The German Immigrant Henry Heise (1842 - 1917)

Henry's Birthplace
Private Correspondence re:Emigration
The Heises Emigrate to Preston, Canada West
Henry Heise Becomes a Master Cabinetmaker
Henry Heise in Business for Himself
Family of Henry Heise and Dorothea Stumpfle
Descendents Remember Henry Heise

Henry Heise Becomes a Master Cabinetmaker

The German immigrants were industrious and thrifty. No one was rich, but most of them followed trades. Christoff Heise did not have enough money to open a shop in 1852, so he worked as a wage-earner at Guggisberg's Furniture and Chair Factory, until funds were secured to establish an independent business. Thus he heeded his native saying: "Drive not thy nail into the air". Where other Canadians set out shade trees, the Germans in Preston planted fruit trees; where other planted shrubs, they raised vegetables; and while others played games, they tilled their gardens".

On January 10, 1855, Christoff Heise purchased a one quarter acre plot on the south-east corner of King and Argyle streets in Preston. [47] He probably continued to work at Guggisberg's factory during the next year, while he erected the building which was to serve as house, work-shop, and store. The place needed to be equipped with tools, machines, and finishing materials. And a small inventory of stock had to be assembled before the opening.

An independent company opened a railway line from the Great Western Railway at Galt, to Preston on November 28, 1855. [48] Trade relations between Canada and the United States proved a boon to Canada's prosperity and economic growth. (The intimate relations between the two countries had influenced Canada in 1853 to replace its pound sterling currency system with the American dollar). And the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 allowed Canada to fill the American demand for her goods caused by the Crimean War, the construction of railways, and the Civil War. [49]

Christoff Heise opened an independent furniture business sometime in 1856. Carl joined him early in the venture, and ownership was placed in his name. After Henry was confirmed (April 6, 1856) and graduated (July 20, 1856), he served a seven-year cabinetmaker apprenticeship here, under his brother Carl. A set of stencils cut by Carl, and possibly designed by him as well, have been reproduced in a book entitled Stenciling in the Heise Family, privately published by Edna Smith in 1966. The originals descended through Henry Heise's family, which indicates that Henry learned to use them, and kept them after he set up business for himself in 1864.

A business card dating from the time of Henry's apprenticeship reads as follows:

Charles Heise & Co.  

"Charles Heise and Company [50]
Undertakers and Dealers
In Furniture
Preston, C.W.

Beg leave to inform the public that they have and
always keep on hand at their New Wareroom, a large variety of
Chairs, Bedsteads, Tables, Bureaus, Sofas, &c.,
which they offer to the public at exceedingly low
A liberal discount allowed to parties
purchasing large quantities.
Lumber and Farm Produce taken in exchange for Furniture.
Intending purchasers are respectfully invited, and
will find it in their interest to give them a call
before buying elsewhere.
Remember the Place--Opposite the Schoolhouse
in Preston."

Henry developed the skills of a craftsman during the term of his apprenticeship, and in 1863 he made a Meisterstück (Masterpiece) which established his credibility as a full-fledged mechanic. This massive cherry wardrobe is the masterpiece of Ontario-German cabinetry as well. It is the only known example in this tradition to have the tedious technique of marquetry inlay employed in its construction.

Marquetry was a form of inlay carried out in veneer and, since the entire process was done with a fine saw, fine and elaborate designs could be constructed. Hayward describes the cutting process:

In early marquetry various coloured woods were used and, the patterns having been pasted to the background and the various packs of wood, the outline was sawn round on a device known as the marquetry cutters' donkey. This had a sort of framesaw with superfine blades running in guides. The veneer pack was held vertically in a pair of chops controlled by a pedal, and the craftsman twisted the work round in whatever position was required for the direction of art. He sat astride the machine, and controlled the chops with a pedal. Any man doing a particular job over a number of years develops considerable skill, and this was certainly true of marquetry cutting, for although the parts were cut separately, they made a perfect fit, one within the other. [51]

The veneer Henry used was burled walnut--a difficult wood to work with at any time--cut by hand with a frame saw to a thickness of about 1/8 inch. As much wood was lost in the saw dust as was used in the actual veneer. The veneer and groundwork (here a long board intended as a vertical panel between the wardrobe's doors) were both glued, and the veneer placed in position.

A flat board known as a caul slightly larger than the groundwork was thoroughly heated and cramped down over the surface, the pressure applied at the centre at first, the object being to liquefy the glue and drive the surplus towards the edges and bring the veneer into close contact with the groundwork. To heat the caul a shaving blaze was used, shavings being piled into a brick enclosure and set alight. [52]

It was necessary for Henry to have one horizontal joint in this veneer. "The caul method was used, the edges were planed true on the shooting board, held together with a strip of glued paper, and the whole put down in one operation". [53] The paper stuck over the joint was to prevent it from opening as the glue dried out.

Henry also employed intarsia inlay in his Meisterstück. "The method used would have been to draw out the whole design and make tracings which would enable repeat patterns to be made. Many of the scrolls, for instance, were identical and as many as would be needed would be cut out of thin wood with a saw having a narrow blade". [54] Henry took these thin walnut and maple shapes, laid them down on the panels, and traced their designs with a pointed awl. The patterns were chopped, gouged, and chiselled, and a router was used to bring them to an even depth. The inlaying of these fine intricate shapes was a challenge to Henry's skills. A twentieth century critic comments that elaborate scrolls with acute or involved shapes--of the type in Henry's Meisterstück--would not be possible". [55] After the inlays were glued in place and had set, the whole surface was planed smooth.

A third type of inlay which Henry used is known as bandings. Bandings were long strips of decorative wooden patterns. They were used in veneer thickness only, but were made up in quite thick blocks of solid wood and were sawn into veneer thickness. They would have been available commercially by 1863--in the same way as moulding and wooden hardware--but Henry would have been required to make the bandings for his Meisterstück.

As the apprentice of a country cabinetmaker, Henry had to develop proficiency in trades such as turning and carving, in addition to joinery (the trade to which a town master cabinetmaker would restrict himself). Henry turned pilasters, finials, and feet for his Meisterstück. In the centre of the architecture he applied an acorn bud with fronds, and on the pediment he carved an acorn in full blossom.

Henry was an artist, and his Meisterstück is an expression of himself, his homeland, and his age. The images he created may be provincial, the perspective unscientific, and the proportions awry. But they constitute a work of art, a fusion of the Peasant Baroque tradition of rural Germany, with the Victorian tradition of backwoods Ontario. Henry was never alone, for his creations which spoke to him of life, were for him alive.

Henry's Meisterstück was the medium through which he expressed his beliefs, values, and life. It represents the fruition of his dream to become an independent master artisan.

The only example of Ontario-German cabinetry sharing stylistic characteristics with Henry's Meisterstück, is a wardrobe said to have been found in Grey County, Ontario, where two of Henry's brothers lived.

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47.Cambridge Registry Office, Lot 22 John Erb Survey, Memorial 93.
48.Breithaupt, W.H., "Waterloo County Railway History", Waterloo Historical Society, (1917), p.14.
49.Spelt, op.cit., pp.130-131.
50.Galt Evening Reporter, April 8, 1960.
51.Hayward, Charles Harold, Antique or Fake?, (London: Evans Brothers, 1970), p.212.
52.Ibid., p.202.
54.Ibid., p.209.
55.Ibid., p.210.