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Inlay And Marquetry

AMERICAN craftsmen bid fair to rival their European colleagues in the art of inlay and marquetry. This decoration of furniture with designs made up of bits of wood of various hues was, 150 years ago, considered the final touch to be given to important furniture by English and French cabinetmakers. Mechanical aids have made possible a greater perfection and woods unknown before are helping to produce a high degree of artistic excellence.

Inlaid furniture has always been an aristocrat. Inlay on a dressing table or a desk stamps the piece at once as something better than its neighbors because it represented added labor and skill. Perhaps it is the democratic atmosphere of America that generally confines the use of inlaid furniture to the occasional piece.Almost any room may be enriched in an unobtrusive way by a bit of furniture decorated with inlay or marquetry. Of course, if one has a liking for the more ornate of the Georgian interiors one may have examples of Heppelwhite's and Sheraton's art in marquetry. The English made examples are more elaborate than the American production of the same period, while the art in French furniture of the eighteenth century-especially the work of Andre Charles Boulle, the great designer for the Court of Louis XV was developed to an even greater degree of excellence than the English masters achieved.

Both inlay and marquetry are loosely referred to by the first designation, but there is a difference. Inlay is the insertion of ivory, metal or shell or a different wood into the material of the furniture; marquetry is combining into a design metal and shell, etc., as when a basket of flowers is inset against a plain background. In marquetry the parts of the design are made up of bits cut as thin as veneering and set into an equally thin background. Then the completed design is inserted into the piece of furniture at the proper place.

A great deal of the American made, wood decorated furniture of Colonial times was done with simple inlay and simple marquetry. Today marquetry is being applied not only to reproductions of eighteenth-century English and French furniture but also to new designs in furniture. A $6,000 bedroom suite recently on display made of the rare curly amaranth wood had American made marquetry panels of great beauty. There are also the daring conceptions of the modernistic French designers in macassar ebony with an inlaid design of ivory and amaranth.

The staining of wood is sometimes resorted to in order to obtain a special color, but generally the effect is achieved by a wood of the right hue. Little known woods from Cen tral America will be placed side by side with American fruit woods. Not only well-known woods, such as holly, rosewood and tulip, are used but varieties with the strange names of zebra, amboyna and kingwood are employed. Bits of rare trees brought by travelers from foreign parts are treasured by marquetry makers until just the right design calls for the color which the piece can supply.

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