Wood Carving ; Carved Ornament in Furniture
There are several methods of ornamenting furniture. Perhaps the most difficult to do well, and yet the most common, is wood carving. It can be used as a surface ornament, treated as a panel, either cut below the surface of the wood or in relief, or used in the form of decorative patterns. The constructive parts, as posts, rails, mouldings, etc., may be also in decorative, even patterned, forms. In the first instance, panel work, the problem is one of designing an ornament to properly fill the space, keeping in mind the effect of light and shade. The pattern is in relief of varying planes, and the different parts must be of a size that will be in keeping with the space filled as well as the entire article.
The carved ornament may closely fill the whole space or be loosely scattered over the surface, but in either instance it should seem to belong where it is, and not as if it might be placed elsewhere or was floating about in a space much too large for it.
In some kinds of furniture may be seen small ornaments in high relief cut from a block glued in the middle of a plain surface many times the length and width of the ornament. Such carving appears as if stuck on, even if it is well executed, for it is wrongly placed and inadequate to the space it occupies. It is not because it is glued in that makes it uninteresting, as might be supposed, but because it is badly designed. Had the surface of the solid wood been cut away to leave carving of the same design in relief a similar feeling of its having been applied would exist. Nevertheless the practice of gluing on carving should be discouraged.
When the constructive parts are carved care should be taken to design the ornament so the contour of the part is not destroyed. Instead of detracting from the form it ought to enforce it. This may be accomplished by keeping the principal masses of the ornament well within the boundary lines of the part decorated and by making the ornamental growths follow the direction of the structural lines.
If the carving is on the surface of a chair back where it may be leaned against it should not be of such a high relief as to be disagreeable or so sharp as to be dangerous to the clothing. The picture of a carved Louis XVI armchair given here is an example of over ornamentation and exquisite carving misplaced. It is a chair with the arm post finely and skilfully carved, but so delicate in its detail as to be almost too frail for practical use. And so rough and sharp are the angles that should a delicate dress be pulled across it it would probably be torn.
In the tradition of Italian baroque furniture there is much emphasis on heavily carved ornament as can be seen in these carved console tables.
Plain surfaces have quite as much value as those that are ornamented with carving, and by bringing them in conjunction so as to secure a contrast the best results are obtained.
It is mentioned here, Furniture Designing, that the wood used for the construction has an influence on the design. This is especially true of carved ornament. Although it may be possible to do delicate carving in the coarse grained woods it is certainly not good taste to do so. In the close grained woods, like satin wood, mahogany and maple, we expect to see delicate and fine work, while in oak, ash and walnut we at once look for a different sort of thing.
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