About 24 hours after getting off an airplane from Munich, I climbed into my pickup truck with Brendan Gaffney to drive to Jennie Alexander’s final workshop and home on Light Street in Baltimore, Md.
This week, with the help of family, friends and colleagues, we are finishing what Larry Barrett and I began more than five years ago when we visited Jennie and plotted out the third edition of “Make a Chair From a Tree.” She was going to write the text. Larry was going to help. And I was going to edit it. Somewhere along the way, we were going to build the chair for the book using the methods that Jennie had refined during her long relationship with the chair.
During the last five years, Jennie worked on the book, tinkering and refining it over and over with the help of Larry (at first) and later Jennie Boyd, who took care of Jennie during the last couple years. Jennie Alexander resisted my gentle nudgings to finish the job. I wanted to get the book published so she could see how it was received. She didn’t want to run out of things to occupy her mind and fingers.
So the book was stuck in neutral for several years.
When Jennie died, I was afraid the book was lost. Luckily, Jennie’s daughter, Harper Burke, made sure that would not happen. Jennie’s house is for sale, but I am typing this blog entry in her workshop, which has remained largely intact thanks to Harper, Peter Follansbee and a host of other people (whom Harper calls the “Woodpuckies”). We have Jennie’s workbench. Her kiln. Her shavehorse. Her tools.
And, thanks to Larry, we have a nearly completed manuscript.
Yesterday we assembled a “Jennie Chair” (which is what Jennie calls it in the manuscript) with Larry at the helm. Harper and Jennie Boyd watched, asked questions and told us stories about Jennie Alexander.
The production of this book will involve people from every aspect of Jennie’s life. Nathaniel Krause will be here tonight to add the hickory bark seat. Peter Follansbee is going to read the text for technical problems. Jennie Alexander took a strong liking to Megan Fitzpatrick, so she will be the copy editor. During Jennie’s last months, she asked Brendan Gaffney to do the drawings. So he’s here taking measurements and helping with the photography.
And I’m here trying to make sure this gets done. I’m taking the photos and will be designing the book (much like I did with David Savage’s “The Intelligent Hand”) to keep the whole thing “in the family” or “among the puckies,” so to speak.
The goal is to have the book out by the summer. It’s going to be different than the other two editions of this landmark book. It will reflect Jennie’s thinking on her chair at the end of her life. It will be in full color. Hardbound. On nice coated paper. And it will include many appendices that will touch on Jennie’s influence in woodworking, a review of the types of chairs she made, and alternative approaches to her chair that have been developed during the last 30+ years.
This is not exactly how I wanted this story to end. But it will have to do.
— Christopher Schwarz