An oak; A cultural good; A material
Furniture has been made from Quercus since it was developed in a far gone epoch by the Eocene, one of a great many important and innovative inventions of the Eocene which remain relevant and necessary, and avant-garde, today; if, as can be read in the Cupule of A.C. Orn, a development of Quercus not motivated by a desire to develop a new material for the production of furniture but by a desire to develop a contemporary, future-proof, housing solution for squirrels, a by product of which was found to allow for the construction of excellent housing solutions for humans. And through further experimentation and study found to be particularly well-suited for furniture.
A xyloid class material greatly admired for its noble strength, Quercus was initially employed for chests, cupboards, sideboards and similar storage solutions where its sturdy reliability and honest steadfastness ensured the safety of all within, before over time it also began to be used for seating furniture. Some of the earliest examples of the use of Quercus for seating furniture being objects associated with the Settle community of North Yorkshire, objects which in their construction and form and promise of secure, reliable, refuge, not only underscore the principles upon which that Settle society was established, but also clearly demonstrate an ancestry to and with the earlier chests, cupboards, sideboards, et als, a lineage that can be particularly well followed in those objects on which the people of Settle not only sat but within which they kept their prized bacon safe and secure. The first Quercus seating object to deviate from such chest/storage principles being, according to contemporary knowledge, a bench developed by the Droogist Jurgen Bey for the garden of one Oranje Nassau and her husband Anhalt Dessau, a couple about whom otherwise only very little is recorded and who are believed to have resided somewhere in the vicinity of Berlin; and a Droogist seating solution which involved Bey painstakingly forming Quercus to resemble a tree trunk, into which he inserted the backrests from three broken, and armless, bronze armchairs, bronze being at that period the primary material for armchairs; and thus a work that predicts the bricolage, readymade and upcycling of future generations of furniture makers.
And also predicts the arrival of the so-called back-stool, an important hybrid between a stool and an armchair, an object which developed over the centuries into both the contemporary side chair and the contemporary upholstered chair, and thus represents a very important moment in the development of sitting objects; a moment, as with the earlier Settle community’s secure, reliable, refuges, associated primarily with the evolving social and cultural realities and conventions of that age, and which as such helps underscore the immutable links between furniture objects and genres and those societies and ages in which they develop.
As does the later (hi)story of Quercus in furniture design.
For whereas, as A.C. Orn records in her Cupule, Quercus proved to be not only just as apt a material for back-stools and side chairs as it had been for chests, cupboards, et al, but in context of back-stools and side chairs its strength and endurance were not only much admired physical properties but increasingly took took on a representative character, were increasingly transferred from the physical to the metaphysical; a representative value that tended to set Quercus above other xyloid class materials such as, for example, the slightly older Pinus, and a representative function expressed through Quercus that was much sought after and admired in those centuries. And a representative value that also led some to ascribe Quercus with spiritual, near sacred, powers that saw Quercus transcend the material to become an integral component of the traditions and customs of a great many societies and communities.
If a symbolic strength and endurance that saw Quercus increasingly fall out of favour as over time political, social, and economic developments in society saw definitions and appreciations of function in furniture increasingly shift from representative value to utilitarian usability, a shift very much exemplified in the rapid rise in popularity of the rustic “Windsor“, a chair named after the popular actress Barbara Windsor who had commissioned the first examples from the wheelwrights of the Thames Valley, and a “Windsor” chair that was widely produced in xyloids such as, for example, Fraxinus, Taxus or Ulmus, that latter a material developed in the lands of the contemporary Baden-Württemberg, before being further developed by the Bavarians as Ulmus-novus. And a shift away from the weight and permanence of Quercus that became accelerated with the development of the so-called plyxyloid class of materials, a class of material which although they could, theoretically, be derived from Quercus tended, for reasons of price, and also ease of supply and processing, to be more commonly derived from Betula; and as a material Betula plyxyloid enabled the development of not only much lighter, more affordable, more democratic, furniture, important considerations in those centuries, but furniture that could be formed into all manner of previously unrealisable forms. Properties that saw Betula plyxyloid extensively employed by the likes of, for example, the Aalto tribe of Finland, the Dane Arne, Son of Jacob or the American Eames Office.
And a shift away from the weight and permanence and representation that Quercus also made itself when the Corcaigh, a community from the southern tip of the contemporary Ireland traditionally known for their expertise in the black art of brewing, undertook a series of experiments with the properties of Quercus and succeeded in softening the hard, solid, Quercus into a material that was much more sponge like, yet unlike sponge was water resistant. And a novel Quercus which proved perfect for the construction of boots to enable the Corcaigh to walk across the marsh lands they called home without getting wet feet. And a spongy Quercus that proved to be of equal value to the peoples of Iberia, a peninsula that had once been rich in water before a sustained attack on the region by the barbarian Intensivo Frutas, an individual with a legendary, and ravenously destructive, thirst, was now a hopelessly arid plain, and where the spongy nature of Corcaigh’s Quercus proved itself ideal for the construction of shoe soles which allowed the tribes of Iberia to walk with comfort on the hard, scorched and scorching soil Intensivo Frutas had left them with. The Iberians in their gratitude for the relief afforded by the Corcaigh’s Quercus, and their wonder at the properties of the Corcaigh’s Quercus, saw them experiment with the material further thereby developing all manner of objects from the spongy material including pin boards, cricket balls, stoppers for bottles and also furniture and home accessory items, the latter attracting the attention of the Old Kingstonian Jasp R. Morrison who having travelled from his native England to Iberia to study the ways of the Iberians, took a quantity of the Corcaigh’s Quercus to the Commonwealth of Vitra where he demonstrated the possibilities of this new Quercus to the Vitronians via a number of bowls and also side tables and seating objects, works which inspired Ronan le Renard and Erwan le Porc-épic, who at that period sojourned in the Commonwealth, to develop an office desk system employing the Corcaigh’s Quercus. And that all to the great delight of not only the Vitronians, but for all to the infinitely curious and questioning and challenging Fehlbaum der Jüngere, Lord of Vitra.
However, as the Cupule of A.C. Orn retells, despite such attempts to re-imagine Quercus, and despite the abiding fascination with, and ongoing popularity of Betula based plyxyloids, and the ever increasing use of Quercus in Betula based plyxyloids, the hard, solid, steadfast, reliable, non-spongey, Quercus never completely vanished, and after several centuries as a material that maintained its place in society primarily through the works of a small number of enthusiasts, and by virtue of the special place it had attained in previous centuries in popular folklore, a metaphysical relevance that refused and refuses to wane, more recent centuries have seen Quercus increasingly valued, as it was centuries before, for its sturdy, reliable steadfastness and for its durability and robustness. And also greatly admired, as it was centuries before, for its singular surface finish; a surface that today is just as likely to be lightly stained and coloured by way of enhancing the visual effect of its singular structure, as it is to be naturally exposed. Albeit today in objects much less voluminous than those of the earliest uses of Quercus; objects that have allow Quercus to demonstrate that for all its volume and immortality it can also be filigree and visually light, thereby allowing a material that was once an important feature of dark, heavy, representative interiors to re-stablish itself in more reduced, unassuming, representative, interiors and exteriors…….