Discovery is Immensely Entertaining

M&T: Do you still do conservation work or are you mainly building furniture these days?

DW: At this point in my life, I’m doing very little conservation and only for already established clients. I don’t take new clients. I suppose somebody could come to me with a project that would really wow me, but I’ve been restoring objects for 50 years. Instead, I’m doing things of my own creative impulse. I have a sketchbook of things to be built. There’s a lot of historical technology that I want to relearn or reinvent. I enjoy working from a spare framework of information to figure out how things were done in the old days. Not that I necessarily want to work that way all the time but I find the process of discovery immensely entertaining.

So I spend some time doing woodwork: chairs, cabinets, tables, making tools, things like that. Mostly for my own use. Although I do make the “elastic” Samuel Gragg chairs for clients – I’m always looking for new clients to do that. I would like to make a couple a year. I do faux tortoiseshell work, brass work, metal casting, ivory work, leather work – basically all the media that were available to creative artists in the past. One of the liabilities of the modern era is that we have compartmentalized knowledge so much that you can be familiar with two adjacent compartments and not connect them at all. People of the distant past referred to the science of painting, of fine art sculpture, and the art of metallurgy. Even their use of language indicated that they saw all knowledge as a continuum, that it was all connected. Part of what makes me tick is connecting all the parts of knowledge that I can gain.

–Donald C. Williams, excerpt from “The Courage of Curiosity: An Interview with Furniture Conservator Donald C. Williams,” in Issue Twelve


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