated and involved chair, but it looks like a fun project if you want to own a piece of history (or if you are doing the musical Titanic).

Christopher Schwartz has posted the first chapter from Bernard Jones’ “The Practical Woodworker” on building crates and packing boxes. Crates and boxes seem like an easy item to construct, but the endless varieties and methods to construct them make them a good first project for a budding carpenter. Besides that, we build a lot of boxes in props, and even complicated forms have elements of box construction somewhere in them. This chapter does a great job of showing some of the more popular standards for box and crate construction.

Friday Link-tacular

It’s Friday once again! I hope everyone was able to finish their taxes!

Last week there was a great newspaper piece on James Blumenfeld, the prop master at the Metropolitan Opera. The operas they put on are among the largest in the country, so it is fascinating to read what it takes to organize and corral all those props.

Here is another great newspaper piece on Torontonian prop maker Chris Warrilow. He runs a prop rental and fabrication shop, but his specialty is custom stage combat swords. The article has some great information about stage weapons.

It must be the year for writing about props people; here is an article on Peter Smeal, the props designer at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte right down here in North Carolina.

You can view the entire “Fundamentals of Machine Tools” (1996) published by the US Army. This is the manual used to train Army members in the use of powered machines for making and repairing things out of metal.

Here is a homemade carving pantograph; you trace your pattern on one end, and the Dremel on the other end carves it into a piece of wood. The commercial kits I’ve seen for this always look so cheap and flimsy.

Finally, if you have the time (about 16 minutes), this video shows the construction of one of Denmark’s most famous chair designs, called “The Chair”. It’s an expert blend of top-of-the-line CNC machines with old-world craftsmanship as the video goes from hundred-year old oaks in the forest to a completed piece of furniture.