In which Menticia and I visit an amazing chair-maker.
On October 19 2005 I took Menticia to the North Carolina State Fair. In the "Village of Yesteryear," which is actually not a village but a round building made of cinder blocks, I stopped dead at the sight of the most lovely settee I had ever seen. Its kindly maker was working his spokeshave. I ordered a settee though he warned me there was a two year waiting list.
This is the cartoon I posted mocking my impatience (click for a large enough view to actually see):
This past week the loveseat was finally ready; I took Menticia to William Bishop's workshop in Apex, North Carolina to see him at work and pick it up.
He showed us his amazing hand tools, in lovely inlaid work boxes he'd made for them, each tool in its own protective chamois sheath.
He starts with a tree he or a neighbor has cut down. He showed me the oak log behind his shop from which my chair back pieces had been hewn. He uses a hand maul to chop the oak into rough sticks and then uses his spokeshave to make the rough splintery sticks into smooth spindles.
He uses poplar for the seat and hews it with a curved axe to start the hollows into which one's rear settles comfortably. He continues with a different tool to smooth those hollows.
He has special old-fashioned augers with bits that can be turned to a precise angle once the hole is begun.
The legs are maple. He uses a long board with pins in it to determine the swells and hollows of the pattern and carves them with chisels as the legs rotate.
William Bishop started with a graduate degree in library science, then got a second graduate degree in fine arts, then worked as a curator for years. His wife noticed, though, that it was this careful, anachronistic furniture making that truly made him happy and suggest he go into it full time.
He made chairs and settees for twelve years before he decided that with kids headed for college and the need for health benefits, he could not afford to be a fine arts furniture maker any more. He's recently taken a job as a school librarian and told me that my settee may be the last piece he produces commercially.
Here you see it in the back of my van which, embarrassingly, still sports wisps of straw and more organic reminders of Dulcinea's round trip from Greensboro and her brief sojourn in my field.
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