the Dutch Chocolate clock

When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles my dad brought home two of these tile corbels he found in the attic of a vacant house he was working on.  They were put away somewhere and I rediscovered them years later when we were moving out of the old family home.  It was when I noticed the name Batchelder stamped in the back that I realized that they might have a little more history and worth than I originally thought.  I wanted to do something with them but didn’t want to destroy their value if they were of some significance.  I tried researching online but could not find any images or information about the tile.

Last year when I was participating in the Arts & Crafts Bungalow Weekend in Pasadena I met Cha-Rei Tang of Pasadena Craftsman Tile.  She had a number of tiles made from casts of original Batchelder tiles so I asked her if she’d be interested in my dutch boy corbel. She said she was so I sent her the corbel and she documented the process of casting molds from them here in her blog http://www.pasadenacraftsmantile.com/page6/page58/page58.html

A few months later she sent me a box with four of the little dutch boy clones. I got the idea to design a clock/shelf utilizing the corbel since I could now have an unlimited supply of them.
I wanted to have it completed in time for this year’s show in Pasadena and this is what I came up with. It seemed to ask for a deep dark brown finish and I put a darker stain on the tile to make it recede into the dark under the shelf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
While it was hanging on the wall at the show a woman came up to me and said she recognized the tile from the Dutch Chocolate Shoppe in downtown Los Angeles.  With that lead I was able to find a wealth of information about the chocolate shop and the wealth of Batchelder tile still in existence, located at 217 West Sixth Street Downtown Los Angeles.

Sadly it is is no longer the charming chocolate shop of it’s heyday but a bustling mercado.

I wish I had had this information before leaving Pasadena to be able to see it firsthand before returning home.  Perhaps next year I’ll check it out and maybe buy a cowboy hat, or in my dreams, some dark dutch chocolate.

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Early Century Modern

And I’ve seen it before
And I’ll see it again
Yes I’ve seen it before
Just little bits of history repeating
 – Shirley Bassey

The Arts & Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th century emerged from the fatigue from the over decoration and clutter of the late Victorian era.  Artists such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh embraced the philosophy of the emerging Modernist movement, influenced by traditional Japanese design and Industrial design.  Functionality eschewed unnecessary ornamentation.

The Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century popularized the Modernist movement, bringing clean simple honest design to the everyday person. The movement had a good 10 to 15 year run, but the fickle tastes of popular culture soon moved onto Spanish Revival or Colonial and all that Stickley furniture was relegated to the attic.

The evolution of Modernism continued and may have reached its ultimate statement of reduction of unnecessary elements with Philip Johnson’s Glass House built in 1949.

Modern design touched the masses in the mid century with the brilliant work by designers like Charles and Ray Eames. The clean pure design of Modernism had reached its zenith.
But once everything has been reduced, where do we go from here?

The Postmodern era was born perhaps by Philip Johnson himself in 1984 with the AT&T building in New York with its “Chippendale” top.  Thus ornamentation is back.

Elements from our rich historical past can now be integrated into a new type of “modern” design.  But things got out of hand and the term “postmodern disaster” is familiar as we now have mini malls slapped together in the 90’s with their classical pediments and ornaments scarring our landscape.

Our current appreciation of Arts & Crafts design has emerged during this Postmodern era as well.  The once discarded Stickley furniture has been hauled out from attics and rediscovered.  The pure clean simple design of these relics are as fresh and meaningful today as they were over 100 years ago.
Important designers such as Charles Renee Mackintosh, Harvey Ellis, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Charles and Henry Greene have contributed to our culture and have left an important legacy that is evident in the fact that the revival of the Arts & Crafts movement is still popular today more than double the time frame of the original movement.

As we are now more than a decade into the 21st century, one can see history repeating.  What was once old is new, and what was new becomes old.  The fickle public will continue to move from one style to the next, as the “craftsman” recliner they bought 10 years ago is falling apart and is replaced by a mid-century knockoff from IKEA. What will make something timeless is the design and the integrity and intent in which it was made.

 

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burning Frank Lloyd Wright’s Desk

My friend Tony asked me if I would be interested in some scrap oak that was purportedly to be Frank Lloyd Wright’s desk. He said that it had been stored in a barn with a leaking roof for decades and was completely ruined and parts were missing.  “It would make some good firewood if you’re interested” he told me.  Although I knew it was not one of his designs, my visions of a Prairie style masterpiece awaiting some loving restoration were quickly dashed when I saw that it really was a pile of musty worm eaten scrap oak.  It consisted of parts that looked like a modest utility grade oak desk possibly from the early part of the 20th century.  There was nothing really salvageable about it, but still there was the enigma that it could be the hallowed oak desk that Frank Lloyd Wright actually worked on at some point in his career. There is a shred of credence since there is a house in Mount Vernon that is known to be the work of one of his sons or students.

So what do I do with the remains of the master’s desk?  Is it imbued with some sort of magical spirit or is it just firewood?  A few of the pieces are worth saving, perhaps to be used somehow in the future, but for the most part, it was just firewood.

My friend Jack expertly arranged the pieces along with the oak kindling scraps from my clockworks. It lit quickly and provided a most wonderful bonfire for the first warm evening of the new year.  I feel that maybe some of the old master did get released that night into the warm spring air as the sweet smoke filled my lungs and perfumed my clothes.

Sometimes the best way to hold onto something is let go of it.  The desk is gone but Wright’s legacy is alive and present among us in his work which has forever changed our landscape and the way we see things.  The musty old desk has nothing to do with it.

It was much later that evening when we heard that bin Laden had been killed.  I was startled at first being jarred back into the reality of our present day.  It was over the following days that I understood the magnitude of this cathartic event for our country.  Even though the realities of our everyday life won’t change much at all, it feels as though a monumental shift is in place.  The first decade of our new millennium has been shrouded in a fear that has affected the way we live.  Perhaps now we can get on and embrace the new realities of the 21st century that we now live in.  We learn from the past and bring the best of it with us into the present.  It is what got us to where we are now and we will continue to go on from this moment on.   The past is gone, everything has changed and anything is possible.

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Mechanicals

I am a woodworker and I make clocks.  However I am not really a “clock maker.”
I have been inspired the designs of clocks from a century ago and have somehow built a business around making clocks “in the present time” meaning I use materials and technology of the time in which I live.  Most of the clocks I make use quartz movements – the most accurate, reliable and cost effective time keeping mechanism available today.

Ever since I started making clocks over 18 years ago I have been aware of the lure of the mechanical movement.  Clocks made during the early 1900’s are the design inspiration for my work and would have then been built around a small brass “movement”, a marvel of state of the art technology from 100 years ago.

If logic held out over passion, the mechanical movement would have died out decades ago with such contraptions as the adding machine and typewriter as digital clocks and electronic calculators can do the job for 1/100th the cost.

But there is the passion, the fascination and the nostalgic tug of the mechanical movement.  Most everyone has a recollection or fond memory of the sound of a mechanical clock in their past.  Cherished clocks that perhaps used to belong to grandparents are lovingly kept alive by the rare, and possibly dwindling of craftsman, the clock repairman.

I met Ron Zentner about 10 years ago when I was in a local antique shop admiring their amazing collection of restored clocks. Ron happened to be in that day so I spoke with him about the workings of the mechanical clocks, and possibly collaborating with him to help me produce a “modern, antique-inspired, mechanical clock”

This Arroyo Seco was the first clock we did, or I should say he did. Essentially he adapted a mechanical movement to the case I had already designed and built.
In the present day the number of companies that make quality mechanical movements is dwindling.  Ron was able to find a German made Hermle movement that would fit the size of my cabinet and wouldn’t require too much modification. Physical requirements such as pendulum length meet design elements such as where the pendulum bob appears in the window on the face of the clock.  To make it work in my cabinet Ron takes apart the movement and changes the gearing to accommodate a shorter pendulum. He has thus earned the title “clock genius” in my book.

In this installation Ron has added a weight to the pendulum shaft (note silver disk on the suspension rod)  this corrects the speed of the pendulum so it can be the proper length, and thus be in “just the right spot” in the window when seen from the front.
The silvery foil between the dial and the movement is sound insulation to keep the noise of the gears on the mechanism to a minimum.

The chime mechanism  is another element of the design that require a great deal of knowledge gained from experience.  The best sound comes when the brass rods, screwed tightly into a cast iron base, are mounted to a thin “sound board”  much like the top of a guitar.

Through some design modifications we were able to make the back of the clock the soundboard.  With it screwed tightly to the cabinet the chime gives a deep melodious tone.  (a sound no electronic chime will ever have)

Given his musician background, Ron does not settle for using the standard short rods that come with the movement, but cuts and tunes his own longer rods to give a deeper, truly handmade sound.  No two clocks ever sound the same.

This is an electronic tuning device used to get the perfect pitch.  The note changes subtly by carefully grinding down the length of the rod.

After at least a week of adjusting and calibrating, the clock is ready for it’s new home.

Since I have moved to my larger space a year ago I have been working toward creating the larger scale mechanical grandfather clock.  I knew this was going to take some time and figuring out.  I don’t want to just make a big cabinet and hand it over to Ron.
Ron gave me the mechanical components to work with earlier this summer and I have been slowly getting familiar with this seemingly Rube Goldbergian contraption, and figuring out how I can design a cabinet around it.

I am fascinated with the look of the mechanical parts, and have been drawing inspiration from them.

Early Arts & Crafts clocks embrace this element by exposing the functioning parts of the clock and making it part of the design.

I love the weight and chain driven movement and want to start with a large scale wall clock design with exposed elements.

Earlier this year I made this shelf bracket originally not thinking of it as part of a clock design at all.  When Ron brought the parts over I did some playing around with the pendulum and a cardboard box and came up with this.  There’s something provocative about this to me.

It has become a shelf for holding the movement and has inspired some new designs.

These are some simple pine mock-ups that are some variations inspired by this
design idea.

By deconstructing the elements of what makes up a “mechanical clock” I am putting it back together in a design that draws from the past but is something that I can call my own, made in the “present time”
stay tuned for further developments . . . .

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Pasadena

I’ve just returned from my trip to Pasadena participating in the 19th annual Craftsman Weekend.  I want to thank all the people at Historic Pasadena who produce the event and and all the people who support it.

Pasadena is a community that treasures their rich architectural heritage as being the birthplace  of the Arts & Crafts movement in the southern California region.

It is here that the designers Green and Green were able to develop their craft to the highly revered state of perfection that is now recognized as one the important contributions to American design.   Having wealthy clients who were equally seduced by the wonderful climate and beauty of turn of the century Pasadena also helped.

During Pasadena’s expansion during the 50’s through the 70’s many historic homes were lost to development and freeways, but the trend has reversed as the construction of major connecting freeways has been stopped because it cuts directly through an area of historic homes.
These homes are rightfully treated as treasure now and their owners seem to spare no expense to bring them back to their former glory. The interest in Arts and Crafts movement is very much still alive today in Pasadena.

I’m very happy with how I did at the show, bringing home far fewer clocks than I left with. It was also great to meet many of my past customers and having them let me know their clocks are still treasured items in their homes. I was able to re-connect with the Gamble House and meet Sarah the new director.  They will one again be featuring my clocks in the bookstore.

Perhaps the thing I value the most was making connections with so many extremely talented artists who were displaying their work at the show. It’s great to meet the person behind the ads I’ve seen American Bungalow or other magazines for years.  I only got to meet a handful of other exhibitors since we all have to pretty much stick around our booth for the whole weekend.

Across the isle from me was James Mattson of James Mattson Coppercrafts

http://www.jamesmattson.com

He does some very beautiful copper etching work, and one of the things he does are these simple walls clock with beautiful etched copper faces.

Since he says he prefers metalwork to woodwork, I got the idea to propose a collaboration on a custom large scale wall clock or grandfather clock.  Still some details to work out but I’d love to work to design a cabinet that would work with one of his clock faces.

Also across from me was C & C Brown  showing a line of beautiful individually handmade pottery.  http://www.artpotters.com

Yoshiko Yamamoto of Arts & Crafts Press http://www.artsandcraftspress.com was showing her extraordinary blockprints and note cards. 

 

 

Seattle woodworker Tom Stangeland of http://www.artistcraftsman.net

and Darryll Peart of http://www.furnituremaker.com

were there to show their exquisite interpretations of Greene and Greene furniture.

Evan Chamber is a glass artist who has a line of beautiful early century inspired glass work at his http://www.pavonineglass.com site

and some wonderfully creative work at his alternate site http://www.evanchambersobjects.com

Tedd Colt of Caladonia Studios  http://www.caledoniastudios.com came down from Oakland California and was showing his beautifully made Stickley inspired furniture.

I sat in his Morris Rocker and did not want to get up.  If I had an extra $2400 to spend, that would be my first purchase.

It’s been a great experience getting myself out there and meeting the people who create this incredible work and those who support us.

I’m looking forward to attending again next year, hopefully bringing down some of the new models I have in the works.  Stay tuned . . . .

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new designs

It has been about a year now since I have started working in the new studio.  So much has changed for me in the past three years since I essentially grew out of my old shop and home that it would be impossible to just keep doing the same old thing.
Initially I wanted to do a grandfather clock since I now have the space that would allow working on a scale four time larger than what I have done in the past.

One thing I’ve learned is that I’m going to have to work my way up to the size and “presence” of a clock on such a grand scale.  Six feet tall, human scale proportion.

What I have been doing this summer is working with some of the design concepts and construction techniques of the grandfather designs, and working through them in the smaller scale I am more familiar with.

This first design uses a different method of construction.  Instead of the mitered corner “box” I normally do, this design utilized more of a “leg” design, an internal box suspended on the corners by legs lifting it off the ground.  This design utilizes the tapered sides that wraps up into the top, with the legs supporting the corners.  I feel it has a strong architectural feel with references to a cathedral or mission design.

This first study was executed in alder with a black dye.  I am pretty pleased with the proportions and looking forward to trying it in quartersawn oak.

This next design has a familiar silhouette to the Column clock, but on a much larger scale.  It utilizes the new 7″ face and stands 26″ tall.  The grill design detail on the door comes from a simplified plant or tulip design I have worked with in the past.
It seemed like the perfect place to use it.

This clock is just calling for the mechanical movement with a deep coil gong . . .

Another design is based on the Highland design I have worked with from my very first clocks designs.  This is a lower, wider version with a round dial and an opening door.

This design is working it’s way to a low, wide mantle clock design.  The change will require to redesign the chime rod soundboard from the back of the clock to the base.  It will require a completely different method of construction, so it will have to wait a bit before I can get to it.

The last design is simply a new door and grill design for the larger Buffalo clock.

I now have the fun task of coming up with names for the new clocks.  I usually keep a simple descriptive variation on the basic themes.  The one above will probably be the “Buffalo Round”  since it has a round face instead of the square one in the similar Buffalo Square.  Same goes for the one before it, the “Highland Round”

I do have some method to my names.  The Arroyo clocks all have tapered sides, like the letter “A”.  The Highlands have perpendicular sides and kind of have the look of the letter “H”.  The Buffalos all have curved sides sort of like the letter “B” turned on it’s side.

The black clock is a little different.  It has a similar feel to the Santa Barbara clock I did years before, which was named after the mission in Santa Barbara, for no reason other than it reminded me of it.  I’m thinking of another mission name, maybe San Jose?

The large clock has a feel of prairie design and needs something to distinguish it from my other Prairie/Column clocks.  I give up for now,  I’d rather make them than name them.  I’m open to suggestions.

It is now less than two weeks before my show in Seattle and I’ve got plenty more work to do, so I’d best wrap this up now.

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it’s showtime!

I am going to be participating in two shows this fall, the Historic Seattle Bungalow Fair on September 25th and 26th, and the Pasadena Heritage 19th Annual Craftsman Weekend October 16th and 17th.
The last time I did a show was the Seattle show in 2004.

From that experience I’ve learned that doing shows can be quite exhausting.  Initially I felt disappointment from the effort due to rather modest sales during the show. I have since learned that it’s not so much the day of show sales that count, but it is also making a personal connection with the community, getting myself seen and recognized that’s more important.  I have had customers contact me years after the show from the brochure I had available.

In looking at the calendar I realize that there is not that much time left as summer and all of it’s distractions so quickly passes.  I have a number of new clock designs in the works that I would like to have completed in time for the shows.  The grandfather clock I have planned will have to wait since it will be too large to be carting off to any shows.

When I was moving my shop I discovered a stash of some highly figured maple, oak, walnut and other hardwoods that had been buried in the stacks.   I have been working with some of the pieces of wood, slicing in half and opening up, known as “bookmatching”.  My favorite part of the entire process is “finding the clocks” in a particular piece of wood –  move it around, trim it down and it soon becomes apparent what it is meant to be.
Arroyo Tall Arch lurking within.

A large scale Buffalo Tall.

These will be some of the special one of a kind clocks I will have ready in time for the show.

If you are in the Seattle or Pasadena / Los Angeles area please come by so we can meet!

http://www.historicseattle.org/events/bungalow.aspx

http://www.pasadenaheritage.org/site_info.php?siid=1&id=4

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