Recreating Rohlfs (and more) – A Woodworkers Pilgrimage

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Blog entry by Woodbridge posted 06-11-2014 12:00 AM 2706 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

One of my woodworking objectives is to recreate a number of iconic works from little known Arts and Crafts era furniture maker Charles Rohlfs.

Most woodworkers are familiar with Arts and Crafts makers such as Morris, Stickley and Greene. Their furniture has been reproduced by many woodworkers and is routinely featured in woodworking magazines. Charles Rohlfs has not received the same popular notoriety.

Rohlfs was born in Brooklyn on 1853. He was trained as a designer and draftsman and spent the early part of his career designing cast iron stoves and dabbling in theater. After marrying, he and his wife, detective novelist Anna Katherine Green, established their home in Buffalo New York. Like many of us who begin woodworking, Rohlfs couldn’t afford to by quality furniture and began to design and build furniture for his home and then professionally. His work contains many elements of arts and crafts furniture, but is set apart by its unique design, shapes, artistic ornamentation and carving details. Writers have described Rohlfs furniture as artistic, complex, eclectic and eccentric. His furniture is rare and Rohlfs works are highly valued at auction.

I’ve had the opportunity to see and photograph a number of Rohlfs works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and at the nearby Princeton University Art Museum. I also had a wonderful opportunity to photograph and measure first-hand a Charles Rohlfs Swivel desk that was being restored.

My wife and I just returned from a vacation down California’s Pacific Coast highway with a stopover in Colorado before returning home.

In the Pasadena /LA area we were able to visit a number of museums to see Rohlfs works as well Sam Maloofs and the Greenes’.

Charle Rohlfs Oak Rocking chair has recently gone on public display at the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens. I’ve built two versions of this chair. It was great to see to see the original chair first hand and to understand how the chairs I have built differ.

From previous correspondence with the curator I know that the sides are 7/8” thick and the medallion is 14 inches in diameter. My chair is more upright and the seat is higher. I’ve used a sculpted wooden seat and a curved taller back. The sides are 1.5 inches thick and the rocker design is different. I’ve also angled the sides inward from front to back. The original chair has parallel sides.

Following the visit to the Huntington our second stop was the Las Angeles County Musuem of Art to see Rohlfs Hall Chair.

This chair along with Rohlfs Swivel desk formed the “Gracefull Writing Set”, his most popular work. I’m about two weeks from finishing Rohlfs Swivel Desk and I will certainly adding the Hall Chair to my project list.

While in the Pasadena/L.A. area we also visited the Gamble House to see the wonderful Greene and Greene architecture and furniture. Unfortunately they did not permit photography. The Huntington also has a great collection of Greene and Greene furniture. However, this was one part of the museum were photography was not permitted. LACMA did have some Greene and Greene pieces which I was able to photograph. I know there are others on this forum that are Greene and Greene experts and are immanently more qualified to provide commentary on their work.

What struck me was how finely crafted and detailed the work is. As a person who focusses mainly on chairs I my eye was captured by the finely and delicately shaped chair backs, something that does not come through in the numerous G&G pictures I’ve seen.

We also took a trip out to Sam Maloofs home and workshop. Maloofs original home and workshop have been moved to this site and preserved.

The home is a bit of a time capsule of Maloofs work through the sixties and seventies. It was interesting to see how his designs evolved through the years. Unfortunately photography is not permitted so I have no pictures to share with you. The Maloof centre includes gardens which currently feature an exhibit of outdoor sculptures and a gallery/art centre that currently has a display of wood toys.

Our final stop was in Denver. We spent a few days with our daughter and husband who live in Boulder. I was able see and photograph another Rohlfs 1901 high- back chair that is on display at the Denver’s Kirkland Museum. This chair appears to be a variant of the Dutch Kitchen chair that Rohlfs made for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition.

Kirkland also has a Frank Lloyd Wright dining set, and chairs by McIntsoh, Reitveld and Moser on display.

-- Peter, Woodbridge, Ontario

9 comments so far

View Buckethead's profile


3195 posts in 2412 days

#1 posted 06-11-2014 12:07 AM

Nice photo essay. Thanks for sharing this.

-- Support woodworking hand models. Buy me a sawstop.

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3847 days

#2 posted 06-11-2014 12:29 AM

what a trip you had, how fortunate you were to see so much and be in some pretty historical places, i would love to be able to see the Maloof home, it had to be one of the highlights of the trip, but you went to so many great places, i guess you cant really pin point which was the best, i look forward to seeing the work you will reproduce, enjoy the journey.

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View DocSavage45's profile


8873 posts in 3386 days

#3 posted 06-11-2014 01:07 AM

A master learning from the masters! Bet you sadi “Wow”, and “oh look at that!” alot! No Moser pieces? Souns like you had a great time.

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View DocSavage45's profile


8873 posts in 3386 days

#4 posted 06-11-2014 01:08 AM

I remember how excited I was to see the underside of an original Bau Haus chair at MOMA in NYC.

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Woodbridge's profile


3692 posts in 2962 days

#5 posted 06-11-2014 01:16 AM

Grizzman, as a wood worker there was some much furniture to see in the Maloof home it was hard t decide where to look and touch first. They also offer a 3 hour tour led by one of Maloof’s woodworkers “Maloof Master Craftsman Tour” that also includes time in the Maloof workshop. Its only offered on select Saturdays and unfortunately did not match up with our vacation schedule.

I must say the Gamble House and the Greene and Greene collection at the Huntington were a real highlight. Seeing the G&G work up close provided a new appreciation on how beautiful that furniture is.

Another great highlight in the Pasdena area is the Norton Simon Museum. That art museum was jam packed with hundreds of priceless masterpieces including on of my favourites. It’s collection must certainly rival any fine art museum in Europe

I’ve built one Modigliani chair have another chair planned using this painting and a French cafe style chair.

-- Peter, Woodbridge, Ontario

View Woodbridge's profile


3692 posts in 2962 days

#6 posted 06-11-2014 01:18 AM

Doc here is a Moser (from the Kirkland in Denver)

-- Peter, Woodbridge, Ontario

View DocSavage45's profile


8873 posts in 3386 days

#7 posted 06-11-2014 02:18 AM

Modigilani, and Moser You must be complete! LOL!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View stefang's profile


16827 posts in 3878 days

#8 posted 06-11-2014 08:56 AM

I find Rohlfs work to be very eccentric and maybe not for everybody, but his designs are certainly original and obviously created with a love for his work. I commend you for keeping his memory alive and honouring his work with your reproductions. Maybe due to your efforts his work will someday gain wider recognition and even become more popular.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Hoosierwoodcraft's profile


72 posts in 3052 days

#9 posted 04-21-2015 01:20 PM

I am also impressed by Rohlfs. Just finished Cunningham’s book on the woodworker projects. Your photos of your desk reproductions gave me an idea of the rotating desk I never had gotten from the book.

-- Thanks to the Wood Spirit, Tom

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