A Closer Look

April 30, 2020

A Closer Look

A Closer Look at a Georgian Trestle Ended Rectangular Stool...Three Planks, Two Angles. 

Earlier this week, I had a phone interview with a leading American arts journalist who is interested by our RYA Contemporary Collaborations initiative and the inspiration behind it.   

Rather as I imagine it would be like talking to a counsellor, she asked seemingly simple questions that reached further than they initially seemed designed to do. I found myself looking back to my school days and remembering the lofty ambitions I harboured to become a painter at that time. This led to a chat about some of my teenage inspirations. 

My cultural heros at that time included Leonard Cohen, for his lyrical brooding romance, self-deprecating insights and poetic lust; Georgio Morandi for his obsessive observation, divinely subtle palette and edgy still life compositions of everyday objects; Julie Christie, (obviously), for simply being my first significant heroine crush and the most beguilingly attractive and classy actress, and Henry Moore the sculptor. The reason I was drawn to Moore’s work was that it seemed somehow makeable and you could sense the hand that created it. More than that, it had an approachable quality, it bore no unnecessary ornament or detail, celebrated the material it was fashioned from and somehow felt ‘natural’. 

Retrospectively I recognise that this is a quality that all four of these heroes shared in their individual way. That is the point,  it was their way.

As a boy, I was always attracted to old pieces of driftwood, unusually shaped or textured beach pebbles, weathererd sun bleached bones, fresh shiny “conkers”, random pieces of rusty old iron and lichen patterened stone. These were among a varitey of “found objects” that could be magical, tactile and inspiring. I treasured and hoarded them.

Towards the end of those teenage years, I saw a chair in an antiques shop window. It was hewn from a solid tree trunk and worn smooth with patination like bronze, burnished on the exposed highlighted areas, dark and crusty in the recesses and utterly, sublimely natural.

Nearly 60 years have passed since then and I have been fortunate enough to spend most of them searching for things that embody these long admired qualities, irrespective of their origin or maker and have somehow made my livelihood from it!

So what has all this got to do with an old trestle ended stool and "A Closer Look"...?

I think it's something about its economical form, it’s functional simplicity and its “does what it says on the tin“ attitude.  Fashioned from three planks of wood, with well-balanced angles to the splayed trestle legs, their tenon joints left exposed through the top. The gently curved sides terminating in the simple “V” shaped cut-out to create the feet. Then the top itself, with a basic channel mould around the perimeter, showing a touch of sophistication, now bearing scars on one side where it has been used as a saw horse and the blade once bit into the edge, leaving textural traces of tooth marks. The board has developed a slight cast, lending it a touch of unexpected movement, the well figured grain enhanced by years of use and handling and the smooth worn, golden burnished surface, juxtaposed with the crusty aged darkness of the untouched areas, all as if it was meant to be.

It’s just so obvious, so certain and so strong. There is no superfluous ornament, no fuss or faff; the splay of the legs lend it strength, the cut out “V” reduces the risk of wobbling on uneven surfaces and the overhang is generous enough to protect the outside of the feet. These qualities were all considered and realised by the anonymous maker, over two hundred years ago.

So here it is, well drawn, still standing and fit for purpose, now blessed by the engaging historic surface and colour. It's no masterpiece, it's not even significant. It’s just three planks with two angled joints and yet I still view it as treasure.


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