Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Les Chaises

The chair was almost hidden under a stash of bric-a-brac, used books and Christmas ornaments at Dexter's Flea market in Moncton.  Pathetic it was, but something about the curved back and hip rests suggested that a makeover could turn this shabby artifact into chic decor.  With a bit of negotiating Robert drove the asking price down to ten dollars, shook hands with the vendor and lifted the sad-looking piece of furniture from the junk pile.


 Beneath a makeshift covering of raw canvas, straw stuffing and upholstery tacks, the bones of the sturdy antique wooden chair were well-preserved.  Gentle sanding, a cherry stain and a coat of varnish were enough to revive the surface.  The original seat was missing, but the holes around the rim of the frame called for hand caning.

A detailed and fascinating  "How to Cane a Chair" video on Youtube convinced me that it would be wise to find an expert to do the caning, particularly since this was a round seat, not a square one.  Enter Frank Holland the Chair Man.

Frank examines our chair and dates it circa 1880
The cost for restoring a caned seat is calculated by the number of holes to be strung. The bargain-priced flea market find was about to appreciate in value, as Frank multiplied 64 x $2.00.   Facelifts do not come cheap, even in the furniture world.

Frank's chair museum
 Frank's basement reminds me of the stage set for Ionesco's absurd play "Les Chaises." He is not only conservator, registrar, director and curator for his private chair museum, but serves as education officer, too. We learn some interesting facts about caned furniture:
  • Woven cane originated in China, where it was first used for armour and shields.
  • Early examples of caned furniture have been found in Egyptian tombs. There's an amazing tamarisk chair with a caned seat in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that dates from ca.1550-1425 B.C. 
  •  Portugese caned chairs were introduced to England in the 1660s when Catherine de Braganza married King Charles II.   (She also introduced the custom of tea-drinking.)
  • Upholsterers unsuccessfully petitioned British parliament in 1689 to ban the import and manufacture of cane furniture in England.  They claimed that 50,000 people in the upholstery and woollen trades had lost their jobs due to the popularity of cane chairs.
  • In British India where hot, humid weather often rendered upholstery mouldy and moth-eaten, cane was considered a more sanitary choice.  Planter's chairs were a standard item for the colonial veranda.
  • Cyrus Wakefield, a Boston grocer saw piles of rattan discarded from Chinese shipments at the wharf and envisioned a way to recycle it. He established the Wakefield Rattan Company in South Reading, Mass. in 1851 and invented rattan webbing which reduced the labour involved in hand woven cane seats.  
  •  The Thonet Chair No. 14 won the gold medal for design at the Paris Exhibition of 1867.  With its cane seat and bentwood back, it became a classic bistro fixture and is still described by designers as "the chair of chairs."  

Rocking chairs from Quebec
Frank proudly shows us his favourites, the items acquired on clean-up days when Moncton's household waste is placed at the curb for garbage pick-up. (Caned chairs are not designed for standing on, as many owners have discovered.)

We admire a Quebec rocker, an Eastlake chair with carved decoration and a late Victorian era caned beauty with walnut frame.  

Regency style chair with tapered legs

A week after our visit to Frank's studio, the chair is back home filling an empty spot in our foyer near the front door.  This is where an essential Canadian ritual takes place, the winter dance of changing footwear as needed for indoor and outdoor conditions.  The rescued chair is not just a decorative accent piece, it restores a sense of balance and grace to an otherwise awkward moment.

Handsome caned seat

NB: Instructions for do-it-yourself chair caning are outlined in this blog by B.J. a multi-talented handyman.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

On the beach

Aboiteau beach, Cap-Pele

 It was a brief beautiful summer, with long stretches of glorious weather, warm waves and dazzling sunsets.  I write in the past tense because now it's September and Canadian Summer has done the usual - slipped out the back door without waiting for the formality of a solstice.  She's packed her bags and departed without looking back, without ever saying goodbye.

It was a marvellous party while she was here.  There were picnics and family gatherings and weddings on the beach, events hosted in a season tailor-made for outdoor photo shoots.  One ceremony we witnessed in July featured a bride and groom in shorts and sandals, an accordion trio, a shower of red rose petals and a minister who delivered this quote:

"Love one another, but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls."                                                                                                               -  Kahlil Gibran

An altar in the sand, with the ocean as backdrop

The attraction of the sea is a romantic force and a creative one.  Its energy inspires grand gestures that may only last for a day but leave indelible memories, nevertheless.

Twin turrets, Gothic arch, battlements, winding staircase and a moat 

 The architect of this elaborate sandcastle is no doubt back at school now, following instructions, opening a math textbook to page 36, tackling a problem that involves trains and the perennial distance/speed/time calculation.  The end of summer marks a return to structured days and a familiar routine.

"I pass with relief from the tossing sea of cause and theory to the firm ground of result and fact."
                                                                                                               - Winston Churchill

Gone are the tourists from Quebec, the ones who planted umbrellas, chairs and coolers on the beach, basked in the sun through the morning hours, ate fried clams for lunch, read novels in the afternoon and flocked to the wharf side restaurant's patio at happy hour.  Tanned and relaxed, they packed up and headed home on Labour Day.  A timely departure, as any patriotic Quebecer was obliged to be back in "La belle province" on Tuesday to vote in the provincial election

 "The sea answers all questions, and always in the same way; for when you read in the papers the interminable discussions and the bickering and the prognostications and the turmoil, the disagreements and the fateful decisions and agreements and the plans and the programs and the threats and the counter threats, then you close your eyes and the sea dispatches one more big roller in the unbroken line since the beginning of the world and it combs and breaks and returns foaming and saying: "So soon?"                                               - E.B. White 

So soon?

How did it get so late so soon? 
It's night before it's afternoon.
December is here before it's June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?

-  Dr. Seuss