My customer tapped on the door lightly I was expecting him. I had recently completed his porch rocker, one chair in the queue of many. Wednesday mornings have become routine for pick-ups.He was probably in his late 30s, and arrived promptly by appointment.
I am always apologizing for the state of my "living room" which really is more looking like studio space when I am ensconced in weaving projects. Bits of reed and cane linger in sofa creases and under chair runners until I take to the space like a whirlwind with broom in hand. But, he didn't even seem to notice. His stare was fixed on the chair.
Even though I have set my intuitive skills set on respite (that's a whole other blog) I could sense he was here....but not.
I'm used to emotional responses when someone gets their beloved chair back. They wouldn't have brought it to me if they didn't care about it.
This was different. He ran his hands over the seat, feeling the texture and inspecting the weave. He was quiet and misty-eyed. I didn't want to interfere with his thoughts so I gave him a few moments before I half-whispered "you ok?"
"I wish my mother and grandmother could see this. But they are gone. It was almost thrown away but I decided to hold onto it"
Many of my projects are indeed, family pieces.He finally looked up. "This used to sit on my grandmothers porch at the beach in Maine. I went there every summer. Sundays, after breakfast, I would take the comics out of the stack of Sunday papers and sit in this chair to read them. I was about 8 years old. I remember reading the funnies, and then running my hand over the seat and feeling the weave. I loved the bumps and dips. I used to trace the patterns with my finger. I loved the sun and the breeze on the porch and to rock in this chair"
There was another pause."This feels just like it used to. Thank you"
It was then I decided I wasn't simply repairing chairs....I was also repairing memories.
I work with a lot of of different styles of chairs and they all have their purpose.
A lot of them are functional. sit down to dinner. Sit at a desk. Sit for a portrait. Sit. Sit. Static. Sit.
And then...there's the rocking chair. Or in this instance, the porch rocker.
I started this off thinking about favorites. Sometimes it's not appropriate to single out favorites. Children. Grandkids. Friends. Coworkers. Ex's.. Each one has their own endearing qualities that makes them unique and makes you happy in their own way.
Some are kind. Some are stoic. Some are always available and some you have to attempt to interpret.
The porch rocker has one aim. One huge function. It helps you...relax. When you sit in it's wide seat you can feel the grace of it's ample arms, so wide your fingers can easily splay out on the ends, tracing the wide curve up front. The back is tall enough to rest your head. Your feet rest on the floor (unless your a kid..then you can joyfully swing your legs)
A nudge gets the chair in motion. If your lucky, there's still a creak or two singing in the wooden frame. Two creaks are a harmony. Three or more creaks? It's a symphony.
I enjoy working on a rocker because I know it's end purpose. I appreciate the history and the New England vibe to it. (read more about the history below)
Here's a small gallery of work-in-progress of this gorgeous Keene NH rocker...
They had hunted down a seatweaver by visiting about 8 different antique shops , a mission that seemed like they were looking for hen's teeth! (note to self, send out postcards to antique stores)
They were happy to find a local caner/weaver/restoration person close to them. There are a few of us in CT, but few and far between. When I dropped off the chairs, they were so excited..and she knew I used social media.
"Wait ! You have to take our pictures in the chairs! But...not in this blouse...let me go change!"
I chuckled. "You seem pretty excited about these rockers?!"
"Well...they've only been in the basement 40 years...we're really excited to be able to finally sit in them!".
The rockers at the top of the page were another family heirloom. They rest on an expansive porch at a family home on the CT shoreline , ready to lull their family on their vacations.
It's a family home and has been for over 100 years.
The rockers are part of the family, and the owner told me " I am trusting you with these chairs which have been in the family for many decades!"
They had been at the house for 50 years, and his wish was to enjoy them for the next 50 years
This photo compares them with 3 done, one waiting...it's a big difference.
They were drenched in Howards Restore-a-finish and sealed with Howards Beeswax and orange oil polish, that even has a UV sunscreen. They are woven in the traditional New England Porch Weave with binder cane (rattan) and have an exterior grade cushion in the bottom.
Who can argue with a view like this?
Here's a little history of the Keen New Hampshire porch rocker industry. You can find more at Exploring the Past in Nelson, New Hampshire
I love this picture and the connection it also has to the agricultural community.
After a fire in 1877 in Nelson NH:
"The Colony’s rebuilt the factory, but when they did so they equipped it with machinery to manufacture chairs.
By the mid 1880s the company employed 30 to 50 people and made 25,000 to 30,000 chairs annually. These were carried to Keene where they were finished and then shipped by rail across the country and beyond.
Mrs. Grover Cleveland ordered two Colony rockers specifically for the White House when she was first lady. The second chair factory on the stream was producing some 7000 chairs and 2000 four-foot settees each year. Chair manufacture was now the dominant industry in the village.
George Burdett operated a third substantial chair shop on the brook, but soon found that the Colony’s controlled the water flow so tightly that it was more effective for him to move his business to Keene.
The chair shop provided another source of income for the remaining farm families. Local families would visit the mill and pick up chair seat frames and rattan, carry them home, weave the seats of the chairs, and return them to the factory where they were paid a few cents for each seat completed.
This income helped support the local economy and the families on the dying farms for a number of years. My great grandparents traveled over the hill from Center Pond in Stoddard to get chair seats; they could make up to $15.00 a month during the winter weaving seats which was an important supplement to their meager farm income."
Alan F. Rumrill Executive Director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County
Note* I'll be the first to admit I get more than a few cents a seat to repair rockers....now.
I love teaching, and I'll be doing a spring class near Coventry CT soon
If you'd like to be notified of when a class is scheduled, subscribe to my email list at www.reduxforyou.com or sign up for notifications here
For additional class ideas go HERE
If you're interested in a porch rocker of your own...bring me one to repair or choose from an inventory I have on hand. I can custom design one for you using the old stock I have been collecting. I can pass a lot of chairs now (no loud braking anymore) but for porch rockers? Yes, I still look for them....and they still make me brake.
Thank you for sharing part of your day to see what I do with mine.
Sue Muldoon divides her time between 3-dimensional and 2-dimensional work. She bounces back and forth between photography, web design and graphic design to seatweaving (chair caning, wicker repair, rush, splint, etc.) and basket weaving.
Basketry started as an add-on to seat weaving because there was material begging to be used in more than one format.
Sue’s career has always been creative, from wallpaper hanging and interior painting to a lengthy career in the floral industry as designer and merchandiser. Wood carving, furniture refinishing and upcycling furniture in novel ways using unique materials like leather belts, ties and alpaca wool set her apart from traditional seatweaving methods.
Color is rampant and unapologetic.
Where some might see a chair, Sue sees a statement. She spends the majority of her time now repairing seats (an unabashed “chairnerd” and webmaster of The SeatWeavers Guild, Inc) but enjoys branching out into basketry.
She considers her seatweaving work to be part functional and part emotional. Along with repairing chairs, she repairs the memories that are attached to seats that are in demise and disrepair. The joy on a client’s face when they see family history brought back to functionality is inspiring.
Her photography and design work enable her to get the word out about what she does, and her skills in social media are in demand from farmers markets, growers, artists and authors.
Creating special baskets for her most rapt audience, her 3 and 8-year-old grandsons, keeps Sue busy and inspires her to teach them to appreciate nature, natural materials and art.
A frequent instructor at various sheep, wool and fiber festivals and art retreats and farmers markets, she enjoys sharing seatweaving and basketmaking to new crafters and artisans.