A Welsh side chair/back stool made by John Porritt. In an April 6-10, 2020, class, students will make their own versions of this traditional form.
John Porritt, a woodworker who trained in the U.K. – and who had one of his chairs praised by John Brown in a Good Woodworking column! – is coming to Covington April 6-10, 2020, to teach a side chair (also known as a backstool) class, and we could not be more excited. In addition to making chairs, John is amazing at repair and color work, and he has restored tools for Jim Bode, Martin Donnelly, Lee Richmond and many collectors both here and abroad. He’s one of the traditional chairmakers Christopher Schwarz wishes he had found 20 years sooner. (You can read more about him in this post from Chris.)
This is not a class for beginning woodworkers – though if you’re confident in your sharpening skills and use of basic bench tools, you’ll be fine (you needn’t be an accomplished chairmaker).
Each student (it will, as usual, be limited to six) will make his or her own version of this traditional Welsh chair out of air-dried elm and ash, which is to say there’s some room for expression. John will, as he writes, discuss “the aesthetics and elements that line, skill, happenstance, materials and luck produce,” and students will use those within the constraints of the form to build their own chairs.
I asked John his thought on the craft to help me better write a class description – but I love the inherent tension in what he said, so I’m offering his thoughts verbatim instead:
Some thoughts on ways of making and seeing Welsh stick chairs.
• To be inspired by the past whilst using the training, tools and eye of a 21st-century artisan – to make something of now.
• To make with a view to getting a flavour of the old, with fewer tools, trying to step into the shoes of the older makers, emulating their speed or leisure, tool marks, and lack of machine culture to produce an object that time will age.
• To produce a chair that is essentially an old chair, aging wood surfaces and paint, introducing distress and wear. Could be called a reproduction, a fake, an homage, probably a few other things too! This is almost impossible as something of today is invariably there. Should it be by chance a great fake, time will uncover it as artificially aged surfaces will change over time differently to natural age. But like the old adage, ‘you can fool some of the people some of the time…’
• Do what you want, but be honest with yourself. You’ll know what you have or haven’t achieved.
For me, these 4 approaches are equally valid, will appeal to different people, and all can – when done well – reach across to another human being to appreciate, enjoy, and maybe even purchase. This is important.
In the meantime, below is a look at just some of the work John has produced during his decades in the craft.
Early chairs (and their maker). The comb back, in Yew and elm, was John Porritt’s first effort; it took him three months, he wrote.
English child’s chair.
Welsh stick chair.
Country Windsor with aged wood surfaces.
A chair based on drawings of Bodleian Library chairs.
Welsh stick chair with aged paint and wood.
Welsh stick chair with homemade paint.
Welsh cricket table.
Bodleian Library chair with homemade paint.
Welsh stick chair with a burr oak seat.