The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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O Henry!

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Most woodworkers who have seen the Studley Tool Cabinet, whether in person, on television, or in photos will acknowledge that it is a masterpiece of cabinet construction. Not only is the form amazing (it holds hundreds of tools perfectly in an unbelievably small footprint), but the attention to detail is staggering. The chest is adorned with intricate mouldings and ornate inlay work that elevates it from an extremely well made tool cabinet to a work of art. This is no mere tool cabinet, nor is it just a very nice example of high end woodworking. It goes beyond those things because it is a truly personal glimpse into the mind and talents of a highly talented craftsman. It was not built to be copied, or duplicated; but to hold a very specific set of tools, the implements of a woodworker widely considered a genius. Likely constructed as a labor of love, the Studley Tool Cabinet has become an icon in the world of woodworking, serving as an example of high-level cabinet making, art, and a historical artifact.

Admittedly, I know very little of the history of the Studley Tool Cabinet. I know that it was constructed well over one hundred years ago (obviously by Henry O Studley), and when he died it was left to a member of his family. Maybe thirty years ago it was sold at auction to a private buyer. I was first introduced to the cabinet on an episode of the New Yankee Workshop probably more than twenty years ago. At that time, I had never woodworked, I did not own any woodworking tools (unless you want to count a combination square and a block plane etc.), and I hadn’t planned on taking up woodworking as a hobby. But just because I knew little of woodworking at the time, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t immediately recognize the Studley Tool Cabinet as a masterpiece. I probably didn’t realize just how unique this creation actually was, but even my then untrained and inexperienced eye knew a work of art when it saw one.

Last week I broke one of my cardinal rules, and commented on a “professional” woodworking blog. My comment was pretty innocuous and uncontroversial. On the Popular Woodworking web page Megan Fitzpatrick wrote a blog article about the upcoming showing of the Studley Tool Cabinet next month in Amana Iowa. This is quite possibly the last time in my lifetime, or anybody’s lifetime, that this cabinet will be displayed in public again. My own comment, paraphrased, was simply that I wish this cabinet was not “owned” by one person privately, but rather part of the collection of a museum so that all would have the chance to see this one-of-a-kind masterpiece of woodworking in person. Sure as the sun will rise, a douchebag I’ve never seen before on the PW page chimed in with a comment which was supposed to be oh so witty accusing me of wanting to confiscate the tool cabinet and how would I like it if somebody wanted my stuff and what “ownership” really means, etc. I’m paraphrasing his words but that is the gist of it. I replied to his comment, told him what I thought of him, and that was the end of it.
What bothered me wasn’t the comment, writing a blog I’ve dealt with many that were much worse, but the fact that the commenter was more than likely one of..somebody’s..fan boys.

A legitimate question to ask would be “How do I know that?” Well, I don’t for sure, but I have a strong hunch. Firstly, while I’m not exactly positive, I believe that..somebody..has something to do with the showing of the Studley Tool Chest next month. Secondly, the commenter was doing his best..somebody..imitation with his comment. Here again, I have nothing at all against..somebody, I just happen to think that some of his fans are complete assholes. They are the people that keep me going to the gym and working the heavybag, just for the off-chance that I have a run-in with one of them. Many are extreme conservatives disguising themselves as extreme liberals, which makes some sense considering that once you get to the extreme end of any ideology you have only arrived at the same nut house by taking different roads. To clarify, I am not trying to get political, because I am as politically moderate as it gets. When I say “liberal/conservative” I’m not necessarily speaking of politics, but of a mindset.

As far as the ownership of the Studley Tool Cabinet is concerned, it is really none of my business who paid the money for it. I will say this, there are certain creations that I believe should not be owned by any one person, and this tool cabinet happens to be one of them. Why? Only because this is a singularly unique piece of woodworking history, and perhaps the most famous “toolbox” ever made. This isn’t an end table, or chest of drawers, or Highboy that happened to be owned by a famous person. In those cases, it is not the object that bares the relevance or importance, but the owner who made them “important”. In the case of the Studley Tool Chest, it is the creation itself that is so significant, with all due respect to Henry O Studley. A table or an overcoat that may have been owned by a person such as George Washington certainly has historical value and importance, but those objects may have been very common items in their day that many people owned. This tool cabinet is perhaps the most unique piece of “furniture” constructed in well over a century, or maybe much longer. In my opinion, it is to woodworking what the Mona Lisa is to art, or what the Sphinx is to Egypt: a true one-of-a-kind work of art and irreplaceable piece of history. That is why I wish that it was part of a museum collection and not just owned privately. Of course there is nothing that can, will, or should be done about that fact; I just wish it wasn’t the case.

And as far as the current owner, I have absolutely nothing against him or her. Whomever this person happens to be, it seems pretty clear that he or she respects the cabinet and its significance both historically and to woodworking. At the very least there is no worry that it will be stripped of its tools and thrown in a trash bin. It seems that it will be well taken care of for the foreseeable future, and I suppose that is all anyone could ask. But pretty soon it will disappear from the public eye, maybe forever. I feel no better about that than I would if a collector entered the Louvre, offered them an obscene amount of money, and purchased the Mona Lisa for their own personal collection never to be seen again. Of course that would be absolutely none of my business, nevertheless it would be a sad day for anybody who happens to like art. To me, the last public viewing of the Studley Tool Cabinet happens to be a sad day for woodworking. Maybe I’m overvaluing the cabinet, maybe I’m just being melodramatic, but that is how I feel about it, and I’m certainly not going to let a witless douchebag tell me different.

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25 Comments

  1. I can understand that Bill. It would make a terrific museum piece. It would be nice to link it would be loaned to a venue now and again. Benjamin Seaton’s chest is in a museum http://www.kentattractions.co.uk/index.php/guildhall-museum-rochester.html and I hope to take a look one day.

    • billlattpa says:

      If I had a vote that is how I would like to see it play out. Of course I have no right to tell somebody to sell something or loan out something they bid on fair and square. I only wish that it could be loaned out on occasion. At that, I would have absolutely no issue in paying a fee to see the chest, whether that meant viewing it at a woodworking show or museum. I’m not saying that the person who owns it should just give it away or even loan it out for nothing, though that would be a heck of a nice gesture.
      The person who owns the cabinet has done so legally. They have done their best to properly care for and maintain the artifact, and they have at least made it accessible enough to allow others to photograph it. Technically they are under no obligation to do any of those things, so as far as private owners they are going beyond what should be expected of them.
      Thanks
      Bill

    • Jeremy says:

      Darn! I was in London & Kent 2 weeks ago, that would have been a good thing to add (though I’m not sure the family would’ve let me squeeze in another woodworking thing) Wish there was a way to identify all these points of interest easily, like a Yelp! for woodworkers.

  2. Christopher Bowen says:

    I kind of agree with you. It IS a shame that the only way to see this masterpiece is to travel to a barn in Amana, IA (where?) on a specific weekend in May of 2015. Surely they could have found a less accessible place for this unique showing. Despite what he says to the contrary, Mr. Schwarz et al should do fairly well off the show and book sales. Kudos to them for negotiating the deal to gain access to the chest one last time. I, for one, won’t be trekking cross country (at great expense) like some Deadhead to clap my eyes on it for 20 minutes.

    • billlattpa says:

      I wouldn’t travel to Iowa either, as a matter of fact I wouldn’t even travel to Ohio, but if it were appearing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art I would. I can’t say that I have a problem with them making a profit off of the whole venture, both LAP and the cabinet’s current owner. Though I think that what they are doing is partly done for the “sake of woodworking”, I also think it’s done to earn some money. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s presented that way.
      Thanks.
      Bill

      • Christopher Bowen says:

        Also, I’m totally OK with the chain of custody of this thing as it has played out. If whoever owns it want to keep it in a climate controlled room and just show it off to hot chicks he hopes to bed, more power to him.

      • billlattpa says:

        I wonder if the Studley cabinet is a chick magnet? I guess we’ll never really know.
        Thanks
        Bill

  3. Jeremy says:

    The crown jewels belong to the queen, but they are on display (for free, though I’m sure that on several levels that’s been paid for by British citizens) I didn’t see the original comment, but understand both sides, I hate for it to be not on permanent display some place, but I would say the same about a personally owned Michalangelo or similar. Also given the challenges museums face these days, it’s hard to say whether a public museum would be able to care for it better (or even permanently display it) than a dedicated individual owner. I suspect that eventually it will come into public ownership, but it might not be for some time and it might be in Dubai or Shanghai. 100yrs is not enough time to tell the ultimate place this masterpiece will reside. Just as Vermeer’s work may have been treated c.1800.

    • billlattpa says:

      I agree with you in that the current owners of the cabinet probably take care of the piece as well as if not better than a museum could. And loaning it out to “tour” may not necessarily be feasible. I don’t know enough about the logistics of sharing museum pieces to understand how the actual sharing and touring of artwork or furniture works. Mine is just the wish of an idealist. So loaning out this masterpiece may not even be an option, I just wish that it was.
      Thanks.
      Bill

  4. Chris Carruth says:

    I’d like the chance to see it too. And you’re correct; it should be in a museum somewhere. Perhaps someday, like almost every other piece of artwork, the owner will either gift it or permanently loan it. That troll is just that–a troll, and if you reduce your footprint online in any way due to its activities, you’re doing exactly what it wants. It wins. You write well and honestly and I look forward to seeing your name attached to a post. Even more when I run across one serendipitously in another forum.

    Having said that, I know what a toll such interactions can take on the emotions and after a while it becomes necessary to disengage out of self-preservation. It’s a fine line between having the emotional strength to ignore what idiots like that say, and losing the passion that makes us want to post in the first place. I’ve retreated from any number of political sites for that very reason–I would hate to think that woodworking sites are prey to the same dynamic.

    • billlattpa says:

      I also think that one day it will be loaned out on a permanent basis, though it probably won’t be in my lifetime. As far as the troll, I can honestly say that I have no problem with the “troll concept”. Sometimes you need somebody to stir the pot a little. The main problem I had with this guy is that he completely misinterpreted everything I said and then jumped to all the wrong conclusions. If he wanted to prove that he was smarter than I was he did a piss poor job of it, and I don’t mean that in a bragging sort of way. If I had written something even remotely controversial then his attitude would have been at least understandable.

      I appreciate the kind words. You’re right, sometimes you just don’t feel like dealing with it. I’ve had more than my fair share of nasty or stupid comments, some of which I just have to delete without ever responding to, though I try not to do that too often. Unfortunately woodworking sites are no exception anymore, though the forums are usually the worst of the lot. I have also deleted my name from most of them.
      Thanks.
      Bill

  5. Greg Merritt says:

    I sought out and read thru the comment exchange in question. Being a reasonably educated adult, I fully understood and agree with the sentiment of your original comment. Unfortunately the internet is chock full of jack wagons!
    Forums and blogs used to be moderated. It was the moderator’s responsibility to separate the wheat from the chaff as well as eliminate trouble makers. That doesn’t seem to be the practice any longer. Leaving the us to wade thru the nonsense.
    Greg

    • billlattpa says:

      I’ve encountered many of tgese situations over the past few years and generally I wouldn’t even mention it. This one really only caught my attention because I’m such a fan of the Studley Cabinet.
      As you said, blogs are rarely moderated anymore, and woodworking blogs are no exception. That guys comments were hardly the worst I’ve ever read, but they were inappropriate nonetheless. To me, if he wants to make a candid point, that is the perfect opportunity to start his own blog and do it there.
      Thanks
      Bill

  6. Polly Becton says:

    Saw your original post. Agreed with it – it would be nice.
    Saw the harsh reply. Disagreed with it – the guy was an ass.
    Saw your response. Agreed again.
    Now this post and I have a couple of thoughts:
    1. It’s your blog, but sooner or later, you need to let it go. I thought once was enough.
    2. If you have nothing against Chris Schwarz, as you say, you shouldn’t have dragged him into this. Looks like you have some underlying agenda. A bit unseemly, I think.
    I’m not trying to be the Internet Police, but You may want to think a bit before you post these sorts of things. Flame wars aren’t good for your on-line reputation but “collateral damage” is a lot worse.

    • billlattpa says:

      I’ve been in many of these internet arguments before and this one was nothing new. I can say in all honesty that I’ve never gone on another persons blog or forum and started throwing around insults. There are two reasons why this one stuck. Firstly, I’m a huge fan of the Studley Cabinet; secondly, I had planned on writing a post about it. Then, the guy chimed in and that was that. While I like to outline what I write at times, I also like to write exactly what I am thinking as I type. At the time I wrote this post those were my thoughts. I saved it, and set it to publish today.
      As far as CS, I agree that I probably shouldn’t have mentioned his name. Once again, I think a certain sector of his fans are real schmucks. They feel
      the need to police anything that might remotely be connected to him, such as the Studley Tool Cabinet, and run down any opinion they feel he would not agree with even though they have no way of actually knowing what that opinion really might be.
      If you read what I wrote on PW, you know there was nothing controversial or inflammatory about it. That response was a prime example of one of the “groupies”. Now, I can’t prove that I’m 100% correct but I would bet a few bucks that I’m more right than wrong. Otherwise, I’m a big supporter of Lost Art Press and I’ve tried to do my best to write honest reviews of every LAP book and video I have. Whether or not my efforts have done anything to forward the company I can’t say, but I’ve tried to do my own small part.
      I don’t like some of his fans I freely admit, that doesn’t mean I cannot respect his work.
      As far as a reputation, I don’t have one. I’m not paid to do this, and I don’t have sponsors. I’m not openly looking to gain sponsors. I have nothing against those who have them in the least. I just try to write honestly. That guy who commented will very likely never read this and I’m glad. I don’t want or need people like him to interact with. There are many things I ignore, this wasn’t one of them. Thanks
      Bill

      • Polly Becton says:

        Oh, you do have a reputation. That’s why some people follow your blog (or at least visit from the aggregator, as I do – sometimes). And I thought your blog post here was mostly repetitive of what you said over on Megan’s blog – most expansive, a bit more surly, a bit more aggressive – all okay if that’s what you want, but if you want an audience, my thought was maybe you shouldn’t overdo it.
        And you’ve glossed over the real issue I thought important: CS didn’t belong in your post at all. Trolls are trolls whether they adopt CS as wanna-be acolytes or not. Has nothing to do with CS and your guess may or may not be correct, but it’s still a guess.

      • billlattpa says:

        You’re right. CS had nothing to do with that guy’s post. And my guess was just a guess, but one based from experience.
        I belong to several woodworking forums on facebook, the last two I’ve remained on actually. The groups are generally good, but once again the moderators were forced to basically do what I just did and post warnings about the “trolling” and remove many people from the group. Unfortunately, though I can control what happens here, nobody can stop what goes on elsewhere unless they happen to be the blog moderator. I, for one, am not going to put up with it, in particular when it’s something as light as a discussion of a tool cabinet.
        Thanks
        Bill

  7. This info was discovered when Sony was hacked. This ruckus is frontrunning public interest in the tool chest so the public will pay to go see the latest Ocean’s 14 movie where the heist focuses on removing a 700 pound “Chudley tool chest” stocked with Rhodium plated Wood River planes. Sadly, your participation in the controversy stokes the hollywood publicity machine.

    Steve

  8. The Studley Tool Cabinet was in the Smithsonian about twenty years ago. I had a chance to see under a glass case the last time I went to DC. It’s a shame it’s still not there.

    • billlattpa says:

      My uncle saw it at the Smithsonian quite a long time ago as well. He’s not a woodworker so he thought it was just a very nice toolbox. At least he could appreciate it, which to me shows that the cabinet is a true masterpiece. Even a non-woodworker can appreciate it for what it is.
      Thanks
      Bill

  9. edhresko says:

    You lift weights and practice on a punching bag in case you meet someone who commented on a blog? Seriously? That’s the second time in my recollection you’ve talking about beating someone up based on woodworking forum comments…

    • billlattpa says:

      I go to the gym to stay in good shape, and I hit the heavy bag for similar reasons, though that is more for stress relief after a long day of work. I hope you understand that I wasn’t being serious, but speaking “tongue in cheek”.
      I’ve never read anything on a woodworking forum that would actually lead me into a fight, though I’m sure there are people on woodworking forums who would get into fights over an opinion. Political forums are far worse and even then I’ve never seen anything that would lead to blows, at least for my part.
      When I write this blog there are certain things I am serious about, certain things I am not. I generally don’t explain it, but let the person who happens to be reading form their own opinion. Maybe that style of writing can get confusing, but that’s the route I’ve taken.
      Thanks
      Bill

  10. Andrew Smith says:

    Well written Bill…thoughtful and entertaining. If edhresko really took you seriously he is probably having a very stifling life. I especially like the part about the extremes at either end ending up in the same nuthouse. I have always said that. Fans are fanatics and it’s like seeing a grown man all painted up at a football game and you say, wow and he’s someone’s father! And their fandom has no basis in logic…so you nailed it…with a really old reconditioned hammer.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thank you! Because I enjoy boxing, I talk about it a lot, and I use it to relate to everday life a lot. If there are people out there who really believe I am willing to punch somebody in the face over a comment made on a woodworking forum…Let’s just say at first I was fairly surprised, but then I was just insulted. The very reason I go to the gym is to relieve stress, not to practice being a thug.
      At the same time, there are probably more than a few people lurking around internet forums that likely need a good ass kicking, but that isn’t my place to judge. I will only say that anybody who would go onto an internet forum and insult somebody simply because they don’t agree with their opinion is generally not going to be a good person.
      I appreciate your kind words, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
      Bill

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