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.
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.
Back when I made furniture in a living history museum I got to practice all day long – a pretty good way to learn. Sometimes the chests I made there were based on careful examination of period examples, other times all I had to go by was a photograph & I had to fill in the details based on what I know of period practices. Lots of leeway. Here’s a few that aren’t in the book:
This one is loosely based on a picture in Chinnery’s book Oak Furniture: The British Tradition. I remember when Vic and Jan Chinnery came to visit, Jan was surprised to see this chest – the original was in their house!
This one is totally “made-up” in that it is not copied from any one source. I made it in 1997. All white oak. Probably pitsawn; I was younger then, we all were.
H:25” W:47 ¼” D:16 1/8”
Here’s part of my inlay phase! Also made-up. Also pitsawn, or mostly so. These all got used hard, and for most years got a new coat of linseed oil every year. That’s part of why they darken so. Some of the secondary wood on this one is elm, the lid panels & the end panels. Maybe the floor boards too.
These photographs came about because I was forgetting which ones I had made or my co-workers made before me – so at one point I started shooting them each winter as I cleaned them and tried to catalog them. Some we shot when they were new – this one was late in my career there – I’d guess around 2004-2005, which is when I first saw chests with that wide center muntin.
There’s one of these “5-panel” (really 14 panels!) chests in the book. This one I made for a PBS series called Colonial House in 2003. It’s a copy of two chests from Marshfield, Massachusetts…
One more from that Colonial House batch – I built four houses’ worth of furniture for that project. I remember later working on the motif that’s carved on this top rail & muntins – thinking I had never done it before. Clean forgot about this chest!
H:29” W:47 ¾” D:19”
There’s no measured drawings in the book, but it shows you how to make a chest, and how to figure out the dimensions. Each one’s different, as you can see in this sampling. So glad I don’t have to move them around and clean them every winter anymore…but I’m glad I have even these basic photos.
OK – one more. In process, April 2011 it says. This one’s in the book incidentally; some process shots show it underway.
Like most of my work, there’s a story behind this book. For eons, Jennie Alexander & I worked on “the book” – our collaboration about making a joined stool. It was to serve as “an introduction to joinery”. We spent so long on it that I used to drop out for years at a time, “you finish it” I’d say. Then JA’s health got dicey and s/he said “When I go to the boneyard, promise me you’ll finish the book.” Gladly, says I, knowing it’d be easier that way…
One thing led to another, and I wanted to write a book about making joined chests; complete with carving…but first, I had to get Alexander’s book out of the way. The plan was that I would provide the text and photos for the joined stool book, then JA could do with it as s/he pleased. Chris Schwarz has told the story of how one night after some woodworking show, he held court in a local pizza joint – “trying to start a publishing empire” I think was his recent quote. I was about starved to death, and was just looking for someone to have dinner with, but that meal really opened up a new world for me.
I had never written a how-to book before; I had been published a good bit, but it was all academic furniture history stuff. When Chris told me how LAP worked, I was thrilled with the idea of being a part of it – so I went down to Baltimore, wrestled with Alexander and we ended up finishing the Joint Stool book finally.
Then I went back to the carved chest book; and all kinds of hell broke loose. Somewhere in there, I started teaching, which meant I traveled. For someone who’d never driven a car until age 24 or so, I started to get around some. I ended up in places I’d never even heard of – imagine that Australia is actually real. Also mixed in there, I quit the job I never imagined I’d leave. So at that point, I had to figure out where I was going to set up shop. My good friend Ted Curtin lent me his for a while, then Pret Woodburn & I built mine here…so this book, like the first one, had a long gestation period. Lots of interruptions. But now it’s done.
I was splitting out parts for ladderback chairs yesterday afternoon, and there was one piece that was too good for chairs – dead-flat radial plane, 6” wide by three feet long – so today I’ll begin planing that stuff and in May I’ll make a box from it. The trees talk to Jögge Sundqvist. I get it. They make decisions for me sometimes. I might want one thing, but the tree has another thing in mind. It’d be stupid to not listen.
I’ve spent a lot of time with Jögge Sundqvist in the last 2 years, a couple weeks in Maine in 2015, then in 2016 at Plymouth CRAFT’s Greenwood Fest and then in Sweden at Täljfest…then we toured around Sweden for a couple weeks. Think I’ve had my fill? Nope.
Before I left Sweden, I made sure that if schedules permitted, he’d come back to the US for Greenwood Fest 2017. Lucky for us, the schedules just made it…(he has an exhibition back home right after our event.)
Jögge’s craft skills are firmly rooted in tradition, and his teaching is top-flight. His craft permeates his life; they can’t be separated. He makes you better at woodworking. If you’ve not been around him, here’s your chance. His 2-day class will be making a handle and sheath for a sloyd knife, and learning some carving to go with it. Then in the festival he’ll be doing some demonstrations, and short sessions…spoon carving, decoration – there’s lots to cover.
I wrote this post tonight because it was just announced by Lost Art Press that us mono-linguists will be able to read his book once and for all. They are publishing a translation of his updated book Slöjda i trä. Great combo, Jögge & LAP.
It’s been a summer of inspiration for me in many ways. One way is books. So much book inspiration that I’m building a new bookcase. Just have to see where I can fit it. Here’s a few titles I’m rummaging around in these days.
First up, a gift. Thanks, Jögge.
It’s Jögge Sundqvist’s book Slöjda I Trä (something like “Handicrafts made in wood”) – the publisher is Natur & Kultur, Stockholm. It’s a revised edition of an earlier book of the same title. More projects, more text. Nice clear drawings and diagrams, great photos and COLOR! As you expect from Jögge… it’s in Swedish. http://www.bokus.com/bok/9789127148833/slojda-i-tra/
Another revised edition that just arrived here this week is Victor Chinnery’s Oak Furniture: The British Tradition.
One of the great thrills of my joinery career was getting to know Vic. His book originally came out in 1979, and stayed in print for eons. But since Vic’s death, his wife Jan has been working on revising it for a new edition, and they’ve taken a great book and made it better. When Jan wrote to me asking for help contacting American museums for photos, I thought it was mostly to just add more color. But the new edition is way more than that, there’s better photos all around, lots of color added, it’s true. But many new figures. The old photo numbering system is still there. Each photo is numbered according to the chapter it’s in, thus fig. 3:210. When Jan and the editors have added new items, they get a small letter after the figure number, thus there is a fig. 3:210a, where there wasn’t before. Most of the pictures are bigger, thank-you very much. The book is bigger, which helps. In an age where it seems like everyone but me is running around looking at things on small screens, it’s nice to have some images get bigger rather than smaller. If you are serious about oak furniture, then you’ll want to get this new edition. I’m glad I did…it’s well worth it. (and yes, the cover of Oak Furniture is still a walnut chair. Nice one, Vic). http://www.antiquecollectorsclub.com/uk/store/productdatasheet/9781851497157
I had mentioned some time ago about Lost Art Press’ new edition of Ants Viires’ Woodworking in Estonia. (I just now realized that’s 3 revised books in a row…weird)
I wrote a short intro to it, just some notes about my exposure to the original English edition. Now we get better, clearer illustrations, and a text that is related to what the author wrote. And you can buy it easily, whereas the 1969 edition was like hen’s teeth. Suzanne Ellison wrote a nice history of the book, and how it got to be translated and published by the US government back in the 1960s. If you’re not familiar with the book, the author travelled his native countryside in the 1950s and 60s, recording in photographs, drawings and notes the woodworking practices in the countryside, which he reckoned were soon to disappear. Much of the work presented relates to agricultural work; but lots of it is things for the home – cooperage, boxes, some spoons, some furniture. What always strikes me is the familiarity with the material these craftsmen had. A must-have for green woodworkers… https://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/woodworking-in-estonia
In some ways, this next book is similar, in that it’s about knowing the properties of trees.
This one, however, is new, and written by woodworkers, it is the Swedish book Slöjden börjar i skogen – The title roughly translates to “Craft begins in the Woods.” How to use what sort of tree where, what sort of growth – straight, crooked, hard wood vs soft. I bought mine at Sätergläntan’s great craft store, an amazingly inspiring place. I have just started to work out some of the text via Google translate. It’s enough to get the gist of it. (here’s the link to Sätergläntan’s store; it’s available elsewhere, but I know nothing about who ships where… http://www.saterglantan.com/butik/butiken/litteratur-sv/slojden-borjar-i-skogen/ )
I had seen this one on Jarrod Stone Dahl’s blog, after one of his earlier trips to Sweden. I haven’t turned a bowl in 2 years, but hope to get to it again before too long. This book was one of those things where I thought, I’m not going to see this again, so better get it now. Might need it later.
Continuing the Swedish theme, when I got home, I was searching used books for one on Swedish vernacular furniture. I didn’t find one yet, but I did find Swedish Folk Art: All Tradition is Change.
(edited by Barbara Klein and Mats Widbom, published by Harry Abrams, 1994) It’s an exhibition catalog of sorts. Lots of great painted interiors for one thing, and there is a good deal of furniture and other decorative arts in it. It’s a very nice book. Makes me want to decorate everything in sight.
I also got the Lost Art Press edition of Charles Hayward’s articles titled The Woodworker: the Charles Hayward Years. I got both volumes, seems silly to scrimp on this sort of reference material. Lots of depth to the ideas, there’s both fundamental and advanced information in there. With this much content, every woodworker is going to come across stuff they don’t agree with, but there’s still many good concepts. (For instance, I hate the way 20th-century woodworkers scribble all over their stock with pencils – all those stupid wiggly lines. Ugh.) All in all well worth having, it gets the usual Lost Art Press treatment, nice production.
One last woodworking book, a gift from our friend Masashi Kutsuwa.
It’s about a chair he’s been studying in Japan, based on a Vincent Van Gogh painting; https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/vincent-van-gogh-van-goghs-chair hence the nickname “Van Gogh chair”. Masashi’s facebook page has some details about the project, starting with Tatsuaki Kuroda’s 1967 trip to Spain to see these chairs being made…this link includes a short film of one of the Spanish chairmakers.
The book traces the introduction of this chair, via imports, into Japan; all the way to Masashi and students making them now in Japan.
And while I was in Sweden, I got 2 books on birds there – I used this one a lot; and I didn’t see the woodpeckers shown below, but I was ready for them…it’s a very good bird book. One thing, the maps are large enough to see…
The next one was pure indulgence. I have a couple other Lars Jonsson books; they’re bird books and art books. I like both.
Lost Art Press just announced they are now taking orders for their new translation of Woodworking in Estonia – go order yours, don’t even think about it. I saw it as they were working on it, it will open your mind about woodworking.
If you ever thought you’ve seen this book based on the 1969 US version, forget it. You ain’t seen nothin’. If you wasted your eyesight on the online version that was floating around some years ago, even worse. Now you’ll be able to see what this book is meant to be.
Congrats, Chris, John & the rest of LAP cohorts. Nice going.
This note from Craig D touches on just why we used a joint stool as the project in our introduction to 17th-century joinery book…you only need a short section of a log. Many find it daunting to go out & secure a large oak log. But Craig says he used an “urban” white oak that had already been cut to firewood lengths. Here’s his note & stool:
Hi Peter – I thoroughly enjoyed the Joint Stool book and used the information to build this stool from an urban white oak that had been cut into long firewood logs. Quite enjoyable and very informative.
Thanks to you and Jennie for writing the book and your blog.