William Tunberg’s new approach to an old art form creates beautiful decorative furniture.

This ark was commissioned by Chapman University to hold a “Holocaust Torah” and is based on the biblical Ark of the Covenant. Among the many features, the marquetry panels on the sides were inspired by the wings of the cherubim and the mullions on the doors represent a temple menorah.

Marquetry, or the use of pieces of veneer to form a decorative covering of patterns or pictures, was once considered a high form of art, yet it almost has disappeared in the modern era. The few remaining craftsmen using marquetry today generally use it to create simple animals or nature scenes. However, artist William Tunberg has taken a different and highly original approach, using marquetry to decorate furniture and sculpture in a colorful abstract manner.

A highly-trained artist, who also specializes in drawing portraits of celebrities, Tunberg first draws his ideas by hand. The drawings are then entered into a computer and sent to a laser for cutting. Pieces larger than 18 inches are cut by hand.

“I use a compilation of drawings that, when they’re linked together and layered, form a visual story or poem,” Tunberg explains. “Each drawing starts out easily recognizable, whether it is a leaf, something mechanical, or part of a female figure. Once they are layered, it becomes non-literal and presents a singular sort of impact, like a musical composition, a series of notes and spaces which, when linked, becomes an expressive and beautiful symphony or cantata that communicates an emotion.”

Tunberg uses natural and dyed veneers of 1/32-inch thickness, glued onto the casework and pressed. After lamination, hand scraping and sanding are needed to complete the process.

“To avoid movement, I’ll make a frame with as much integrity as I can,” Tunberg says. “Structurally, I’ll use a hardwood framework and put the marquetry on 1/8-inch MDF. The piece is then chamfered, cut at a 45 degree angle and then glued onto the form.”

Tunberg’s unique artwork has found acceptance from both wealthy individuals and high-end commercial institutions. He recently created a triangular-shaped jewelry case with thin drawers for a collector of Oriental art. He also has created large wall murals for corporate settings.

Chapman University enlisted Tunberg to create colorful lecterns, and when it acquired a Torah that had been smuggled out of Europe during WWII (a “Holocaust Torah”), asked him to create an ark to display it. Based on the biblical Ark of the Covenant, the marquetry panels on the sides were inspired by the wings of the cherubim, and the mullions on the doors represent a temple menorah.

Tunberg created this beautiful floral motif, triangular-shaped piece with very thin, felt-lined drawers for a collector of Oriental jewelry.

Inside is a marquetry Star of David, while electric lights with a battery backup ensure the continuous lighting required by the Jewish faith. The top is shaped like a minaret, echoing the architecture of the building it is housed in. The Hebraic symbols for the Ten Commandments are interwoven in the side panels, while the characters above impart the message: “Choose Life.”

Tunberg says his studies in a wide range of art styles and techniques helped him develop his skills, but that he was compelled to make his own mark.

“I believe that my skill at figure drawing has made it possible for me to cut veneer,” he says. “And although I admire all the old and contemporary masters, I work very hard at keeping their influence away. It’s important that my work be original and innovative.”

And in the end, the artist says he strives to live by his lifelong credo: “It is important not to be enslaved by technique, because this enslavement will confine your imagination.”

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