Jeffersonian Book Stand

The wood is no longer growing in soil, but the Jeffersonian Book Stand is growing a story that will continue for generations.
— Client

This piece is a new take on an old invention. In 1810, Thomas Jefferson designed a revolving book stand that was made in the joinery at Monticello, Jefferson's plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia. It is currently on display in the Cabinet Room of the house. The book stand was designed to support as many as five open books for reading and research. At the center is a pivoting mechanism that allows the unit to be rotated 360°. Here are a couple interesting views of the original from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation website:

Photo and description
Quicktime movie of the Cabinet Room, home of the book stand

A sapling in the early 1500s, the 330+ year old yellow birch used in this book stand was recently reclaimed from the watery depths where it sank after being logged over 150 years ago. The grayish discolorations, seen mainly in the top checkerboard panel, are evidence of the tree's long, submerged history. I've relished the opportunity to do several projects using these same planks of yellow birch, but the opportunity to connect this old growth wood with the historic Jefferson book stand has been especially rewarding. For a deeper look into the making of this piece, please check out the blog.

Deceptively complex, but enjoyable to make, this piece features shop sawn veneers and parquetry. The local bird's eye maple parquetry on the side panels has been laid out in what is termed a four-way center and butt veneer match. The top panels take advantage of the light colors of the yellow birch plank's sapwood, while the remainder of the piece uses the darker tones of the heartwood. The legs and horizontal stretchers in the stand are of yellow birch heartwood and include floating mortise and tenon joinery. The main platform has been attached to the stand using shop made brass brackets.

Materials Yellow birch, bird’s eye maple and brass

Finish Shellac and beeswax polish

Dimensions 13 1/2" deep x 13 1/2" wide x 16" tall; panels closed
32 5/8" deep x 32 5/8" wide x 25 1/2" tall; panels fully opened

Status This commissioned piece resides with the Minnesota client

Below is a short video featuring the adjustable book support panels and rotating carousel.

The Story Begins...

The confluence of function, form, history, and ancestry in a single heirloom is a rare gift. An initial request for a hand-crafted addition to my library grew unexpectedly into a treasure for generations.

The Jeffersonian Book Stand is an early 18th Century multitasking research tool holding up to five open books simultaneously.

Craig applied his skill and pulled from function, a work of art. I hear the verse from Simon & Garfunkel’s 1968 song Scarborough Fair: “...without a seam or fine, needle work...” The song references a cambric shirt and like soft cloth, the finished wood is as pleasing to the touch. His artistry lead fingertips to deny the seams visible to the eye.

The history invoked is the intellectual traditions of Jefferson’s Life of the Mind made more accessible with the Book Stand’s unique function.

The piece is reminiscent of a genealogical tree. The adjustable shelves are branches; and the books, leaves. I have two family branches from the early 1500s in England. With names and locations as an anchor I can hold one finger on England, and with a quarter-turn of the globe, mark the location in North America near Lake Superior and remark, “While Robert Wright with Mary Green in Essex and Thomas Greswold with Alice Parker in Warwickshire were all children, 4000 miles away a yellow birch emerged from the soil of an old growth forest.”

Every time I see my Folio Ambo I notice its base and recall ancestors from the trunk of my family tree.

My expectations were surpassed by Craig’s artistry. I am most pleased by the Jeffersonian book stand, its beauty, soft touch, and the associations growing from its heartwood.
— Client