The Other John Hall Frames

Article - September 11, 2009

framesOne of my favorite projects ever to come out of my shop is the John Hall Frame reproduction (mine is on the left and the original is on the right). Just as a quick refresher, John Hall was one of the famous Hall Brothers who were responsible for the construction of many of the best known Greene & Greene creations.

Now many of you may remember that I was attending a week-long class being taught by Darrell Peart at the William Ng School when I had an opportunity to handle, trace, and measure the original Hall frame. During that week, in addition to meeting Gary Hall (Peter Hall’s grandson), I had the opportunity to meet Tom Moore, a Greene & Greene enthusiast and docent at the Gamble House in Pasadena, CA. Recently, Tom was able to view and photograph three more frames made by John Hall. These frames are still in the family and needless to say, its probably not easy prying them away from the hands of their owners. Fortunately for all of us, Gary made it happen and Tom was kind enough to share his photos with me. So let’s take a little trip back in time!

Carved Frame1The first frame is being referred to as “Carved Frame“, for obvious reasons. The frame seems relatively simple, which is just as well given the wildly pronounced grain and the carving on the top rail. The wood looks to be pine or maybe some wild douglas fir. What I find amazing about this piece is how John Hall let the wood guide his carving. At first glance you might not even notice its there. I imagine its much more obvious in person. Tom reported that the wood appeared to have been “liberally wire brushed for deep texture”. This carving style seems reminiscent of the wall panel carvings I observed at the Gamble house itself. I remember taking note of how the carver (one of the Hall Brothers I assume) utilized the natural grain lines in those panels and this frame clearly exploits the same natural properties of the wood. Here’s an excerpt from Tom’s observations:

“The top rail is carved, although it doesn’t show up dramatically due to the coloring. The full carved scene shows three clouds, one over the full moon, and five large birds (seagulls?).”

Carved Frame2 Carved Frame3 Carved Frame4 Carved Frame5
Island Paradise1The next frame is called “Island Paradise” and appears to be another straightforward frame. Judging from the ray fleck and grain pattern it looks to be of quarter sawn white oak. Remember that the Greene Bros. (and certainly the Hall Bros. as well) took a great deal of influence from the Arts and Crafts movement and the stylings of Gustav Stickley. So its not surprising to see white oak show up here. The joints on this frame appear to be pegged with white oak and I do see a few design features (cloud-lift-like elements) that are also present in the original Hall frame that started me down this whole path.

Island Paradise4 Island Paradise2 Island Paradise3 Island Paradise4

TenderMemories1a The final frame is called “Tender Memories” and is named after the painting within it. The most striking thing about this mahogany frame is how similar it is to some of the Gamble House frames. The big question on my mind is when was this frame made? Was it before, or after the Gamble House project? Were these Gamble House frames actually built AND designed by the Halls? Fun questions to ponder. The frame features an inner frame made of walnut and Tom speculates that the outer frame was made before they knew exactly what would go inside it.

Tom and Gary disassembled the frame to see how everything was held together. Here’s Tom’s account of the event:

TenderMemories6a“We disassembled it to see how it was done. What a surprise. In addition to the Citizen newspaper, there were free floating strips of cardboard and small pieces of wood, most a bit smaller than a wooden match, that served as shims. The frame is similar to the one in the Gable House but the Hall frame is portrait while the Gamble is landscape. In addition, the Hall splines are mahogany, while the Gamble splines are brass.”

TenderMemories3a TenderMemories4a TenderMemories5a TenderMemories2a
So after pouring over the numerous photos I received from Tom, I really started to wonder about the story behind these creations. While beautiful in their overall design, the fit and finish is not exactly at the same level as the pieces that adorn the various Greene & Greene houses. Being a woodworker myself, I can envision a few scenarios here. These frames could have simply been intended as practice. Perhaps they were done to iron out a particular technique or to play with unusual proportions. Were these just the “oops” projects? Maybe they were presents made for family members in between the paying jobs. After all, our family members tend to be a little less picky than our customers. Even without an accompanying story, these frames are a sight to behold.

I have never been much of a history buff but I just can’t seem to get enough of the Greene and Hall legacies. My Hall frame reproduction adorns a wall in my kitchen and every morning I get to appreciate it as I prepare my cup of joe. It serves as inspiration and a reminder of why I work with wood. The passion that went into John Hall’s work is the same passion that drives all of us, regardless of our skill or experience level. So I encourage you to exercise that passion as much as possible. Get into the shop and create! Just remember, even if you screw something up its not the end of the world. Give the “oops” projects to friends and family members and move on. You never know, your next creation could be your masterpiece!


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