If you think marquetry is a dead art, or a relic of the Renaissance, you haven’t been to Easthampton, Massachusetts. That’s where you’ll find master woodworker and fine furniture maker Silas Kopf.  

For over 30 years, Kopf has turned out hand-cut marquetry marvels, some of which can be found in museums and private collections around the world.  

Producer Dave Fraser visited Kopf’s studio and shares the story. 

This story originally aired on January 19, 2019. 


Read the Full Transcript: 

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: If you think that intricately inlaid woodworking, better known as marquetry, is a dead art or a relic of the Renaissance, you haven’t been to Easthampton, Massachusetts.

It’s where you’ll find master woodworker and fine furniture maker, Silas Kopf.

For over 30 years, he’s been turning out hand-cut woodworking marvels, some of which can be found in museums and private collections around the world. Producer Dave Fraser visited Kopf Studio to find out more.

Silas Kopf, Wood Worker: Now, I’m going to start to saw out pieces here. Marquetry is essentially the look of an inlay, but a slightly different technique.

What’s done is you take pieces of veneer, usually wood veneer and piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle – and I want to add a piece of darker wood along there – and then that jigsaw puzzle gets glued on to a thicker backing, so, it looks like the individual pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are inlaid into the surface, but in fact they’re all part of the same matrix.

In its own way it goes back to Egyptian times, but the real birth of Marquetry is in the Italian renaissance.

So, I was interested in design, but at the same time I was interested in doing something with my hands. So I ended up getting an apprenticeship in an art furniture cabinet shop, work there for a number of years. And while I was doing that, I was trying to decide, okay, what am I going to do to make something special and unique?

I made furniture, but everything that I make has this marquetry decoration to it, so it’s got pictures on it, so it could be a chair with the back of the chair with the picture on it, a table top is an obvious choice for Marquetry, cabinet doors. I’ve done several pianos where the the rim of the piano is decorated with pictures.

So let’s pretend that this is the picture that I’m going to be working on, that I wanted to do this rabbit, and I want the rabbit to be kind of white. So I have picked out a bunch of lighter colored woods here.

The woods come from all over the world because there are New England woods are kind of beige for the most part. So, you know, you can go from maple, which is a nice creamy color to a walnut, which is brown and things in between. But if you want to get some really colorful woods, you’ve got to go to the tropics. And I’m going to focus on that ear right there.

I go back and forth with the design of the object and the design of the marquetry, so, I generally start with the Marquetry concept and how’s the picture going to fit on to that? Then sometimes the the cabinet design has to get modified to fit the picture or modify the picture to fit the cabinet.

So, it goes back and forth for a little bit until finally the design is set. Well, I’ve been getting more and more complex as the years have gone by.

The first flowers that I made might have had five or six pieces of wood in them, and then I upped the ante after ten years of work and said, no, I’m going to make that same flower, but put 50 pieces of wood in it. And so that’s sort of where I’m still at is that level of complexity.

This is the old firehouse in Easthampton. It was the building, the original part of the building was constructed in 1885. The town built a new public safety complex in 2000 and put this up for auction in 2001. And I was the the lucky bidder, although, I had immediate buyer’s remorse, oh, now what do I do?

But, it turned out to be a great space for me, I like the big high ceilings, the nice light that’s in here, and I like the idea of taking care of this important building.

I think it’s a really beautiful building and important to Easthampton to have, have this in in good condition.

The center door has the rest of the goose on it. I would like to think that my furniture, if it were stripped of the marquetry, would still be an interesting object or vice versa.

If the Marquetry was just done to hang on a wall, that that too would be interesting, but, combining the two elements is – It’s not totally unique to me, there’s other people who are doing it, but it’s a pretty small number of people who are doing that.

Starting with raw lumber and cutting it up and refining, refining, refining until finally you get this, this unique object that hopefully at the end you can stand back and say, I’m proud of that.