Published by The Melaleuca Press, Lot 17 Wilsons Lane, Exeter
in The Australian Woodworker Issue 119
Mike Darlow’s Turned Chessmen covers three principle areas connected with chess — history, design and the making of chessmen.
It would be rare for a book on chess that sets out to cover so many aspects to be both informative and yet entertaining in every chapter, but Mike has indeed excelled, and for this I consider it the best in his Woodturning Series. Mike has a way of expressing himself precisely in a down-to-earth style, supported by solid facts, photographs and drawings.
While he points out in Chapter One that the precise origins of chess are unknown, he takes the reader through a fascinating history of chess from India as early as 550AD to its spread through Arab countries in the Near East, moving on to Medieval Europe with Catholic influences in the design of chessmen. He even includes sections on the 20th and 21st centuries.
Written descriptions are well supported by a wide range of superb illustrations, the highlight being one of resin replicas of a king, queen and knight of the Lewis chessmen with unusually engaging faces. Mike tells us the originals were from the 12th Century and unearthed on the Isle of Lewis, UK.
No book by Mike Darlow would be complete without some references to design, but in this case he introduces us to the topic in Chapter Four by providing a flow chart for the design process, followed by a thorough analysis of the features and significance of the various chessmen. He then embarks in Chapter Five on drawings of his Lopez design and eight antique chess sets.
The woodworker is now well prepared for the next chapter that covers the making of the chessmen in a variety of materials, including the better known ones of wood, ivory and bone, often involving a combination of turning and carving. Woodturners will find much useful information and photographs on the precise methods necessary to make the various chessmen.
Turned Chessmen has been an ambitious project that should appeal to the woodworker, collector and chess player.
(Desmond Kennard is the Principal Consultant of Museums in the Making, a NSW museum/heritage consultancy. He has been playing chess since his early secondary school days with varying degrees of success. Although he is also a NSW Southern Highlands woodturner, he has not made any chessmen.)
HISTORY OF CHESS
FOR CHESS SETS