Editor’s note: It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment that John Brown became a personal hero. Was it when I first saw his chairs? When I read his early columns for Good Woodworking? Or was it when I read his book “Welsh Stick Chairs?”
During the weekend, Toronto carpenter Marc Stonestreet mentioned how inspired he was by the conclusion to “Welsh Stick Chairs.” He even insisted that his wife read it. Of course, I went back and read it again as a result. I’ll never forget the line about asparagus.
If you have ever wondered if John Brown’s writings are for you, this short chapter is likely the answer.
— Christopher Schwarz
We are approaching the de-Industrial Revolution, or New Age. Empires disintegrate. Nations re-emerge. We must look back and see how it was done before, not to copy, but to learn. Some of us hope that Wales will again become a Nation. We must look at our history, and each of us in our way pluck something from it and revive it. How did my forefathers go about their life? What equipment did they possess? What was the spirit of the making? I have no doubt the word ecology was as strange to them as it was to me a few years ago (what is the Welsh for ecology?). They preserved their environment because they didn’t have the monster tools to wreck it. No flails for them, they laid their hedges. Now I have the knowledge they didn’t have and I try to preserve my environment. Science is destructive, it has wrecked the land, but only those old fundamentals, agriculture and handicrafts, can restore it.
We have come full circle. Good quality goods can be made as cheaply by hand as in a factory. The ‘March of Time’ has overtaken the tycoons. The costs of production, rent, rates, wages, holiday pay, maternity pay, insurances, and above all capital plant, have soared. The craftsman with small workshop, some good tools and a woodstove can compete. The industrialist’s answer is to make nastier and cheaper goods, with less labour and more automation. People are beginning to despair about the rubbish; they want better and are willing to pay for better.
We are entering the age of the craftsman, where skills will be what matters. An age when the man who can grow asparagus will be more important than the man who can spell asparagus.
You may think that this is a long way from the Welsh stick chair, but I have plenty of time to think about things. I live in a beautiful place, I work at some thing I love, I make enough money to live, and my demands on the world’s resources are very meagre. What is so unusual about this idyllic circumstance is that there is plenty of room for more to join.
— John Brown, “Welsh Stick Chairs”