Stage on Main shows late Orange resident’s marquetry furniture

  • Cynthia Henley shows the intricately detailed marquetry work of her late father’s at the exhibit “Peek Into the Drawers of Ralph L. Henley’s Marquetry Furniture” at Stage on Main in Orange on Saturday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Cynthia Henley, from left, Sue Simonds and Claire Theriault explore the exhibit “Peek Into The Drawers of Ralph L. Henley’s Marquetry Furniture” at Stage on Main in Orange on Saturday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Sue Simonds, right, and Claire Theriault explore the exhibit “Peek Into The Drawers of Ralph L. Henley’s Marquetry Furniture” at Stage on Main in Orange on Saturday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Intricately detailed marquetry work on display during the exhibit “Peek Into The Drawers of Ralph L. Henley’s Marquetry Furniture” at Stage on Main in Orange on Saturday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Intricately detailed marquetry work and paintings on display during the exhibit “Peek Into The Drawers of Ralph L. Henley’s Marquetry Furniture” at Stage on Main in Orange on Saturday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 2/9/2020 4:52:38 PM

ORANGE — It all started with an old seaman’s chest.

Orange resident and artist Ralph L. Henley (1915-2002) was always creative, having attended art school in Boston as a young man, and having painted many scenes of the town of Orange.

But, on the side, he also practiced one particular art form that became quite familiar to his family: marquetry, the craft of using different colored pieces of wood to create inlaid scenery or images on items like furniture.

“Peek into the Drawers of Ralph L. Henley’s Marquetry Furniture” is an exhibit of Ralph L. Henley’s marquetry furniture currently at Stage on Main, 17 South Main St. Until Saturday, visitors will get the chance to view the late resident’s exquisite marquetry furniture pieces, with inlaid designs, ships, birds and other animals gracing the furniture.

“There are two themes: nature and the seafaring life,” said Cindy Henley, Ralph L. Henley’s daughter, who has been at Stage on Main during most of the exhibit’s open hours to answer questions about her father’s work.

“He started doing it when he fixed up his grandfather’s sea chest,” Cindy Henley said. “(He found) there was an image in there.”

Ralph L. Henley had several relatives, grandfathers and great uncles, who were sea captains. His grandfather, whose ship had wrecked, gave Ralph L. Henley his sea chest for repairs, and his interest in marquetry began.

“He would make lots of things,” Cindy Henley said, showing her father’s many drawers and cabinets currently on display. “He’d also make a lot of other things for his family. He’d make cradles. Once he made — and this is kind of a joke — a laundry container for my mother.”

A favorite piece, Cindy Henley said, is a cabinet with a marquetry depiction of an Eskimo ice fishing for a mermaid down below.

There’s also a series of drawers, each with a depiction of the USS Constitution on the bottom. The series tells a story, Cindy Henley said. In one drawer is the USS Constitution engaged in battle with the British Royal Navy’s HMS Java during the war of 1812. In the next drawer, the Java is heavily damaged, and in the third it is being blown up as the USS Constitution’s crew leaves the battle scene with British prisoners.

“Now, if I were a sea captain, I wouldn’t want to drag that ship all the way back, either,” Cindy Henley said, explaining the Americans were easily able to blow up the defeated Java because it was still full of ammunition.

Cindy Henley said her father was creative with woodworking in other ways, too. She showed a picture of a “bedroom” — two rooms with open wall in between, with Ralph L. Henley having constructed a bed to close the gap and separate the two rooms.

“It was pretty good,” Cindy Henley said with a laugh. “My mother (Myrtle Henley) had one room, he had one room and the bed was in the middle.”

Ralph L. Henley’s marquetry hobby did gain some fame in his life. At one time, it was featured in publications like Yankee Magazine, newspapers and on regional television shows — a 1983 copy of Americana Magazine, which has a feature story on Ralph L. Henley’s marquetry furniture, is available for visitors to Stage on Main to read.

But, for the most part, Ralph L. Henley’s furniture creations were for personal use by him and his family.

In fact, Cindy Henley said she didn’t know about some of the images because she and others had been keeping things like clothes in the drawers. She’d remove something from a drawer, only to find marquetry depicting geese or some other birds.

Now, things are a bit different.

“I still use them,” Cindy Henley said. “But, my clothes are in bags. I always find something I didn’t know was there.”

According to Cindy Henley, she decided to show her father’s marquetry furniture most recently to support Stage on Main, which opened last year as a venue for artists and talent from the North Quabbin region. She has shown it before at other Franklin County locations, including the Artisan’s Showroom in Shelburne Falls, the Arts Council of Franklin County, and Haley’s Antiques in Athol.

“It’s nice. He’d be happy,” Cindy Henley said. “He did it for us to use, and we used them.”

Candi Fetzer, who is involved with organizing various Stage on Main events, was at the exhibit Saturday and awed by the displayed art.

“He cuts (the wood) into little pieces and puts it just in the right place, and it’s amazing,” said Fetzer, admitting she hadn’t been so familiar with the art of marquetry in the past.

According to Fetzer, the exhibit was brought back “by popular demand.” The exhibit was first given a preview showing at Stage on Main during Starry Starry Night, Orange’s New Year’s Eve celebration, then debuted in full on Jan. 9.

But it isn’t just the marquetry on display at Stage on Main. Several of Ralph L. Henley’s paintings are on display, many of which show scenes of Orange.

There’s a painting of Johnson’s Sugar House, of West Main Street looking South and of Wheeler Memorial Library.

The late Ralph L. Henley was creative, his daughter said, and took some “artistic liberties” in some of his works. An example is a painting of downtown Orange, in which one of the buildings is purple — not the case in reality. Henley explained her father chose the color purple for the building as an homage to a friend who loved the color.

Some of Ralph L. Henley’s paintings are from private collections, and some regularly hang in town buildings, including at the library and town hall. More than 40 paintings were shown in an exhibit, “The Henley Show,” during Orange’s bicentennial celebration in 2010, Henley said.

“Peek Into The Drawers of Ralph L. Henley’s Marquetry Furniture” will be exhibited at Stage on Main, 17 South Main St., until Feb. 15. For open hours, visit the Stage on Main Facebook page at www.facebook.com/stageonmain/.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.




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