Nothing quite says ‘finished product’ like the ultimate stamp of approval: that by a maker himself/herself. Catriona Montalvo spoke to some Handkrafted makers to learn the motivation and meanings behind their own makers’ marks.
Maker’s marks are one of the earliest forms of trademarking and have been used for centuries by craftsman to claim responsibility for their work. From paintings to porcelain, sideboards to silver, glassware, pewter, tables and chairs, they have been found in simple forms on ancient Greek pottery dating back thousands of years. Whether complex or simple in design, the mark reveals the who, what, when, where and how of the finished piece.
Perhaps there is none more famous in making his mark than “The Mouseman” Robert Thompson. Born in 1876 in Kilburn UK this designer and furniture maker worked primarily in oak and hand carved his signature mouse into each of his works. His descendants now run his workshop Robert Thompson’s Craftsmen and still use the mouse as their trademark.
We talked to some Handkrafted makers about how they apply their marks and what they mean to them.
Once Upon a Time…
Alichia van Rhijn of Hearth Collective in Victoria hand crafts beautiful spoons, bowls and serving boards from wood. She is also an avid vintage and antique collector with an appreciation for the importance of makers’ marks, not only in identifying a piece’s provenance but the impact it can play on its price.
“I find this fascinating and hope that my mark will be something that endures the test of time from generation to generation and that in the future it will be something that might tell a story about me the maker and the reason behind why I create hand crafted goods,” she says.
Van Rhijn alternates between two different marks depending on the size of her work. For larger pieces she uses an imprint of her full logo and for smaller pieces the initials ‘HC’. Once a piece has been carved and sanded the mark is branded into the wood using a heated brass stamp.
“Placing a mark on my work is a very important aspect of my creative process. It is like the final seal of approval before the piece moves onto its new home,” she says.
“The meaning behind my brand and subsequently my makers’ mark stems from wanting to create goods that I would like in my own home and thus enable others to share in that by bringing my pieces into their lives and homes as well.”
All Together Now
Evan Dunstone of Dunstone Design in Canberra has been creating bespoke furniture in fine timbers for over twenty years and leads a small team of highly talented craftsmen.
“I often think that Dunstone Design is a bit like a band; it takes our collective talent to bring each ‘song’ to life. On very special pieces we will list the craftsmen specifically involved, but our maker’s mark will still be in pride of place,” he says.
The tree, which Dunstone says could only be Australian, is the centerpiece of the mark.
“I wanted a maker’s mark that carried our full story: Australian, a team effort, distinctive, authentic,” he says.
He approached jeweller Simon Fairweather OAM (gold medalist in men’s individual archery at the Sydney Olympics) who took the brief and a rough sketch and created a medallion in cast brass.
“A piece has to be ‘ready’ before it gets our maker’s mark. It has to be fully resolved and ready for the truck. In a way, it is our quality control. There is no greater sin in our workshop than putting the maker’s mark on too early,” he says.
Nathan Day of Nathan Day Design has a boutique studio and workshop in Yallingup WA where he practices sustainable design principles and believes in the virtues of bespoke woodwork.
Day uses a laser etched stainless steel badge with a logo discretely inlaid into the timber. Below this lies a steel stamp with the name and date of each piece. For smaller pieces, Day typically sticks with an initialled stamp, featured in the image above.
“It’s a nice mix of contemporary and traditional. It’s part branding, but the stamping gives it a level of personality,” he says.
He believes from a branding point of view it’s very important to mark each work, especially if the piece is going into a public or commercial space.
“The badge may be the only clue as to where and by whom the product was made and provide a lead if someone was to track you down,” he says. “For private commissions, the naming and dating shows that extra level of personality and recognises the client’s contribution to the piece.”
Stamped for Generations
Nicholas Bailey of Nicholas Bailey Fine Furniture in Buderim Queensland is a designer and maker specialising in one-off commissions.
He approaches his work as if creating antiques of the future, so branding his work is paramount. Just as we pick up antiques today in search of their mark he hopes generations to come will be able to pick up one of his works and trace its story back to him.
“To stamp a piece you have made means your craftsmanship and skills are there to be judged as long as the piece of furniture exists,” he says, “So it is an important moment when you apply it.”
Chosen for its simplicity in design and application Bailey uses an imprinting stamp that he hits with a hammer leaving his name on an out-of-view area.
“They may be inlaid as Morse code, placed on as a plate, sticker, carved, branded or stamped like mine. It can mean many things but I feel it is an important finishing touch and all makers should do it in one form or another,” he says.
Some Other Lovely Handkrafted Makers’ Marks…
By Catriona Montalvo
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