Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mr. Natural and the Evolution of a Design

The artist, R. Crumb, his well known character, "Mr. Natural", was the initial inspiration for the design of a rocking chair that I built a few years ago.  I like how the depictions of the flowing bearded man often show him stepping out with purpose, and he seems in good balance and unfettered as he plows through his path in life.  If one reads the stories that accompanied the character, it is shown that people relied upon him for his clear pronouncements, yet there is also something a bit quizzical about the man, one should often expect the unexpected.  His shape of stability and assuredness in motion is what I also wanted embodied in the chair, along with the quality of being something unique, but with limited need for deliberation when viewed, the appearance being fundamentally solid and self explanatory.  If the curves are graceful as an accompaniment, then I would be thankful.  I desired a chair meant to be a rocker in total purpose from the beginning, not something that evolved to that from a previous history of being solely a stationary chair on four legs or other, such that often confuses me with the mixed messages of both rigidity and motion at the same time.

I liked the first edition of Mr. Natural out of some very rich Walnut, and so did a few clients of mine, but it was a bit experimental and eventually encountered some technical problems.  Perhaps those that also work with wood can pretty easily figure out what those were?  I wasn't oblivious to the possibility of a degree of failure resulting, but the form was compelling to me, and in the least wanted to test it out.  Following the advice of another R. Crumb character to, "Keep on truckin'", I thought the basic concept was worth pursuing, and went on to the next chair edition, also in Walnut, with one major change that I thought would alleviate the problem that arose in the previous design, along with a few smaller proportional ones. This model, seen below, also found a good reception, and I have made a number of them for people.   It further fulfilled my hope that a comfortable chair would likely reduce much in the way of hesitation from purchasing a somewhat expensive object gleaned from a certain comic book character, were one astute enough to notice the resemblance.  Crumb's Mr. Natural is a man of wit, intrigue, and charm, but sometimes his associations can be of a somewhat dubious nature.  Perhaps it is somewhat like the Buddha himself, who after achieving enlightenment, is said to have preferred the company of hell raisers and drunkards, over the more restrained type folk that seem more commonly met....

For a few years I went with the second design in the series, but responding to the
comment that my furniture sometimes tends to be a bit heavy, I thought less about the original inspiration and proceeded to refine the design to a lighter in visual weight chair. Most recently produced from some Cherry that I had stored for many years, and originally rescued from pulverization at a pulp mill, the results are shown below.  I was pretty happy with the way things turned out, and so is the dear woman from the next town over that commissioned me to make her a rocker of my own choosing, and now owns the chair.  Her most recent comment that when sitting down in the chair, she simply does not feel like getting up, pleases me to no end.  Success is sweet with new designs.

Still, wanting to see if I could take the chair to a further lighter weight, the results are shown below, the latest in the series  Particularly the front and rear legs are a lighter scale, as are the remaining parts of the chair to a smaller degree.  It was only a couple of days ago that I delivered the finished chair to it's owner, commissioned for her as a total surprise, an unexpected gift from a generous friend.  The wood is my local Chestnut, a material that I have come to much value and favor in recent work.  The recipient  of the rocking chair is a member of a large household comprised of three generations, from grandmother to still young grandchildren, so I expect the chair will get much use, and henceforth, remembrances will accompany it through the ages.  It all seems quite natural.

Thanks for viewing my blog, your comments are welcomed.


Julie @ followyourheartwoodworking said...

All those rocking chairs are beautiful (and way beyond something I could ever make). I do prefer the first one though, since I like my furniture "heavy" as you call it, but they are all just stunning!!!

djy said...

Hi Julie,

Thanks for the kindly comment! As to what one can make or not make, it's just part of the big picture of things where there might have been different times and opportunities, and also where one's station in life varies on different matters. It does feel good to have woodworking skills, a point to maneuver from for something good.

I do like your site. The things that you make are purposeful and have a joyousness about them, nice work! Women doing woodwork seem to have a certain touch that men don't have. Your ideas show a lot of originality. Best of luck! Maybe make a rocking chair....


Wiktor Kuc said...


All your chairs look great. However, I really like the second design. It really captures the idea you started with - Mr. Natural!

It has enough “lightness” and has a well defined character. I actually like the first design as well – for the same reason. Both have a character and uniqueness.

Later chairs are nice chairs, but lost your original inspiration and character. They will blend fine with whatever environment you put the in, but something is lost – Mr. Natural.


djy said...

Hi Wiktor, great to hear from you.

I like your perception. I agree that the second one has some character quality that the later ones don't have. Still, it occurs that It can't hurt to have the options available if a potential customer is thinking about a rocker, and they all are about the same degree of work, with the first one going somewhat faster. I also like the first one, but I think I have to consider it obsolete. Some small cracks developed running up the sides where the tenons enter the rocker blades. The wood gets immobilized and the movement restricted. Our environment here can be pretty harsh as far as humidity changes go. I haven't had any problems with the modification I went with on the second one, and I think it adds a bit of visual interest.

I appreciate your comments, and am also enjoying the participation at your site as well.


Julia said...

Must be my British heritage, but although I think all of them are incredibly beautiful chairs,I also prefer the first 2 and can really see "Mr. Natural" in them. As you say, though, we have a very harsh environment here and if that rules out the first one, so be it. I also agree with your comment that it can't hurt to have several variations available and individuals who buy them can choose the one that "talks" to them the most. As all of them are stunning, I'm sure different designs would call to different people.

djy said...

Thanks, Julia, and I appreciate you visiting the blog.

I don't know if I will be getting back to that design any time soon, but it was a good run, pretty much all I concentrated on for a few months.


JCF said...

Oh love that rocking chairs, A gorgeous collection.
Indonesia furniture manufacturers

djy said...

JCF, thanks for the comment. I am always pleased when there is a favorable response to the furniture that I design and build. Even after a long experience doing it, I still find It is far from easy work.

Please contact me if I can be of assistance to the furniture industry in Indonesia.


Le Trung Thanh said...

A very interesting article
I much like your blog
Thank for sharing

Thanh Le
My Blog:
Interior Decorating, Home Design, Room Ideas

matsukaze said...

Dennis, what would your thoughts on elongating the rear mortice so that a pegged tennon could slide forward and back allowing for the wood movement?
It may change the intended radius of the rocker foot but I would think it would be so little you would not notice, well, you might , but not bother performance.
Theres something cool about a piece of furniture you can use. You can "use" all furniture that is practical, but boats and chairs you can really use. Sometimes I wish I built boats....I usually think this from the shore.

djy said...

Hi Correy,

Nice to hear from you.

I think that something along the lines of what you suggest would likely work. Perhaps a meal pin that fits through an elongated metal sleeve would be a good way to approach it. Simply out of wood and wear resulting from rocking might be a concern. I don't know that the design would change so much allowing the small area needed for movement, perhaps not ideal, but it seems workable.

Boat building has intrigue for me as well. I particularly like working with curves, and my bandsaw is my favorite piece of machinery to use. I also love the changing sea.

Chris Hall said...


thanks for sharing in regards to your design evolution. I wonder: what factors lead you to run the grain of the seat crosswise instead of front to back? What advantage to do you see in doing it that way - or is there a particular disadvantage doing it the other way?

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