To make the form from which the bronze would be molded, I laminated two-inch-thick pieces of black walnut with a small press I made from metal ribs and bottle jacks. From that block, I carved the base, mostly by hand and entirely by eye. Lamination was a technique that was used a lot 40, 50 years ago—Phil Powell made an art form out of it. My experience with it was minimal. The carving, though, I felt confident about. Before I became a modern furniture designer, I’d carved more platters than I can remember. But it became clear early on that this was not another platter.
The original concept was the silhouette of a cheetah laid out in mid-sprint. The actual base looks nothing like that, obviously. It took a week to carve. I melted down often, questioned my direction, my ability as a modern furniture designer, as a functioning adult. But I stayed with it and regained my bearings, mostly, I think, because I handed myself over to the process. I stopped trying to wrestle it into the form that I needed it to be and allowed it be what it wanted to be. My expectations tend to create impasses with every piece of modern custom furniture I make, but with this table, they were especially relentless. Coming out on the other side, though, with a base that was so different from what I envisioned, yet just as beautiful in its own way, reminded me to be a little easier on myself.
The bronze was cast and polished at a foundry in Lancaster. While that was going on, I started in on the tabletop, which is comprised of two bookmatched slabs of black walnut. Bookmatching essentially entails pairing separate pieces from the same tree so that their grains mirror each other. It’s a common practice among furniture designers in this area. Single-slab tables are more typical in California because they’re made from claro walnut, which grows much larger than the black walnut that’s prolific around here. But, with bookmatching, if it’s done correctly, you’ll never detect the seam. It’s a fairly simple technique, maybe a bit tedious, but it’s something I take a lot of pride in.
I started the Trophy Series thinking about wealth and unrestrained craftsmanship. I wanted these pieces to be more than modern custom furniture; I wanted them to be trophies. The deeper I got into making them, the more explicit and subtle that expression became. Sure, the mirror-finish, cast-bronze base is arresting. But the part that absorbed two of the three weeks it took me to make the table, that almost swallowed me whole, the black walnut base form, you’ll never see and isn’t even part of the finished table.