Intarsia is the art of creating decorative mosaic pieces from solid wood and other precious materials. Though its exact origins are unknown — works of intarsia can be found in many ancient civilizations — the art of intarsia is considered to have reached its pinnacle in Renaissance Italy. Intarsia as an art form then began to fall out-of-favour, supplanted by the related art of marquetry that intarsia is thought to have inspired. Fortunately for us, a resurgence in interest in recent years means that we can once again enjoy this beautiful art form.
Whereas marquetry involves creating works from wood veneers, cut using veneer saws and knives, intarsia works are created from solid wood pieces, usually in thickness ranging from 1/4″ to 3/4″, ideal for working with a scroll saw.
There is much that is available to the scroll saw artist when adding light, shading, and other nuances to a particular work. Multiple wood species, with their differences in grain patterns and colours, can be used. The judicious application of stains, tints, and scorching are also available. Depth can be achieved through subtle variations in wood thickness, and various edge treatments. The choice of which techniques to use is a decision that comes from the artist, and the work itself.
The example of intarsia shown above is a work recently commissioned from Jim, to be presented as a gift to a visiting karate instructor and avid horse lover. The template and colour scheme came from photos of one of the recipient’s own horses — one of his favourites — adding sentimental value to the piece.