OK, so that’s not going to happen.
When Chris Williams came here in May 2018 to teach his first U.S. chairmaking class, he tried to help me pronounce a few Welsh proper nouns. This is what it sounded like (to me).
Chris Williams: “It’s ‘Blah-blah.’”
Chris: “No, it’s ‘Blah-blah.’”
Chris: “Um, no…. It’s….”
And repeat until we retreat to the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar. I do not have an ear for Welsh, though it’s in my blood and in my brain. I know this because when I visited St Fagans with Chris in October 2018 I could feel the chairs there invade my brain and hands.
Since my visit there, I’ve built a number of chairs for customers, and each one inches toward what I absorbed while there.
The chair shown here might not look like much of a departure from what I’ve been building since 2003, but to me it looks like a different animal.
The legs and seat are thinner. I was surprised by how some of the components of the chairs at St Fagans were more delicate than photos or drawings suggest. These legs are 1-3/8” in diameter, and the seat is 1-3/8” thick.
The undercarriage is low. Stretchers are not de rigueur in Welsh chairs, as they are on American chairs and factory English chairs. But when the Welsh chairs have stretchers they tend to be near the floor. This might be by design or by the fact that the antique chairs have had their legs worn down by use. Either way, that is what I saw.
The wood in this new chair has more figure. I don’t seek out curly wood. In fact, I’ve spent my career sidestepping it. But when you examine the chairs at St Fagans, the seat in particular has a lot of character. This might be by design – seats with interlocked grain are stronger. Or by default – the only bits of wood that big were a bit squirrely
Either way, I embraced interlocked grain with this chair.
I’m not done with the changes to my chairs. I can make only so many alterations with each generation. But I am happy with where things are headed, and I am forever indebted to Chris Williams and the staff at St Fagans for helping me build Welsh, if not speak it.
— Christopher Schwarz