A new direction in my work involves converting antique writing boxes into pieces that address the nature of a particular place or idea. The slopes I use are all antiques I buy in various states of disrepair. I take them apart to reconfigure as the particular piece requires, usually repairing them for stability while leaving the signs of use and time. I make trompe l’oeil oil paintings on the writing surfaces, then install found objects in the pen and ink compartments to enhance what it is I’m trying to say in the painted panel.
I think of the writing slope as the precursor to our 21st century laptop. The typical 19th century slope is a hinged wooden box, deeper but otherwise the shape of a contemporary laptop. When the box is opened, panels from the top and bottom meet at the hinge in a sloped writing surface. Those surfaces were typically covered in velvet or leather. There are divided compartments for inkwells, papers, and pens.
These lap desks were personal possessions, and their increasing popularity in the 19th century indicated new levels of education and mobility. Charles Darwin, George Washington, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson – they all had their writing slopes. Note the writing slope in the lower left of this detail of a painting of the midshipmen’s berth by Augustus Earle, the ship’s artist aboard Darwin’s Beagle.