I’m sitting at Pantry Fields, the homestead where John Brown wrote “Welsh Stick Chairs,” in a massive chair that was built by John Brown. And I’m surrounded by JB’s family and friends, who generously allowed me into their world on Tuesday for a chat and a delicious bowl of cawl.
It’s a scene I could have never even imagined when I purchased a copy of “Welsh Stick Chairs” in the 1990s – a book that changed the course of my life as a woodworker. Across the table from me is Annie Seymour, JB’s ex-wife and potter. To my left is Molly Brown, one of JB’s daughters and an illustrator, and David Sears, Annie’s husband, woodworker, brewer and long-time companion to JB. To my right is Chris Williams, who had brought us all together.
I was in such a shock that I barely spoke for the first hour. Two things restored my tongue.
The first was Pantry Fields itself. Though I was thousands of miles away from the wilds of Arkansas, the environment felt familiar. Like my family and our farm, the people sitting around this oak table had built Pantry Fields from nothing using the materials around them – railroad ties, recycled windows and even two railway carriages.
The second thing was the wooden item in the image at the top of this blog entry. David Sears laid it on the table and explained.
It was a plug for a peephole that John Brown had used. When he heard someone pull up in a car, JB would remove the plug and peer out to see who it was in order to decide if he would answer the door or not. JB had drawn an eye on the end of the plug, which was a delicious touch to a quirky story that explained a lot about the man. I couldn’t help but laugh.
Pantry Fields, as always, is a work in progress. Annie and David are expanding and improving the buildings. There’s a gallery filled with beautiful pottery, furniture, books and prints. Even an ersatz and delightful bar that David has built. It seems as if something is brewing (and not just David’s beer).
This was just 10 minutes of my first journey to Wales, a five-day trip that has been a visual and visceral tsunami. I hardly know where to begin writing about it.
In some small way I feel a bit like like JB, deep in the workshop and looking out through a peephole at the world. And wondering what is coming down the drive in my direction.
— Christopher Schwarz