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Silas Kopf got out of college in the early 1970s and thought he would retreat to the woods of northern Maine and make simple, solid-wood furniture, perhaps with a Shaker flavor. He never made it to the woods, and certainly veered from the Shaker aesthetic. Over the past four decades he has specialized in building furniture decorated with marquetry.
He is self-taught in marquetry, learning mostly from a book and through trial and error. But ten years into his career he was deeply influenced by Italian Renaissance intarsia, a combination of inlay and marquetry practiced in the 15th century. Kopf traveled to Italy to see the work in person, which features convincing optical illusions. Kopf is now well known for his own trompe l’oeil, or fool-the-eye compositions.
Kopf later traveled to France to study marquetry for several months at the Ecole Boule, a school that teaches traditional furnituremaking skills. While there, Kopf was introduced to the work of Abraham and David Roentgen, German father and son cabinetmakers who built furniture for monarchs and the aristocracy in the 18th century. The Roentgens embellished their furniture with superb marquetry, but they were also known for the structural complexity of their case pieces, which incorprated hidden compartments and mechanisms that enabled the pieces to be reconfigured. Kopf’s cabinet on the back cover of the current issue, with its many secret drawers, is a tribute to the Roentgens.
Kopf has written a book about his work and his influences, and has also produced a dvd describing his techniques for doing marquetry. Both are available through his website, www.silaskopf.com
More Masters of the Craft Slideshows
• Peter Sandback Nails His Designs• Liam Flynn: Virtuoso Vessel Maker • John Reed Fox: The Uncompromising Craftsman • Jere Osgood: Modesty and Mastery • Ulrika Scriba’s Marquetry: Risk and Reward • Adrian McCurdy: Furniture Riven from the Log • Geoffrey Warner: Assembling a Life • Peter Shepard Turns the Page • Curve It Like König • Partners in Craft: Harold Wood and John O’Brien • Tool Chest with an Arts & Crafts Legacy • Adrian Potter: Thinking Furniture • Hank Gilpin: Exploring the American Forest • Doug Mooberry: Kinloch Woodworking • Michael Hurwitz: Planks into Poetry • Brad Smith: Story of a Stool • Hank Holzer and Judith Ames: Labor of Love • Michael Fortune: The Clever Chair • John Cameron: A Musician in the Woodshop • Allan Breed: The Past Recaptured • Kintaro Yazawa: Joint Wizardry • Grant Vaughan: Subtropical Virtuoso • William R. Robertson: Micro Maestro
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Stunning work, yet not overbearing. He is not so much a craftsman as an artist. I'd love to spend a day or two just watching him in the shop!
Your cleverly assembled and illustrated storytelling nicely compliments Silas Kopf's fine marquetry furniture. Well done! - AKD
I think Silas Kopf is one of the greatest furniture makers/artists alive today. I am not sure if most woodworkers realize the incredible skill that this man has. Just take the shadow line for example on his latest piece, that is not stain; it is different pieces of wood to simulate the shadow. Also note the door that is "open", it is lighter in color because the light is catching it. His work is truly amazing. I wish Fine woodworking would do a more in depth story on this master.
You may also find this video of interest.
If you enjoyed this, you might also like to see the work of Matthew Werner:
At an extraordinary and elegant way, the real modern marquetry motifs based on traditional techniques achievements!
Your work is another beautiful page in the history of marquetry techniques.
Very nice video and article, Silas Kopf is one of my favorite furniture makers. He has been a big inspiration to me and my marquetry. I want to thank you Jon for all your articles, you always publish a wide variety of craftsmen and different styles.
Great story, but why do the images of his newest piece zoom by so fast while all the other images proceed more slowly. Had to watch the video a couple times and keep pausing it over and over on those newest images to see what they were.
Carl Swensson's woodworking skills go very, very deep. But they go wide as well.
Make something fun while learning new skills
Fast, fun approach to making a comfortable, casual seat
In this video Michael finishes the first of the three boxes. Gluing-up, planing, sanding and finishing bring a new piece of art to the world.
In this video Michael starts work on the second box, a carved and painted Saddle lid box.
Michael begins carving the saddle lid box with his ripple pattern along the top. Then turns to his 5/30 gouge to texture the sides of the box. This isn't work…
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