Byrdcliffe Chair Iris Carving

Byrdcliffe Iris carving by Robert W. Lang

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This carving of a stylized iris is similar to the carvings on the front panel of the Byrdcliffe Iris desk. The artwork is also from the Byrdcliffe colony, the work of Zulma Steele in 1905. The carving was originally intended to be placed in the center slat of a simple chair. I have taken some liberties with the original artwork; the scale is a bit larger in my carving and I reduced the height. As drawn the leaves extend farther down.

The Byrdcliffe colony was located in the hills above Woodstock, NY and many of the original buildings still exist and are in use by the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild. It was an experiment in combining art and craft in a utopian community. The experiment failed and some intriguing designs were developed, but only a few pieces of furniture were produced. I believe that the designs are worthy of being stand-alone works, so my experiment is to pursue that. My favorite thing about these carvings is that the draw you in; what appears two-dimensional at a distance becomes three-dimensional as you get closer.

detail of iris carving by Robert W. LangIn the few original examples that exist, the carving is flat surfaces with rounded edges. I can’t leave well enough alone, so my versions show more detail and relief. The colors on this piece are similar to the colors in the original Iris desk. The carving is done by hand in solid basswood, and the simple frame is solid cherry with a mahogany dye stain. The colors on the carving are light-fast watercolors with a wash coat of amber shellac. The entire piece is top coated with a durable flat lacquer finish. The frame is 10-3/8″ wide x 17-1/8″ high and the panel is 4-7/8″ wide x 10-1/2″ high.

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— Bob Lang

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