Friday, March 24, 2006

Dean Johnson-Woodbutcher

Among furniture finishes, glossy used to mean quality, now it means cheap. Why? Two hundred years ago there was no plastic, no chrome, glass was expensive, Gold was shiny, silver was shiny. And French polish was shiny. French polishing is a technique. It uses shellac, an insect resin soluble in alcohol, a small balled up rag, a drop or two of oil, some pumice and six or eight hours of careful rubbing in figure eights to create beautiful, high gloss finishes. In hell the police are German, the cooks English and the politicians French. The French’s bad name comes from their politics, not their food, wines, cheeses, cooking or furniture finishing.

Unlike lacquers or polyurethane, whose glossiness resemble plastic, French polish has a gloss like seashells, or shiny eggs. It reflects light without any mirror gloss. Its resistance to water is only so, so; that it is soluble in alcohol keeps it out of bars and restaurants. Build a lovely Federal era furniture side table with tapered legs, crotch mahogany veneers and satinwood inlays, finish it with French polish…you have beautified it, the very essence of embellishment.

Dean Johnson took his DFL political belt sander with 80 grit paper, ran it over the integrity of the Minnesota Supreme court, gouged away the veneers and says he’s embellished the truth. If his reputation were that Federal Era table, the Antique Road Show’s Keno twins would be saying , “Well, Dean, if you hadn’t used the belt sander on it, it was worn but still had some value. Now it’s worth about eighty-five cents.”


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