For the next five days I’m in Maryland with four other friends to build a Jennie Alexander chair from Larry Barrett, a student and long-time friend of Alexander.
Larry makes a chair that is 90 percent similar to Jennie’s iconic chair from her book “Make a Chair From a Tree.” Some of the details of Larry’s chair are a little different than Jennie’s – especially the front rung that is mortised onto the front posts.
This change to the front rung was at the request of Larry’s wife, Pong, who requested a chair that was more comfortable for people with shorter legs. The remainder of the chair, however, is nearly identical to Jennie’s.
Today we arrived at Larry’s home with our tools, a workbench and an extra shavehorse. Larry then spent about 30 minutes explaining his history with Jennie and the chair. He took a class with Alexander about 20 years ago, returned home and started making dozens and dozens of these chairs on his wooded property.
Since that class, Larry has been helping Jennie work on her third revision of “Make a Chair From a Tree” to bring this classic book back into print. I am the editor of this book and need to know this chair inside and out – especially the way the tangential and radial planes of the wood affect the long-term durability of the chair.
As Jennie isn’t teaching classes anymore, I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather learn this from.
After Larry introduced us to this chair and its structure, he asked if we wanted to start building the chair a day early. We all jumped at the chance to begin using drawknives and planes to bring the front rung to size – it was also a great way to unwind after the 7-1/2-hour drive to Maryland.
Also, dinner at Dogfish Head’s Alehouse helped the unwinding.
Tomorrow we start making the front posts from rived oak.
— Christopher Schwarz