Woodworker Manual #4: Lester Margon -- Superb Renderer of Masterpieces of Western Furniture

< b>Lester Margon, 1892-1980

Born January 26, 1892, in New York, NY; died December, 1980; son of the manufacturer, Moses Margon and Flora Somerfeld. A designer of interiors and furniture, Margon studied at Cooper Union, Columbia University, Mechanics Institute of New York, and New York. In the mid-1930s, Margon began a long association with Home Craftsman, including collaborating with the HC editor, Harry Hobbs, in publishing in book form, in 1949, Construction of American Furniture Treasures. A corrected edition, paperback, was issued by Dover Press in 1975. In addition, Margon issued his museum drawings of furniture in four other books:

World Furniture Treasures, Reinhold, 1954;

Masterpieces of American Furniture, Architectural Book Publishing, 1965;

Masterpieces of European Furniture, Architectural Book Publishing, 1968; and

More American Furniture Treasures, 1620-1840: An Anthology, Architectural Book Publishing, 1971.

The info above is adapted from Contemporary Authors. However, this account is far too sketchy for such an important contributor to the annals of amateur woodworking. (Below, check out what Wallace Kunkel says about Margon's role in launching Kunkel's "second" career as a woodworker.)

As Editor of Home Craftsman, Harry Hobbs Significant

Harry Hobbs edited Home Craftsman for many years. HC, one of America's pioneer woodworking magazines, started out as a promotion for Walker-Turner , but, with the popularity of amateur woodworking growing exponentially in the 1930s, it soon became independent. And, if you are to judge from the content of the "letters to the editor", one of the reasons for its longtime viablity is the inspiration and challenge of Lester Margon's renderings of classic furniture pieces from the past, both European and American. In his "Introduction" to Construction of American Furniture Treasures, Hobbs writes lyrically about Margon's obvious talents and remarkable achievements, for -- in his life's work -- Margon produced a corpus of measured drawings of classic furniture that forever will be accessible to woodworkers worldwide. Because Hobbs' "Introduction" captures the spirit and character of Margon so succinctly, I am reprinting it in the box below.

margon drop front desk



They are treasured heritages of a rich past which are now housed in museums and historic shrines. Only a few persons who have the leisure and means to travel extensively have visited all the collections from which these masterpieces have been selected, and even they probably did not appreciate the designs or understand the construction as well as you will when you have studied the magnificent pencil drawings of Mr. Margon. It is as if he were taking you on a personally conducted tour to see each piece. You can imagine him to be saying:

"Here are the significant features of the design as they appear to me. Note these proportions . . . this characteristic molding .. . this skillful bit of carving ... the refinement of these lines."

He does even more than that, because he then takes the piece apart for you, as it were, and reveals every detail of the cabinetmaker's art:

how the stock was laid out and cut,

the joints made,

the molding, shaping, carving and inlaying done,

and the whole assembled.

It would be a stimulating experience to have so great a furniture expert as Mr. Margon explain all this, and yet that is exactly what he does in this book through his inimitable pencil drawings -- among the finest furniture plates ever produced -- and the numerous construction detail drawings, most of which are in perspective for easy understanding.

To this work Mr. Margon brings a lifetime's experience. A native of New York City, Mr. Margon's accomplishments in architecture and interior decoration at Cooper Union won the attention of Mr. Wilson Hungate, then head of the design department of the great furniture establishment of W. and J. Sloane, who invited him to join the staff. Beginning as an apprentice, Mr. Margon developed into one of the designer-decorators of the organization, where he worked for seven years. At that time the leading Grand Rapids furniture factories had Sloane-trained designers. Mr. Albert Stickley -- another famous name in American furniture -- invited Mr. Margon to go to Grand Rapids, which was the furniture capital of America. There he served several of the largest factories and was sent to the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in 1925.

Upon his return from abroad, he joined the staff of The Hampton Shops in New York, and later Schmieg-Hungate-Kotzian, possibly the finest cabinetmakers in America. During this period he continued his studies. He took the Beaux Arts course at New York University, where he won a First Medal and a Second Medal in national competitions.

Several years of freelance furniture designing followed, including five study-tours in Europe. Traveling from Naples to northerly Trondjhem, he visited innumerable places and made some 5OO measured drawings of furniture in public and private collections in Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, England, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. This is perhaps the largest group of furniture drawings of this kind.

Upon his return from his last trip, Mr. Margon opened his own studio in New York, where he now specializes in the design of modern stores and their furnishings and equipment. Furniture design is still an important part of his work, and he is a regular contributor to the Home Craftsman Magazine. This volume contains the first series of his American furniture drawings to be published in book form.

We know of no one who has the good taste and excellent technique, which enables him to express in simple line the characteristics and individuality of each piece of furniture selected. He will spend a year searching for a par ticular piece and then travel a thousand miles to sketch it.

It will be noted that only once did Mr. Margon find a model outside of the United States. During a visit to Montreal, his eye was attracted by an especially fine cradle of the Pilgrim type. He thought this might well be included because of its typically American character.

As an experienced interior decorator, he feels that fine furniture of the type he describes should be seen in an appropriate setting. For this reason -- and merely as a suggestion -- he has included measured drawings of a pine-paneled wall from a room now in the Brooklyn Museum.

All lovers of fine furniture, students, craftsmen, cabinetmakers, interior decorators, architects and collectors should find in this book a wealth of material. There is no better way to learn to understand and appreciate the design of museum pieces than to see, not only the full-page plates and the photographs, but the actual, intimate details of construction. This information can only be obtained by personal study in museums. Even then, the hidden construction is often difficult to figure out. For the craftsman who wishes to build reproductions of any of these pieces, the information given is perhaps the most complete and exhaustive that has ever been published in book form.


In the Winter 1976, issue, Fine Woodworking has an article by Margon, basically a "how to" for anyone  interested in drawing measured museum  pieces, but also full of autobiography. Details include training at Cooper Union Art School in new York City -- not dates given but I assume early 1920s -- followed by brief work with Stickley Brothers in Grand Rapids. A result of this sojourn, Margon was selected to make a trip to France, where he traveled widely making measured drawings. His experience, though, was not entirely enjoyable.

Another biographical accout is in the Dover edtion of Construction of American Furniture Treasures. Hobbs includes details about Margon's association as an illustrator with Gustav Stickley, although the length of this association is not indicated

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On the right -- for the role played by Lester Margon in Kunkel's career in woodworking -- is the tribute that Wallace Kunkel gave Margon in How to Master the Radial Saw!