Thomas Chippendale marquetry — Jack Metcalfe – 30th Sept 2019

I wasn’t cut out to be a mar­queteur. I even failed my GCE ‘O’ level in wood­work. So I could only marvel at the intric­ate skill with wood ven­eers, knives, scalpels and fret­saws dis­played not only by master fur­niture maker Thomas Chippendale but also by our speaker Jack Metcalfe.

Jack Metcalfe in his work­shop. Picture copy­right Yorkshire Post Newspapers, and used by per­mis­sion of the pho­to­grapher, Simon Hulme.

It was not until the last decade of his work­ing life that Chippendale, the great cab­inet maker, turned to pro­du­cing mar­quetry dec­or­ated fur­niture, but his cre­ations set him apart from his rivals and he pro­duced a group of com­mis­sions that stand out as world­wide mas­ter­pieces of their time.

And Jack Metcalfe has devoted the last 25 years to uncov­er­ing and mas­ter­ing the tech­niques of mar­quetry as prac­tised by Chippendale and his skilled artis­ans — he had a labour force of around 50 people — in the 18th cen­tury. Using equip­ment, mater­i­als, dyes and tech­niques as close to the ori­ginal as pos­sible, Jack has built rep­licas of sev­eral of Chippendale’s most strik­ing pieces of fur­niture.

He has researched, taught, lec­tured and writ­ten about marquetry-decorated fur­niture. He wrote his first book in 2003, and The Marquetry Course became an inter­na­tional suc­cess, top­ping the best sellers list in mar­quetry books. It has been trans­lated into Dutch, German and Hungarian.

Jack at work with an inlay knife.

Spurred on with this response,” he explained. “I star­ted research­ing Thomas Chippendale’s mar­quetry fur­niture and closely examin­ing the tech­niques used by the mar­queteurs of the day.”

Jack, who lives in North Leeds and recently cel­eb­rated his 80th birth­day, took up mar­quetry as a retire­ment pro­ject after taking a golden hand­shake at the age of 50 fol­low­ing a career with BT which cul­min­ated in London.

I worked all over the place,” Jack remem­bers. “My dear wife ran the home and family. I would leave on a Monday morn­ing and not be back until Friday.” And, post-retirement, it was his wife’s uncle who sug­ges­ted that Jack now needed a hobby to fill his time.

Uncle Tommy took me under his wing and gave me the greatest lesson of my life,” explains Jack. “The ‘lesson’ lasted eight years! During that time, he passed on a lifetime’s skill and even more per­sonal wisdom.”

Jack went on to teach mar­quetry at Leeds College of Art and Design, for three years, and then at York College for a fur­ther five years.

Jack’s treadle fret saw.

Thomas Chippendale, the only son of a car­penter, was bap­tised in 1718 in the market town of Otley, five miles away from Jack’s own home. He was appren­ticed to Richard Wood, a cab­inet maker and wood carver based in York, and in 1748 he mar­ried Catherine Redshaw in fash­ion­able Mayfair, London.

In 1754, two events were to change Chippendale’s life forever. He moved into premises in St Martin’s Lane, London, where the dwell­ing offered enough space for the many work­shops he would need to run his busi­ness, as well as accom­mod­a­tion for both him­self and his family. He also pro­duced a port­fo­lio of all his fur­niture designs, a manu­script he called The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director. It was an instant suc­cess, since all his com­mis­sions eman­ated from that pub­lic­a­tion and took him into the world of the aris­to­cracy and wealth. It trans­formed his repu­ta­tion overnight.

Most of his com­mis­sions are held in Yorkshire houses, show­ing how loyal he was to his home county. Harewood House, where the great master col­lab­or­ated with renowned archi­tect Robert Adam, has the most prom­in­ent col­lec­tion. In addi­tion Nostell Priory, Newby Hall and Temple Newsam House hold valu­able items of Chippendale fur­niture.

A statue of Thomas Chippendale in his home town of Otley. From Jack’s own web­site, https://marquetrymatters.com.

Jack Metcalfe is in the pro­cess of moving home, for­sak­ing the impress­ive work­shop at the back of his present house and hanging up his col­lec­tion of tools for the last time. “With my books I think I’ve done as much as I can to record Chippendale’s work, and I had eight years teach­ing Chippendale’s mar­quetry, so I’ve been able to pass some­thing on to the next gen­er­a­tion,” he told us.

Sadly, Jack’s beloved wife Gloria died of motor neur­one dis­ease in 2012, and he asked for his speaker’s fee from Stumperlowe Probus Club to be donated instead to the Motor Neurone Disease Association: https://www.mndassociation.org/