This weekend marked the opening of the season for the Rochester Woodworkers Society, the woodworking club that I belong to. As I have mentioned before, each year the club hosts several national woodworkers for lectures and workshops. The first talk of this season was given by Graham Blackburn.
Graham has an interesting background. Born in London, England into a family of woodworkers (father and grandfather), his parents wanted him to pursue a “professional” career as a lawyer or a doctor. Much to his parents dismay, he spent his summers in London working for a local cabinetmaker learning various techniques and woodworking skills and ultimately ened up in the fields of art, music and woodworking.
When Graham first came to the United States he settled in Woodstock New York – this was prior to the famous concert held there in 1969. He is a musician and ultimately attended the Juliard School in New York City on a music scholarship. He also subsequently played flute and saxophone for Van Morrison for several years. During this period he built his first house in Woodstock and wrote his first book about that process (he has now penned more than a dozen books). All the while he made furniture for himself as well as for others.
Still interested in woodworking, after his years in the music scene, he attended art school and learned the principles of design. Throughout the subsequent years he continued his woodworking, design and writing. He has been a frequent contributor to numerous magazines including Fine Woodworking and was the editor of Woodwork Magazine for several years. Many of his articles have centered around the history of various furniture styles as well as aspects of furniture design.
Graham took us through a slide show of various pieces that he has designed and built and discussed the good an the bad of each. Most notably he pointed out his evolution as a designer and how he had missed the mark in some of his early pieces. Given his background in art and training in design, Graham brings a sound perspective to furniture design. This is something that is somewhat unique as not a lot of woodworkers are formally trained in art and/or design. During his discussion, Graham stated that:
“Function is only half of the story, what makes a good design is a combination of balance rhythm and proportion”
The aspect of proportion is something that I have have written about here before, citing one of Graham’s past articles in Fine Woodworking. The balance and rhythm of a piece are closely related aspects that I think are worthy of some further exploration.
Graham also spoke about what he called the “transparent arts” of design. He described these as the elements of a furniture design that when done just right are not specifically noticed but, if done wrong make a piece look awkward and/or unattractive. These transparent design elements center around proportion, balance and rhythm and can be found in even the finest details of a piece.
Graham was here to discuss both design and the use of hand tools in the modern shop. I was fortunate enough to attend his workshop on the following day discussing these topics in a bit more detail than in the general lecture. I plan on following up with a post or two to discuss more of the details of what was covered. So, stay tuned!