My birthday week was wonderful and thank you everyone for the wonderful birthday greetings to warm the start to my seventy-second year of life. I never imagined I would live until this wonderful age and for one reason only: At 35 years of age I was told by a consultant that I had about 18 months to live. Offering no alternative but ultimately surgery I took charge of my life and made a simple change to my diet. Though that took a huge effort and much research but it changed my circumstances over a three year period. My health was totally restored and my second life really began with my migration to the USA.
My 23 years as an immigrant were very full years where survival required many shifts in my attitude. Throughout that period there I trained and apprenticed many people, taught thousands of would-be woodworkers and spread the good news that lifestyle woodworking could indeed be a real entity in anyone’s life whether you wanted to change jobs are or not, do it as a serious part of your life or simply add woodworking to compliment your life skills. Not many have to make life-changing decisions like the one I made in 1985 but even today I am still making large and tiny decisions in the day-to-day. As an instance, this week I bought a skipping rope to give me quick bursts of high-demand on-demand exercise to intersperse my day. I like my blood pressure to remain around 120/70 and my blood sugars at around 6. It works and it’s a small thing that makes a big difference. Another change for me happened when I made my first rocking chair back in the early 90s. People loved them and they became a very saleable part of my furniture portfolio. Indeed, President Bush has three of my Brazos Rocking chair designs and other famous people have my designs too.
I have been developing my ideas for a new rocking chair, but when you already have a really excellent design, it is kinda hard to adopt a new thought. I love my Brazos Rocking chair design and I don’t want a thing to change. I designed it for Texas home styles which do tend to be larger than most European homes. The new rocking chair needed to be lighter in weight and size so the challenge was to reduce bulk without losing comfort, quality and equally important its intrinsic strength. I think I got it!
Most design work for chairs starts out by holding sticks, battens rails in midair and pushing your arms out full length to try to get a perspective of how this or that angle might work. Your mind explores options only you can see and garners from antiquity concepts you saw in the dim distant past that you might have filed away in the labyrinth of your mind. Holding a back post twixt finger and floor doesn’t give you any angle at all but it does allow the creative juices to flow more freely to avoid the creator’s block. Within a few hours, I had an angle between the seat and the back that I thought would work for me. I didn’t want a sloucher’s chair but I did want a chair that would work for the many applications rocking chairs were in fact designed for and that could be a wide range of working tasks. Intrinsically, the rocking chair is an American concept for a working chair. Why do we have fond memories of a laid-back societal norm in the archives of our minds where we see a front porch in a countryside picture with pumpkins and a rocking chair or two? Well, it’s not quite what it might seem. In the pre-air conditioning days, most families lived on the front porches of their homes because indoors it could be almost too hot to survive. My life in Texas taught me many things about heat. I understand the continuing affection Americans and Texans, in particular, have for the wrap-around porches that shielded the walls from the ultra-hot sun throughout the day’s rotation of the earth.
In the developing years of the USA, families pursued domestic crafts that supported agrarian life. In the pre-plastic days baskets were the predominant vessels used for harvesting, transporting and storing of just about everything you can think of. A good and well-made white oak basket would last through many years of service and these baskets were hand-woven on the front porch, stoop or verandah. The rocking chair adapted perfectly to the working people’s need for mobility. From a rocker you could alter your body at whim to lean forward and pick up more weavers to thread through the splints of a basket in progress. We don’t see baskets in the same way today but try to think baskets in sizes ranging from a bushel on up to hampers size and then the more massive laundry transportation sizes of 2 feet by 3 feet 2 1/2 feet deep. Agrarian life demanded something strong enough to lift and carry field crops to market and so on, but then too perhaps animals ranging from chicks to pigs.
Nowadays, the history and development of the rocking chair might well be blurred by cultural changes but few chairs offer the comfort and action of a well-made and well-designed rocking chair. Rocking chairs launch you from seat to standing firmly on your feet with a simple tilt into a forward roll from the upper body. They can spin on a hard floor to any angle you want and you can even scoot them forwards and backwards too. Though it might now be seen more as a leisure piece, I have sat in a rocking chair for over two decades to spend many an hour year on year to do my desk and office work. I prefer it to the five-wheeled lazy office chairs and I have worked on it for a wider range of tasks including the use of my laptop, handwriting and drawing in my journals, minor handwork tasks like sewing fabrics and leather, and then too just the thought processes of being creative, planning and meeting others. Just eliminating a desk in front of me amply compensates me by not needing an actual desk all the time.
My new rocking chair will be such a working chair but with style, elegance and the great comfort any domestic or office piece must or should or can have. In essence, the fact that this rocking chair generally has no need of a workbench or an office desk makes it an interesting option for my house. Funny, though, it’s the laptop itself that might just help us to revive and reintroduce this fine furniture concept into our lives once more.