Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to a talk given by Gene Landon for the Rochester Woodworkers Society. Gene is a world famous woodworker specializing in 18th Century American furniture reproductions. He has been featured in Fine Woodworking many times over the years and also teaches woodworking classes at the Old Mill Cabinet Shoppe in York, PA.
Gene’s talk was a photo tour of his home and wood shop in Pennsylvania. His home is filled with period furniture reproductions as well as raised panels and intricate trim work adorning the walls, all built by Gene in the 31 years that he and his wife have been there. The furniture pieces range from a spice box and a candle stand to numerous chairs, clocks, tables and case goods. All of the furniture was reproduced after taking careful measurements and rubbings from originals. Gene has done period reproductions of many styles, including both Newport and Philadelphia though he gravitates to the Philadelphia pieces because he feels that they represent the best from the 18th century.
Gene learned about the way these historic pieces were originally built from previously doing hundreds of restorations. As a result, his building methods are all authentic to the way the pieces were originally done. In his words: “if you are going to copy, you should copy the original methods as well as the designs”. In his work Gene only will only do a bit of roughing out with machine tools, everything else is done by hand. For finishes, he typically uses only shellac and sometimes a bit of boiled linseed oil. However, if a piece needs to be darkened he will use a stain made from soaking Walnut husks in water for some time until a dark pigment is obtained.
It was only after seeing Gene’s house full of beautiful furniture – something that would probably take the average woodworker five lifetimes to create, even with power tools – that I found out that not only was he doing those pieces for his home but, he was also doing commissions all along at the same time. He says that he always has several projects going in the shop at one time – that’s a situation that I’m sure most of us can relate to, though achieving the level of production that he has is another story. One great quote from Gene was: “I run out of gas before I run out of enthusiasm” – as far as I can see, he seems to still be going strong!
Gene is a long time contributor to the Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM) and helped to establish it’s Cartouche Award – an award that recognizes an individual or organization whose achievements best reflect the mission of SAPFM – in fact the award itself is a bronze of the carved crown from a Philadelphia tall case clock that Gene built. After helping to establish the award, Gene was a honored as a recipient in 2003.
In addition to his furniture making, Gene is also an accomplished carver/sculptor. He showed a magnificent carved eagle that he has created out of part of the last living Liberty Tree – a Tulip Poplar that stood during the Revolution. The eagle is now displayed in Constitution Hall in Philadelphia and will eventually go to the Smithsonian. Gene has also built Bible boxes for both President Carter and President George W. Bush. Also from the Liberty tree, Gene carved busts of Presidents Washington and Lincoln and these were recently presented to President Bush at the White House.
As I stated earlier, Gene has been teaching at the Old Mill Cabinet Shoppe for the last 15 years. He continues to do so, teaching there about 12 times a year. All of his classes stress the traditional methods of work and concentrate on period reproductions. Though I have not done any period furniture in the past, taking a class with Gene is something that I’d really like to do at some point in the future. In fact, after hearing Gene’s talk and seeing his work and accomplishments, I am inspired to try a period piece. Coming up I’ll be doing just that and posting here on a new project: a Pennsylvania Side Table with Cabriole legs. So, look for it in the near future.
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