Like Father, Like Son

The Furniture of Richard Kuehne

Max Kuehne, Custom cabinet, c. 1940

Son of the prominent painter and craftsman Max Kuehne, Richard Kuehne began learning his father’s gesso and gilding techniques from a young age. After serving in World War II, Richard embarked on a peripatetic career, working as a curator at the Cloisters in New York City, serving briefly as the director of a private museum in Saginaw, Michigan, then a shipyard welder in New York State, and finally as the Curator of History (and eventually museum director) at the West Point Military Museum. He spent 24 years at West Point before retiring to Rockport, MA where he followed in his father’s footsteps and dedicated himself fully to creating sculpted and gilded furniture. 

The present lot features intricately rendered Japonesque foliage of bamboo and peonies. It is made all the more special when one considers the painstaking process used to create it. The ancient art of gesso and gilding is an involved and laborious technique. First, Kuehne applied gesso, a plaster-like mixture of ground gypsum or chalk and glue that dries to a hard, smooth surface. Then he drew and incised the design after which he would apply the sizing, a substance which would help to affix the gold or silver leaf to the surface. After laying down the gold or silver leaf, he burnished the surface with a curved agate stone before finally applying one to two coats of protective lacquer. What remains is a beautiful testament to the craftsman’s skill and a living embodiment of a revered decorative technique first used in the 4th century BC.