Re-creating the past

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So far in my blog, I’ve invited your input on a number of topics, but this time I have an outright question for you and I’d really like to get your thoughts on this.

As many of you may know, I’m a Civil War reenactor. I’m also currently involved in writing a book on woodworking projects from the Civil War period. I consider myself to be on the high end of authenticity when it comes to my Civil War “impression”: My uniform is perfect, my gear accurate, and when the occasion allows me to do what’s called a first-person impression – that is, when I take on the persona of a soldier from, say, 1863 – I know the dialect, the slang and all the minutiae a man from that era would know.

And yet, underneath all that façade I’m still wearing Fruit-of-the-Looms, I still have fillings in my teeth, and there’s no way I would have skipped taking my multivitamins that morning. In other words, even though I strive for a near-perfect reproduction impression, I make some exceptions. I make some compromises to the fact that I, and those with whom I interact (and, inc the case of my book, my potential readers), are really living in the 21st century.

For the projects in my book, I’m basing everything on original artifacts and/or historical records so that my reproductions are as accurate as possible. I’m guessing that when you make reproduction furniture, you do much the same thing. But the fact is that we don’t live in the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries. You can’t build a 100-percent authentic 19th-century table with 21st century materials, tools, machines, finishes and techniques.

You could make the argument that you can use nothing by hand tools – Roy Underhill does that every day – but you’re still using wood that bears little resemblance to the old growth wood, and when you use sandpaper it ain’t gonna be anything like what they used then. The point is that you sometimes willingly make exceptions to historical accuracy for the sake of modern demands.

So, here’s my question: When you make historical reproductions – and it doesn’t matter what you make or what historical period you’re reproducing – what exceptions are you willing to make, and yet still feel that when you’ve finished your piece that you’ve made a historically accurate reproduction?

There you have it. What compromises to authenticity are you willing to make when it comes to historical accuracy?

Till next time,

A.J.

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