Clifford E Martin and the Stanley #57

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Original patent drawing of the Core Box Plane, Stanley #57

For reasons beyond my grasp, my mother’s side of the family has always been somewhat shrouded in mystery. It was often a challenge to parse reality from myth in her stories, and in truth the two were often interchangeable. True, her mother tamed foundling birds and played ragtime piano, her father designed derrigibles and other early aircraft, but not much is certain beyond that. I knew her father grew up in Greenfield, Massachussettes and was among the first to graduate from Pratt’s engineering program. I still have his textbooks on mechanics and engineering graphics, dated 1911-1914, along with his Brooklyn street address.

Since my mom passed away just over two years ago I’ve found myself wanting to solve some of her family mysteries. I miss hearing her stories, and researching her background helps me cope with her absense and stay connected in some odd way. My detective work has led to reading Census Reports beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, and following leads as far as I am able via public records on the internet. The most startling discovery thus far is that my great grandfather on my mother’s father’s side, Clifford E Martin, has a few patents for wood-working tools.

On the Census Reports from Greenfield, Mass, Clifford E Martin was listed either as a Pattern Maker or Tool Maker, employed by the Greenfield Foundry, or Greenfield Tool and Dye. I know the company well because many of my favorite antique hand tools bear the Greenfield stamp. One of Clifford’s patents is for the Core Box Plane, a hand plane used to make precise concavities in wooden ‘patterns’ to be cast in iron, and was in production as the Stanley #57 into the mid-1940’s when it became obsolete to the industry.

The connection may seem mundane, but to me it is revelatory. I use many tools familiar to traditional pattern makers in my sculptures, making ‘patterns’ or ‘originals’ in wood that are then cast in bronze. Most sculptors work in clay, foam or wax before casting in bronze, but I’ve always preferred the precision and aesthetics of working in wood, not to mention the technology in the form of vintage hand tools, like the Stanley #57 Core Box Plane designed by my great grandfather, Clifford E Martin in 1909.

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