After years of studying Welsh chairs, my mind turned to the map. Wales has a long history that is intertwined with its neighbors – for better or for worse. Could there be similar chairs built in Scotland, Devon, Cornwall and Ireland?
The answer is, of course, yes. Faced with somewhat similar materials, geography, economy, oppression and tools, it would follow that stick chairs would be the result. After years of reading about Irish vernacular furniture, today Lucy and I plunged head first into it at the Irish Agricultural Museum on the grounds of Johnstown Castle. The museum is mostly about farm implements and transportation. But there are two areas that were captivating.
First was the exhibit on the Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century. This fungal event changed the course of history for Ireland (which lost 25 percent of its population), the United States (which absorbed many of them) and furniture, which became weirdly tied to the famine by antiques dealers. They now label anything a “famine chair” as a result. The dealers are usually wrong, but the association does raise people’s interest in the furniture.
Second was the “Irish Country Furniture Exhibition,” a partnership between the Irish Agricultural Museum and the Irish Country Furniture Society. This exhibit features all manner of vernacular pieces from the 18th to 20th centuries. You could write a book about the fine pieces in this collection. We spent our time focused on the chairs in the exhibit.
Side note. Lucy is now on her third glass of wine. This is our first vacation alone in two decades. She reports: “I like chairs. They looked comfortable. We totally could have gotten over the wire to sit in them but we didn’t because we follow the law; hashtag respect the Irish.”
After almost two hours of examining and photographing the chairs, we headed west to Doolin to see a beautiful sunset and eat some seafood. This evening I’m poring over the hundreds of photos I took and trying to make sense of them. But it takes a while to process the overall forms and their details.
Here are a few snapshots of the chairs I liked in particular.
— Christopher Schwarz