I try not to call my chairs “Welsh stick chairs” for several reasons. I don’t live in Wales. I don’t have access to the craggy timbers used for the seats. And I don’t have hedgerows where I can harvest sticks, armbows and crest rails.
You might also be thinking: “Yeah, and you’re not Welsh – Herr Schwarz.”
My opinion: I don’t consider blood to be the sole requirement to become a member of a community. People can be accepted into – or rejected from – a community despite their DNA. I’ve got a fair amount of English, Welsh and Irish blood (47 percent), but that gives me no claim to the Welsh stick chair – or any other.
I’m an American. I’ve lived here my entire life. And my design aesthetic, wood choices, tool selection and goals are typically American (for better or worse).
And so I’ve decided to describe my chairs as “American Welsh Stick Chairs.” To my mind, this fits in with the long American tradition of taking furniture forms from the U.K., Europe and elsewhere and adapting them to our tastes and our timbers.
We took U.K. styles such as Jacobean (1603–1625), William and Mary (1690–1730), Queen Anne (1702–1760), Georgian (1714–1830) and Neo-Classical (1750–1830) and taught them an American accent. This continued into the later 19th century with both the English Victorian and Arts & Crafts styles.
When all those styles landed here, we altered them to suit us. (Note: This is not a uniquely American practice. Locals have always played with imported styles.) In many cases (but not all) Americans tended to simplify the styles. We removed ornamentation. We used local woods (or exotics).
In my heart, I think that’s what I’ve done with my beloved antique Welsh stick chairs. I use New World woods, because this is what is available. Getting timbers with swirled grain for the seat is a struggle for me (so far), and so I use what I have – street trees, mostly. But they don’t compare visually to the Welsh ones.
Because I have access to dang-straight wood, I make my sticks, legs and stretchers so they follow the straight grain. A old Welsh chairmaker might have used a branch for strength in these cases, and the branch might have had some wiggle to it.
I’ve also tried to lighten the older forms, which I consider both an American trait (historically) and a modern one (in general).
And so for me, the term “American Welsh Stick Chair” fits. “American” because it was made in the Americas. “Welsh” because that’s the tradition it was derived from. “Stick” because sticks. And “Chair” because I don’t make love spoons.
— Christopher Schwarz