“Old Man Craig”
One of the more difficult things to do sometimes is a variation on an idea that works. Mind now, I don’t mean just a new wrinkle on an old prune, but more of a reinvention, as it were. You see that sort of thing with movies from time to time. “A Star Is Born” has been filmed three different times, and each time the story was reimagined to a certain extent, while still maintaining the elements of the original story. The same is true of “Mutiny on the Bounty” and a number of others I could cite—and would if this blog were being written for movie buffs. But one of the more interesting aspects of this variation on a theme, as it were, takes place in woodworking, and one of those who has mastered it to a fare-thee-well is Craig Thibodeau.
Marquetry is one of the more fascinating aspects of woodworking, but much as I admire the work of the old masters who held sway during the Rococo Period, I have always found their work to be a bit over the top. For my tastes. The workmanship is nothing short of amazing, and especially so when one considers that it was all done with hand tools in those days. Although in that regard I do have to point out that I know of another woodworker who still works the way the Old Masters did and uses only the hand tools that they had at their disposal, which just totally blows my mind. But much as I admire the work he does, I have to admit that it is not work that I would want in my own home, not because of the workmanship but because there is so much of that workmanship on display. I much prefer the simpler. Think Shakers. But suppose we could have some of the simplicity of the Shakers and some of the beauty of marquetry, and if we could throw in a few of those old-time hidden compartments and such, well, that would be the ultimate pretty much.
Enter Craig and his bag of tricks. No, that’s not fair. It’s not a bag of tricks. It’s a number of innovative concepts that have been executed with a precision that borders on the eerie. I’ve known him for some seven years now. From time to time he sends me pictures of his latest. Most of his work features his marquetry, and if I were commissioning something from him that’s what I would most want to see in the finished project. But much more than that, I would like to see the product of a mind that is considerably more inventive than mine.
Craig’s mind and his talent are very much on display in his latest, an Automaton Table. It’s an absolutely modern piece with the charm of one of those old pieces I referenced earlier. I served a three year stint in the Army in the Sixties and was stationed in what was then West Germany. It’s been very nearly fifty years now, but I still remember the day I toured the castle at Kassel. The woodworking throughout was little short of spectacular, and it culminated in one of those elaborate marquetry desks replete with hidden compartments. A few weeks ago I came across one of those online, Abraham Roentgen’s Writing Desk and thinking he might appreciate it, sent a link to Craig. He told me that a client had seen it and was interested in a modern version of it. It was designed off and on for over a year, but at the end of it Craig had an absolutely delightful piece of work. He tells one and all that it was inspired by the work of Abraham and David Roentgen, and if you spend time with the video linked above, you can certainly see some similarities, but really, the most of what I see in his Automaton Table is pure Craig Thibodeau. (Here’s a link to a video on Craig’s table: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sWrgIgBT9M)
It’s a table that exists to delight. Almost all of the many hidden drawers and such are confined to the upper ten inches of the inner cabinet. The lower section is filled with an ingenious operating system that makes the magic work. Craig tells me that it’s driven by a single gas piston and a variety of levers and pins, which leaves me little smarter than I was before. I suppose that if he took me all through the actual working of the final piece, I would have a much deeper understanding of how it all works and might even be able to duplicate it. Well, not the marquetry and not the exquisite fitting of those drawers and not… well, hell, pretty much everything. I might as well face it. We’re both woodworkers, but I have about as much in common with Craig as a kazoo player does with Louie Armstrong! But writing about Craig’s accomplishments has most definitely been one of the highlights of this almost eight year blogging journey.
I’ve known Craig since Joe Dusel and I started this blog site in 2008, but I knew him first through his work, not getting a chance to actually shake hands with the man until a few years after we’d begun this blogging venture. That first blog on Craig was Joe Dusel’s idea, really. He knew of Craig’s work, knew I was casting about for something interesting to write about, and, well, that’s how great ideas are sometimes brought to life. In the years since then I have written about Craig’s work a number of times, both because of my appreciation for his latest effort and for the constant improvement in his skills. Old Man River, they say, keeps on rollin’ along. Craig tops that. He keeps on gettin’ better.
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