Greenwood construction fosters an intimacy with raw material that parallels the relationship created between the human body and a chair. After many years of working with wood using more conventional techniques, I have become captivated by this method of working. I chose to work with traditional greenwood techniques because of the way they foster intimate knowledge of the material itself, integrating its cellular and biological characteristics closely into the structural logics of the built object. The process of sourcing material, the longevity of the object as determined by its craftsmanship, and the way the chair supports the body, all lead me to contemplate sustainability and enliven my relationship to both material and ecosystem, even as the project asks me to confront my complicity in the cutting of a tree.  I've sought the expertise of expert green woodworkers throughout the process, and am deeply grateful for their sharing of their knowledge.

 

Traditional green woodworking was the province of folk craftspeople, but it attracted a new audience starting in the 1960's due to the work of counter-cultural practitioners including Jennie Alexander, Drew Langsner, Peter Follansbee, and many others. My study of chairs and chairmaking has been deepened by an ongoing Maker-Creator Fellowship at the Winterthur Museum, where I examined and measured historic chairs, and explored the papers of Jennie Alexander. I'm also inspired and influenced by Galen Cranz's analysis of the often dysfunctional relationship between the human body and the design of the chair in Western culture. My desire is to connect to and critically engage the intimate relationship between colonialism, deforestation, and furniture making through my research, both academic and experiential.

Oak slat-backed chair, 19th century, maker unknown

Reprinted from "American Country Furniture, 1780-1875," Ralph and Terry Kovel

My first completed chair, the iconic Jennie Alexander design, in process and visiting an eastern white pine cousin

Green-wood chairmaker Chris Nassise, of Easton, MA, demonstrating wood splitting techniques. Green-wood construction works with wood in its raw state, and does not involve sawing or kiln-drying the lumber, completely bypassing any industrial processing of the material. Instead, craftspeople utilize simple hand tools to split the wood in its "green" (not dry) state along the grain, making use of the inherent strength and flexibility of the wood's fibrous cells.

splitting 1/4 of a red-oak log in preparation for roughing-out chair parts

red oak in varying stages of preparation, along with traditional splitting tools

In December of 2021, I was fortunate to participate in a Jennie Alexander Chair Building Workshop for women and LGBTQIA/BIPOC woodworkers, sponsored by the Chairmaker's Toolbox, an organization dedicated to diversification of the craft of chairmaking. The course was taught by Travis Curtis and Aspen Golann, and hosted at chairmaker Greg Pennington's shop outside Nashville TN.

experimenting with salvaged red oak from a nearby hiking trail in Greenfield.

hand shaping

smaller-scale splitting with a froe

most shaping is done with a drawknife

the process is a study in improvisational geometry, involving the shaping of predictable and measurable planar forms from a raw log, using hand tools

roughing out a back slat

gluing up a side frame for another Jennie Alexander-style chair

Chair assembly, from the Chairmaker's Toolbox workshop

Learning green woodworking pandemic-style, working remotely with Chris Nassise

three-legged stools were the perfect practice project. I look forward to digging more deeply into this design.

a very good chair-tree happened to blow down right across a nearby hiking trail in Highland Park, Greenfield

it wasn't far from the road, so Sara and I were able to split it onsite and roll it out on a canoe dolly

Family pilgrimage

My first completed chair, emblazoned with a mockingbird, state bird of Tennessee, where the chair was made and where its oak tree grew.