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Jay Gaynor, from a 2005 article, "A History of Historic Trades," in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal.

Jay Gaynor, from a 2005 article, “A History of Historic Trades,” in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal.

I am sad to report that Jay Gaynor, director of Historic Trades at Colonial Williamsburg since 2001, died today (July 31, 2014).

Jay was formerly the curator of Mechanical Arts at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which he joined in 1981. Prior to that, he was co-owner of Jamestown Tool Co., makers of reproduction 19th-century English metal handplanes, director of the High Point Museum in High Point, N.C., and associate curator of history at the Ohio Historical Village in Columbus, Ohio, among other positions at the Village, which he helped launch in the 1970s.

He’s also written countless articles on historic tools and trades, edited several books (including the fascinating “Eighteenth-Century Woodworking Tools: Papers Presented at a Tool Symposium” (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)) and, along with Peter Ross, worked on the most recent edition of “The Tool Chest of Benjamin Seaton” (TTHS) to measure and provide detailed descriptions and drawings of the tools therein.

In short, his work has been extraordinarily important to our knowledge and understanding of historic tools and trades. Jay, however, would have been the first to tell you that everything he knew was from conversations and correspondence with others – he just managed to talk and write to the right people. That’s a sentiment he expressed during a dinner I was privileged to share with him several years ago, just before the second edition of the Seaton book was published. Jay told me everything he knew was just a collection of other people’s knowledge – though I didn’t, and don’t, believe that. He was humble, kind and extraordinarily smart. He will be missed.

— Megan Fitzpatrick


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  • EAIA 1933

    Jay’s involvement with the Early American Industries Association was one of leadership. He was the chair of the Research Grants Committee and a member of the Endowment Committee. His leadership of the grants committee was exemplary and with his vast knowledge he was able to encourage researchers as they compiled their research. He was a gentleman, a scholar, a friend and very modest about the depth of his knowledge of tools and trades. EAIA is stronger as the result of his influence.
    There will be two memorial services for Jay, in Williamsburg on Friday, August 8, at 1:00 o’clock and one in Waynesboro, VA, on Saturday, August 9, at Noon. Here are the addresses:
    Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, 215 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, VA.
    Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1904 Mount Vernon Street, Waynesboro, VA

  • Gary Roberts

    Jay was a driving force in the exploration of traditional trades and even more so, in seeing to it that what was learned became public. He was the nicest of people, kind and giving without a thought to personal gain. It was impossible to compliment Jay without his making sure it was known that he was a compiler of knowledge drawn from what he had learned from other people. Jane and his family are in my thoughts.

  • Bill Rainford

    I can’t believe he is gone — we just saw him at the EAIA event in May and he looked like he was doing well. I always enjoyed all of my conversations and meetings with him at CW and the EAIA events. He was always generous with his time and his knowledge. I will miss him a lot. Jane and his family are in our thoughts and prayers.

    -Bill Rainford

  • David Cockey

    Very sad and a great loss.

  • tdgraham

    What a shock! I have known Jay since the late 1990s, having met him after joining EAIA. We have been at numerous EAIA events, Donnelley and Brown auctions, and other tool related events. One can’t meet a traditional woodworker, craftsman, or tool collector who has not met Jay at one time or another. He was always willing to take time to talk to the novice, steer the advanced amateur in the right direction, or suggest other sources for additional clarification.

    The craftsmen and women of Williamsburg must be devastated. I never talked to one of them who did not have the utmost respect for Jay.

    Megan, please keep us updated with any further information about Jay. Those of us in the Virginia, Mid-Atlantic, and elsewhere may be able to pay our respects personally.

    Tom Graham
    Round Hill, VA


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