Having spent a chunk of time lately working on the chair-making video, JA has been on (or in) my mind a lot lately. After she died I ended up with lots of photos, notes, drawings, etc – even after we had sent decades’ worth of notebooks to Winterthur Museum’s library. That shaving horse above is an in-between version – here’s the 1970s version below – its origin story is in the 3rd edition of the book. https://lostartpress.com/products/make-a-chair-from-a-tree That first one was beastly heavy. I made one when the book came out. Huge drawknife too. Things change.
Alexander used to mostly bore her early chairs at a drill press. But for public demos – and maybe the earliest classes – it was done at a knee-high bench with a brace & bit. One of many ways to hold the posts for boring was a 3-peg & wedge arrangement. This is an ancient method – somewhere in the notebooks (I’m not going to look it up now, I’d get lost in there) is an entry of where & when JA got onto this method. Alexander went through many different holding systems, some more Rube-Goldberg-esque than others. But she really wanted to do horizontal boring – feeling it allowed for easier sighting to see if the angle is right. Very soon after she began teaching with Drew Langsner at Country Workshops, that became the standard.
It’s funny – the horizontal boring idea came from using the AA Wood hollow auger, a tool that gave JA & friends of hers fits back in the mid-1970s. She soon dumped the hollow auger but kept the notion of boring this way.
This photo of the chair below is in the 3rd edition of the book – but I don’t think we explained it. In the late 1990s, Alexander was designing a chair to be made in some program in Costa Rica – I forget why the chair was painted this way. There must have been a reason. Maybe because the posts were ash? I used ash a lot in my chairmaking & only heard JA complain about it. Recently I got an email from Larry Barrett, who worked closely w/JA while I was off in carved-oak land – and they made chairs from ash in the first class Larry was involved in. It must have been free is all I can think.
Here’s the specs if you’d like to make one – not to scale for some reason.
Below is a low bench that was one of JA’s favorite designs – the “captured” stretcher. It’s a variation on the H-stretcher system featured in American Windsor chairs. JA filled notebooks with ideas about how to make the under-structure of a Windsor chair. She only ever made one Windsor chair, in the first class Curtis Buchanan taught at Country Workshops in 1987. But she never stopped thinking about, and monkeying with, the 3-stretchers/4 legs arrangement of the Windsor chair. This bench stemmed from that work. Here, though, the center stretcher has holes bored at each end and the side stretchers slide through it. The side stretchers fit into the legs with a round mortise & tenon – then the legs are fit into tapered holes in the bench.
Here’s one that still makes me cringe. In this version JA had a large tank made of plywood & fiberglass – tight enough to hold water. In went the oak sections, to be stored so they wouldn’t dry out. And some sat in there so long (years) they got hideously slimy & disgusting. I finally told her I would never reach into that tank again. I’d rather work air-dried oak than deal with that stuff.
Well, now I’ve got to go eat breakfast. I’ll try to shake that memory off my mind. Here’s the link to my video – https://vimeo.com/ondemand/jachairpf
3 thoughts on “some of my Jennie Alexander archives”
Thanks for those early photos. Tom
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Wish I had met Alexander
I love seeing JA especially her handwriting. There were wonderful things about my transparent that awe me in the name of father/daughter stuff. I’ll always love this part of my Jennie. Thank you so much for these wonderful blogs and videos. They warm my heart.