Museum Review: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia


Vir­ginia Muse­um of Fine Arts | Pho­to­graph by Bilyana Dim­itro­va

We like muse­ums. In par­tic­u­lar, I like muse­ums with excel­lent Dec­o­ra­tive Arts col­lec­tions. This tends to not be what oth­er peo­ple look at — I haven’t seen the Mona Lisa in my last half dozen vis­its to the Lou­vre, but always see the fur­ni­ture, for exam­ple. Last year I did review some of the fin­er muse­ums in Paris, but I’m way behind. We’ve seen a bunch since then (in Paris and else­where)! In an effort to poten­tial­ly help out a Dec­o­ra­tive Arts sort look­ing for a muse­um to vis­it, I will occa­sion­al­ly note ones that we’ve vis­it­ed and liked, and what we liked about it.

I’m going to start with the local high point – the VMFA in Rich­mond. Its heart is sev­er­al real­ly sub­stan­tial pri­vate col­lec­tions that were donat­ed to the Muse­um, which have been sup­ple­ment­ed by acqui­si­tions to round them out. It has some real­ly odd stuff, but also some very fine and focused items.

Let’s start with the Faberge exhib­it, just returned from a long cir­cuit around the coun­try and Chi­na. Lil­lian Thomas Pratt pur­chased these in the 1920’s and 30’s, buy­ing them from deal­ers as they were smug­gled out of the USSR. The work­man­ship is extra­or­di­nary. Five of the 52 made are in the col­lec­tion. This is sup­ple­ment­ed by a sol­id col­lec­tion of enam­eled items made by Faberge that Russ­ian roy­al­ty had owned. You can check out their Faberge items here.

Ruhlman corner cabinet | Virginia Museum of Fine Arts VMFA | Photo by Heller and Heller Furniutre

The Lewis col­lec­tion of Art Nou­veau and Art Deco objects is the main rea­son that we keep return­ing to the VMFA. The Art Nou­veau jew­el­ry, sil­ver­ware, and fur­ni­ture is real­ly fine. The Art Deco fur­ni­ture is also quite good, though I do not like how some of it is dis­played. It is too far and dark in the dis­play areas to real­ly see the most intri­cate pieces. It’s fine if you just want to see it, but it’s not good if you real­ly want to appre­ci­ate the details. By com­par­i­son, in the Musee des Arts Dec­o­ratif in Paris you could get close enough lick the pieces, though I don’t rec­om­mend it. Less­er muse­ums treat fur­ni­ture like its jew­el­ry, rather than some­thing made out of wood that was designed to be used. Enough whin­ing, but don’t expect to see every­thing clear­ly, or bring binoc­u­lars.

Art Nouveau Furniture | Virginia Museum of Fine Arts VMFA | Photo by Heller and Heller Furniutre

There is also a good Arts and Crafts col­lec­tion – most­ly Amer­i­can but a few Eng­lish and Seces­sion pieces. Fur­ni­ture, pot­tery, sil­ver and some tex­tile pieces, along with some Tiffany win­dows and lamps.

Decorative arts museum | Virginia Museum of Fine Arts VMFA | Photo by Heller and Heller Furniutre

You can see their gen­er­al Dec­o­ra­tive Arts into the Amer­i­can + Euro­pean Design col­lec­tion.

There is a very small col­lec­tion of fine 18th cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can fur­ni­ture, as well, though I couldn’t find a ref­er­ence to it in the VFMA web­site.

It also has a very nice restau­rant over­look­ing the grounds, and has had some inter­est­ing trav­el­ling exhibits since we’ve been vis­it­ing. It’s a great place to vis­it if you have a cou­ple of hours free while in the Rich­mond area, and is worth a trip if you like Art Nou­veau.

Just a quick reminder — there’s still time to sign up for Dave’s veneer­ing course at Water­ford com­ing up April 1 – 2 if you’re inter­est­ed! Get more detail about the course here.

Share on Facebook|Tweet this Post|Pin Images to Pinterest|Back to Top

Introduction to Veneering Class, April 1 – 2

Four way veneer matching | Tabriz inspired wine table | Heller & Heller Custom Furniture

Water­ford is a his­toric town near Lees­burg VA, about an hour west of Wash­ing­ton DC. The Water­ford Foun­da­tion runs a Her­itage Crafts School. This year it will fea­ture five class­es in each of four months on a wide vari­ety of tra­di­tion­al crafts. As men­tioned in my pre­vi­ous post, I’ll be teach­ing an Intro­duc­tion to Veneer­ing class at the Water­ford Foun­da­tion on April 1 – 2, 2017. Since you’ve asked (only kid­ding), let me tell you a lit­tle more about it.

Here is the course out­line.

  1. A brief back­ground on veneer­ing and the objec­tives of the course.
    1. Why veneer?
    2. Design oppor­tu­ni­ties
    3. Mate­r­i­al con­straints
    4. When and where to use and not use
  2. Cut­ting veneer with and across the grain
    1. Man­ag­ing cranky veneer; flat­ten­ing
    2. Avoid­ing los­ing short grain pieces
  3. Match­ing veneer
  4. Tap­ing con­cepts and alter­na­tives
  5. Book match, slip match, rota­tion­al match
  6. 4 way match : dia­monds and stars
  7. Make a pan­el with a four way match
  8. More com­plex match­ing: con­cepts
  9. Sub­strates
  10. Glue(s)
  11. Cross­band­ing and edg­ing
  12. Adding edg­ing to your 4 way match
  13. Let’s glue it up and then go home!
  14. Look at the results, clean it up.
  15. Ham­mer veneer­ing. Demos then let’s try it.
  16. Sequen­tial ham­mer veneer­ing: tra­di­tion­al tech­niques.

First I will cov­er why we would veneer, and when we shouldn’t. Then some tech­ni­cal issues and the basic design palette. Brief talks will be fol­lowed by much cut­ting and tap­ing, and hope­ful­ly not too much hair pulling. Veneer can be frus­trat­ing because the dif­fer­ent wood species act so dif­fer­ent­ly. Sol­id wood is also like that, but you are unlike­ly to work with three, four or more species in an hour, where that is very com­mon with veneer. Expe­ri­ence pro­vides con­fi­dence in know­ing how to deal with dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics, and I’ll try to pack in as many dif­fer­ent pecu­liar­i­ties as I can dur­ing the class.

Four way veneer matching | Take home panel from the class | Heller & Heller Custom Furniture

The end result of the day will be a 12x12”panel with a four way match cen­tral pat­tern, sur­round­ed by a thin fil­let with a cross­band­ed edge. This is a very tra­di­tion­al con­fig­u­ra­tion, com­mon­ly used in Fed­er­al fur­ni­ture. Draw­er fronts are often a sim­pli­fied ver­sion of this approach. Once you can do this, the more com­plex options should be com­pre­hen­si­ble, and doable with a lit­tle prac­tice.

On the sec­ond day we will clean up the pan­els that spent the pri­or night in a vac­u­um press dry­ing, and I’ll talk a lit­tle about sand­ing and fin­ish­ing. With only 1/​40” of wood, sand­ing is a del­i­cate sub­ject.

The last sub­ject will be ham­mer veneer­ing. This is the tra­di­tion­al method – before mod­ern glues were invent­ed it was how near­ly all veneer­ing was done. It’s quite dif­fer­ent and unfor­tu­nate­ly requires addi­tion­al tools. In cer­tain sit­u­a­tions it great­ly sim­pli­fies achiev­ing com­plex results. I’ll do a lit­tle demo then every­one can try it out.

The two pic­tures in this arti­cle both show four way match veneer pat­terns. The small sam­ple board shows four dif­fer­ent edge band­ing woods, to show some design pos­si­bil­i­ties. The table­top also includes some mar­quetry, an advanced veneer­ing tech­nique that I also hope to teach a class on this year. Ignor­ing the inlaid pat­terns though, this is exact­ly what the class is teach­ing, in a larg­er scale.

If these top­ics appeal to you I’d encour­age you to sign up. I’d like to hold this class in Char­lottesville as well but need to fig­ure out how to do so in my con­gest­ed shop. At this time, the Water­ford class is the only one that is planned.

Share on Facebook|Tweet this Post|Pin Images to Pinterest|Back to Top

March Happenings

A view of our patterened wooden wares | Heller and Heller Furniture

I’m back! It is time to let the world know that I’m still think­ing about wood­work­ing, and actu­al­ly doing it also. Posts over the next while will show the two real­ly cool com­mis­sions I’ve made in the past six months, some small­er items that help pay the bills, and some class­es I’ll be teach­ing this year.

But in this first post of the year let’s con­sid­er what I am com­mit­ted to doing in the month of March:

The Chan­til­ly Craftsmen’s Clas­sics Art and Craft Fes­ti­val on March 24 – 26 at the Chan­til­ly Expo Cen­ter. It will be my only show in North­ern Vir­ginia this spring, and I hope to see you there. I’ve got some new Keep­sake box­es sized to hold greet­ing cards and let­ters, and mar­quetry, and lots of new chop­ping boards to go with my jew­el­ry box­es and dec­o­rat­ed wood­en­ware.

inlaid maple keepsake box for cards and momentos | Heller and Heller Furniture

On April 1 – 2, I will be teach­ing an Intro­duc­tion to Veneer­ing class  at the Water­ford Foun­da­tion in Water­ford, Vir­ginia. This class for expe­ri­enced wood­work­ers will intro­duce veneer as a dec­o­ra­tive mate­r­i­al. Stu­dents will make a four way matched pan­el with fil­lets and cross band­ing. This will teach cut­ting, arrang­ing, and adher­ing veneers to a sub­strate.  Stu­dents will also prac­tice tra­di­tion­al ham­mer veneer­ing, which is a pre­ferred appli­ca­tion approach for cer­tain types of veneered pan­els.

Veneer­ing is not dif­fi­cult and it does not require a large num­ber of tools. It does have its pecu­liar­i­ties, most­ly based on the unusu­al prop­er­ties of wood that is 1/​40” thick, so isn’t com­plete­ly sure its wood any more. If the design pos­si­bil­i­ties of veneer appeal to you, this class will help you get on your way quick­ly. There is a lim­it of 8 stu­dents in the class, and there are cur­rent­ly still open­ings.

Lat­er in the spring I also hope to teach a two day Intro­duc­tion to Mar­quetry class in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Wash­ing­ton Wood­work­ers Guild.  Find­ing a loca­tion is the cur­rent con­straint to hold­ing the class, but I am hope­ful that it will pro­ceed. We will be using scroll saws to learn the pack­et cut­ting approach to mar­quetry. I’ll post more infor­ma­tion as the class gets clos­er to real­i­ty.

Share on Facebook|Tweet this Post|Pin Images to Pinterest|Back to Top

Meet the Maker: Cville Arts Co-Op!

Well this is a momen­tous occa­sion — a blog post by stu­dio man­ag­er Eliz­a­beth!  Eliz­a­beth has been spear­head­ing our involve­ment with the Char­lottesville Arts Coöper­a­tive Gallery and is on the blog to share a lit­tle more about her expe­ri­ences there. — Jenn

Charlottesville Arts | A cooperative gallery | Charllottesville Artisans

Pho­to Cred­it — Kear­by Chen via Google Plus

Heller and Heller has con­tin­ued to evolve since its incep­tion. Ini­tial­ly every item made was cus­tom made for a client. I’ll leave the dis­cus­sion for anoth­er day on why Dave now makes a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of items arti­sanal items for cus­tomers we have yet to dis­cov­er. Beau­ti­ful end grain chop­ping boards, end tables, trays, shak­er box­es, mar­quetry box­es and pic­tures have all become part of the prod­uct offer­ing. A nec­es­sary evil once you start down this path is that in order to make sales you need to have inven­to­ry. Rule of thumb is that you sell 1/​3 of what you have on hand when you do a show. So, once you have inven­to­ry you need to sell it in order to make more stuff. This is the chal­lenge. If you do arts and crafts shows then you need to pay the fees, trav­el to wher­ev­er it is, spend the time at the show, spend mon­ey to eat (and stay), take every­thing down and dri­ve home. If you sell on the inter­net no one can touch or feel your items, you are essen­tial­ly sell­ing a pic­ture,  you are com­pet­ing with mass pro­duced items and heavy items like chop­ping boards have a not insignif­i­cant postage cost asso­ci­at­ed with them.

Charlottesville Arts | A cooperative gallery | Charllottesville Artisans

Enter the Char­lottesville Arts Coöper­a­tive Gallery — this is a store full of art and arti­sanal goods cre­at­ed by arti­sans who share a store­front space and oper­at­ing costs and labour. Heller and Heller joined and set up our space there at the begin­ning of March. (Read­ers of the blog will remem­ber that Dave was in San Diego the sec­ond half of Feb­ru­ary at the Amer­i­can School of French Mar­quetry)

So we now have 2 months expe­ri­ence at the co-op. The store is open 7 days a week and work­ing mem­bers share the store hours — there are no paid employ­ees. In order to keep Dave in his stu­dio mak­ing more items, I vol­un­teered to work the store hours. So here I am, post retire­ment from the cor­po­rate world, work­ing retail for the first time in my life. Based on H&H April sales, the hours I worked and the dif­fer­ence in com­mis­sion for a work­ing and non work­ing mem­ber — I earned $1.52/hour. But it’s real­ly not that bad! I spend my time in the store sur­round­ed by beau­ti­ful things. There are rough­ly 50 dif­fer­ent arti­sans work­ing in 20 art forms from clay to wood! Every artist is locat­ed here in Vir­ginia, mak­ing the store per­fect for vis­i­tors look­ing for some­thing spe­cial to take home.

My favourite so far was the love­ly Eng­lish lady buy­ing her­self a leather hand­bag. She men­tioned she was per­form­ing at the Para­mount that evening so I checked the paper when I got home and fig­ured out she was with St Martin’s in the Field per­form­ing with Joshua Bell! (prob­a­bly a good thing I didn’t know or I would have been swoon­ing at her feet!)

There are anoth­er kind of cus­tomer as well — those who live in the area and are very famil­iar with what’s avail­able — the man who came in to buy a hand held wood­en cross to take to his moth­er the day his father died, the cou­ple who bought a love­ly stained glass for a wed­ding present wrote the card they bought while we were pack­ag­ing and ring­ing up the sale.

Charlottesville Arts | A cooperative gallery | Charllottesville Artisans

While the appre­cia­tive cus­tomers are a real plus for spend­ing time at the co-op, shar­ing the space with oth­er arti­sans and their spous­es is also a big ben­e­fit. Every­one seems hap­py to share their expe­ri­ences and cre­ative ideas. After all, the dream of every artist is to spend time doing the thing they love and cre­ate some­thing that oth­ers will val­ue enough to spend mon­ey on. Fel­low artists are won­der­ful crit­ics because they have both an aes­thet­ic appre­ci­a­tion and an under­stand­ing of what the pub­lic appre­ci­ates.  The intent of the co-op is there in its name — work­ing togeth­er to sell everyone’s work. The jury­ing process is key to mak­ing sure that the qual­i­ty is high and that offer­ings from each artist are dif­fer­ent enough from each oth­er to pre­vent com­pe­ti­tion.

Charlottesville Arts | A cooperative gallery | Charllottesville Artisans

So far I’ve been work­ing week­ends — busier days so the store has two peo­ple work­ing. You’ll find me there twice a month among the ceram­ics, glass, jew­el­ry, silk scarves, arti­sanal lotions, oil paint­ings, ink draw­ings, scenic pho­tographs, knit­ted goods, cop­per bird feed­ers, pewter orna­ments, leather bags and of course the wood!

If you’re in the neigh­bor­hood, enjoy­ing the beau­ti­ful down­town mall in Char­lottesville, don’t be shy — stop in and see us!

Share on Facebook|Tweet this Post|Pin Images to Pinterest|Back to Top

Modern Woodworking: Using Photoshop for Veneer Patterns

Wood­work­ing today (as evi­denced from this blog) is about more than just craft­ing heir­loom fur­ni­ture!  Main­tain­ing an online pres­ence is essen­tial for help­ing cus­tomers to find you, but this also opens up the pos­si­bil­i­ty of work­ing with clients who are not with­in sim­ple trav­el­ling dis­tance to the shop. To com­mu­ni­cate with your clients dur­ing the design process you need to be able to send images via email that are real­is­tic and as explana­to­ry as pos­si­ble.

One of the many tools of a mod­ern wood­work­er is the sub­ject of our blog today — Pho­to­shop!  Image manip­u­la­tion can make it fast and easy to show a client an exact look at their options. Dave is here today to talk about a recent exam­ple of using Pho­to­shop to give a cus­tom veneer match­ing options.


Pat­terned fur­ni­ture is one of the best uses for veneer. Pho­to­shop gives us the chance to manip­u­late pho­tos of pieces of veneer to see how a pat­tern would look, or lets us apply the same pat­tern to dif­fer­ent parts of the same piece of veneer, to see which we like the best. I did this recent­ly and would like to show you, my charm­ing read­er, how it came out.

I received a com­mis­sion to build a copy of a piece that I orig­i­nal­ly made in 2005. The cus­tomer want­ed a slight­ly larg­er ver­sion of exact­ly the same table. I was able to pro­cure some fair­ly dra­mat­ic French wal­nut from Cer­tain­ly Wood , who had sup­plied the orig­i­nal veneer as well.




Pic­ture 2 shows the table top as it exists. Most of the details will remain the same, but the cen­tral veneer will be dif­fer­ent, and there are always many ways of cut­ting small radi­al slices.

walnut veneer slice

Pic­ture 3 shows the veneer sheet. It is very sim­i­lar to the orig­i­nal one.


Pic­ture 4 shows a sized cutout, for find­ing inter­est­ing pat­terns. Since the cen­tral sec­tion is 40” wide, the pie slice is 20.5 inch­es long. We have 13 sheets of veneer to work with, so each pie slice is 4.9” wide( pi*d/26). Note that this pic­ture shows the cutout on the whole sheet. This is so that I can repli­cate it lat­er – non-triv­ial with vibrant pat­terns.


Pic­ture 5 is a close­up, which I will take into Pho­to­shop. You’ll notice that it’s pho­tographed on a blank, sol­id back­ground dif­fer­ent in col­or from the wood — this makes manip­u­la­tion in Pho­to­shop eas­i­er, as it is eas­i­er to dis­tin­guish the veneer slice from the back­ground.

I can­not teach you to use Pho­to­shop. It is a bear. Bears are pow­er­ful and cranky, just like Pho­to­shop. If you are an expert user what I’m doing is triv­ial, but I would encour­age basic users to get some train­ing (Lyn​da​.com has very good video tuto­ri­als) and fig­ure this out. It’s worth the has­sle.

photoshop blog pix-3

The piece of veneer is cut out in Pho­to­shop, just as it would be real­ly.  I make a big table­top (can­vas) to work on, copy the seg­ment in, place it, and then copy it in again. The lay­er can be rotat­ed so that the edges just line up. You can either keep doing that, one piece at a time, or copy the  new larg­er piece and copy that in few­er times. Even­tu­al­ly, either way, you will have all of your seg­ments in place.

photoshop blog pix-5

Now comes the cool part, new to me this week. A pic­ture of the top can be turned into a lay­er, and the cen­ter removed, using the eras­er or mag­ic wand tool. Adjust one or the oth­er so that the pic­ture pix­el width is cor­rect, then over­lay the pic­ture of the top – with the emp­ty hole – over the semi­cir­cle of veneer slices you made ear­li­er. Voila! That is how the table­top will look.

I made three dif­fer­ent ones for my cus­tomer, based on pat­terns I saw in the sheet. They are shown. The third one has reversed slices, to make the larg­er pat­tern.

Boston Federal Hall Table | Veneer Detail | Top Pattern | see more at

photoshop blog pix-6

photoshop blog pix-7

Veneer is a won­der­ful way of gen­er­at­ing pat­terns and this tech­nique lets you see the out­come with much high­er fideli­ty than oth­er meth­ods I’ve seen.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Share on Facebook|Tweet this Post|Pin Images to Pinterest|Back to Top