To this end, an easel can either help or hinder the working process. In my experience, the most useful easel I have is one I bought just after my painting studies at the National Academy of Design. I believe my instructor, Ron Sherr, recommended a Whitecross easel because of its great versatility: it was light, strong, able to hold a range of canvas sizes, even those up to seven feet high, and could fold down to a mere 5 feet tall by 5 inches wide!
|Folding the Whitecross|
I ended up buying the floor model at New York Central Art Supply, since it seems that was all they had in stock when I visited with Helen, then my girlfriend, on our frequent rounds of the downtown art stores. The easel has literally supported my art — at least while in progress — ever since.
The Whitecross is a radial-style easel, made of a pale, tight-grained wood, and held together with solid silver hardware. To operate the easel, one turns a very large, heavy butterfly nut at the small base. This releases the trio of short legs, allowing them to rotate down from the telescoping mast. After splaying the legs, and tightening the butterfly nut, the easel stands upright, or can be tilted at whatever angle is desired.
The shelf, well-designed to hold the canvas and a few brushes, can be lowered or raised along the front part of the mast, allowing a the artist a great range of canvas dimensions. The back part of the mast, which slides within the fixed front part, can be extended vertically up to 8 feet high.
One convenient aspect of the Whitecross easel's shelf is that the screw is long enough that the wingnut can be reversed enough to rotate the tray vertically while still attached to the mast.
Atop the adjustable canvas holder that slides within the back mast is a brass label that declares proudly:
Handmade by Craftsmen
In the first of a series of paintings I did in New York that focused on Artists and Models in the studio, I included the Whitecross easel at the far left.
|Artist and Model I, oil on canvas, 48" x 72"|
For many years, I searched for another Whitecross easel without success. Just recently, though, Helen came across a variant on this type, called a Thames easel, sold by Winsor & Newton (though I don't know where it is made). It is available in the States at Plazaart.com.
|Thames easel; Extended at right|
This easel shares much in common with its older brother, with a few small differences, these being:
1. The wood is a bit darker with a slightly more pronounced grain. (Beechwood, apparently). The Thames hardware is gold; the Whitecross, silver.
2. Slightly different dimensions. (See diagram)
The Thames easel is 1 inch shorter with the back mast retracted, but the same height (8 feet) when extended. Both easels weigh about the same,approximately 15 lbs or 7 kegs.
3. The Thames mast contains an additional sliding wooden clamp, so it can hold two canvases or panels simultaneously.
4. The Thames's large butterfly nut is asymmetrical, being designed to be adjusted with a foot as well as a hand.
5. The tray screw is too short to allow the tray to be rotated vertically in place. Instead, the tray must be removed to reduce the easel to its thinnest dimension (See image.)
6. A noticeable design difference between the two easels has to do with the radial mechanism holding the legs. I like the simplicity of the Whitecross, with its flush front, as opposed to the raised profile of the Thames, so that the legs, instead of resting against one another, don't meet:
|Differences in design of the Whitecross (left) and Thames|
Both are useful, convenient, and elegant. While I prefer the Whitecross (something about the way the proclamation on the workers' label tracks perfectly with the soundness of their product) the Thames is a welcome resurrection of this singular type of easel.
Check out this brief video on YouTube demonstrating the easel setup.