Ernie Ives
When I first thought of this idea of interviewing well known members of the Society I did not think that it would generate a lot of interest.

But how wrong can you be? The articles have been very well received and I should like to thank everyone for the feedback I have had.

I have also had some names of future people who people would like to see interviewed.

Thank you for those suggestions and I will certainly keep them in mind.



For this, the third interview, I am speaking to a long-standing member of the Society who needs no introduction as he is easily recognised and highly respected for all he has done for the Society. He is a man of many talents and interests including photography and microscopy. He is also a strong advocate of marquetry produced using a fretsaw, which he has developed to a fine art, as shown by his beautiful applied work. He is admired as an excellent teacher of the craft as members who attend his Belstead House summer schools will testify. Last but most certainly not least, he is the man who is always cajoling us to send in articles to the Marquetarian. This is the journal that has been produced by my guest over many years and, as technology has improved, so he has taken on the challenges and is now producing a journal to be proud of. Who else could I be speaking to but the Editor of the Marquetarian, Ernie Ives.

Ernie Ives

C. You are known to have many interests but how and when did you first get into marquetry?

E. On leaving school I was apprenticed as a boatbuilder in the days when boats were still built with wood, and then spent two winters in the south of Jordan doing National Service. It came as an unpleasant shock to return to that trade when winter came again. I took a correspondence course to become a woodwork teacher and in 1961 obtained a job in Woking, Surrey. With a frequent train service to London, I often visited shows and exhibitions there. At one Do-it-Yourself exhibition, the Marquetry Society had a stand and I noted there was a group at Guildford, a couple of stations down the line from Woking. An elderly lady held the meetings in her spacious flat. I went along with a photo of a boat that I thought of doing and was given the veneers and shown how to go about the work. I took the completed picture, all laid and French polished to the following meeting.

C. What was the attraction to you to for this craft?

E. Initially it was a wood craft that I could do in lodgings without annoying the landlady. The laying, cleaning up and polishing were all standard practice things I could do at the school. In those days, all my tools and supplies would fit into a small cardboard box – unlike now when a room and several sheds are hardly adequate!

C. Were you inspired by anyone’s work you had seen?

E. No. At the time I had not seen the work of others although of course I did see work that the group members brought to meetings.

C. You have championed the cause of fretsaw cut marquetry. Do you prefer using this method for your work?

E. Very much so but only if that is the most suitable tool for the particular job. I use a knife when the shapes are easy and the wood relatively soft. Silhouettes, Boulle work, are particular favourites and with a saw I can use the hardest of woods without struggling. I can also produce up to a dozen multiple copies of a design if I need to. I frequently use this method for family presents and of course I used it when I did commercial marquetry inlays.

I have found that fretsawing is by far the most suitable method for young children to start marquetry. At the moment I am having small groups of eleven-year-old boys and girls from the local school for marquetry one hour a week. Almost all of them can use a saw to produce a silhouette picture or the lettering for their name for a pencil case whereas the few who try with a knife find it much more difficult. At that age they don’t have the strength to easily cut veneer with a knife. Usually they do only one letter or a small part of their design as a practice piece before the start on the actual job. That is all the training they have or need provided they are supervised afterwards.

Like the scalpel or scissors, the fretsaw is just another tool in the marquetarian’s armoury, to be used as and when needed. As I’ve told many notable Society members, “You are only halfway to being a marquetarian if you only use a knife!”

Fretsawn Boullework Example

Work done by Sproughton Primary School children
example 1

Work done by Sproughton Primary School children
example 2

One of a dozen placemats made by multiple
cutting the design

C. The fretsaw method is, I suspect fairly alien to most of us so how do you go about planning a piece of work?

E. How long is a piece of string? The method varies with each picture. With Boulle work the design is glued to the background veneer and for many other designs I do the same. Hinging the drawing to the waster, as normally recommended for the window method, is not convenient because it catches in the saw frame. Of course it is perfectly feasible to use both knife and the saw when cutting a picture.

Cutting multiple pictures requires considerably more design work and planning because each piece has to be individually cut from a pack of a dozen or more of the same veneer.

C. Why do you choose to do any particular piece of marquetry? Is it for yourself, a present, because it is a fascinating design or is it for the challenge?

E. All of those things, and you can add, some work is done to order, although I do much less of that now. Sometimes it is done for our inter-group competitions.

C. Do you derive more pleasure from creating a picture or an applied piece?

E. At first I only made pictures or perhaps a few boxes but it is many years since I made a picture for myself. I only do applied work now - boxes of various shapes, tables, placemats etc. There’s little wall space left for pictures. I don’t think the pleasure aspect comes into it. I can enjoy making a picture or a piece of applied work.

C. Is marquetry a definite relaxation for you?

E. No. It is a job; a job that usually requires some thought and skill and frequently, a good deal of concentration. I don’t consider that a relaxation. Only with the boring jobs, like sanding, can you relax and let your mind wander – and then not for long.

C. Which item, from all your work, has given you most satisfaction?

An example of a parquetry table top

E. Again, a difficult question to answer. Memories of work done thirty or forty years ago fade and are replaced by more recently completed work. I remember getting a good deal of satisfaction from making my “Memories Box”, which I exhibited in 1986. It was a complex parquetry piece based on an early 20 th century chip carving design using many irregular polygons. I also gained a lot of satisfaction from my entry into this year’s National for a different reason. The “Memories Box” was a challenge that I couldn’t have completed without the help of a maths teacher at school to solve many of the trigonomical equations the shapes created; the “Art Nouveau” box was a design where I could allow myself free rein to use fanciful coloured veneers and even coloured lacquer to get the artistic effect I wanted. A picture of the box was on the centrespread of the last magazine.

Picture-wise, perhaps “Lazy Moments” or going back many years, “Hawfinch’ and “Lesser Redpolls.”

C. Has there been any piece of work, made by any other member, which has left you thinking I wish I had done that?

E. Probably but they are ephemeral and have passed from my memory. Perhaps the one that made the most impression on me early in my marquetry career was “Law of the Jungle” by Ray Cotterell that won the Rosebowl in 1960. It showed a tiger chasing a startled deer. At the time it caused some controversy because in it’s effort to escape the deer had one hoof outside the picture area and into the border. How times have changed.

C. Do you keep all your creations?

E. I would need a warehouse if I did! Much of the work I’ve done has been sold, made to order or given away as presents.

C. What is your stance on the long-standing debate about marquetry being an art or a craft?

E. As editor, I sit on the fence and let others argue the toss. At a more personal level, if I do a piece where I largely copy the work of others then I consider it a craft; if, like the “Art Nouveau” box I try to put a lot of my own interpretation into the design and colour work, then it is heading towards being an art.

C. The present rules on originality allow some parts of other people’s pictures to be used in your own composition. Do you think that this compromises the definition of ‘original’ or should we use the current rules in the hope that more members might strike out and try something new?

E. While there is a lot of journal space given to the art/craft debate, I believe the majority of members do marquetry as a craft with art as an adjunct to it. They don’t actually compose the picture but rather they interpret a design into a wood based medium. For it truly to be art, I believe we should start with a blank sheet of paper, or veneer, and draw the design from our own thoughts or the scene before us, giving it our interpretation. I guess our rule is a sort of halfway house. Perhaps when enough members work to our present definition of original, we may be able to tighten the rule to make original, truly mean, original. I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future though.

C. The ‘for or against coloured wood’ argument has gone on for years. What are your views on it?

E. Having just completed a box using the brightest coloured and most garish veneers I had in stock, I can’t really argue against it but in general I am not in favour for most pictorial work. Dyed green grass, blue sky, a red sweater on a figure, often do not suit the overall tone of the picture and are more of a distraction, especially if the majority of the veneers are natural. However, I have seen many instances where the use of dyed veneers have been appropriate and have enhanced the piece.

C. Would you like to see ‘Judges comments’ reintroduced for the National award winners?

E. Yes and no. It would help to fill up the space in the magazine but arranging the comments close to the picture causes layout problems. The comments can upset the maker of the picture who probably knows more about the faults in the work than the judges! We’ve had instances where the comments have lost us members. On the other hand, readers may benefit by hearing the faults and good points in the work but I see little point in repeated comments such as, ‘... good choice of veneers, finish clean…etc.’ They may help the maker’s ego but do little to tell him or others what is wrong with the work or what improvements can be made. However, it is the noted faults that are of most use to others but that may provoke an unpleasant reaction from the maker.

Memories Box
view 1 - box closed

Memories Box view 2 - with lid open >>

C. I believe I am right in thinking that you feel we have too many trophies. Does this mean you are against competition?

E. No. Personally I regard the keepsake trophies I’ve been awarded as so much junk and have disposed of the lot except those of practical use. I think the only one in that category was the brass carriage clock I won at the Irish National. Any cups I’ve been awarded, even the Rosebowl, have stayed in their box under the bed for a year until they were returned. That remark may displease the donors of cups and the makers of trophies but that is the way I feel. I guess I’m in a minority.

I like to compete, more so in years past than now, and I was pleased to get my award at this year’s National. I had the satisfaction of knowing I gained the award. That was enough as far as I am concerned. I’m glad I didn’t have a trophy to get rid of this time; the certificate was fine.

Knowing the piece was going into the competition, probably made me take a little more trouble over the work than perhaps I would have done if I’d been making the piece for pleasure only. Years ago, I was more into the competitive aspect of marquetry and chose designs because they stood a chance of winning an ward, but nowadays, I do work for other reasons and if it is good enough and available for competition, well and good, I enter it. I’m sure making work specifically for competition raised my standard and likewise, I am sure many others raise the standard of their work too because of the competition.

C. You have judged many competitions including Nationals so what is the first thing you look for when judging an entry at any level? Is it artistic impact or technical workmanship?

E. Definitely the artistic appeal of the picture. I feel very strongly about this. The object in making a picture or design surely is to produce something that is attractive to hang on the wall or that enhances an applied piece. In my view the work should have ‘life’, appeal and atmosphere. It should evoke some emotion in the viewer. So artistic appeal must come first. Workmanship is a consideration of course. Poor workmanship detracts from the artistic appeal but the excellence of the technical workmanship must be secondary. Too often it seems that awards are given to work on the basis of the number of pieces per square inch rather than their artistic impact. Pictures, which show every brick and mortar line when the eye from the viewing point in reality, wouldn’t have seen them. So much fine detail that one would expect a magnifying glass to be provided so we could see the ants running along the cracks. To me they are just technical exercises akin to the embroidery samplers of bygone days. The result is often lifeless, flat, dull and utterly boring. There were pictures in this year’s National that I would put in this category and some gained awards.

Lazy Moments

C. Over the many years you have been closely associated with the craft what are your views on the present standards compared to some years ago?

E. Standards are definitely far higher now than they were when I first started. Some present day Class 1 pictures would have won the Rosebowl in the 1960’s. Now we have a far wider range of techniques to choose from and there is more published information on them. Perhaps one of the good things about marquetarians is their willingness to share the information. There are very few closely guarded secret methods known only to a select clique.

C. With the changes in style of marquetry since you started, have you adapted your own work to follow any of those changes?

E. Has there really been much in the way of changes in style? Looking back on my early work, I don’t think the style is much different to what is seen now. Techniques have changed, products have changed, tools have changed and, to some extent, the available veneers have changed but I don’t think the style is so very different. I think I use whatever modern techniques seem appropriate.

C. It goes without saying that your name is always associated with The Marquetarian. Did you volunteer to produce the journal or were you ‘press ganged’?

E. I sort of fell into it. At an AGM in Ipswich I proposed my predecessor to be editor. In turn he twisted my arm to write articles and many times I attended the executive committee as his representative. When he retired he proposed me to take his place. I was sort of apprenticed to the job.

C. The Marquetarian has always been centrepiece for members but with the advent of new technology you have raised the journal to new levels. How do you see the future for the magazine?

E. Money is always the problem. I would like to see a full colour magazine but that will probably only happen if the magazine goes completely online or if we supply it on DVD. No printing involved. I wouldn’t be happy with that at the moment but it might be the most economical way to go if membership were to decline. It could make for a more dynamic magazine.

C. Do you think that there is any case for introducing any other media into marquetry, e.g. pyrography?

E. Another controversial question. I have seen some very attractive pictures using combined pyrography / marquetry. Is it so very different from the use of engraving used on old marquetry furniture? Or the use of a soldering iron for shading selected parts? The problem is deciding when the amount of pyrography / engraving / shading, exceeds the boundaries of what marquetarians expect in a picture. If you are making a picture for your own pleasure, then there is no reason not to use any or all of these techniques to give you the result you wish, but I doubt if they will find favour with National judges. From an art point of view, I guess anything and everything goes. Here again we could get into the originality argument.

C. Your residential marquetry courses at Belstead House were always popular and are missed by a great number of people. Do you still do any teaching?

E. Yes. I mentioned the children above and the two Sproughton groups meet at my home. We have an age range from 12 – 75+ so that involves some teaching. I don’t run any courses now though.

C. Do you have any other crafts, hobbies or interests, which share your available time?

E. Yes again. In fact the other hobbies have largely taken over from marquetry. Mainly they are concerned with microscopy and microtomy. In many ways the hobbies are inter-related. Techniques learned in one hobby, find a use in the others. My microscope gets used to look at the thickness, (or not), of the finish when rubbing down and dexterity with a marquetry knife has proved useful when dissecting insects or hand cutting plant sections. Probably the main reason for the microscopy related hobbies is they are now more of a challenge. There’s more to learn, more experiments to be done, more unusual creatures to find, particularly in the sea, more ways to try and preserve them for posterity. I exchanged the marquetry courses at Belstead House for microscopy courses there. With marquetry it is largely a case of ‘been there, done that, and have the T-shirt’.

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