Andrew Crawford

Fine Decorative Boxes

‘LAVA’

It’s extremely rare for me to have anything available for sale – I have therefore set up this dedicated page with information about this very special piece.

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It is, in fact, a unique and never to be repeated box – unique due to the extraordinary veneer that is its main feature. It was specially commissioned for a show in US, ‘Boxes and their Makers‘ – a show that mirrors one I set up with another UK box maker, Peter Lloyd, back in 2001, ‘Celebrating Boxes’. I have never seen anything approaching the colour, figure and ‘flow’ in this veneer before or since – hence the choice to use it for this exhibition piece, and to name it ‘Lava‘. It is currently lined simply with claret leather and has a single tray, but one or more extra trays and other interior fittings could easily be added or the interior could be completely refitted from scratch to a customer’s particular requirements.

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Although it was made for the exhibition in the US last year and was due to be over there until 2012, I have recently made the decision to withdraw it, mainly to allow me to take it with me on a recent tour of Western Australia. The price has to reflect the unique nature of this piece, and the substantial amount of work involved in creating something of this order, so I have set this at £4,850. Below is the full description that accompanied the box at the ‘Boxes and Their Makers‘ exhibition.

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‘LAVA’:

•    Box dimensions: [LxDxH] – 400 x 320 x 235 mm [approx 16″ x 12″  x 9″]
•    materials used: birch plywood, oak, dyed veneer, amboyna veneer, ebony
•    finish is a thin shellac-based sealer [actually a thinned transparent french polish] cut back and waxed
•    lined throughout with claret leather
•    the interior contains one simple tray in oak.

 

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I originally wanted to create another map box for this exhibition – something I’ve done before with boxes such as Treasure Island below left. The first time I used this technique, for Lapis 4000 [below right] it was done using some wany edged yew to give the effect of worn and torn leather.

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Treasure Island Lapis 4000

The technique involves veneering a box twice – once with a background veneer, blue for the sea for Treasure Island and macassar ebony for Lapis 4000, and then again with many pieces of a natural edged veneer to form the coastline for Treasure Island and the torn edges for Lapis. Ebony straps are then fitted to cover the many joins creating the effect of continuity.

Amboyna is one of the very few veneers still available un-trimmed, that is, with none of its natural, rough edges removed.  This is because it’s so expensive and typically available only in relatively small sizes.  This allows the purchaser to make maximum use of it – and makes it ideal for this sort of project.

So, it was this I had in mind when I visited my favourite veneer supplier here in UK, Capital Crispin in East London. I quickly found a bundle of 2mm saw cut amboyna, the leaves at one end of which were very wild and hinted at some very unusual colours.  Amboyna is normally made up of rich dark red/purple heartwood and pale honey-coloured sap. Sawn veneers tend to appear somewhat blurred as a result of the rough surface left by the sawing process, but even in its sawn, unfinished state I could see that the colour of this bundle was unusual. In addition to the usual vibrant red and honey colours this showed a lot of grey, stone-type colours [perhaps caused by mineral staining] and a strong suggestion of flow in the figure. This, combined with the wonderful shapes [holes, even] and movement in the untrimmed edges, could only mean one thing – lava!

 

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I have been buying veneer for 20 years and this is the only veneer I’ve ever seen like this!  Apart from the fact that it was perfect for what I had in mind – there was a further advantage: the leaves I wanted [I bought the end six] were deemed too small and uneven in shape to be of any use for standard cabinetwork. So I got them cheap – and Amboyna, particularly if it’s saw cut, is extremely expensive. Actually these leaves are almost all sap with only an occasional very small area of the deep red heartwood.

With the veneer chosen, and a slight change in direction from ‘map’ to ‘lava’, it then had to all come together to create the box. The initial construction was simply done and the domed-top carcass veneered all over with a claret coloured dyed sycamore veneer before any of the amboyna was applied.

Then followed the time consuming task of applying around 50 separate pieces of veneer to create the dramatic effect you see on the finished box. It’s a lengthy process, selecting and positioning the veneer so that the joins between the individual pieces occur exactly where the ebony ‘straps’ will be. Occasionally the quest for a dramatic outline took precedence over continuity of colour or figure … but wherever possible all these elements were considered.

Fixing them in place is an awkward task because you can’t apply glue to the ground [the already once-veneered box] – it has to be applied to the amboyna. And because it so happened that the natural curve of the veneer was curling up and away from the ground, when glue was applied the curve was increased due to the swelling effect of the water in the glue. You have to keep the edges almost dry so as not to allow glue to squeeze out from under them when they are laid down, spoiling the effect. With all the veneer applied, the box without the straps appears as a discontinuous patchwork of mis-matched veneer scraps. But if all goes well, with the straps fitted the brain is fooled into assuming a continuity.

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The hinges, ‘straps’ and ‘nail heads’ are all made from ebony. I made the stop hinges from the same ebony the exact width of the straps so that they could be part of the continuity – I deliberately didn’t fit any sort of catch as I wanted to keep the lines and shapes of the exterior as clean and uninterrupted as possible. There is a unity achieved as a result of the close similarity between the colour of the background veneer, the few small areas of amboyna heartwood and the leather.

There was a plus and a minus to the fact that the veneer was 2mm thick – the extra thickness gives an extra depth to the contours, certainly with light from above the front of the box looks far more dramatic than if it had been the more usual 0.5 or 0.6 mm thickness.  On the downside, it meant that the veneer only worked one way up – all the edges needed to slope down into the background veneer – the other way up all the edges were effectively undercut, so would not have been so visually effective.

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This box also features in the book that accompanies the US show – the customer who buys this box will receive a free copy of this book, ‘New Masters of the Wooden Box‘.

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