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Exploring the Beauty and History of Moorish Design

Image Source: sanaulac.vn My first journey far from home took me to the enchanting southern region of Spain. It was a trip that would forever shape my perspective and, in time, influence my woodworking. The...

Moorish Design Image Source: sanaulac.vn

My first journey far from home took me to the enchanting southern region of Spain. It was a trip that would forever shape my perspective and, in time, influence my woodworking. The captivating culture I encountered during this educational adventure introduced me to the wonders of Al-Andalus, a land steeped in history and art.

Uncovering the Hidden Treasures

Al-Andalus, now known as Andalusia, is often omitted from the American educational system. But within its borders lies the incredible story of the Córdoba Caliphate and Umayyad dynasty, which gave birth to one of the great civilizations of the western world – a civilization known as the Moors. Despite their diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, the Moors left an indelible mark on the region.

As someone who had little knowledge of the art and history of Moorish Spain, I was in awe of the architectural marvels I encountered on my journey.

Architectural Marvels

Two places stood out in particular: the Mezquita in Córdoba and the Alhambra in Grenada. The Mezquita, a grand Mosque complex dating back to 784, featured a mesmerizing display of keyhole arches supported by a forest of columns. The Alhambra, once a small fort, had been transformed into a majestic royal residence and became the seat of power for the Moorish emirs.

Both sites showcased the intricate geometric patterns and abstract floral motifs that characterize Moorish art and design. These artistic elements, along with a tradition of aniconism, where art takes on a distinct geometric and abstract form, give Moorish design its unique and captivating appeal.

Mezquita Image Source: sanaulac.vn

Rediscovering a Forgotten Art

Unfortunately, Moorish design faded into obscurity after the fall of Moorish Spain in 1492. It was not until the late 19th century, during the Arts and Crafts movement, that Western society developed a fascination with this captivating art form, considering it mysterious and alluring. However, Moorish design had always maintained a connection with the West over the centuries.

In 2017, I had the opportunity to participate in a museum exhibition at the Fruitlands Museum in Massachusetts. The exhibition aimed to showcase the history of furniture in Massachusetts, and I was tasked with selecting a piece from the museum's collection and creating a reimagined version to be displayed alongside the original.

A Rediscovered Inspiration

As I explored the collection space, my attention was immediately drawn to a set of small hexagonal tables with a distinct Moorish style. These tables, originating from the Stevens-Coolidge home in North Andover, Massachusetts, were part of the diverse furniture collection belonging to Helen Stevens Coolidge and her husband, John Gardner Coolidge.

The tables, created around 1910, were made from walnut and cherry, reflecting the Arts and Crafts tradition. However, they also showcased a strong influence from the Moorish revival fashion popular during that period.

Inspired by this collection, I decided to reinterpret these tables as a complete set of three. When nested together, they formed a cluster of arches reminiscent of the Mezquita's hypostyle hall. When stacked on top of each other, they resembled the minarets found in the architecture of mosques throughout Al-Andalus. When placed side by side, they created a cascading effect, reminiscent of the arcaded madrassas surrounding the Mezquita.

Moorish Design Image Source: sanaulac.vn

Infusing the Essence of Moorish Design

Each table in my reinterpretation had its unique touch. The smallest table featured a gold interior, evoking the lavish and gilded interiors commonly found in Moorish architecture. The middle table had beadwork along its corners, accentuating its form, while the largest table incorporated a textured and stippled surface with a turquoise glaze, reminiscent of the intricate mosaics adorning many facades in Moorish architecture.

This collaboration allowed me to tap into my passion for history and research, delving deep into the sources that shaped Moorish art and architecture. It reminded me of the boundless beauty and knowledge waiting to be explored beyond the confines of Western Euro-American traditions.

Embracing Diversity and Inspiration

I invite you to expand your horizons and seek inspiration from the rich traditions of cultures beyond our own. Euro-America does not hold a monopoly on style, culture, or tradition. Every corner of the world holds its own unique beauty and a captivating history of art, woodworking, and architecture.

So, let's venture into the unknown, embrace the unfamiliar, and uncover the hidden treasures that lie in the rich tapestry of our global heritage.

For more information about the Fruitlands Museum and the Stevens-Coolidge Place, visit the following websites: