Chris Williams and I have decided to hold this Welsh stick chair class on May 21-25, 2018, at our Covington, Ky., shop. Registration will open at noon Eastern time on Friday, Oct. 13. You can read more about the class and the shop environment here. Here are the particulars of registration:
Registration will be electronic. We will post a link at noon on Friday to sign up. Once the six spots in the class are filled, there will be a waiting list. I strongly encourage you to sign up for the waiting list if you want to attend this class. People’s lives change.
After registering, the six in the class will be sent an invoice for a $500 deposit. The remainder of the fee ($1,000) will be due April 1. Until April 1, your deposit is refundable. After April 1, there are no refunds. I know this is strict, but there are a few students who play a juggling game with classes and deposits. We do not want to play this game.
Attendees will receive a tool list and details on booking accommodations in the Covington area. Don’t worry – there are lots of rooms here.
A small materials fee will be due on the day the class begins. I’m trying to source as much of the material from tree services, so I don’t yet know what the fee will be. Likely about $100.
As mentioned before, we strongly encourage attendees to have some chairmaking experience or a good deal of experience with handwork. The class will be challenging. Chris works to a very high level, and we will do everything to bring you up there as well.
This will be an intense and gratifying week. All your senses will be involved. As Chris’s assistant and ambassador for Covington, I’ll make sure everyone eats and drinks well and gets a good taste of what this area has to offer. Unless you are a devoted hermit, I think you’ll find the evenings as enlightening and stimulating as the classroom time.
Finally, as I mentioned before, this is not a money-making venture for Lost Art Press or myself. I’ll be handling all the particulars myself, and I’m not a professional secretary or university registrar. So please be patient with me as I put together this special event.
As many of you know, Chris Williams is writing a book about the 10 years he spent with Welsh chairmaker John Brown, who was Chris’s mentor and friend. The book, which is well underway, will detail John Brown’s woodworking life using Chris’s personal story, interviews with woodworkers all over the world and 20 of John Brown’s best columns for Good Woodworking magazine.
In addition to the narrative of this influential woodworker and writer, the book will detail how John Brown built his chairs using the techniques and patterns handed down to Chris.
This is not the same chair shown in John Brown’s book “Welsh Stick Chairs.” That chair was one of his early forms. After more than a decade of work, the design of John Brown’s chairs evolved into something else entirely. Something spectacular, really. Readers of Good Woodworking got a glimpse of these chairs in the 1990s, and these later chairs are what made me take up the tools and make chairs myself.
For a glimpse of this sort of work, I encourage you to visit Chris’s website and, more importantly, follow Chris on Instagram for a near daily look at his work.
To help re-introduce this style of chair to North America, we hope to bring Chris to our shop here in Covington, Ky., May 21-25, 2018, to lead a group of six woodworkers in building this chair. The class would be held in our storefront on Willard Street. Because of the intense nature of this class, we would encourage participants to have some chairmaking experience under their belts (or a lot of experience with handwork).
The Cost of the Class The class would be $1,500 for the week plus a small fee for materials. This is a considerable expense for a week-long class, so an explanation is in order. For starters, this will be an intimate class – just six students, one instructor and an assistant (me). It will be a different experience than schools that have 12, 18 or even 30 students in a class. Second, we have to get Chris and his tools to Kentucky all the way from Wales. And, most importantly, we have to make it worth his while. This is not a Lost Art Press venture. Neither I nor Lost Art Press will make a dime off of this event. All the proceeds go to Chris to support his important work.
In addition to learning to make this gorgeous chair, participants also will learn a lot about John Brown. Chris is filled with great stories about the man that could be pried loose with a pint or a glass of wine.
The Setting Covington is a nice little city in the shadow of downtown Cincinnati. And the shop is walking distance to lots of hotels, restaurants, breweries and two of the best bourbon bars in the United States. The storefront is a great place to work – lots of natural light and workbenches.
We’ll be able to provide participants a list of nearby hotels and AirBnBs that range from $65 a night and up. Our shop is a 10-minute drive the Cincinnati International Airport (CVG) and we’re just a few blocks from I-75.
But before we plow forward on bringing Chris here, we’d like to hear from you. If you are interested in participating in this event, please leave a comment below. This will help us judge the interest among woodworkers. Thanks in advance for your help.
Personal note: No, I’m not opening a school; nor am I returning to teaching. What do I get out of this? I get to watch Chris work and listen to his stories about John Brown, which will make me a better editor for the book. Plus, this class will help expose woodworkers to a fantastic chair design.
I never got to meet John Brown. Truth be told, I didn’t hear of his name until several years after his death. But I’m starting to feel like I know the man.
My first introduction to John Brown, and to Welsh Stick Chairs, was as I imagine it was for many woodworkers, a blog post Chris wrote. These unusual chairs were nothing like I’d ever seen before – theirs was a dynamic form, suggesting a feral energy coiled within the sticks, waiting to spring out. I was intrigued, but at that time focusing on lutherie, so I mentally filed the chair away for another day. A little over a year later and John Brown was again mentioned on the Lost Art Press blog, this time in the context of his influential, if hard to find, book Welsh Stick Chairs. Then I bought a copy of The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, and opened the cover to find a dedication to John inside. I was just starting to think about building furniture in addition to my usual workshop diet of lutherie, and my interest was piqued, but I still knew precious little about John or his chairs.
All of that has changed in the past twelve months since I joined the team for the Life & Work of John Brown. The chairs still fascinate me, and I cannot wait to start building some with my co-author Chris Williams. And I feel that I am starting to know John a little. Over the past year we have combed through all of John’s articles for Good Woodworking, his book (yes copies are still out there if you search for them, yes you will get gouged for a tatty second hand copy), his article for Fine Woodworking, and his correspondence. All of this is a great starting point for getting to grips with John’s passion for hand tool work, his vision of the Anarchist Woodworker, and the importance he placed in the Welsh-ness of his chairs. But all of that only presents half a picture – it tells you how John perceived himself and his work, a perspective which is incredibly important. But unless you have exceptional self awareness, your writing and correspondence will never tell the reader how other people perceive you.
And so I’ve spent the weekend on a research trip to deepest Pembrokeshire, where John spent many of his chair making years. This trip has been revelationary, giving my understanding of John context in terms of both space and relationships – we saw the house he lived in when he first started building Welsh Stick Chairs, and the countryside that he wrote so passionately about in Good Woodworking. We also spent time with some of John’s family and friends, talking about John’s path as a woodworker and chairmaker, and his motivation and philosphy in craft, trying to understand the man behind the Anarchist Woodworker. One of the joys of carrying out interviews is not just answering the big questions you came armed with, but the incidental details, or stories that you never thought to ask. Yesterday I sat in a Welsh kitchen, enthralled while John’s first wife unveilled the very first thing John had made from wood – a simple lidded cotton box held together with small tacks, and which is still in use today. It was a powerful reminder that even great makers do not start out building masterpieces – they have to start with simple projects just like the rest of us.
There is a responsibility when writing about someone other than yourself. To write with integrity, you must approach the subject both sympathetically and honestly, critically but without judging. Above all, it must be accurate. In many ways this is not dissimilar to researching and writing history (one of my very first loves), only in a much more modern setting. Tracking down answers to our questions, and uncovering what should be a rich and vibrant narrative, is thrilling. We won’t be writing a full biography of John Brown – that would take several volumes, and much of it is not relevant to John Brown the chairmaker. But as someone who’s craft was more than just what he did with his hands, he is in many ways indivisible from his work. And so we are going to tell the story of Chairman Brown, and to hopefully prompt a well deserved re-evaluation of his impact on the craft.
Yesterday would have been John Brown’s 85th birthday – a fact that I did not learn until after we arranged the field trip several months ago. But it felt very apt that on what would have been his birthday, I finally saw several of John’s chairs in the flesh for the first time. Running my hands over the smoothed arms, feeling the rough-sawn surface of the underneath of the seat, and yes sitting in, John’s chairs transformed for me a lot of his writing from abstract concept to real craft. These chairs have power, very much like the words of the man who made them. This is a power, and an ethos, which we hope to convey in the Life & Work of John Brown.
I cannot wait to bring you all along for the journey.
“I am a Welshman, and I am influenced in the chairs I make, or some of them, by old Welsh chairs. Irish chairs are as different as is possible, so are Scottish chairs. Brittany is Celtic. The people of Brittany, Cornwall and Wales speak a language which has little relation to the Irish or Scots Gaelic. Celtic (with a hard C) is difficult to define, but it is a fashionable ‘buzz’ word, as was heritage a year or two back…. I would forbid the word Celtic to be applied to my work, it is Welsh. Welsh.”