Last year I went to Glasgow, and while there, amongst other things, visited the Charles Rennie Mackintosh house. I have always liked Mackintosh’s work, comparing it in my quieter moments to his contemporary, and fellow genius, Frank Lloyd Wright. I love the way the two men were prepared to break out of the norm, and how they paid great attention to the tiny details that would make their visions come to life. The overall picture was all very well, but it had to bear up to close scrutiny, and the details support the whole.
While walking around the mackintosh house, being careful not to touch anything, I became more and more enamoured of his chairs. They were beautiful – they asked to be touched, and admired, from every possible angle – to run a hand over their elegant, neat lines.
So it was I started on my journey to try and replicate that feeling, that captivating grace, in greenwood, using the wood in its natural state. I wanted to move away from the traditional greenwood style chair and do something different with the medium – I wanted to do a Mackintosh!
With all chairs I start by making a miniature, usually sitting in front of the fire, with a sleepy dog snoring beside me. It is a work in the rough, to get an idea of proportions, and form. I cannot say it’s ‘to scale,’ as, at this stage, I have no firm idea of the final proportions I want.
From this I move to making a child sized version in the rough – at this point, I do not get wrapped up in the final finish of the chair – which is approximately half the size of the intended finished chair. Both the miniature and the childs chair are constructed from green Hazel with Ash for the seats. I peeled some of the wood, leaving the natural colour on the rest – the gorgeous dark red on the back rails is the result of fresh growth in the coppice – and, once waxed, is a deep lustrous colour, that sadly does not show up well in my photos.
Thought this is simply an experimental version, it is fully functional as a chair and quite capable of supporting a child, or, a full grown adult – I know, I tried it. I quite like this, but it is still not what I have in mind for the adult chair, so I set about making a full size prototype.
I took some liberties, often quite flagrant, and ended up with this:
I paid more attention to detail and finish, and exaggerated the proportions. The seat height is lower than standard at approximately 14 inches, and the back nearly 77 inches. The seat is a piece of spalted Ash I split from a log I have long wondered what to do with. while the seat is far from ‘traditional’ I like it, I think……..the grain is quite beautiful.
The legs, rails, stretchers and runners are slender, but very strong, and will become stronger and more robust as the wood dries. The chair is perfectly usable, as a coat hanger, clothes horse, ornament, or, simply, as a chair.
I still have a long way to go before I am happy and can start work on the final chair. But, when I do I will take great care to create, what I hope will be a beautiful, appealing, tactile and useful chair.