Shaker Woods Shakerwoods Festival Columbiana, Ohio
Shaker Woods Shakerwoods Festival Columbiana, Ohio Shaker Woods Shakerwoods Festival Columbiana, Ohio Shaker Woods Shakerwoods Festival Columbiana, Ohio

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GRAHAM RETURNS TOTHE WOODS WITH BENCH MADE WINDSOR CHAIRS

Jefferson, Ohio _ About one hour north of Shaker Woods, Joseph Graham makes a style of chair that first appeared in the British Isles in the 17th century. Legend has it that King George I was out riding his horse when a sudden rainstorm drove him to take shelter in a wheelwright’s home. There he was offered a chair by the fire to sit and dry out before returning home. The chair was not only beautiful to look upon, but the king found comfort in the scooped wooden seat. By the time he headed back to Windsor castle, he had ordered chairs and given them the distinctive name they carry today
 
“The first time I saw a Windsor chair, I was drawn to the delicate curved legs and the elegant spindled back,” the local builder says. “I was curious about its history and found a builder whose workshop I attended. I fell in love at first sight with the process and within 18-months, I was making chairs people wanted to buy.”

He had planned to be an architect, but his fascination with the chairs quickly became his way of life. At first he was able to buy the logs he needed from three local sawmills, but they were small and when they closed, he sought help from the Amish.

“You see, the strength of a Windsor, in it’s many variations, depends on the core strength of the logs we strip to form the frame. These core logs are from what they call the butt end -- the part of the log from the ground to the first branch because we need knot-free boards.”

Joseph loves the labor of splitting the logs with sledgehammer and wedge as well as using specialized hand tools like the “froe,” a more precise splitting tool. After the logs are prepared in strips of various widths, he stores them in a drying barn until they’re ready for steam bending over many different shaped forms.

“I use almost all white oak for these frames because it’s dense and strong. The long fibers are supple and split and bend well. It’s because of these long fibers within the trunk that I split the logs following the fiber lines without damaging them.    Most of the work is done on the green wood and once the parts are clamped on forms, the wood must dry up to six months.”

 The seats can be made of many kinds of wood. Joseph prefers cherry, walnut, curly maple and several exotic woods. He dyes the frames to match the natural color of the wood or in some instances, he chooses to use contrasting stain colors.

While Joseph spent his children’s growing up years in the woodshop, his wife, Peggy, focused on rearing their six children – three boys and three girls. Their youngest, Charley, who is in his early thirties, has been the only one of their children who has had a lasting interesting in making chairs. Sometimes he helps with shows, but his goal is to open a restaurant serving healthy foods. His wife, Lauren, grows organic vegetables.

“Our other children are scattered all over the world in successful careers,” Joseph says. “Now that we are empty-nesters, Peggy gets more involved in our business. Outside of the few big festivals where we sell our furniture, she cooks wonderful meals for the people who come to our farm and stay for a week while they learn to make chairs. It’s like a wonderful retreat week and each one completes a chair.”

Although he spends much time alone in his shop, the training weeks he offers are highlights for both he and his wife.

“We’ve hosted many family groups. I only can take six in a class and one class is memorable for including a father and three sons. Sixteen accompanied by a parent is as young as I can take a teenager because they have to have adequate strength in the upper body. Making Windsor chairs is a workout, but a great break from a stressful 9 to 5 desk job. We have quite a few who come back time and again for the pleasure of it.”

He says he will have many rocking chairs at Shaker Woods because these have been much in demand.  His display will also include a wide variety of Windsor chair styles. In addition to living room chairs, he will have sets of dining room chairs.  Prices range from $1200 to $3500. Ask about reservations for a chair-making retreat week with the Grahams or to arrange for special orders. Check out pictures on their website. www.lenoxworkshops.com

Look for Joseph and Peggy Graham in Booth 103.

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Shaker Woods Shakerwoods Festival Columbiana, Ohio

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