Category Archives: Women in woodworking

Arts and Crafts classics at The Wilson

Please note: The following images are snapshots I took during my visit to The Wilson. They are used here with explicit permission, which required a lot of work and a fee, as described in a previous post. I respectfully request that you avoid gaily copying and using them for your own purposes.

The research for my book on English Arts and Crafts furniture (scheduled for publication by Popular Woodworking in May 2018) entailed a visit to England last winter. Aside from immersing myself anew in the architecture and scenery of the beautiful land that produced the Arts and Crafts movement, I needed to take measurements from a chair designed by C.F.A. Voysey in 1898.

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Be still, my heart.  An original two heart chair, as the form is known, designed by Voysey, though this example flagrantly flouts its designer’s prohibition against finishing with stain or polish.

While waiting for my appointment with the chair, I took myself on a tour of the museum’s other furniture offerings, which are many and awe-inspiring. I was especially interested in seeing details of how these classic pieces were made. Here are a few I documented.

1. A cupboard, as it’s called, designed by Ernest Barnsley and made at the Pinbury workshop shared with his brother Sidney and their friend Ernest Gimson, around 1899

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What happened here? Was the joint too tight? Did someone drop the cabinet?  Look at that charming gougework on the chamfers. I love the minor variations in the pattern.

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I was fascinated to see the knotty piece used for the cupboard’s plinth. Gorgeous figure, but how many of us would have gone ahead and used this piece of oak — at least before the current slab-driven embrace of knots, splits, and such?

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Dovetail details in the top

2. A hayrake table designed by Ernest Barnsley and believed to have been built in the workshops at Rodmarton Estate in the 1920s

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I was intrigued to see how the table top had lifted from its frame, despite being anchored by buttons. As you’ll see farther down the post, this table is made with hayrake stretchers top and bottom and has no apron — an amazing piece of construction.

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Shrinkage happens. On the other hand, ooohhh! that shallow-relief carving! Love it.

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The table’s underside. Be still, my heart, again. Hayrake construction at the top, as well as at the base. Note that the craftsman/men who made this piece did not feel obligated (or, as I imagine they, being English, would have put it, “obliged”) to finish the unseen parts of the underside as assiduously as those that would be seen. You can get as religious on this point as you like, but this treatment is consistent with my training and early indoctrination (not too strong a word), which took into account the constraints imposed by the cabinetmaker’s livelihood being 100% dependent on getting the work done and paid for.

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The hayrake base: intriguing joinery detail and chamfering

3. Swan chair designed by C.F.A. Voysey for Haydee Ward-Higgs

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Are you as amazed as I am to see that these short-grain swans’ heads have survived for a century?

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Seat joinery detail: ditto re. the short grain here.

4. Hayrake table in ebony and walnut designed by Ernest Gimson for Allen Tangye

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Joinery and chamfering detail: This sings.

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Stretcher joinery detail; see close-up below

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That top! I was particularly interested in the joinery of the edging, which appears to be designed with expansion and contraction of the main top in mind. Also note the century-old detail of butterfly keys and the presence of  knots. Not visible here is a large area of lively figure formed where a limb grew out of the tree’s trunk; it’s so lively (yes, I am using that as a euphemism) that many contemporary woodworkers might well have rejected it for use in a table top, especially one as formal as this.

5. Table designed by Ernest Barnsley for Rodmarton Manor between 1920 and 1925

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Love the rhythm of that chamfered stretcher. Interesting method of top attachment, though. The table has the lovely matte finish that Gimson and the Barnsleys preferred.

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Base detail

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Joinery detail

6. Voysey two heart chair

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Seat/front leg detail

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Striking silhouette

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Trick of the eye: Seen from behind, the cutout shape of the top back rail suggests a curve but in fact is straight.

The Wilson makes available rich resources at its website, which includes a searchable directory of many holdings. I’m grateful to the staff, especially Benedict Sayers, who arranged for me to measure this Voysey chair.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

All hail the book

or…Join me for a love fest

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Roman Workbenches: tiny but mighty. Despite their lack of aprons and stretchers, those Roman Workbenches can lift some weight.

The publishing company Lost Art Press first came to my attention thanks to Jim Ferrell, a genial woodworker and tool geek who took a class I taught at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking a decade ago. After several years of prodding by Jim I subscribed to the Lost Art Press blog and gave it the occasional read. I was taken with the variety of content; I enjoy just about anything written by the whip-smart, sassy Megan Fitzpatrick, whose work used to appear at Lost Art Press more often than it has of late (give her a break; she’s restoring yet another old house while living in it), and I was intrigued that a woodworking blog published such esoterica as Suzanne Ellison’s research on peasant art in Lapland, not to mention the occasional kick-ass nugget of feminist woodworking history.

Then I read some advance publicity for L’Art du Menuisier. An oversized clothbound book of old-fashioned library quality, printed and produced entirely in the United States? With titles in French and drawings from more than two centuries ago? I had never spent $120 on a book. I especially had no business spending that much on a book of plans for such eccentricities as chaises d’aisances and voitures anciennes. But I was going to buy it, because any business that produced a woodworking-related book of such excellent form and content at this contemporary moment of e-publishing and knockdown-/wiki-up-everything was going to have my support, at least insofar as I could give it.

The Book of Plates, as the volume is also known, resonated with me because as someone who has made her living primarily from making things, I’ve been traumatized (that’s not hyperbole) by the casual way so many people complain about how much well-made things cost, only to drift into the now-well-worn lament about jobs going overseas. By the time 18th-century woodworking master A.J. Roubo entered my consciousness I’d spent a couple of decades silently talking back to those people (while sanding, cutting tenons, and routing seemingly endless dovetails for kitchen drawers) about what goes into making things of quality. The Book of Plates felt like a concrete expression of hope.

It’s not just a question of how many dollars’ worth of labor and materials go into making an object, or objects, plural; it’s a matter of basic respect. The way we think about things and their value says a lot about how we think about other people and their value, because it’s people who make things. Needless to say, this is a vast subject that could turn a comments section into a frontline battlefield, so forgive me for moving on instead of elaborating here. Even without elaboration, the point stands (if only at the level of a bumper sticker slogan).

A book is not just a means to information, but a made object in its own right. Hardly news, but worth restating. Just because we’ve been trained by our constant-consumption-dependent culture to think of books, along with most everything else, in instrumental terms, as mere vehicles for content (with the emphasis on content as the valuable component — the part that should supposedly be worth the most to us, the consumers), does not mean that’s all they are – or can or should be. You can find “information” on just about any subject at no charge on the web.

Which brings me to Chris Schwarz’s Roman Workbenches, or at least the first edition thereof. A slim, understated, letterpress-printed volume, it’s an exploration of the earliest workbenches we know of, to quote the description on its Lost Art Press page. I didn’t buy my copy; it was a gift, one I was thrilled to receive because I’d been intrigued by the quaintly formal frontispiece in advance promotions.

 

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Frontispiece with suitable Friday evening libation, a Martinez

My first reading left me with a vague sense that the book was about much more than its title might suggest. It was clearly not just about how Roman workbenches function, or how to build them, but about discovering the Roman workbench as a form of utility furniture. Schwarz is a journalist by training, so his dogged investigative compulsion and his refusal to take accepted truths without question should come as no surprise. His often-humorous account of the winding road his research took him on offers guidance to those inclined to research other disused furniture forms.

 

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I take great pleasure in discovering words such as oecus in contemporary woodworking literature. The word comes from the Greek oikos, which, millennia before it signified a brand of yogurt, was the word for house or home, and so, figuratively, a room. From it we derive English words such as economy and ecology. (Think about the implications, which are profound.)

But Schwarz’s research goes beyond the realm of words to practice. The sections on how he allowed the benches he built to teach him new ways of using his body to perform common operations more effectively are delightfully provocative (and no, these are not the reasons for the book’s PG-13 warning; I mean intellectually provocative).

 

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Another delightful word: erotes. Sounds bizarre until you learn it’s simply a transliteration from the Greek plural of the word eros, i.e., desire. This word was commonly used to connote the god of love, a.k.a. Cupid (the corresponding Latin word for desire, as in our word cupidity).

How often do we see ourselves as students of our furniture? How often do we permit a “thing” to instruct us in its optimal use, instead of just dismissing something we find inconvenient as poorly designed? Schwarz sets an example of the open-minded detective ready to consider what unfamiliar tables, chairs, or cabinets can teach us about how those who made and used them worked. Such informed curiosity is a stark contrast to the usual mode of regarding things simply in terms of their usefulness to us. This is an attitude of rare humility and respect in the context of how we think about “stuff.”

If you let Schwarz’s discoveries percolate a while, you may find, as I did, that Roman Workbenches doesn’t just relate to Roman workbenches, but suggests – at least, by implication – that all the things with which we’re surrounded (our workbenches, spoons, hot water bottles, chaises d’aisances, wrenches, mopeds, and most definitely our books, whether budget paperbacks or deluxe editions, jewels of the bookmaker’s art) are quietly shaping us while we think we’re using them. Which raises another question: What kinds of things are we allowing ourselves to be shaped by, and what kinds of people are they turning us into?–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

Bonus recipe: Thanks to my friend Mary Beth for introducing me to the Martinez

Let’s get medieval

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Workshop of the Master of James IV of Scotland (Flemish, before 1465 – about 1541).           Wikimedia Commons

Research for English Arts and Crafts Furniture: Projects and Techniques for the Modern Maker* has entailed some spirited conversations with scholars of medieval literature and art. My readings on medieval European life without the benefit of Ruskin’s rose-tinted specs have touched on such seemingly unrelated subjects as church-based charity and prostitution in Paris.

So when I saw that St.John Starkie had posted a video on The Quiet Workshop about building a medieval pole lathe, I was intrigued. At a whopping 22 minutes and 41 seconds, it’s longer than your typical video in this day of Instagram hyperlapse, and (please don’t tell me you expected “but”) well worth watching. I found it visually mesmerizing as well as informative.

Minor mea culpa: However instructive the video component may be, my special guilty pleasure is the audio, which I find downright intoxicating. There’s something about the sounds of hand-tool woodworking when recorded through a mic that transports me into an alternate realm. It’s akin to lying in bed during a storm in someone else’s house: You can pull the covers up around you and sleep even more soundly than usual, comforted by your warm, safe situation. I’ve always found the equivalent storm experience far from soothing in my own house, where I worry that the roof might leak or be damaged by the wind. No wonder people who’ve never picked up a tool themselves wax romantic on the subject of making furniture for a living.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

*working title; the book is scheduled for publication by Popular Woodworking in May 2018

E-prophylaxis

Nancy riding baled wire March 2 2016 by Bradley Cox

You’re as likely to get joy from emails like these as you are to get from Indiana to New York on a bale of old fence wire. Photo by Bradley Cox, Giant Eye Photography.

Subject line: Undangan penawaran pelatihan

Message contains attachment.

Seriously?

***

Dear Talented,

I am Talent Scout For BLUE SKY FILM STUDIO, Present Blue sky Studio a Film Corporation Located in the United State, is Soliciting for the Right to use Your Photo/Face and Personality as One of the Semi -Major Role/ Character in our Upcoming ANIMATED Stereoscope 3D Movie-The Story of Anubis (Anubis 2018) The Movie is Currently Filming (In Production) Please Note That There Will Be No Auditions, Traveling or Any Special / Professional Acting Skills, Since the Production of This Movie Will Be Done with our State of Art Computer -Generating Imagery Equipment. We Are Prepared to Pay the Total Sum of $620,000.00 USD. For More Information/Understanding, Please Write us on the E-Mail Below.
CONTAT EMAIL: bluesskistud@163.com
All Reply to: bluesskistud@163.com
Note: Only the Response send to this mail will be Given a Prior Consideration.

Talent Scout
Kim Sharma

$620,000!

***

Hi,

I hope you’re having a nice day.

We are interested in sending over a quality and relevant article to your site nrhillerdesign.com as a contribution. We have a team of writers ready to prepare a post that adds value to your site and its readers.

Is this something you might consider? If yes, I can email over the article asap. Rest assured that it will be subject to your review. Please note that we’ll also add references to our client.

Aside from the article, we will also pay an administrative fee worth $100 through PayPal.

Please email me back if this is something that might interest you.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Julia xxxxxx
Outreach Executive

Translation: We will pay you to publicize our service/product using your good name. We know better than to state this outright, which would be a violation of journalistic ethics; hence our reference to an “administration fee.” Nor do we actually want to advertise, because that would be too obvious (and probably ineffective).

If your credibility is only worth the $200 to $300 you’re likely to receive before subscribers stop following you because they realize you’ve sold out, go for it.–Nancy Hiller, Author of Making Things Work

Don’t be a Fallacy

Lost Art Press

IMG_1930[1]Editor’s note: We still have a few spots open for an evening with Nancy Hiller at 7 p.m. Aug. 12 in our Covington, Ky., storefront. Nancy will read from her book, there will be beverages for everyone and then we’ll play some games. Read more here. Or skip that and get your tickets here.

Twenty years ago, I had to replace my refrigerator. Being a person who breaks into a cold sweat at the thought of facing the wires, tubes and electrical panels that make up the contemporary fridge, I bought a new one, the lowest-end, no-frills model from Sears, which came with a warranty, instead of gambling on a used appliance. Delivery added so little to the price that I signed up for it.

Two young men arrived with the refrigerator, which they carried up the steps to the side door just off the kitchen. I know a fridge can be a…

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Things That Are Not*

*as Chris Schwarz would say

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Smart toilets that flush when you merely line the seat, prior to sitting down. (Maybe it’s just me, but I thought they were smart because they saved water, not wasted it.)

Smart faucets that won’t turn on, no matter how creatively you wave your hands under, over, and around them. On the other hand, if conserving water makes them smart, I guess this design could be called successful.

“Crafted with care” when the product in question, such as the bag of chips above (which I bought for the label’s irony) is manufactured in a huge, automated factory by a global corporation.

Smart toilets that flush when you leave the stall — i.e., after the toilet has already flushed (successfully).

Smart faucets that get stuck in ON mode.

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“Local family farms” in the case of the dog food pictured above. Everything is local to someone; this use of the word by a manufacturer that markets its wares nationwide makes it meaningless. And when words lose their meaning, we’re in trouble.

Call me anything but boss

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William reading the comics, 1998

When my former husband and I moved to southern Indiana in 1988, we became friends with a carpenter named Joe who possessed an endearing confidence that everything he thought and said was right. He and his wife were literal about the biblical injunction to go forth and multiply. By the time we met, they were well on their way to having a chief for each of their own twelve tribes. My husband and I, on the other hand, had decided not to reproduce, convinced that our species was already consuming such a disproportionate percentage of the earth’s resources that we had a moral duty not to make things worse.

One day Joe brought up the subject of our not having kids. “People who don’t have children are just selfish,” he began. “Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that you two are bad people. But you think only of yourselves: your work, what you’re going to cook for dinner, where you’d like to go on vacation. Now, none of this stuff is unimportant! But when you have children, you’re forced to think about others. Instead of keeping everything for yourself, you’re forced to share. It makes you a better person.”

Those of us who have a business but no employees occasionally find ourselves faced with a similar kind of judgment. Some people see the mere fact of having a business as evidence that you’re privy to a certain largesse that should be shared. If you don’t have employees, well, shame on you for keeping all that wealth for yourself. You ought to be a job creator, give something back.

You can find out where this opening leads in “Don’t Call Me Boss,” one of the stories in Making Things Work

Christopher Vickers, Craftsman-Designer of Furniture and Lighting

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Vickers’ reproduction of C.F.A. Voysey’s Kelmscott “Chaucer” cabinet, built to commission

Do you really need that 2400-square foot workshop?

I’ve lost track of how many retired friends of friends are currently building themselves shops. Most of these people moved to a rural location so they’d have the space to build. Once you’ve taken the plunge, it seems, the old English saying applies: “In for a penny, in for a Pound.” I mean, why have a shop that will hold a Mini Cooper when you can have one large enough to house a fleet of RVs? Who can’t use the extra space?

As someone who never seems to have enough room to store lumber and salvaged hardware for bona fide jobs, never mind the recycled plant pots, bags of ice-melting salt, antique chamber pots, old dog beds (which, perversely, became “insufferable” [to the dog] after being washed), and surplus hickory floorboards that “just might come in handy, and besides, the wood is so beautiful” (even though the boards in question have been lying there, undisturbed, for a dozen years), I feel your pain. And I am here to share a sobering example of a consummate craftsman who has made a name for himself internationally with a workshop smaller than one of those structures we Americans know today as a “tiny home.”

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Christopher Vickers was born in Bexleyheath, south-east London, in 1961. His father, a cinema sales rep, had a keen interest in all things DIY but was especially taken with marquetry. That love of fine woodworking spread to Chris, who, at the age of 16, decided he wanted to be a furniture maker. No apprenticeship was forthcoming, however, so he served a seven-year apprenticeship as a joiner at Clark and Son in Islington.

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Chris and Jenny Vickers in the conservatory at the back of their house.

It was an excellent foundation in woodcraft: He made windows, doors, and staircases according to traditional methods. Still, he longed for finer work. When a friend suggested he apply to the London College of Furniture, he did. Most applicants to the program had taken A-Level exams (roughly equivalent to graduating from a high school in the United States), the usual prerequisite for university admission. But Chris’s significant woodworking experience, combined with his passionate desire to refine his skills, won him admission.

During that two-year furniture training Chris and his classmates visited the Cheltenham Museum (now called The Wilson) in Gloucestershire to see some of Alan Peters’ work. The museum also had extensive holdings of work by many other luminaries of the Arts and Crafts Movement, among them Ashbee, Gimson, Voysey, and the Barnsleys. “When I saw all the exposed joinery of the Cotswolds School, the penny dropped,” he remembers. He knew the direction in which he wanted to take his own work.

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Vickers made this hayrake table based on an original design by Ernest Gimson published in a book by Mary Greensted about Gimson’s life and work.

After college he spent two years working part-time for a specialist silverware canteen maker, F. Mottram, in London, making pieces for Asprey’s and other top silversmiths. He then set out on his own, producing jewelry, sewing, and writing boxes made from English hardwoods.

In October 1987 Chris and his wife, Jenny, moved to the small town of Frome in Somerset, primarily because it was affordable. They bought a Victorian red brick row house on a narrow lot typical of that architectural form, and Chris set up a woodworking shop measuring 18’ by 8’ (yes, that’s under 150 square feet), which he nicknamed “the bunker,” in the backyard.

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Vickers in his workshop with one of his canteens

The ceiling height tapers from 8’ at the high end down to 6’. Chris is 6’ 2-1/2” tall.

With a workbench, hand tools, and basic set of small machines, he turned out beautifully crafted boxes that he sold at craft fairs, supporting himself and Jenny on that income. Small boxes were made with keyed miters, larger ones with handcut dovetails. His interest in specialty hardware for the boxes eventually led him to begin fabricating his own hinges, straps, and latches. He started making furniture for their home, along with small pieces such as side tables and chairs to sell.

His big break came in 1998. The owner of the Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa, wanted to create a room decorated in authentic William Morris style. On a trip to England she visited the Cheltenham Museum, where she met Arts and Crafts expert and curator Mary Greensted. Mary suggested she contact Chris. What began with an invitation to lunch at their home turned into two years of steady work.

“We had never flown before,” Chris remembers, “and the client flew us over business class, which was an adventure in itself.” Chris and Jenny were in Iowa for about two weeks, “wined and dined and shown around.” When the furniture was finished, it was shipped to its destination. “All done with just a handshake!” he adds. The hotel’s website has a section on the Morris Room with photos of Chris’s work.

After the hotel commission Chris was confident of his ability to make larger pieces in his tiny workshop. “The rule of thumb thereafter was, once I had worked out the size of the piece, would it go up the hall [of our house] and out the front door? Assuming the answer was yes, then I just needed to work out how to assemble and finish the main parts in our living room.”

Did you get that? He made the parts in his workshop, then assembled the pieces in their living room.

This concern with size should help explain why he now specializes in lighting, which was originally an offshoot of his work producing his own hardware. In 2014 he added a second workshop to the backyard (this one 12’ long by 6’ wide with slightly higher headroom than “the bunker”), where he crafts replicas of original fixtures designed by W.A.S. Benson, C.F.A. Voysey, and the Birmingham Guild of Handicrafts.

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Exterior shot of “the bunker,” left, with the new purpose-built workshop at right. As is typical of terraced housing (known as row housing in the United States), this is a narrow lot, which makes photography of side views such as this on a challenge.

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The Vickers household is filled with furniture and lighting made by Chris over the years, such as this droolworthy ceiling fixture.

You can see more of Chris’s work and read more about him at Inspired Illuminations

The Story Behind the Cover

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When Megan Fitzpatrick at Popular Woodworking Magazine asked me to write a project article about an Arts and Crafts style bookcase three years ago, I had something Stickley-ish in mind. I pictured something long and low in amber maple, designed to fit behind an antique settle in the home of some clients in Chicago. There was just one catch: My clients hadn’t yet found the right settle. There was no telling how long or tall the settle would be until they had it in hand, which meant the bookcase had to wait.

After a few months, I decided to forget about trying to combine the article with a commission and just build a bookcase. My husband and I are hardcore bibliophiles; we can never have too much storage for books. But we decided that this bookcase, which would be the loveliest one I’d made to date, should have a special purpose: to commemorate our son, Jonas, who died shortly before his 16th birthday. We would call it the Jonas Longacre Memorial Bookcase.

Some people can’t bear to mention those they’ve lost, but Mark and I love to talk about Jonas. He was a self-motivated learner who excelled at school. He was always game to do his part around the house. He wanted to learn Latin and started a Latin club at his school (even though he was the only member). In fact, he was fascinated by languages of all kinds, including computer code; after his death, we found a blog post written that morning in which he proudly announced to the world that after several months of effort, he had just finished creating an online translation tool. Of course he could have used a similar tool made by someone else, but he found it more exciting to figure out how things work. Books were some of his favorite things.

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Jonas at 13 or 14 with a piece of limestone on which he carved a description of students at his school, using an old railroad spike

Tragically, it was just this curiosity that caused his death. I came home after work on the night of January 2, 2014 to find him lifeless. Amid the cognitive dissonance, I happened to notice that even though he had a rope around his neck, suggesting he had hung himself (which made no sense, considering how eagerly he was looking forward to the family reunion that weekend and the new semester at school), his feet were on the ground. He had also padded the rope with a t-shirt. Neither seemed consistent with intentional hanging, but I wasn’t analyzing these details as I stared, disbelieving, at his body while I waited for an ambulance to arrive. Thanks to the insight of a friend and conscientious work by the detective who came out to our house that night, we learned that Jonas had died while experimenting with the choking game.

Since that day I’ve learned a lot about the choking game, especially from Judy Rogg, who lost her own son the same way, and Trish Russell, an MD who also lost her son to this practice. Although boys are statistically more likely to die while playing this game, girls do too. Many fit a similar profile: They’re excellent students, curious about how things work, athletic, creative, and they tend not to be interested in alcohol or drugs. Hence one nickname for the practice: “the good kid’s high.”

Along with Judy, Trish, and others, I now make a point of spreading the word about this dangerous activity. Hence this post. If you have children or know others who do, please inform yourself and others.

Here’s an instructive editorial by the editor of Bloom Magazine, who knew Jonas.

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Jonas with his father, Mark, on the Delaware coast at Thanksgiving, 2013

 

Cathryn Peters: Weaver of seats and baskets

Voysey chair seat by Ruef Design

Bulrush seat for a Voysey two heart chair, woven by Cathryn Peters. Photo by James Davis, Ruef Design (www.ruef.com)

When most people stop at a fast food restaurant, they run in and out without so much as a glance at the surrounding landscape – and that’s if they get out of their car at all; a high percentage place their order in the drive-through and sit there idling until they’re at the head of the line.

Cathryn Peters is different, at least when she visits her local McDonald’s in Cook, Minnesota. Peters doesn’t go there for the burgers. Her treat’s in a marshy spot behind the parking lot: bulrush.

Peters has been weaving seats since the 1970s, when her son was an infant. Thinking that she should have something constructive to do besides caring for the baby, her mother-in-law brought over a seat frame she wanted to have woven, along with rush weaving instructions from a magazine article and a pack of paper fibre rush. (The British spelling is used in the United States to differentiate the artificial paper material from the natural cattails and bulrush).

“My mother-in-law talked me into learning how to weave this seat using the instructions in the magazine article,” Peters says. The payment for the job was a walnut drop-leaf table from her mother-in-law’s home. “I got the better end of that deal for sure,” says Peters, looking back. “The chair seat I did looked horrible! It had a big hole in the center, there were overlapping strands and the gauge of paper rush was too small for the chair frame.”

 

In the 40 plus years since then, Peters has woven thousands of seats – some for new chairs, some for chairs undergoing repair, and some she bought for resale. She also weaves traditional baskets in a variety of materials and her signature antler baskets.

Although she has taken a few workshops in basketmaking, Peters is primarily self-taught at weaving seats. In the early years, pre-internet, she was able to get some direction from pamphlets provided by material suppliers. But most of her learning came from trial and error or from taking apart seats that were going to be rewoven to figure out the patterns.

In the mid-1980s The Caner’s Handbook by Bruce Miller and Jim Widess, The Craft of Chair Seat Weaving by George Sterns, and a few other books were published – an immense help to seat weavers across the country. Resources in print and online, many of them written by Peters herself, have proliferated since then.

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Peters demonstrating her craft

A high point of Peters’s career came in 2006, when she was awarded a fellowship to study in England with basket maker and seat weaver Olivia Elton Barratt. Barratt was the President of the Basketmakers’ Association (BA) and was also installed that October as Prime Warden of Basketmakers in the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers, a guild in existence since 1569.

During her ten-day fellowship and stay with Barratt, they traveled across the country meeting members of the Basketmakers’ and Seatweavers’ Association, of which Peters has been a member since the early 1990s. Barratt also taught Peters how to weave a bulrush boater’s hat at her home studio. They drove to see the harvesting of bulrush from the River Ouse with Felicity Irons, watch the weaving process of making willow coffins and hot-air balloon gondolas at Somerset Willows, visit the Coats basketry museum, and to the Musgrove Willows farm to learn how cultured willow is grown and how buff willow and white willow are processed.

Peters weaves seats using a variety of natural and commercially prepared materials; natural bulrush, cattails, paper fibre, cane webbing, strand cane, Danish cord, rawhide, oak, ash and hickory bark splints.

Natural hand-twisted rush seats are woven with the round stalk, stems or strands of the bulrush plant, and cattails with the flat leaves. Both plants are just right for harvest between late August and September, when they have reached maximum height and the ends of the cattail leaves have turned brown. Peters harvests the natural bulrush and cattails from her rural northern Minnesota farm and the surrounding area.

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With so many years of experience, Peters can weave a seat in far less time than it would take a beginner. The 15” seat for the hand-twisted bulrush Voysey chair would typically take her from six to eight hours to complete. After a couple of years, the fresh green and gold tones of the natural rush will fade to a nice, warm honey color.

If you’re interested in learning how to weave hole-to-hole cane and over-the-rail cane seats, Peters will be teaching a class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking on the weekend of Sept. 16 and 17, 2017.

The Wicker Woman®

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Bulrush hat