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LaserForge Designs

Our Heritage

Laserforge Designs creations feature a contemporary form of the ancient craft of marquetry, the fitting together of fine woods and wood veneers to create decorative pictures and patterns.

The origins of marquetry can be traced to the earliest forms of decorative objects from the Mediterranean incorporating inlaid designs of materials such as wood, metal, stone and ivory. A form of marquetry involving inlays of thin wood veneers on solid wood surfaces was practiced by the Romans, but declined with the fall of the Roman Empire. Marquetry did not regain widespread popularity until the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when it flourished in Italy under the influence of several eminent craftsmen and their followers. It was during this period that techniques for coloring wood veneers were developed and artists began to execute “paintings” in wood.

The Renaissance brought to the art of marquetry a new emphasis on intricate geometric pattern, as artists began to include decorative elements drawn from classical art and architecture in their works. Sixteenth century Italian marqueteers developed during this time a technique for manufacturing borders and thin strips decorated with very detailed geometric designs without the necessity of hand fitting each tiny individual piece. This method involved gluing together a bundle of small sticks, each shaped so that its end-grain represents a particular geometric component of the desired pattern. The bundle was then cut into a large number of thin slices so that the pattern formed by the end-grains would be replicated in each slice. This technique remains in use today by manufacturers that sell strips of highly intricate border material to craftsmen and hobbyists desiring to add a decorative marquetry accent to their work.

The seventeenth century saw the development of more important techniques in the art of marquetry. The cutting of designs in veneer using a thin saw gained prevalence over earlier methods of cutting using knives. This, in turn, facilitated a new technique developed in Germany of cutting a design out of a stack of alternating dark and light veneers. The positive images in the design cut out of light veneers would then be fitted into the negative spaces cut from the dark veneers, and vice versa. The technique was later used extensively by Andre-Charles Boulle (1642-1732), cabinetmaker to the French king Louis XIV, and is sometimes referred to as the Boulle technique.

Andre-Charles Boulle was one of the most influential of the early marqueteers. He worked extensively with shell and metals such as copper and brass, as well as with wood, and frequently utilized both the positive and negative parts of his cut-out designs in his pieces (see examples in the Musee du Louvre and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles). Boulle’s designs were intricate and sumptuous, featuring complex curvilinear ornamental tracery and motifs, flowers, leaves and other designs from nature, as well as detailed geometric borders. Boulle and his workshop designed and created furniture for the palace of Versailles and for many of the wealthiest houses of Europe for over fifty years, and profoundly influenced subsequent generations of marqueteers.

Much of eighteenth century marquetry followed the design examples of Boulle, although marqueteers further developed the techniques of their craft. During this period, cutting methods were refined and marqueteers achieved new levels of precision and intricacy. Coloring and shading techniques also advanced. In the latter half of the eighteenth century a German marqueteer named Jean-Francois Oeben (1721-1763) began for the first time extensively to utilize geometric and symmetrical curvilinear patterns on broad surfaces of his works (examples from the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Musees des Tissus et des Arts decoratifs in Lyon, France). Earlier artists had incorporated such designs principally on borders to more organic compositions featuring flowers, leaves and organic decorative flourishes. In so doing Oeben might be considered one of the earliest direct influences on many of the curvilinear symmetrical designs in the LaserForge Designs gallery! Geometrical symmetry, however, as a principal design feature, did not become widespread. The most famous works of this time period executed by Oeben, and his more well known successor, Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806), (exemplified by the desk of King Louis XV exhibited at the palace of Versailles) continued to feature elaborate floral and related organic designs, as well as landscapes and symbolic compositions, relying on symmetrical geometric patterns for borders and background.

Although some fine quality work continued to be produced through the early and mid nineteenth century, the next major advances in marquetry style would await the end of the century with the advent of the art nouveau movement in France from 1890 to 1914. The floral and naturalistic themes of earlier marquetry works persisted but took on a more abstract form in the art nouveau style, characterized by curving, sinuous lines, often intertwined or curving back upon themselves, blossoming into stylized natural forms. In addition, art nouveau marquetry compositions frequently exhibited asymmetrical open spaces influenced by the style of Japanese prints that were popular in Europe at the time. The best known fine marquetry of this period was produced by cabinetmakers Louis Majorelle (1859-1926) and Emile Galle (1846-1904) in the French town of Nancy (The Musee de l'Ecole de Nancy exhibits a number of examples of the work of Majorelle and Galle).

With the proliferation of industrial society in the twentieth century, marquetry as an art form lost much of its mainstream popularity. Although individual artisans and shops have continued to produce very high quality pieces on a small scale, the amount of labor required to produce pieces of the complexity and intricacy of the masterpieces of earlier centuries has made the cost of producing such works prohibitive on a wider scale in industrialized countries.

A good source of additional information about the development of the art of marquetry is the website of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, which contains biographies and works by Boulle, Oeben and Riesener. Other excellent (and visually opulent) sources are Pierre Ramond's books "Marquetry" and "Masterpieces of Marquetry" published by the J. Paul Getty Museum.

I founded LaserForge Designs in 2005 with the goal of applying modern technology and innovative design to the ancient crafts of marquetry and furniture making. In so doing, I found myself sharing the experience of previous generations of artisans and craftsmen to an extent I had not suspected at the start of the project. Although the pieces of a LaserForge Designs table are cut to shape initially with our industrial laser, each piece of hardwood from which it is cut must be individually selected and carefully inspected with a view to its ultimate use. Each piece of joinery must conform to principles worked out by generations of woodworkers to resist damage from changes in humidity and temperature. Each part must be sanded smooth and fit by hand to the parts with which it interlocks. Each piece on our marquetry table tops must be matched to its surroundings and carefully fitted by hand. Each table must be thoroughly smoothed, finished and polished by hand. This has been the work of marqueteers and woodworkers for generations, and it remains so today at LaserForge Designs. What has changed is our ability, aided by our technology, to make an ancient art more accessible than ever before. By laser-cutting, we eliminate a number of traditionally time-consuming steps in the construction of our pieces, while achieving a high level of precision and quality. Moreover, our three dimensional laser engraving process has enabled us to offer unique design elements unavailable to craftsmen of prior generations. Finally, because we are able to cut thick hardwoods with our laser, we are able to incorporate into our designs complex curves and creative joinery that would be far too time consuming to produce with conventional woodworking tools.

I hope that the end result will re-introduce the ancient art of marquetry to a new generation, while offering to our customers a new standard for contemporary style and luxury. Our creations are individual, made one at a time in Colorado from the finest hand-selected hardwoods and veneers. We strive to offer unparalleled precision and quality by building showpieces designed to last for generations. Contact us for more information, or to discuss procuring one of our pieces to grace your home.

Michael Proett, Owner and Founder, LaserForge Designs, April 2007

Sidereus Table
Cutout image of Mike
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