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Design for the Craftsman: Franklin Gottshall, Swirls and Volutes

Design for the Craftsman
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Design for the Craftsman by Franklin H. Gottshall

There are some advantages to having a public library with an older collection.  I came across this gem, complete with the cellophane-like cover protector, and had to check it out.  Franklin Gottshall was a prolific writer of books on woodworking and reproducing period furniture, teaching at industrial art programs.  I couldn’t find much biography, but he is mentioned in Raymond McInnis’ fabulous online history of woodworking.  Gotshall distilled his design ideas into this book in 1940.  It is exciting to read the articulation of concepts that I sensed intuitively but wasn’t able to name.  The most intriguing was the chapter on the curved line.

Gottshall’s Rule 47, “A beautiful curve should have no straight line in its entire composition.”  At first this seemed redundant–yeah, it’s a curve, not a straight line. . .but when making swirls in mosaic, there is a tendency to get on a straightaway before you even realize it.

Thanks to Gottshall I now know that one of my favorite designs is called a “reverse curve” and Rule 48 “The reverse curve is always most beautiful if it curls more quickly on one bend than on another.”  So rather than a perfectly symmetrical “S” shape, there is a gentle beginning and a rather cat tail-like curling in on the other end.  It’s probably the librarian in me that enjoys this classification aspect, but becoming aware of the different design tools in making a craft ultimately enriches the creative process.

Stratoz Photographing Volutes
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Stratoz Photographing Volutes

I was deep into the reverse curves with this mirror, shown here courtesy of Stratoz.  A  2-foot by 2-foot frame is a lot of surface area to cover in curves!  After awhile my head felt kind of swirly as well.  Through Gottshall I also discovered that one of my favorite shapes is called a “volute.”  And one of the volutes in this world is the nautilus shell, which inspired a mosaic mandala.  I am currently working on another nautilus commission, and enjoying the unfolding.


Nautilus Mandala Mosaic by Margaret Almon
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Nautilus Mandala Mosaic by Margaret Almon



  1. alton long says:

    I am a retired furniture maker and have many of his books and never knew that he lived 20 minutes from me until I went to his estate sale late in 2011 and also a man that I knew turns out to be his great nephew . He lived 1900 – 1996. At his sale, I spotted some drawings from 1922 and later and bought all his lifetime drawings or 4 suit cases full hidden in his drawing room.

    For every picture in his books,he would hand draw a awsome exploded drawing of a piece of furniture on a 18″ x 24″ heavy paper and the printer would reduce them down to as small as 8″ x 8″.
    of which I have scanned several at full size, and am selling full size copies of his prints for framing.

    I have several of his own books signed by him as the first copies belonging to him.
    He did awsome hand carved ball and claw feet on his furniture and I have pictures of him in his 40s and 60s carving with a step back cupboard in the back ground,that I bought and was in most of his pictures.
    He had a high pile of 24″ wide x 12′ Long mohogany boards, that I bought and the nephew helped me load and he said uncle frank had that pile of wood there back to when he was in the shop as a young boy, for a extra special project and never used it.

    A history Professor and a friend of mine bought all of that wood from me and plans to do a biography on Franklin and use Franklins own wood to build a choice piece for himself.

    I was just invited to a yearly meeting of the Society of Fine Furniture Makers in Lancaster,pa this summer and and bring some of his items I have bought to show them, since they study his work and he is one of three people in the world that is responsible for the teaching knowledge of fine furniture.
    He also built furniture for Wallace Nutting for a while and would stamp wallaces name on the piece.

    I have his own personal rocking chair that was is one of his books, his blacksmith forge as he made his own hinges and many more things.

    I shared this because you seem to have a glimpse or idea of the many special gifts god had given to this brilliant man.

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