Large (Wikimedia)

This is George-Jules-Victor Clairin’s Spanish Woman on a Balcony. (“Woman” is not a typo—maybe the others are English spies? Or men in drag?)

All joking aside, it should not be at all strange to hear from Christie’s that Clairin had an “association with the theatre.” While it is certainly obvious that he had indeed visited (and been impressed by) Spain, the touch of drama goes beyond that of a wide-eyed tourist.

The exaggerated intricacy of the carved wood (with its dragons and bull skulls and scrolls), and the sheer overabundance of flowers—added to the set-like isolation of the balcony from the surrounding architecture—make this the Spain of the stage.

Objectof the Month: Woman’s Busk

ByLaura L. Camerlengo and H. Kristina Haugland

Do you look at this object and wonder, “What is it?” Perhaps it’s a decorative panel, a cooking utensil, or a tongue depressor?

You may be surprised to learn that this carved maple wood slat is actually a busk. Beginning in the sixteenth century, busks were used to stiffen stays (an early name for corsets). Busks were made of rigid materials such as bone, whalebone or wood, and would be inserted down the front of a pair of stays to render it inflexible. This reinforced the ideal conical and erect torso, and ensured that any bending was donefrom the hips, not the waist, encouraging dignified posture and movement.

In the eighteenth century, busks were sometimes hand carved with emblems, as seen on this example. This busk’s design was created by chip carving, where knives or chisels are used to remove small bits of wood. While busks often served a practical purpose, not all were functional; some were to be made and given as love tokens. This was likely the case with this example, as it features a large heart at its centerfront, surrounded by the initials “R.S.”. These same initials appear on the back of the busk, along with another pair of initials (“P.L.”) and “1777,” likely the year the busk was made.

Woman’s Busk, American, 1777

Maple with chip carving

12 ½ x 2 5/8 inches (31.7 x 6.7 cm)

Gift of Mrs. William D. Frishmuth, 1912-34


Some spewns I’ve carved recently! 

I’m in a non-timber forest products class where we’re learning how to make all sorts of stuff, like maple and hickory syrups, soaps and salves, honey and beeswax products, and carved items, to sell at our open house tomorrow. I’ve always loved woodworking, so carving especially was right up my alley :D