Day 42: Winterthur and the Dominy workshop

ITE Day 42, Sunday July 14 2013. Still high from Open Studio yesterday, we pile into the van for the hour-long drive to the Winterthur museum and gardens in Delaware, formerly the DuPont family mansion. We’re met by Charles Hummel, retired curator and long-time friend of the Center for Art in Wood, who leads us to the shrine of the Dominy workshops.

Starting around 1745, four generations of Dominys made furniture and clocks at their home near East Hampton on Long Island. Through a strange chain of events that Charles outlines for us, their workshop and tools were preserved into the 20th century. Charles is author of the book With Hammer in Hand, which tells the Dominy story and correlates their tools and account books with surviving examples of their furniture. Today’s photos will share the highlights of our visit. As everywhere in this blog the photos were shot using available light, which in the museum setting is kind of dim. So please excuse soft focus and strange color casts.

Charles Hummel outlines the Dominy story inside the Winterthur museum. Charles knows everything about it and we are full of questions.

Charles Hummel outlines the Dominy story at the Winterthur museum. Charles knows everything about it and we are full of questions.

Excellent displays show how the Dominy craftsmen used their wooden patterns to make sets of chairs, many of which survive today.

Excellent displays show how the Dominy craftsmen used their wooden patterns to make tables and sets of chairs, many of which survive today.

The museum has reconstructed the workshop building and we can't wait to get inside.

The museum has reconstructed the workshop building and we can’t wait to get inside. That’s Neil Turner to the left of Charles, with Heather Lineberry on the right. 

The Dominy craftsmen made chairs, cabinets, clocks, and tables. Here are the parts for a pedestal table arranged on the low workbench.

The Dominy craftsmen made chairs, cabinets, clocks, and tables. Here are the parts for a pedestal table arranged on the low workbench, along with carving and layout tools. The workshop has long benches under windows on two sides, to make the most of the daylight.

There was a plane for everything, most of them made by the Dominys themselves. The workbench is low so the craftsmen could lean into their work.

There was a plane for everything, most of them made by the Dominys themselves. The workbench is low so the craftsmen could lean into their work.

Charles shows us the great wheel lathe, which required two operators -- the turner, and the apprentice who powered the contraption.

Charles shows us the great wheel lathe, which provided continuous forward motion but required two operators: the turner, and the apprentice who powered the contraption. That’s a circular tabletop mounted on the lathe to the left. 

The burl bowl on the bench probably was turned by an apprentice, using the great wheel lathe.

The burl bowl on the bench probably was turned by an apprentice, using the great wheel lathe and the turning tools you can see in the foreground.

A smaller lathe, powered by  the turner himself by way of a treadle and spring pole, was used for spindle work.

A smaller lathe, powered by the turner himself by way of a treadle and spring pole, was used for spindle work. It offers reciprocating motion rather than continuous forward motion, requiring the turner to lift the tool from the workpiece on the return stroke. 

A wall rack of chisels and carving tools, all with shop-made handles on forged blades.

A wall rack of chisels and carving tools, all with shop-made handles on forged blades.

Charles shows Ben Carpenter how the small frame saw would have been mounted on the lathe ways and powered by the overhead spring pole.

Charles shows Ben Carpenter how the small sash saw would have been mounted on the lathe ways and powered by the overhead spring pole.

The Dominy's thread-cutting box was as frustrating to adjust as is my contemporary equivalent, they'd replaced the attachment screws with toggles,making the task a tad easier and quicker.

The Dominys’ thread-cutting box was as frustrating to adjust as is my contemporary equivalent. They’d replaced the attachment screws with wood toggles, making the tedious task a tad easier and quicker.

Charles leads us on a tour of the mansion, which has 168 period rooms and more than 100,000 artifacts on display. We see a tiny fraction of the place, which fortunately includes this fabulous elliptical stair. Astounding to think that such a masterpiece could have been made mostly using hand tools.

Charles leads us on a short tour of the mansion, which has 168 period rooms and more than 100,000 artifacts on display. We see a tiny fraction of the place, which fortunately includes this fabulous elliptical stair. 

Astounding to think that such a masterpiece could have been made mostly using hand tools.

Astounding to realize that such a masterpiece could have been made mostly using hand tools.

The Winterthur collection includes a wonderful selection of woodenware, or treen, from the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of these bowls were turned from burl and most show signs of heavy use.

The Winterthur collection includes a wonderful selection of woodenware, or treen, from the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of these bowls were turned from burl and most show signs of heavy use.

The treen shares a room with thickets of American Windsor chairs, another high point in the history of woodturning.

The treen shares a room with thickets of American Windsor chairs, another high point in the history of woodturning.

Charles leads us through the imposing mansion, with a pause on a collonaded balcony overlooking the magnificent grounds. Thank you Charles!

Charles leads us through the imposing mansion, with a pause on a collonaded balcony overlooking the magnificent grounds. Thank you Charles!

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