I’ve watched a few episodes of a TV series called Sherlock, which was broadcast initially on PBS in 2010. There are many obvious references to the last PBS treatment of Sherlock Holmes, with Jeremy Brett, but the story is now set in the present, with all the accoutrements of the internet age. Holmes and Dr. Watson have been transplanted into our day, along with Inspector Lestrade and various others; and the plots are heavy on information-age complications, to which Holmes’s skill at detection seems particularly suited.
In order to tell the story in our day, the writer changes a lot of things. There are many references to the original Conan Doyle stories; the writer is clearly familiar with them and expects the audience to know them too. But the plots are entirely new, and they seem constructed to impress the viewer in ways that are even less plausible than previous treatments of Holmes. In every episode I watched, the plot required me to accept at least one key turn of events that I found completely illogical, but which led to a visually vivid conclusion. In addition, both Holmes and Watson are clearly creatures of the post-9-11 era, who do not expect fair play from their adversaries and do not offer it either. In the first episode, Watson executes the murderer in cold blood.
I found that first episode troubling. There is something missing here, some reassuring pattern to things, that was always present in the traditional Holmes canon. That may be what makes these shows contemporary.
Perhaps I am especially bothered by this because it hits too close to home. When I design a new piece of furniture, you might say that I am similarly disrespectful of familiar patterns. I increasingly make use of irregularities in individual boards, finding dramatic contrast – when the piece is successful – between such features and the more regular elements of the design. The rules of taste I learned when young have become something to react against.
In a small table just completed, I found a new opportunity to reconsider the relationship between the design and the material. I used the figure in the boards I had as inspiration for the design, so that the design and material are interrelated, somewhat in the way of the natural-edge pieces that George Nakashima made famous years ago. The picture of the tabletop in progress, below, shows one of the ways the piece realizes that idea. Three cherry boards are glued up to make an 18” top that is approximately square, but the joint lines between them correspond exactly to lines in the wood figure . These irregular joint lines are further emphasized by the inclusion of dark brown veneer strips, sandwiched between the cherry boards along each line.
I can’t remember ever seeing this done before, and this tabletop represents something new for me, the result of exploring the figure in the boards. This piece abandons previous assumptions in the interest of discovering something new, which – for better or worse – gives it something in common with that TV show.