I first saw photos of Chester Cornett’s chairs in Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree in 1978; but didn’t know it. For various reasons, some of the chairs in that book are attributed, some are not. There’s three of them in there; here’s one:
Some years later, Drew Langsner showed us a VHS of Chester, called “Hand Carved” produced by Appalshop, a non-profit dedicated to “document, disseminate, and revitalize the lasting traditions and contemporary creativity of the region.” That film is where I first learned the story of Chester. I guess Alexander then showed me The Hand-Made Object and Its Maker a book by Michael Owen Jones. This was published in 1975, and expanded and revised as Craftsmen of the Cumberlands: Tradition and Creativity in 1989.
So when I went out to Lost Art Press last week for our box-making class, the day off after the class entailed a trip to the Kentucky Folk Art Center https://www.moreheadstate.edu/Caudill-College-of-Arts,-Humanities-and-Social-Sci/Kentucky-Folk-Art-Center in Morehead to see some of Chester’s chairs.Chris Schwarz and Brendan Gaffney had been on a Chester binge in recent years – here’s a blog search at Lost Art Press for Chester Cornett https://blog.lostartpress.com/?s=chester+cornett
Brendan was my guide, and he’s not only seen a lot of Chester’s chairs; he’s made a version of one of the 4-rocker/8-legged chairs – https://www.burn-heart.com/fatman-poptart-rocker/onf4ok366nyfz8kmkjpyi2rd4c3cft
This white oak rocker astounded me. Virtuoso craft.
Those rear posts are probably around 1 3/4″ or more in “diameter”; we estimated the mortises for the arms and stretchers to be about 3/4″ – so not delicate in any way.
I forget the whole inscription; Brendan translated it for me. This is some of it, I might have some of it garbled. The price, $90, is also written the top slat.
Trouble Creek Kentucky”
Now -before anyone makes fun of this chair – I’d like to see you make it with a handful of tools. A four-rocker, eight-legged walnut rocking chair with hickory bark seat.
This one is walnut & hickory bark. The seat rungs might be hickory too.
The most basic chair is itself a beauty. I think this is what Chester called a “settin’ chair”.
The relief shaved in the rear post to make it easier to bend is in the radial plane here, not the growth ring plane like JA always did. I just was looking at some of Kenneth Kortemeier’s chairs, and was planning on swiping this idea from him. Then here it is on Chester’s too.
The front post, oriented just like JA taught us, medullary rays bisecting the angle between the front and side rungs.
It was amazing to see these chairs in person. Regardless of the design debate about his over-blown rockers, Chester was often in full control of his tools in making a chair. The oak rocker here is a perfect example. I’ve thought of him as an idiot-savant whose gift is chair-making. His sad life was a struggle; but he was a natural with a drawknife and brace and bit.
Here’s a feature on Chester from the Cincinnati Magazine https://www.cincinnatimagazine.com/features/chester-cornett-humble-chair-maker-mad-genius/
6 thoughts on “Chester Cornett chairs”
“Made buy $90.00
Engle mill and
It was great having you down Peter, and next we’ll go see the mother lode!
I do like the look of the radial plane as the face surface on the relief cuts. Interesting chairs for sure !
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I recently discovered Chester Cornett myself, and have been on a binge since that. I was made aware of him when I first saw Brendan Gaffney’s Fatman Pop-Tart Rocker. Thanks for this post, Peter. Very interesting to see. It is immensely inspiring to see how his creativity just flows through his work and manifests into unusual and beautiful chairs.
The chairs are certainly folksy and odd, but demonstrate huge skill to execute. Thank you for introducing us to Mr. Cornett, one day I will have to visit the folk art center to see them in person, meantime your photos are great. Thanks
Always enjoy the history class