Monday, December 24, 2018

I Don't Do This For The Money


Time to Walk to Work


I see today in the news that the California lottery is something like 350 million dollars.  In my life I have never been tempted to buy a single lottery ticket.  Perhaps the scientific part of my brain tells me it is more likely that I will be sent to the moon by Musk someday.  And I don't want to go to the moon any more than Mars.  I happen to like Earth and hope that Mankind will soon wake up and begin to save ourselves from extinction.

The last time I worked for money was when I was employed in physics and I quit that job in 1973.  Since that time I have pursued my desire to be happy and productive and "save the past for the future."

Many of my clients are millionaires and several are billionaires.  I have been in their homes, seen the cars in their garages, walked around their private grounds and seen what they keep in their drawers.  I have never wanted to live in a 20,000 square foot mansion with a marble entry way larger than my home.  Too much money breeds stress and anxiety.  Not to mention paranoia and, in some cases, greed.  At the same time there are wealthy individuals and corporations who devote a good portion of their income to support the arts.  For them I am very grateful.

I am fortunate to have a nice home (which I built with my three sons) and a nice car and a wonderful family.  I have all the materials and tools I need and a large business with a good reputation.  I can work every day or take trips any time I feel like it.  I have said many times that life is good.

When it comes to my activities, I have an obsession to solve problems and reverse the damage to furniture caused by age and human stupidity.  In general, modern citizens do not consider the value of old wood furniture and how to prevent damage.  When something breaks they go to the hardware store and buy the wrong glue and just hold it together with tape or sheet rock screws.  I cry when they then bring it in and I have to repair the repair.

I sympathise with the old growth timber which was cut down over the years to make hardwood furniture.  I feel sorry for the sea turtles and elephants who died so their teeth and chutes can be used for decoration on high end furniture.  Now that these raw materials are considered "endangered" they are no longer used, and the only source is in extant antique furniture.  That makes them extremely important and worth conserving.

The other reason I value old furniture is the respect I have for the process of creating wood chairs, tables and cabinets using only water, wind and human power.  No carbon footprint here.

Lately, since the resale market for antiques is still in the dumps, I have been collecting wonderful pieces at very low prices.  In some cases, they are just free.  Several times I have been contacted by clients and strangers who want to donate their old pieces to someone who will want them, rather then sending them to the landfill.  I am happy to oblige.

Last week I took a rather simple chair out of the back room and decided to restore it to its original condition.  This chair was given to me some time ago by a good friend and collector who no longer wanted it.  It was a Chippendale country chair, made in a faded cherry, from New England, and certainly late 18th century.  It was loose in all the joints and missing the seat.  It had suffered a broken back leg and side stretcher, which was badly repaired.

I had it fumigated, as the seat rails showed evidence of powder post beetle.  I pulled out all the pegs and repaired the mortise and tenon joints with hide glue, replacing the hand shaped pegs and making new ones where they were missing.  I stripped the finish, and repaired the side stretcher.  I decided to leave the back leg foot repair in place, as it was still functional.

I sanded the wood and applied several coats of shellac and paste wax and it started to look better.

Yesterday I soaked some cattails and wove the rush seat.  As I was weaving the seat I thought to myself that this work was done to this chair when it was new by women who were paid very little.  Rushing seats and hand caning were activities that many women did so that they could earn some money in a world where men dominated the work force.

Natural Rush, Clothes Wringer, and Water Bath


Weaving rush seats is a calm and peaceful activity.  You wet the rush and use a wringer to press out the air, making a popping sound as it passes through.  Then you take a couple strands and start twisting.  You need to continue weaving until the entire seat is done.  If you stop and continue another day it will not work: the old rush will dry and change color and the seat will be uneven.  It took about 4 hours to weave the seat, allowing for coffee breaks and thus would cost around $300.  Adding the fumigation, repairs and refinishing, the total cost for this chair project would be $750.  I expect that in the current market, IF I could find a person interested in buying this chair, I could get about $100.

So, why did I take the time to do it?  Because the chair is honest and simple, and has served its purpose for over 2 centuries.  It will continue to survive for another century now that it has been reconditioned.  I did it because I can and because, if I didn't care about it at all, it would be buried in the landfill with plastic bags of garbage and forgotten.  This chair deserves better.

New England Chippendale Country Chair
I do not care if I ever sell it.  I did not do it for the money.






8 comments:

Daniel William said...

That was the most awesome article I have read in a long time. Thank you.

Follansbee said...

Beautiful post, Patrick. Thanks for taking the time to write it. Peter Follansbee

Anonymous said...

Great place to be I mentally and financially.

As for the antiques market, a very good friend of mine's mother collected and sold antiques starting in the early 1970s and had a storefront as well. I remember talking to her in about 2001 and she saying back then no one was buying antiques anymore. Was this the beginning of the current cycle you mention? She ended up selling the building and closing the business.

Where I find myself torn is wanting to make it myself by hand tools (a beginner with about three years of weekend work) vs buying these low priced antiques. Any thoughts on this?

Sincerely,
Joe

Reinhardt said...

Thank you for sharing a part of your story, and providing us with tools and techniques to keep trade our alive.
Reinhardt Restorations
Nashville TN

Randy said...

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and work. I appreciate when I am able to read stories that are inspiring. To know that there are still thoughtful artisans who value craft and seek to share their knowledge and ideas gives us hope. In these unsettling times, we need to be inspired. Thank you for sharing your inspirational stories. Wishing you and yours all the best.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for doing so.

Gav

W. Patrick Edwards said...

Joe,

As my business is in restoration and does not rely on sales, I noticed the downturn later than others. Your friend who had an antique shop was very smart to get out that early. Most of the real shock was when the global market collapsed in 2008. It has taken a long time to recover, and I still believe that high end antiques sales depend on rising real estate values. In California, that has happened much quicker than other parts of the country. This year (2018) my business has surpassed the levels I earned prior to the collapse. However, I have a business with a 50 year reputation.

As to building furniture. I suggest you take advantage of the low market and invest in fine antique furniture. Use them to educate yourself as to the tools and methods used historically to make copies. That is how I learned.

W. Patrick Edwards said...

Peter,

I am humbled to discover you read my blog. I thought of you while I was working on this chair. I imagined the original chair maker working for his daily bread, making this fine example in a shed down by the river.

Seeing your presentation at Williamsburg provided me with the metal visuals to support this.

I trust that two centuries from now some honest furniture maker will spend the time to keep one of your chairs alive.