One of the many benefits of bringing our order-fulfillment operations back to Kentucky is that we can again offer pre-publication orders of our books, with a free pdf and free shipping.
So I am happy to tell you that we are now taking pre-publication orders for Andy Glenn’s first book, “Backwoods Chairmakers.” You can place your order here. The book is $47. When you do, here’s what happens:
You will receive a free pdf of the book at checkout.
Your order will ship – for free – as soon as the book arrives in Covington.
The book is currently at the printer in Tennessee, and it is scheduled to ship the last week of December. Because of weather and the holidays, that might slip to the first week of January 2024.
Why should you buy this book?
When working with Andy on this book, we had a lot of late-night conversations. This book is a massive work. Andy said to me: “If I ever do another book, you have to stop me from going to extremes. Like trying to do everything. I’m like that. I just can’t help it.”
“Andy,” I replied, “that fact that you go to extremes is why this book is so damn good.”
Andy traveled all through Appalachia for this book, putting thousands of miles on his car and talking to people far and wide to do one thing. It’s this: Give the Appalachian chairmaker their due.
For centuries, people in this region have been making chairs for their communities and for sale to others, and the skills have been handed down through generations. Thanks to the modern world, their numbers have dwindled. Andy went and found them. He documented their work and their lives.
And – this is important – he approached the work as a woodworker as much as an ethnographer.
I love the “Foxfire” series of books. I have the complete series on my shelf. But they weren’t written for practitioners. “Backwoods Chairmakers” is a must for anyone who makes chairs or is interested in the culture and spirit of Appalachia.
Andy took thousands of photos and collected archival photos from all over the region. He talked to everyone who would let him in the door. He wrote their stories with an open heart – empty of the bias that often permeates the writing about the region.
And he shows you how these Appalachian chairmakers influenced his own work at the bench. The final two chapters detail how Andy builds a settin’ chair and a grand rocker.
Like all our books, “Backwoods Chairmakers” is made in the USA to the highest quality standards. The signatures are printed on #70 matte coated paper, sewn together with thread and bound with glue and fiber tape. All that is casebound between cloth-covered boards. And wrapped with a tear-resistant dust jacket. This is a permanent book.
The copy editing changes are done, the interior design is locked down and we’re almost done with the dust jacket (the front of its current incarnation is shown above). We have a few last questions to sort, then “Backwoods Chairmakers: In Search of the Appalachian Ladderback Chairmaker,” by Andrew D. Glenn, will be off to press (click on the title to sign up to be notified when the book is available).
Below is an introduction by Andy to some of the makers of Appalachian ladderbacks covered in the book, and a look at their work. (To read Andy’s previous posts on the book, click here.)
While working on “Backwoods Chairmakers” for the past four years, the questions I’ve most frequently been asked are: “What is an Appalachian ladderback chair?” and “Are the makers passing it along?”
What is it? An Appalachian ladderback often has posts that bend backward above the seat, with a woven seat (hickory bark is common) and minimal ornamentation. That’s a common definition, but it fails to recognize the variation and creativity within the tradition, as you’ll see from the chairs presented here.
Is it being passed on? That question requires a more nuanced response. The chairmakers are sharing their knowledge, both with family and with those interested. A major challenge is the market for handmade chairs. I visited chairmakers who shared that chairmaking pointed towards a better life for earlier generations of their family. That’s not always the case today, with health insurance, a living wage and retirement to consider.
Every chairmaker’s situation is unique (as are their chairs). Each of them entered chairmaking, or continued in the family tradition, for their own reasons. I share some of those stories in “BackwoodsChairmakers.” And that’s all a maker can do – share their knowledge. It’s out of their hands at that point. The next generation must find the way to carry things forward.
What follows is a sample of Appalachian chairmakers and opportunities to connect with them or their work. Some are more public and accessible than others.
James Cooper. James, who left chairmaking in the 1990s and is now an artist, says he “will be the fifth generation to be put in the family plot,” which is on a Jackson County, Kentucky, ridge a short distance from his homestead.
Tom Donahey. Tom shares his experience with those around Brasstown, North Carolina. His YouTube channel, Chairman Tom, is his way of reaching others with shavehorse and chairmaking knowledge.
Michael Houston. Michael says he “caught the tail end of old-time culture in eastern Kentucky.” He’s lived in Colorado since 1994, and carries parts of that eastern Kentucky mountain culture with him today. You can see more of his work at Michael Houston Custom Furniture.
Chester Cornett (1913-1981). Chester was an eastern Kentucky chairmaker who lived in Cincinnati during the last 10 years of his life. He made beautiful traditional chairs before making eye-catching rockers. A few of his chairs are available to view at the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead, Kentucky.
Newberry & Sons‘ Chairs. The Newberrys, of Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee, turn their chairs at the lathe and harvest hickory bark. I believe they are the largest commercial provider of hickory bark; they sell it directly to chairmakers (you can find ordering information on the website).
Mason Alexander. Mason has no website or phone number. Those interested in his chairs must travel his Rockcastle County, Kentucky, lane to place an order. Over the years, Mason has helped a number of interested chairmakers, but he said no one stuck with it (perhaps his grandson, Dylan, who helps Mason with the chairs and has made chairs himself, will be the exception).
Randy Ogle. Randy, of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is the third generation in his family of chairmakers and furniture makers. He has a shop and showroom on the Craft Loop Road. I recommend visiting when you’re in the vicinity. If you can’t visit in person, visit his website.
Dick Poynor (1802-1882). Dick was a prolific chairmaker, and formerly enslaved person, in Williamson County, Tennessee. He worked with a horse-powered lathe to turn his chair parts. examples of his chairs are in the collections at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) and Yale University. Robell Awake and Charlie Ryland are preparing a show about their research on the work of Dick Poynor for the Center of Craft in Asheville, North Carolina. They are also teaching a Poynor-style chair at Pine Croft in Berea in spring 2024.
Tom Lynch. Tom is a retired chairmaker in Rock Cave, West Virginia. Throughout his long career, he taught and wrote articles for woodworking magazines in addition to making chairs. His formal chairs are turned, often in cherry, with an acorn as a finial – a decorative touch that led to his business name, Lucky Acorn Chairs.
Terry Ratliff. Terry, an eastern Kentucky chairmaker, utilizes the natural movement in the wood, such as crooks and bends, to produce the unique look of his work. He has been a guest speaker/instructor at GreenWood Wrights’Fest for the past few years, and also teaches at craft schools and at local festivals.
Lyle Wheeler. Lyle, of Millers Creek, North Carolina, shows his chairs at a number of craft shows and sheep and wool festivals. He has also taught at the John C. Campbell craft school.
Sherman Wooton (1910-2004). Sherman started making chairs later in life, after returning to his childhood home in Hyden, Kentucky. His chairs are found in private collections and were sold in galleries within Appalachia.
I’ve just added four products to our store that are about to be released. We aren’t taking pre-orders, but you can sign up easily to be notified the moment these products arrive in our warehouse.
Here’s some information and links.
‘Backwoods Chairmakers’ by Andrew D. Glenn
Megan and I have been working nonstop on this book since summer, and the author has been working on the book now for years. “Backwood Chairmakers” by Andrew D. Glenn is a much-needed book that chronicles the lives and work of ladderback chairmakers in Appalachia.
Andy spent years traveling back roads with his camera, chasing leads and talking to chairmakers all over this region, which typically gets little positive attention. Andy’s work picks up where the Foxfire series of books left off. He approached the job as much as a chairmaker as an ethnologist. And the interviews are wide-ranging and fascinating.
But the book is not just a travelog. Andy focuses on the work of chairmaking. The methods and techniques used by these makers (motor oil as a finish, for example). And the final two chapters of the book show how to make a settin’ chair and a big rocker using many of the techniques and design cues Andy picked up along the way.
The book will be $47, which is a bargain. This is a huge book: 304 pages with hundreds of photos. All printed and bound to the highest standards possible – and in Tennessee.
We hope this book will ship by the end of the year. Sign up to be notified of its release here.
‘By Hammer & Hand’ Letterpress Poster
This gorgeous letterpress poster is sitting in our warehouse, ready to sell. All we need are the dang shipping boxes. This 13” x 19” poster is the only poster that has ever made a profit for us. During the last eight years, readers have implored us to release a new run.
After contacting the artist, we have a deal (he’ll get royalties, and we’ll handle the printing). The poster was printed via Letterpress in New York by Boxcar. It is a gorgeous and tactile thing. And I doubt we’ll do this again. Price $25.
Based on accounting ledgers from the 19th century, the “Lost Art Press Workbook” is a permanent record of the things you have built, the finish you used and who now owns the piece. It also is an excellent place to record the hours you spent on a project, new designs and so forth.
You can’t buy a decent ledger shaped like this anymore, so we decided to make one. The “Workbook” is a 64-page ledger printed on lovely #60 smooth and undyed paper. The pages are sewn and casebound in thick, cloth-covered boards. (We are using the same printing and bindery plant that does all our color books.) The book measures 4-1/2″ wide x 11-1/4″ tall.
This book will be released by the end of the month. Price $27.
This has been a difficult project. We hoped to have these kits available this week, but our CNC provider is having trouble dialing everything in without the piece slipping a bit.
But when it arrives it will be great fun.
The kit parts are made from 1/2”-thick Baltic birch. All the joinery and decorative details are already cut. All you have to do is a little cleanup with sandpaper, then glue the parts together.
Then you can finish up the square however you like. You can leave it unfinished or tart it up with paint, oil or a film finish. Because it’s plywood, it’s unlikely to ever go out of square.
Price $45. Sign up to be notified of its release here.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Hello international people. Before you ask whether these products ship internationally, here’s some helpful information. We don’t ship internationally. “Backwoods Chairmakers” and the Anarchist’s Square Kit will be offered to our international retailers. The other two products don’t have enough margin to sell through retailers. You can use a mail forwarding service to buy them. Details here.
I grew up around handmade ladderback chairs that were made in the Arkansas Ozarks, but I didn’t think much about them until working as Owen Rein’s editor. Owen lives in Stone County, Arkansas, about three hours from where I grew up.
He was the first person to open my eyes to the simple beauty and mechanical sophistication of the post-and-rung chair.
Compared to Windsor chairs, there’s not much written about post-and-rung chairs. That should come as no surprise because Windsor chairs experienced an amazing renaissance starting in the late 20th century that is still going on today. Ladderback chairmaking, on the other hand, seems to be vanishing. It was a once-thriving craft in many mountain communities. But makers are dying out, and there aren’t as many young people taking up the tools.
And that’s why I’m thrilled to announce I am now editing Andrew Glenn’s book that shines a spotlight on the ladderback chairmakers who are left, and will instruct future generations on how to make these chairs.
“Backwoods Chairmakers” is a fascinating combination of a travelog, personality profiles and a practical shop manual. During the last few years, Andy has traveled all over Appalachia interviewing and documenting the techniques of post-and-rung chairmakers. They aren’t easy to find. Some of them live without electricity or phones.
Andy interviewed dozens of people for the book about the daily life of a chairmaker, which is a difficult way to make a living. Andy spent time in the woods with them. Observed them working. And tried to get a sense of why they chose chairmaking and the post-and-rung form.
The book concludes with two chapters where Andy shows you how to make a post-and-rung side chair and rocking chair using the traditional techniques explored in the book. These chapters, we hope, will inspire new makers to try making these ingenious chairs.
I’m in the middle of working on Andy’s book, and we hope to have it out by the end of 2023. It’s a fascinating read – even if you don’t care a whit about chairmaking. The people who populate “Backwoods Chairmakers” are astonishingly resilient, inventive (a tenon cutter made from a washing machine?) and thoughtful about their craft.
And unlike other authors who write about mountain folk, Andy approaches the topic with an unusual sensitivity. As someone who grew up in Arkansas and now lives in Kentucky, I’m familiar with the stereotypes (and don’t much appreciate them).
Oh, and did I mention the photography is gorgeous? Andy is great behind the lens.
Definitely follow Andy on Instagram if you want to learn more about the book. He is regularly posting amazing photos and details from his travels.
Editor’s note: Andy Glenn reports that he is working on the final edit of “Backwoods Chairs” before passing it along. It’ll be in our hands in Junewhen we’ll start the editing and layout process. “I’m excited, and more than a little relieved, for this to join the stable of upcoming LAP books,” he says. All the images in this post are from Andy’s visit to Randy Ogle’s The Chair Shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Randy’s a third-generation chairmaker, with a chair shop and gallery just off the Craft Loop road. Randy’s also one of the few makers Andy visited with a storefront and open hours, and Andy highly recommends a visit if you get a chance.
Chris and I first discussed this book a few years back – a book on the backwoods chairmaking tradition, one found deep in the hills and mountain communities of central Appalachia. It excited me – to search for and travel to working makers still engaged in the longstanding tradition of rural chairmaking. I had no idea who I’d find still at it. There are no networks or directories for this sort of thing.
I searched and traveled for makers over a couple-year stretch. Covid complicated things immensely at the beginning. I was already an outsider requesting visits and traveling from away. Now I was visiting their shops with the uncertainty of the virus swirling about. So things paused for half a year or so before traveling started in earnest.
One aspect that made this project such an enjoyable riddle was that I had no idea who I’d find during the search. But I came across plenty of chairmakers (which took me to splendid rural chair shops in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina) during this time to the point I needed to end the search and put the book together, or risk this thing never coming together in print.
I found that I needed to write immediately after a visit or my initial impressions would dull away. Details would muddle, smells would fade and I’d forget the punchline to the jokes told by the makers. No matter how thorough my note-taking, writings from a recalled visit didn’t share the same spark as a fresh experience. So I wrote immediately after traveling, sometimes through the night if I was visiting different makers on successive days.
The issue: I had no idea how the book fit together until after the search or how each visit would relate to the others.
The early writings weren’t chapters but more essay-like. In the best case, they were the primordial chapters. When I revisited an essay, sometimes a year after the visit, the vitality of the day would rush back. Later on, once completely finished with the search, the story arch became apparent and I could see how the independent puzzle pieces of essays fit together. That’s when the book began to take shape.
In the earliest days, I also wrote when considering an issue. The following was cut during the latest edit. Like many of the early essays, this doesn’t fit properly into the book. A few early writings were mercifully deleted (there’s nothing quite like the embarrassment that comes from reading your own bad writing), while plenty of others were adapted and absorbed into the final version.
I don’t remember what prompted the entry below, though I imagine it was in response to friends’ and acquaintances’ perplexed responses to hearing about this book. Most people responded with excitement. A few were so overwhelmingly baffled that they offered no follow-up. Just silence (I actually enjoy these responses very much). But, at times, there was a hint of dismissiveness about these chairs and the value of this book. The essay was likely written with that attitude in mind.
This survived the initial fiery purge of the “delete” button, and it doesn’t cause stomach pain or my face to turn bright red, so I thought it’d be fun to share here.
I love the work of authors Wendell Berry and E. B. White. It is my hope that I subconsciously replicated their style and cadence. It is wholly doubtful I will achieve it, but still a resounding desire.
Their writing styles welcome the reader to share in their experiences through the combination of humor, neighborliness and the strength of their convictions. A running theme in their writings, though maybe more of an undercurrent than a theme really, is the respect each shows toward rural America*. Respect towards its people, their communities and the environment. Seldom explicit (though Berry does speak strongly in defense of rural America against the subjugated qualities of the big, market-based economy and the destructive policies of those in positions of power), the worth of each community member is inherently implied.
To mount a defense for the rural against the urban, either aloud or in writing, immediately puts the defender in the weaker position, and should only be done so when absolutely necessary. As it relates to chairmaking; beyond this, I do not intend to spend any time arguing the value and worth of backwoods chairs when compared to “sophisticated” work or dominant design trends. The worth of the backwoods is inherent, as much as any other place, people and creative work. Rural is only devalued if we choose to devalue it, and, unfortunately, why Mr. Berry must speak to its defense.
Within “Backwoods Chairs,” I follow the chairmaking tradition, rich as it is in the hills and mountains of central Appalachia, out of the rural communities and into larger cities, and even toward different regions when the story points elsewhere. Yet these chairs are most often found in rural areas for a reason; Appalachia has abundant timber for post-and-rung chairs, remote communities in need of seating, along with the low investment and overhead, all of which created an ideal environment for green wood chairmaking.
The beauty of the chair is found in its simple form, the local materials, and the maker’s skill. It’s a subtle chair, one that’s easy to overlook because of our familiarity with the form. But it’s a chair that supported generations of makers, attracts both artists and craftspeople towards its form, and is ripe for contemporary interpretations as the tradition pushes forward.
It’s a chair worth celebrating, along with the resiliency of the makers who continue on this path.
– Andy Glenn
*During their careers, both authors left their homes and opportunities within the city (both lived in New York City at one point) for a rural life. Berry moved toward a familial farmstead along the banks of the Kentucky River while White went northwards to a saltwater farm in coastal Maine.