Help Me, Suzanne


I haven’t abandoned my “Furniture of Necessity” book. Suzanne “the Saucy Indexer” Ellison, simply won’t allow it.

While my days are spent in teak and mahogany making campaign furniture, Suzanne has been feeding me a steady diet of vernacular forms that I browse late at night when I’m too pooped to work in the shop.

Her latest missive is an exhibition book from 1982 for an exhibit titled “Common Furniture” at the Stable Court Exhibition Galleries. The book is a gold mine.

My favorite piece – one I should build for the book – is a Welsh stick chair that I haven’t seen before. I fell hard for Welsh stick chairs thanks to the late John Brown. This particular example isn’t in his book, though some similar chairs are.

From the exhibition book:

Welsh, probably 18th century, second half, Ht. 32 in.

Hewn elm seat, whittled ash legs and splats, the armbow cut from a naturally curved elm branch. The seat and upper frame betray traces of three paint layers – red, light and dark green. At one time there were two (or possibly 3) rear legs. Rugged chairs of this type are commonly found in Wales, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Ireland (where they are today quaintly called ‘famine’ chairs) and could fairly be described as a native ‘Celtic’ pattern. No documented or dated examples are known and they probably developed independently of the Windsor chair tradition, being produced well into the 19th century. This one was acquired in the Cwm Tudu area of Cardiganshire.

Lent by Crispin.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. The title of this post is the name of a great song by Rhett Miller, the lead singer of the Old 97s.

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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9 Responses to Help Me, Suzanne

  1. lostartpress says:

    Drew Langsner sent me the following about this chair:

    John Brown and I had an on-going debate about which came first. John believed that these vernacular windsors precede the more fancy forms developed in England in the early 1700’s. My belief is that they are folk art versions of the fancier chairs which were originally made by professional turners. Made in outlying poor regions where folks couldn’t afford to buy professionally made furniture. But Uncle Charlie was very handy with tools and could make almost anything, with whatever materials were available…or could be poached.

  2. Sean Hughto says:

    I too have loved these sorts of chairs from the first time I saw them in Brown’s book. I attempted my own version inspired by the form, but lament that I didn’t trust myself enough to let it be even more rough hewn. I need to make more. Reactions to my chair have been mixed. It is comfortable and sturdy, but some don’t like the imprecision in the rougher shapes. Here’s a pic from just before trimming the tenons: I’d love to see one you make.

    • ceplawn says:

      Perhaps you need to play with the stretchers and other elements a little. Rustic or refined. Nice work! Originals always take me a few flybys.

  3. Tim Henriksen says:

    While I can admit to finally being seduced by your campaign style advances, I have been excited to see this book come to fruition. So, thank you Suzanne for your saucy persistence.

  4. Sean Hughto says:

    By the way, this is a worthwhile book on the subject, if you haven’t already come across it:

  5. One thing about the three-legged chairs is that they tip over. In a quest to reduce the money joints on a chair to the minimum, I made a couple, and they have taken a beating over the last couple of years. The single leg in back just does not give enough stability, or anyway the stability people expect in a chair. Not sitting so much but people get up, sort of scooch them back with their leg, and they fall over.

  6. Brian Eve says:

    I just read John Brown’s book last weekend. It was fantastic! I really want to build one. I wondered how they made the arm from one piece of wood, I didn’t put together that they would use a curved branch. Interesting!

    • tsstahl says:

      Everything I’ve read and been told since I started woodworking has advised to never touch branch wood.

      As a lad watching Appalachian kinfolk go about their business, I clearly remember that _nothing_ on a tree went to waste. I wish I were older and had more interest during those long summers ‘back home’.

  7. bobdeviney says:

    “Scottish Vernacular Furniture” by Bernard D. Cotton is another well-researched, well written and profusely illustrated book on Scotland’s user made furniture (beds and cradles, storage and display, seating furniture). Cotton also wrote “The English Regional Chair” and “Manx Traditional Furniture.”

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