Perhaps to understand where Jane Spangenberg is coming from, you have to see where she's been: Born in South Africa, her family moved to England when Jane was nine. While living in Europe, Jane and her family traveled to Holland, France, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Scotland; moving back to South Africa when Jane was 11.
Several years after graduating from high school, Jane followed her parents and brother from South Africa to Paraguay, where her father had started a sawmill and furniture factory. She lived in Paraguay for eight years before coming to the United States -- settling first in Massachusetts, then moving to Miami, and finally to Atlanta, her current home.
Perhaps her colorful background explains her attraction to marquetry, the art of combining different veneer pieces to form pictures or patterns. It's the blending of the exotic with the ordinary, creating art, and having the chance to try something new time and time again.
"This shows the finished sheet of marquetry before it was applied to the music box I made for it. The main veneer used for the background of the butterfly is Masur Birch. The butterfly itself is made with Sapele, the sapwood of Cherry and Ebony." 2001
There is probably a genetic predisposition to woodworking in Jane. Her introduction to woodworking happened during her earliest years in South Africa, where her grandfather had a large woodworking shop in which he made his own furniture. Jane remembers "making a rudimentary TV cabinet at the age of eight, with lots of help from Granddad." That experience, she says, started a love of wood and woodworking, but one that didn't really get going until she moved to Paraguay.
This is a band saw box made out of a solid piece of Mahogany. It has two small boxes inside, which are lined with Poplar. The marquetry is done with Lacewood, Poplar, Madrone Burl and Masur Birch. The finish is lacquer."
Size: 6 x 6 x 2.75". 2001
Since her father owned a sawmill and furniture manufacturing business there, Jane was exposed anew to woodworking. She was the personnel manager of the carpentry section for nine months before moving to the capital city, Asuncion. It was there, too, that she was exposed to marquetry through her boyfriend, whose family owned a fine furniture shop. She made several marquetry sheets and realized she also needed to learn to make something to put them on. Since she was apprenticing part time at her father's factory, she "slowly but surely" picked up tips from the craftsmen who worked there. According to Jane, "the hands-on experience I got there was a wonderful way to get involved in such a diverse craft."
"This shows the first step in transferring the image to the veneer. I score along the pattern lines with an X-Acto knife. After all the lines are scored I then remove what is left of the pattern and start cutting the pieces out."
Ravin BoxStep 2
"After each pattern piece is cut out of the veneer, I cut the contrasting piece of veneer that will go in that space and glue it in place. This shows the first ribbon of the double ribbon Celtic Knot in my Ravin box."
"This is the finished Ravin Box after the veneer was applied to the box. The hinges and feet were silver plated and it has a velveteen lining on the inside. It is finished with Danish oil and wax."
Size: 8 x 10 x 3" 2000
"The starburst and outer border is made of Sapele and American Cherry. I used tiny strips of maple on edge to form the lines defining the lines of the starburst. The white section is Maple Pomelle Quilt, a magnificent piece of veneer. The table top is a piece of 1/2" plywood with a solid wood banding around the edge. Polyurethane finish." 1999
One thing Jane learned while trying her hand at marquetry is that she's a perfectionist. Her training in clothing design meant that she knew what she wanted artistically. She found that using the scroll saw, which is how she originally learned to create marquetry, meant "I often got things the way the saw wanted them, not how I wanted them."
"This was the first time I made something using marquetry, my first design for marquetry, and my first time making hand-made dovetail joints. It is Ebony with Guatambú and a border of Burl Elm. The box is made of Spanish Cedar.
Size: 13 x 6 x 4" 1994
Through a little trial and error, Jane developed her own technique using just a straight edge and two X-ACTO knives (one pointed, one chisel). Happily, not only did she find that this technique gave her the accuracy she wanted, but also it was far, far less expensive.
a little trial and error, Jane developed her own technique using just a straight edge and two X-ACTO knives (one pointed, one chisel). Happily, not only did she find that this technique gave her the accuracy she wanted, but also it was far, far less expensive.
"At 26 x 18 x 21" this is the largest box I've made so far. The body of the chest is 1/2" plywood which I veneered on all outer sides. The main veneer is Birdseye Maple. The marquetry is done with several different wood species. I worked on this project for about two years. I won a first prize at the Gwinnett Woodworkers show in March 2000." 1999
This is the technique she employed to create her first "real" piece - both box and marquetry - called Zebra Box, a design harkening back to her South African roots. Most of Jane's designs are originals, "except the Celtic designs,"which she recreates for historical accuracy. Inspiration comes from a number of sources, and Jane says she increasingly depends on creating the "box" first, then taking her cue from that. "Especially band saw boxes - their nice curves really lend to creativity."
Celtic Beasts Chessboard
"This shows my Celtic Beasts chessboard in progress. I first made the central playing area and then the decoration for the boarder. The dark squares are made up of 4 triangles with a find black line around the block. This piece took me 3 months to make." 2000
Another nice thing about Jane's "X-ACTO knife technique" is that she can sit in her living room and listen to books on cassette while cutting her designs.
"The thing I like about teaching marquetry is that it's a very old craft, yet not many people know how to do it," says Jane.
Jane teaches many classes in the Atlanta area in between creating her own pieces and running her wholesale business importing hardwood floors from Paraguay.
Bunch Coat of Arms
"L. Bunch asked me to make this box for her husband, Victor. Box constructed from Guatambu. The Veneer is Olive Ash burl, Sonoma Pink Maple burl, Maple Pomelle Quilt, Pearwood, Cherry and Sapele."
13 x 6 x 4" 2000
"Books make marquetry seem complicated, and it's really not."That, says Jane, is what frequently attracts women to her classes. While most of her students are men, she has found that more women are starting to show an interest. And she feels that this is frequently a perfect introduction for women into woodworking. Especially when taught Jane's technique, there are no "screaming power tools" involved in the marquetry part. Couples will often come in for a class to find something they can do together.
Creating a Path...
Although Jane says she sometimes still hears "not bad, for a girl," about her work, she generally finds acceptance among her peers and her students. "Sometimes, walking into the lumberyard, you find you're not given the same attention as the men," but believes even that will change as more and more women get involved in woodworking.
She also encourages women to stick with it, buy only the best tools (so you're less likely to get frustrated with a poor-quality tool and quit), and to get your friends involved. Good advice for women. And woodworkers in general.
This article originally appeared in the Woodworker's Journal eZine.
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