Welcome to the overview section of the Lee Coleman Collection.
Rooms: Dining Room
The best way to get a sense of Lee’s collection is to visually understand the role the collection plays in his life. These scenes of various rooms provide insight in to the thoughtful presentation of Lee’s collection as well as the way in which the furniture he has made enhance the experience of his collection.
Editor’s Note: As much as Lee’s woodworking is in evidence throughout the house, the dining room hosts three of the most impressive pieces Lee created. The first is the dining table, and the second, the credenza or sideboard, and the third are the dining room chairs The credenza can be seen in the left of this image.
Close-up of the slides from Lee’s Greene and Greene inspired dining table, a copy of the Robinson House table, now housed in Huntington Museum in Altadena, Ca. “Not at all sure I could pull it off,” Lee wrote, “and without plans, I just dove in and it worked. The design for the slides of this table, by Charles Greene, is just so awesome that I had no real choice- I had to give it a try.”
Top hanging is portion of an obi, the wide sash used as a belt with a lady’s kimono. Below is a tray given to us by our friend Matsunaga-san of Tokyo, and hung by a needlework hanger done by my wife Lone.
Japanese Tansu from Hana Antiques in Berkeley, with Clam gathering basket, Washington State, and Tule reed basket from northeastern California. Actor Japanese woodblock print behind. Kabuki actors in Japan inspired fan clubs that commissioned prints of their favorites.
This is a tsuba, or Japanese sword guard, and is made to fit at the top of the scabbard. While most everyone is familiar with the amazing craftsmanship associated with Japanese swords, starting with the making of the world’s finest steel that reconciles competing needs of sharpness with toughness, less recognized are the crafts associated with the samurai tradition.
A wooden sculpture of Daikoku, one of the seven Japanese gods of good fortune. He is commonly shown in sculptures, drawings, and paintings with his son Ebisu. This one shows the typical objects that identify him— the mallet in the right-hand, a sack of various treasures in his left hand, and he is usually standing on money, i.e. rice. I have several images of him in my collection, but the favorite for me shows a depth of self-satisfaction that we all know is dangerous. So, don’t fall in love with him!
One corner of the dining room, with a hollowed out burl containing sand and a cast iron kettle. In other words, a hibachi. The rug is from the Shirvan region of the Caucasus, with a Persian garden design.
One can see the Japanese influence, but neither one of the Greene brothers ever traveled to Japan. Charles, however, certainly managed to convey something special with a marvelous blend of “Japanesque” joinery and the best of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
This is my version of the smaller sideboard at the Robinson House in Pasadena. When I saw the original, I was awestruck by such elegance, and wondered if I would stand a chance of creating a copy. Inquiries with the Huntington Art Museum led to a second visit, where I was allowed to take photos but touch nothing. No plans exist. Note especially the handles, and the vertical grain of the drawer fronts. Charles Greene, you are the MAN!
On the floor, a Ferahan Mahal carpet from Iran, Shirvan (Caucusus region)carpet on the wall, and Peruvian embroidered panel above the sideboard. Japanese Hibachi and cast iron kettle under the Shirvan.
Another view of the sideboard in the dining room. Those doors are to the kitchen. I designed this piece specifically to fit on that wall.
Another view of the sideboard – detail of the side.
A sake flask made from a gourd on top of the sideboard, then two sword guards, a wooden carving of Daikoku, on of the seven Japanese gods of good fortune, and a sumitsubo, a woodworking tool for laying out ink lines.
Charles Greene didn’t order dovetails very often, or else the Hall Brothers simply didn’t create them, but in this case they did, so I had no choice but to do likewise. Not for the beginner, it’s true, because the drawer sides are NOT perpendicular to the front and back of each drawer. But go ahead, you can do it, maybe not on the first try, but the second, maybe the third….
The inside of one of the drawer fronts from the sideboard. Can you figure out the order in which the pieces were joined, and method of achieving a tight fit on the curves?
Sideboard drawer fronts. Looks like inlaid cloud lifts, but I decided to use a different method…
Japanese mingei—everyday objects, beautifully crafted—seem to go so well together with native American artifacts. Here we have Actor print on the wall, i.e. one that shows a scene from kabuki theatre rather than the more common ones of famous beauties, or well-known scenes, history, etc.
The rug is a Shirvan piece from Karagashli, demonstrating that design is no guide to where or who did the work. In this case, Russian workshops in the early 20th century created pieces for Europe and America (the Communists desperately needed money), using designs from further west in the Caucasus. This story is one reason why collecting middle eastern carpets can be such fun. The cabinet is from Japan, but the glass panels were missing, so I built them. On the floor is a Japanese stoneware shallow bowl, and on the right is a chagama or cast iron hibachi and kettle for the tea ceremony. Underneath is a tile to protect the floor. This set is precious, being a gift from my dear friend Matsunaga Minae of Tokyo.
Two views of an old wooden Japanese carpenter’s ink line for laying out markings before sawing, planing or chiseling. Tsumi is the word for ink, and this is a tsumitsubo. The well contains silk to soak up the ink and at the back is the pin connected to the line which is snapped by the carpenter with one hand while the other maintains tension on the line.
The feeling that went into this one is a perfect example of the “mingei” spirit—a simple object made to be used with reverence and appreciation for all those who came before.
A Japanese bamboo flower basket. The variety of bamboo craft is a world unto itself. San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum has the Cotsen collection, and a visit to the Bamboo Center in Beppu, on the island of Kyushu, is also an experience that will leave a lasting impact
Detail of sideboard. I’m sure glad I didn’t use up the teak I was able to obtain at reasonable cost 25 years before I built this. I’m not usually so patient.
This is not a tea kettle but a sake ewer. Go to google images and you will soon see the difference in design between the two. They are made usually of cast iron, but also other materials, and the lid is lacquered wood. Japanese lacquer is always elegant, even on a simple object like this. Look up makie on google images and you will be amazed.