One of the unexpected treats of visiting Wales this month was getting to visit the shop of Tim Bowen, an antiques dealer in Ferryside who specializes in vernacular furniture from Wales and the rest of Britain.
If you like Welsh stick chairs, or vernacular furniture in general, Tim’s Instagram account (@tim_bowen_antiques) is a great way to keep up with the things he picks up and shows the world. Chairmaker Chris Williams, who has been friends with Tim for years, took us over and Tim pulled out some interesting chairs from his shop and his personal collection for us to examine.
My two favorite pieces were a chair from Tim’s personal collection that looks like it was made in a barn with just a few tools. The armbow has a slashing scarf joint across its back, and the whole chair looks like it was made with both urgency and skill.
The other chair had a lovely single-piece arm and traces of early – if not original – paint.
All of the chairs Tim showed us were good enough to populate a museum gallery. And they represented a broad swath of Welsh chairmaking, from the craft at its most elemental all the way up to a chair that was almost as refined at the chairs that Chris Williams makes, with delicate decorative details.
Plus, I got to touch the chairs. All over. Feel the flats on the stretchers and the shape of the sticks. You can’t get that at a museum (not without getting thrown out shortly afterward).
Tim spent a good couple hours with us, patiently explaining what he knew about each chair – and what he didn’t. After decades in the trade, Tim is careful about making many official declarations about the date, provenance or even species of wood in any particular piece. He’s seen too many chairs in his career.
This is our last full day in Wales – tomorrow we head to Ireland for some rest and (sorry Lucy) more chairs.
— Christopher Schwarz