I grew up around handmade ladderback chairs that were made in the Arkansas Ozarks, but I didn’t think much about them until working as Owen Rein’s editor. Owen lives in Stone County, Arkansas, about three hours from where I grew up.
He was the first person to open my eyes to the simple beauty and mechanical sophistication of the post-and-rung chair.
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Compared to Windsor chairs, there’s not much written about post-and-rung chairs. That should come as no surprise because Windsor chairs experienced an amazing renaissance starting in the late 20th century that is still going on today. Ladderback chairmaking, on the other hand, seems to be vanishing. It was a once-thriving craft in many mountain communities. But makers are dying out, and there aren’t as many young people taking up the tools.
And that’s why I’m thrilled to announce I am now editing Andrew Glenn’s book that shines a spotlight on the ladderback chairmakers who are left, and will instruct future generations on how to make these chairs.
“Backwoods Chairmakers” is a fascinating combination of a travelog, personality profiles and a practical shop manual. During the last few years, Andy has traveled all over Appalachia interviewing and documenting the techniques of post-and-rung chairmakers. They aren’t easy to find. Some of them live without electricity or phones.
Andy interviewed dozens of people for the book about the daily life of a chairmaker, which is a difficult way to make a living. Andy spent time in the woods with them. Observed them working. And tried to get a sense of why they chose chairmaking and the post-and-rung form.
The book concludes with two chapters where Andy shows you how to make a post-and-rung side chair and rocking chair using the traditional techniques explored in the book. These chapters, we hope, will inspire new makers to try making these ingenious chairs.
I’m in the middle of working on Andy’s book, and we hope to have it out by the end of 2023. It’s a fascinating read – even if you don’t care a whit about chairmaking. The people who populate “Backwoods Chairmakers” are astonishingly resilient, inventive (a tenon cutter made from a washing machine?) and thoughtful about their craft.
And unlike other authors who write about mountain folk, Andy approaches the topic with an unusual sensitivity. As someone who grew up in Arkansas and now lives in Kentucky, I’m familiar with the stereotypes (and don’t much appreciate them).
Oh, and did I mention the photography is gorgeous? Andy is great behind the lens.
Definitely follow Andy on Instagram if you want to learn more about the book. He is regularly posting amazing photos and details from his travels.
— Christopher Schwarz