Only Skin Deep

Undeniably, the natural effects of the centuries on surfaces, finishes, and structure play into that first impression, at least to some degree. Entropy has a way of softening edges, moderating pigments, and altering the appearance of wood in a way that is difficult to replicate artificially. One exception, likely the most famous example of artificially produced patination, is the Brewster Chair made by Armand LaMontagne in 1969. After handcrafting a near-replica of the famous chair of William Brewster, a signer of the Mayflower Compact of 1620, LaMontagne spent months aging the chair. He scratched the wood in typical wear areas, burned parts with an acetylene torch and scraped away the carbon, then stained, smoked, bleached, and adhered centuries worth of dust. That chair eventually found its way to the Henry Ford Museum, which paid $9,000 for this “authentic” piece. LaMontagne demonstrated that the chair was a forgery by showing with X-ray imaging that several holes in the leg posts were drilled with a modern bit. He never made money from the project, but wanted to demonstrate the fallibility of experts in the field of authenticating antiquities.


The key to LaMontagne’s success was that he knew surface condition is only skin deep. Wear and tear can be recreated using modern materials and methods, but the use of modern tools and practices leaves a signature that points irrefutably to the spurious and recent origins of a piece of furniture. The look of an object made to tolerances gauged by the human eye and hand cannot be feigned with machines.

–Michael Updegraff, excerpt from “In Pursuit of the Handmade Aesthetic” in Issue Four


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