Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Back to the beginning

Sunday morning, Jeff and I threw our bags into the back of his pickup and headed South on Highway 81. And notwithstanding essential coffee breaks, that's where we stayed for another 320miles. We were both doing something that we had not done before. Taking a road trip to visit and meet with chair and furniture makers alike and draw some inspiration from the innovative things they are all doing.

First stop, Jonesborough, Tennessee. The home of Curtis Buchanan. It had been 5 years since I had last seen Curtis's workshop. I had made my first Windsor chair there, a Continuous Arm Chair. I'm happy to say that with the exception of a new verandah on the side, nothing had changed. 

The same went for Curtis and Marilyn, who were their friendly and happy selves. It was great to sit around the table and catch up on about 5 years of goings on. Curtis's passion for his chairs and now the series of Windsor Chair plans he has started to produce and sell has certainly not waned either. It was the first time I had seen the plans first hand and I have to say that Caleb James, who drew them on behalf of Curtis, has excelled himself. The perspective that Caleb has managed to capture is outstanding.

 In fact the copy that I bought from Curtis may just end up on the workshop wall in a frame....

I could ramble on for ages about how enjoyable our time in the Buchanan household was, a wonderful dinner and a breakfast fit for royalty, but by far the most enjoyable part for me was the ability to able to talk to Curtis about his chairs, compare notes on joinery techniques and understand what was inspiring him at this point in his chair making career. 

After 30 odd years of making Windsors, it was apparent that Curtis was still experimenting and innovating. Whether it was the process he was now using to fit stretchers or hearing him excitedly recount mastering a new turning technique, it was all music to my ears. It reconfirmed for me what I learnt 5 years ago in the same place. Curtis was meant to make Windsor chairs.

Before we had to leave for our next leg of the journey Curtis made time to run through some plans for a new barstool he was developing and a few other things. Again a familiar theme reappeared. Sharing of information. Curtis retrieved a pile of plans and openly offered them to me to copy. Just the same as Pete few weeks earlier. Just the same as John Wilson the box maker ( & Curtis too on the same trip ) had done also, back in 2009. It's generous, selfless and inspiring. But aside from this, an interesting piece of  information came to light. In amongst the pile of plans was a small seat pattern for the Perch stool.

I had always known that the Perch was a collaboration between Pete Galbert and Curtis and that Dr.Galen Cranz had also played a part in it's design. But as it turned out, the plan I was looking at was the original developed on that day and clearly written on the plan was "for Hannah." 

Curtis explained that Hannah was the student who had come up with the original concept. It was certainly different from the plan I use today, which was given to me by Pete, but you could see the origins right there on that piece of card. It will make a nice addition to the introduction I give on the Perch at the start of the course I teach on the subject back home.

It had been 5 years since I first met Curtis. That trip had a profound effect on me. I returned home and began making chairs. Within a short period of time we sold our home in the suburbs and relocated to Kyneton in Victoria's Central Highlands. I resigned from my job and began teaching Windsor Chair making myself. We opened our shop and started our business.

We now teach around 100 Australians a year how to make Windsor chairs and stools, Shaker Oval boxes and Coopered Wooden Buckets. We encourage them all to keep making things long after they have left our workshop.We hope they are inspired when they leave. We encourage them all to share what they have learnt from us. We essentially try to do what Curtis did for me. 

I didn't make a chair with Curtis this time round, but I left just as inspired and content as if I'd just made ten. Thanks Curtis.


  1. There it is right there!

  2. Glen - I'm enjoying your series regarding your American road trip. I met Curtis back in the late 1980s...and his generosity stood out back then too. He's just a fabulous guy. Nice presentation.
    Peter F

  3. Thanks for dropping by Peter. I did pass on your 'hello' as you asked me to in Maine. I'm slowly getting through the trip…..Drew's next! Cheers Glen