When I first picked up “Welsh Stick Chairs,” I didn’t fall in love with the chair that John Brown built for the book. That chair had a steam-bent armbow that didn’t quite suit my eye. Instead, I fell for the drawings of the antique chairs that John Brown showed in the book, most of them from St Fagans National Museum of History.
John Brown’s later chairs, which were featured in Good Woodworking magazine, also enraged my chair lust and drove me to Cobden, Ontario, to take my first chair class in 2003.
So when I visited St Fagans last week, I was quite excited to see the chair that was featured on the original cover of “Welsh Stick Chairs” and survived as the frontispiece of later (but lesser) editions of the book.
This chair is a stunner for several reasons. Take a look at the armbow. It’s made from two pieces of wood that are joined with a giant half-lap that terminates at miters at both ends. Call the chair primitive if you like, but that is a nice piece of work. The other interesting part of the armbow is there is no “doubler” that thickens the armbow where the spindles pass through. The lack of the doubler gives the chair a lighter appearance and makes it simpler to build.
The wide seat is radically reduced in thickness at the edges, adding to the sense of lightness. The legs, which are round as near as I can tell, are thinner than is typical. And locating them closer to the center of the seat gives the chair an hourglass look. With these legs, it would be easy to make this chair look top-heavy, but the builder got the splay correct so the chair looks solid to sit on.
The seat shape and armbow are tidy. I think the person who made this particular chair had a good eye for proportion, curve and line. Interestingly, the chair had stretchers near the floor, which are now missing. If I made a reproduction, I don’t know if I would restore the stretchers.
Finally, there is the crest rail (or comb). It has just a little curve to it and is gently pillowed on the front.
It really is a flawless chair and deserved its place on the cover. I’m quite happy that our edition of “Welsh Stick Chairs” put this example in its rightful place.
— Christopher Schwarz