Arthur Boon’s ‘Make Do’ Chairs

 

Collection of the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Packing cases, weatherboards, fencing wire, garden stakes, picture frames and thread spools. Arthur Boon used all of these (and possibly more) to make his chairs.

Arthur Boon lived and made his chairs in Billy’s Creek near Dorrigo, New South Wales, Australia. His biography is largely dependent on his relative’s memories (not all of whom agree on the details). It is believed Boon was born in 1882 in Parramatta, as a young boy moved to Kangaroo Creek near Grafton and the family eventually settled at Billy’s Creek. According to Arthur Boon’s nephew, Stan Boon, Arthur was a life-long bachelor and not fond of extended visits by family or friends.

“He had an apple orchard and a vegetable garden. He kept a number of sheep. He read a lot and for a while worked for a sawmill. He was also a keen carpenter and built a second house for the family to live in…He built a carpentry shed, a barn, a sulky shed and a harness shed. He made some furniture and chairs, some photo frames which he elaborately carved…He died in the house he built and was buried in Dorrigo cemetery. He was 73-75 when he died in 1956-58…”

Circa 1910. Collection of the Museum of Arts & Sciences, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

The back is made of garden stakes separated by cotton reels (thread spools), the seat is a section of a wooden packing case and the legs and stretchers are more garden stakes and thread spools. The back and seat are connected with fencing wire. Green paint can still be seen on the legs and stretchers.

Circa 1920. Collection of the Museum of Arts & Sciences, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

The folding deck chair is made of tongue and groove weatherboards. The angled back is adjustable and the chair is unpainted.

Circa 1910. Collection of the Museum of Arts & Science, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Except for the seat, this chair looks to be made of picture frames and frame parts.

This is the front view of the chair at the top of this post. The back and seat are made of tongue and groove boards. The legs and stretchers are alternating garden stakes and thread spools with thread spools forming ‘feet’ for the chair. Boon added two more spools under the front edge of the seat.

The underside. The museum noted remnants of red and blue paint on the back of the chair and the legs.

A few more details. On the left: an angled insert made of picture frame mounding between the back and seat, a few more thread spools and half-spools decorate the side. On the right: the garden stake running behind the seat back, the decorative half-spool is missing from the end.

‘Make do’ furniture was, as the term implies, furniture made until there was more time to spend, and materials were available, to make better-quality pieces. As quickly as they were able, families that were newly-arrived in the bush made plain and practical tables and chairs. There wasn’t a need for paint or any decoration. Do Arthur Boon’s chairs fit the description of plain and practical, or was he up to something else?

Unless he or she is making a production run, a chairmaker tinkers with every part and constantly pushes the strength, stability and comfort of a chair. Boon was between (approximately) 28 and 38 years old when he made the four chairs in this post. These wouldn’t have been the first chairs (the necessary plain and practical ones) he made. I think he was tinkering and experimenting.

There are decorative elements added to each chair. The folding deck chair has a peaked back and the back is adjustable. The back of the the second ‘thread-spool’ chair has a curved top and has spools added for embellishment. Two of the chairs were painted. Boon could have made chair legs without thread spools and he could have made all his chair backs of tongue and groove boards. He had two items that aren’t normally associated with chairs and he found a clever way to use them: thread spools and picture frames.

The thread-spool legs are certainly quirky. The legs have a glancing relationship to turned legs, perhaps the country cousin of the block and vase pattern. Maybe that was Boon’s aim and he improvised with garden stakes (the block) and spools (the vase).

The picture frame chair is impressive in its ingenuity. And I think this chair, in particular, sums up Boon’s ‘make do’ approach. He used available materials (he made and carved picture frames), each frame could be a chair part (the back, legs and stretcher combined) and he used parts of his frames to fill in the rest. I like to think he was chuckling to himself   as he made this chair.

Suzanne Ellison

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9 Responses to Arthur Boon’s ‘Make Do’ Chairs

  1. Roland Stewart Chapman says:

    It was a very Aussie thing , to make do , especially out in the Bush where there weren’t hardware , haberdashery or furniture shops . To watch a Blackfella Bush mechanic get his vehicle going and keep it going is to watch a master of make do and ingenuity

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  2. Andy Kevill says:

    I really like the fourth one. I reckon if that were made in two contrasting woods one would have a design classic on one’s hands (or under one’s behind depending on philosophical approach). It even looks like it’s makeable! And that surely singles it out from most chairs.

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  3. Milford Brown says:

    Quite creative indeed, but where did he get so many thread spools? There’s no mention that he, being without friends or family, sewed his own clothes.

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    • saucyindexer says:

      My guess is, although he didn’t want them to hang around, he got the spools from his family and friends. Once empty, wooden spools were used to make all sorts of things.

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      • Curt Lavallee says:

        Indeed – I recently repaired an old wooden fore plane which had a spool as a “knob” and a section of broomstick as the “tote”. The spool hole made a nice place to put a strike button.

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      • My first really old house had coat racks in several closets that were made from wooden thread spools.

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  4. tsstahl says:

    One of my personal aphorisms is make, make do, or do without. I often say I suck at chairs. I’ve built 4 now in the realm of ‘real’ woodworking.

    However, I’ve made a few more sitting devices in camps across the Arabian desert using crates, 2X4’s and rebar. These pictures remind me a lot of those field expedient arse cradles.

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  5. They all look fun, but if I sat in most of those, they would quickly be reduced to their constituent parts.

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  6. David says:

    That Boon chair is hideously ugly. I don’t understand why it wasn’t burned years ago.

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