This morning I spoke with Tom Moser, the man who founded the Auburn, Maine, furniture and woodworking firm Thos. Moser, about the reissue of his 1977 book, How to Build Shaker Furniture. We spoke about the endurance of Shaker designs, the book, and what he hopes to achieve through his work. The former Bates College professor told me that he hopes his book, which was out of print for about a decade, catches on again. We covered the Thos. Moser Deacons's bench in our October Made in the USA issue, and as part of the release of the book, Moser has offered a great PDF that describes how the Deacon's bench is made over at Popular Woodworking. Read on.
To what do you ascribe the continued love of Shaker furniture?
I'm not sure I can explain how unschooled people in the 19th century came up with such lovely, sparse, modern furniture, or how it came to be that they made such ethereal pieces. But you'll understand why we continue to love it if you accept that good design is universal, and that it travels well through time and space. The best Shaker work was really made during a short time, a Golden Age between 1820 and 1850. Before that they weren't doing much and after that it got Victorian. They were precursors to the Bauhaus by 80 years and to the Arts and Crafts movement in that they celebrated the work of the human hand. But design, like so many things, is cyclical. The Renaissance looked back, the 19th century was full of revivals, and even the modernists like Breuer faded away for two decades but are now back with a vengeance. Ultimately good design should be suited to good taste.
Congratulations on your book How to Build Shaker Furniture being reissued and updated.
I did a book on Shaker Furniture in 1977 and it was in print for 25 years. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies, I don't know the actual sum. But a publisher in Cincinnati has picked it up, F and W, and is reprinting it. I think it's going to have the same interest for people, but a generation later. I think another reason that Shaker furniture has been so popular is that it doesn't require high-level carving skills or really sophisticated machinery to make. It's simple and rectilinear.
How would you describe the design ethos at Thos. Moser?
My work, for the last 40 years, has been derivative. I'm a bit of an historian, I love the old stuff, but I don't see my work as static. Every design idiom can be replicated, and it can be improved. I should say that I use improved in quotations. Essentially I try to make better, cleaner, more accessible works inspired by the 18th, the 19th, and even the mid 20th century. I'm not a cutting edge designer, I don't make studio furniture. And I don't make furniture to shock or to surprise, but to serve.