Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fine Creations

I fancy a few words for a fine creation.  Nicholas Phillips is a furniture maker and woodworker from Silver Springs, Maryland, who produces lovely wooden boxes and chests under his “Affine Creations” moniker.  One of his hallmarks is the use of yosegizaiku, the centuries old Japanese traditional marquetry technique born in Hakone Japan.  Phillips has developed his own skill at this technique over the years, right down to making his own rice glue.  Recently his skill was recognized abroad and he was invited to visit Hakone, where he studied with yosegi master Mr. Ichiro Ishikawa, a seventh generation artisan and a direct descendent of Nihei Ishikawa (1790-1850) who invented the technique.  He joins an extremely limited number of artists who are versed in this ancient art form.

Weave pattern puzzle box by Nicholas Phillips

The geometrical patterns and tessellations likely appeal to Dr. Phillips’ mathematical mind – he holds a PhD in theoretical physics and worked with NASA as a mathematician for much of his life. This background also sparked his delight in secret mechanisms and puzzle boxes.  The results he produces in his workshop are a perfect storm of beauty and brains.  Phillips love for the art of woodworking literally shines through in his meticulous finishes and polishes.  The tung oil he applies to the finished works glows with a warmth unlike any other and begs to be handled.  One of his masterpieces is the “Bernoulli Chest, No. 1” a trick chest which incorporates many different puzzles, including a set of drawers which only open via a binary sequence, and a drawer which is itself a stand-alone puzzle box. The 14 drawers are resplendent in multi-patterned yosegi.  You can read more about the magnificent Bernoulli Chest here.

Clearly a fine creation

I was fortunate enough to acquire one of Nicholas’s beautiful puzzle boxes.  The box is 6 ½ inches long, or 5.4 “sun” to use the traditional Japanese unit of carpentry measurement. The top and bottom are Cocobolo, an exotic and rich dark wood which looks outstanding with a high gloss.  The veneer (yosegi) weave pattern is made from Bloodwood, Curly Maple and Chechen (Caribbean Rosewood) and the internal supports are Cherry. The box is treated with a coat of Tung Oil and finally finished with a French Polished Shellac.  The final product is simply stunning to behold.  It’s quite an entertaining puzzle box as well, requiring 10 non-traditional moves to open, and an additional 12 moves to further remove all 4 of the side panels completely and admire the internal structure.  When you have finished your admiration and have succeeded in putting everything back together again, Phillips provides a lovely little display stand to compliment the piece.

An unusual bonus, the side panels can all be removed

Nicholas has a fine appreciation for the spirited life as well, and has been known to enjoy a good scotch. He knows of my predilection for potion pairings and let me know that he appreciates an Aperol Negroni.  If you have been following me you will have seen quite a few Negroni variations here in the past, and a few tales of its storied history.  It’s a cocktail which lends itself particularly well to experimentation due to its equal proportions of distinct spirits.  Classically made with gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, any and all components can and have been swapped for other options within each category.  Aperol, for example, can easily replace the Campari in the “bitter liquor” category.  Both are Italian Amari, created with plants, herbs and flowers indigenous to the region of Italy from where they originate.  Aperol has a lighter and more grapefruit flavor compared to Campari and is a wonderful introduction to Amari.  

The Toffee Negroni by Lynnette Marrero

I’m using it here in the “Toffee Negroni”, a fantastic negroni variation by Lynnette Marrero featured in Kara Newman’s new book, “Shake. Stir. Sip.” which includes only equal parts cocktails – so easy!  In the Toffee Negroni, the vermouth is replaced with Amontillado sherry, and the gin is replaced with aged rum. Notice, there is no actual toffee or sweetener at all, but the combination of these perfect ingredients does all the magic.  I’m using something particularly special for the rum – the Don Pancho Origenes 18.  Francisco Jose Fernandez Perez “Don Pancho” is a legendary rum master schooled in the traditions of Cuban rum making who has developed many product lines over the past 50 years. He has recently released his life’s work, his own “origins” series, blended from his personal barrels which he has been aging patiently for decades.  The rum is so good you should really sip it neat, like a fine cognac or scotch, but I couldn’t resist using it for this negroni as well.  One fine creation deserves another, don’t you think? Here’s to fine creations everywhere.  Cheers!

A few fine creations

For more information about Nicholas Phillips see:

For prior Negronis and variations see:

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