Friday, May 25, 2012

Old Friends and Windsor Chairs Again!

I recently made contact with some old friends, a couple that I had met on the airplane when moving to England to do chair making within the wonderful traditions that exist there for the craft.  Mr and Mrs Sano were also moving to England to live for awhile,  Mr Sano is a professional photographer, and more often than not can be seen with his camera in his hand. It had been thirty-five years since I last had seen or spoken to these very kindly and otherwise enjoyable people.   They had asked me to make two dining chairs for them after we did get together again, and they visited my shop one day last year.

The Sano's current dining arrangement is a mix of an antique English table with chairs of different designs, all purchased after they had mover back to Japan and found in a shop here.  The chairs I would be building for them would be replacing two of the existing ones, that were to continue finding use in another part of the residence.

The specifics of the design were to come up with something similar to some early work that the couple saw and liked in my portfolio, and that the choice of wood be American Black Walnut.  They wanted a relatively simple chair without arms.  I took the liberty of adding some Japanese Cherry for the back laths.  I have always liked the combination of Walnut and Cherry, thinking the grain and colors of the two woods play off of each other well.  Also, to my eye, the Cherry tends to lighten up the visual heaviness of the dark Walnut. The two woods will age gracefully together.  The photos below are of one of the Sano's new chairs, a commission I immensely enjoyed thinking about and making, for some folks that I consider good friends.

The Sanos picked up the chairs on a beautiful weather day.  We went up to an airy soba noodle restaurant to have lunch, at the base of some mountains nearby. An old temple is also there to explore, with a waterfall directly behind it that sends out a chilly mist.  The mountain snow is melting now and the streams are running full.


Des King said...

Beautiful work Dennis, and pieces I'm sure they'll treasure for many years to come.

And it certainly is a wonderful time of the year out your part of Japan. Everything would feel so fresh and clean.


djy said...

Thanks, Des, for the kindly comment. It is always appreciated to hear from you.

The ebb and flow of doing woodwork, always rewarding when the results are pleasing for myself and the folks that will be using the furniture. To be honest, sometimes I end up looking at something so much, I can't see it anymore. My friends wanted a somewhat taller chair than is usual, and I changed my back lath curves a bit, and it turned out to be very comfortable, supporting through almost their entire length. I did approach these chairs pretty casually, not having so much of a formal plan while working through, but things did seem to work out. I imagine your work requires a formal steadfast plan throughout, to give the fine results that you show. Familiarity or casualness can bring a certain unpredictability in the work, something I like to look forward to sometimes, though it seems elusive. I am somewhat inspired by the way pottery in a kiln might take on an additional life beyond what might be planned. Some of the very old chairs made by people particularly for their own use, seem to have a certain warmth and appeal beyond calculation, striving for a certain perfection seems to fight with that, but also is something hard to shake after so many years of always seeking 'improvement' in terms of refinement. The search goes on, and it is an interesting subject.

Des King said...

Dennis, I think your mastery of the design and making principles and concepts allows you to make pieces such as these that are both stunning aesthetically and comfortable to use, without adhering to a formal plan. That knowledge and experience gives you the option to approach the design with a certain casualness, because you know that even with familiarity and the resulting unpredictability, the underlying concepts, principles and structures are still sound.

I've never tackled the intricacies of chair-making, but many efforts I've seen are often one without the other - visually beautiful, but obviously as comfortable as sitting on a pile of rocks; or seemingly comfortable, but butt ugly. And I think the reason for this is a lack of understanding of those underlying principles.

With my work, there's a lot of flexibility in the design stage - trying to work out which patterns or combinations go together and which don't, and how best to bring them all together. Basically it's all "kan" - a feeling for what designs are balanced, and what aren't. I'm still learning, and I dare say that if I still have a pulse in another 30 years, I'll still be learning. After that initial stage, though, I like to work to a set plan and design, otherwise I find that I waste far too much time.

It's interesting when you mention that sometimes you can't see a design or piece because you look at it too much. I have the same problem at times. That's when I need Wife to have a cold hard look at the design, and her judgement always ends up being spot on.


djy said...

Des, how to look at things, if that could somehow be put in a can and marketed, it could make a person rich. It does seem more than merely using the eyes.

It would appear that Mariko is a valuable person to have available, and no doubt that in innumerable ways. People drop into my shop, so I get a lot of opinions, sometimes opinions when I would rather be working.... My immediate neighbor, who is a vegetable farmer by trade, tells me that he has learned a lot about woodworking over the last twenty years, and also why I need to charge the prices I do. Nice to feel accepted! It's a fair trade, I have learned a fair amount about cucumbers as well, and that I can trade a bag of the unmarketable crooked ones for a cold beer at a local inn.

tomausmichigan said...


You have been an inspiration to me, since you were featured in The Workbench Book. I never thought I would be able to tell you that. Now I can.

Your work is amazing and your dedication as well.


djy said...

Thank you, Tom, I am very appreciative of your comments.

When my workshop was located in California, I often felt that some sort of power was pushing me along, and though it seemed external to myself, it was influencing my efforts there as a furniture maker, and bringing me a great return in both the quantity and variety of work that folks asked me to do. The sensation is hard to describe, perhaps a combination of the time and place, and what I had been doing that lead up to it, something that felt like a blessing, was somehow created.

Sometimes I wonder how things would have turned out if i had remained there, I did see woodwork stretching out past the horizon, the way it was going. I kept looking for a house with some land to build a shop on, close enough to the bay area, where most of my customers resided. I could save some money, but the prices were going up at a a faster rate. I became tired of the chase.

Japan had always been an inspiration for me. To be honest, my original time here was often rather lonely and severe, but the people from whom I was able to learn, and other craftsmen in various trades that I would visit, the level of commitment was always a powerful thing to see. I thought that to be an independent in such an environment, would be very stimulating. As it turned out, some things are, some things aren't. This culture is not without certain ideosyncracies, a paradox in ways, aspects being both refined and crude. In comparison, the market for woodwork in the states always seemed very sophisticated, and customers were kindly wanting the maker of the valued goods within their lives, to be getting a fair share in return. It was a very cordial relationship. I hope it remains so for artisans there today. Here in Japan, the general public's value of craftsmen and artisans can be a bit incomplete, the market being quite small, at least for high end woodwork. I guess the opportunities haven't been there that would enable people to be more sensitive to such things. Whatever it may be, keeping on.... and it still feels very enjoyable to hand plane a piece of wood

Again, thanks for the kind words.