Artist William Tunberg is helping keep art of marquetry alive

Artist William Tunberg is helping keep art of marquetry alive

On a warm morning in August, William Tunberg sits throughout from his spouse, Camille, at a glass espresso desk. The modern-day piece of furniture offers a stark distinction to the other results about the dwelling: Brightly hued trinket wooden packing containers are neatly arranged on the eating table sculptural forms in unique shades of wood adorn the walls and a huge fruit bowl carved from timber balances precariously on the glass countertop. On closer inspection, small pieces of brightly coloured veneer dance from these wooden types, paying out homage to the artwork form Tunberg has spent a lifetime perfecting: marquetry.

It wasn’t normally his desired medium. Tunberg hails from a family of writers — his father, William Tunberg, wrote the screenplay for “Old Yeller” and his uncle Karl Tunberg, also a screenwriter, was nominated for an Academy Award for “Ben-Hur.” Yet Tunberg often needed to be an artist. As a boy or girl, he copied postage stamps and artwork he discovered in journals. He painted landscapes of Oregon, exactly where his grandparents lifted him, encouraged by the works of de Chirico, Picasso and Magritte in superior school. His like of human portraits was kindled by the French painter Ingres, whose impact became “an irrepressible force in my lifestyle,” Tunberg states.

Just after graduating from USC in 1965, Tunberg set down roots in Venice, Calif., opening a studio that counted Jim Morrison, Ben Talbert and Wallace Berman as his neighbors. At some point, he grew to become a lifetime drawing teacher at faculties in Oregon and California.

A pair of marquetry cubes.

A pair of wood marquetry cubes, designed by 86-calendar year-old artist William Tunberg, relaxation on a living home table in his property.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

He also commenced dabbling in assemblage, a form of sculpture where by standard objects are set together to form new items of artwork. “I was captivated by the narrative high quality of this art kind,” he suggests, calling assemblage artwork a three-dimensional extension of surrealism.

As the house for assemblage turned crowded in the 1980s, Tunberg started out searching for strategies to make his art stand out. He turned to marquetry, a dying artwork variety, to give his assemblages a fresh new seem. Tunberg found himself especially drawn to the type mainly because “no one was undertaking it” and due to the fact it was “not anything that was spontaneous.”

Marquetry, which developed in the mid-1500s as a sophisticated artwork variety in Italy, employs items of wood veneers placed together by hand to form unique layouts. The craft became popular in France in the 17th century, exactly where floral marquetry designs dominated home furnishings for the duration of the reign of Louis XIV. Some of these historic approaches, including the use of a chevalet de marqueterie, a device to minimize by veneer, are made use of in lessons taught at the École Boulle in Paris and at the American University of French Marquetry in San Diego.

As Tunberg grew to become obsessed with marquetry, he examined historic strategies, together with the use of horse hoof glue to mix pieces of veneer. He then started out imagining about how he could modernize them.

“I discovered out that old marquetry can take constant treatment. It’s always cracking and transferring about,” Tunberg suggests. “I experienced to obtain a way to make it a very little a lot more harder, a lot more resilient, so I have identified methods and glues and strategies that I can use that no 1 is accomplishing.”

An image of a chair.

An Egypt chair, made by William Tunberg, sits in his property in Venice.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Periods)

By the stop of the ’80s, marquetry had grow to be his dominant medium. For Tunberg, the art kind is “unrivaled for elegance and visual drama, and it is extremely tricky to use in fantastic art sculpture.”

Tunberg’s types start off with a drawing, which he then converts to a vector file on a personal computer. Brows furrowed, he drags the mouse throughout the bright screen to layer a curvilinear drawing of a blossom atop yet another and hits a button. The laser cutter to his right whirs to life, slicing the blossom design on slivers of plywood. Balancing it cautiously on his fingertips to his workstation, Tunberg then interchanges the blossoms he just minimize with distinct coloured kinds that he’d beforehand slash.

This system continues right up until he has half a dozen levels the simple blossom has been stretched, curved and melded into an intricate, unrecognizable sample. “I want to get quite intricate and really intricate so that you never acknowledge 1 detail and then not see the relaxation of it,” he states. “The concept is to recognize sections and then make the eye move all-around.”

An artist works in his studio.

Marquetry artist William Tunberg will work in his studio in Venice on Dec. 22, 2022.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Moments)

Sculpture, home furniture, a fruit bowl and even jigsaw-puzzle-formed storage packing containers inlaid with marquetry are superbly displayed close to his dwelling, yet no two pieces seem the same. On nearer inspection, Tunberg factors out how the identical blossom sample, gear wheels and a lotus demonstrate up in diverse sculptures — he has a assortment of only 50 of the drawings that he takes advantage of. These basic drawings of florals and other objects that inspire him are his foundation pattern, which he then manipulates into the designs.

“A ton of the drawings are recurring above and more than again, since I favored them. So I’ll possibly transform a sizing or angle or a little something like that,” he states. “I can bend, twist and situation in these types of a way and then overlay one thing else on prime of them and get anything far more fascinating. You get a ton of compound.”

Tunberg’s get the job done is fantasy-oriented, taking the intellect on a journey of color, contour and curvature. His do the job is a departure from standard static marquetry, exactly where patterns and images are recognizable. Rather of usual things of landscapes, Tunberg strives to bridge the decorative wonderful arts with marquetry bearing his own sensibilities, in which observers can “try and find intriguing matters that are buried in there, even if you make it up oneself.”

One particular these types of piece: Tunberg’s fee by the Fish Interfaith Middle at Chapman College, which involved him setting up an ark that shields a Torah that was smuggled to safety through the Holocaust. Wanting people today to shell out time scrutinizing and studying the artwork piece, he blended Judaism’s 10 Commandments in Hebrew in his marquetry design and style.

Throughout marquetry’s golden age, in the 16th and 17th hundreds of years, the strategy was made use of as a decorative factor for home furnishings. It designed a thing like a credenza “more than a credenza,” as Tunberg points out. “It made it an item to be looked at and took you absent from yourself for a time period of time.” By incorporating marquetry in home furnishings and everyday objects like a fruit bowl, Tunberg seeks to make men and women have a “different identification” with the item.

“An product of use is also a piece of art so it turns into nearer to you,” he states, gesturing at the eating chairs he crafted for the dwelling he shares with Camille, his wife. A single of the chairs is inspired by hibiscus motifs to fork out homage to his father-in-regulation, Alfred Shaheen, credited with popularizing the aloha shirt. “That a single,” he factors at a chair, “I just utilised a veneer due to the fact when I put the two parts of veneer jointly, it designed a kind of animal deal with.” A Japanese ogi, or lover, is recognizable on a 3rd chair.

A wall sculpture.

A marquetry wall sculpture by 86-calendar year-outdated marquetry artist William Tunberg hangs in his dwelling in Venice.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Camille has been instrumental in documenting Tunberg’s do the job, and enrolled in net style and design classes at a nearby community school to aid him create a web site for his parts. The couple hope that Tunberg’s strategy to marquetry woodwork will endure, in spite of the difficulties the medium poses for foreseeable future generations.

Tunberg even now undertakes commissions for big commercial tasks — specialty sculptures for unconventional areas, household furniture, walls and spiritual items. A short while ago, he established vessels to home Chapman University’s selection of exceptional antiquities, which includes a sculptural showcase shielding a seven-quantity collection of the St. John’s Bible, which was handwritten employing medieval strategies of calligraphy and illumination, and a 7-foot-tall cabinet to display a 15th century Quran.

But on that warm August day, Tunberg put down the plywood and built ideas with Camille to celebrate his 86th birthday with a silent lunch from Full Meals. Tomorrow, it’s again to creating the artwork he enjoys so dearly.