Greene Inspired bench …Part two… “From an amazing wood find” ...the story behind this
After hosting an open house that was open to the public in my home “This Old Crack House”, which was a fund raiser for the local food shelf, I was approached and asked if I would build a Greene and Greene Entry Bench, by a lady who was in attendance.
I explained to the lady, who later, turned out that she was one of the curators, for the local Historical Society here in Minnesota. At the time I was limiting my commissions to only a select few a year. Out of both respect and certainly curiosity, I asked what it was she would like to have commissioned.
She then pulled out two pictures from a file she was carrying with her.
One was small picture of a Greene and Greene entry bench. The other was an eight in half by eleven of the same bench; however, I could tell it was not an original. I knew right away the one pictured was a knock off of
the Greene brother’s original works. The reason I knew this was because this picture showed a piano hinge for one thing that was used to hinge the seats. In addition this and several other subtle parts of the bench I could see in the picture I knew weren’t part of the original works.
I explained to her that this period of furniture and genre was not what I specialized in building or was even remotely an expert in.
She said she knew this and had been following my work for some time and thought she would ask me anyways.
She asked me to please reconsider and keep it in mind in the event I might change my mind. She left the pictures with her telephone number. We both returned to the open house and guests.
As she was leaving the open house, she again asked me to consider her request and once again thanked me for hosting the fund raiser. She and here husband then left.
I never really thought much more about the project, even though I had to yet select any of my commissions for the year.
I placed the pictures in a file and left them for considerations at a later date.
A few months later, I was making my final selections for my commissions that I would be building over the winter months and ran across the pictures again.
I looked at the pictures and thought to myself; ’ I really don’t care for this period of furniture’.
The reasons were fairly simple, one, I am not a expert in this period and have no history or experience building this style. One other reason was there is a lot of Asian influence to the Greene brothers work. I recalled this from my reading about the history of the period and brothers. Besides, these pieces simply wouldn’t fit in my home “This Old Crack House”.
I only had room for one more project and was convinced that this project wouldn’t fit with the others I had planed on doing.
I had a long time former intern that was returning to help me select the projects to work over the winter, who saw the pictures of this bench.
He got excited about the project, and began to quiz me about doing this one. He knew it wasn’t something I would normally do.
I told him it this project wasn’t even on my radar because of my lack of experience with that style.
He then informed me that was precisely the reason I should do the project. I then got a lecture about getting outside of my comfort zone.
I said ” ok fine if she’s still interested in having the project done then we will do it”.
I then called the number she left with me. To my surprise she answered the phone.
I re-introduced my elf, and she exclaimed; “oh my does this mean you will be doing the bench for me”!
I told her that I would take the project on under these conditions.
I would not give or agree to a finish time line. I wouldn’t do a “knock off”. I would follow the period customs and techniques along with the original design and intent of the Greene’s. However I would design and build my own piece. After all, I said I didn’t want to build a Greene piece because she could buy that or a replica. I was not a Greene; I explained I am simply Dusty, who builds furniture in my garage that has been converted into a work shop.
I also informed her that there would be no charge for my labor for the project. I requested rather than payment of wages to me that she instead donate to the local food shelf.
I explained the only charges would be for any materials I used.
She agreed to the conditions with enthusiasm.
I then said, “I will call you from time to time and let you review the project as it progresses.
I then hung up the phone and started my freehand drawing of the project.
From the start this project was a challenge, because I never cared for this style or period . To be frank I never really like working on designing and drawing the project. I only had a small picture to work from to begin with, let alone my limited experience with this period.
My research showed a lot of variations and knock offs, however reading about the history was helpful.
Like most new projects I build the first time I build a prototype.
This one would be no different. In fact this was precisely one of the reasons I build a lot of prototypes. I find this very helpful when I am trying to recreate something yet this still allows for my own design changes and personal finger print to be incorporated into the project.
My sister had been pestering me for a deacon bench for some time. I had thus far stalled building her this piece. She had really liked one I had make and had placed in a spare bedroom.
I figured I would built the prototype and give it to her as a gift, after all she wanted to just put it in her pouch and store mittens and like items in the bench.
I then finalized the plans that I had drawn out by hand for the prototype.
I made various patterns along with several adjustments as the project progresses’.
At this point, I still was unsure of what type of wood I wanted to use to build this project..
I finished all the plans and set them aside.
Soon after I elected to do this project I acquired by chance a large quantity of maple from a friend. About five hundred board feet of this maple turned out to be spalted.
In addition to spalting being present their also was a lot of “worm” trails that had a very visible presence in the wood.
I thought this would be a unique application to use up this wood.
I had limited experience using spalted maple so I had to research about proper uses and techniques, when working with this type of wood.
I did this.
It is suffice to say this turned out to be a learning experience.
I began work on the prototype, using the maple I had acquired from my friend..
Several changes were made along the way with the project design.
I won’t bore my gracious readers with all the details however one of the major changes that is note worthy was how I constructed and built the frame for the bench.
I ended up doing a modified mortise tenon incorporated with a half lap dado that made the project not only a much stronger sitting bench it would also be a design of my own that I had perfected over time.
The end result from the second bench was much stronger along with a bonus of being much more visually pleasing. This change also reflected the period with more accurately.
I will admit this project took a lot longer than I am accustomed to and far more difficult than I had imagined.
Even though I learned a lot, I never did really warm up to the project.
I invited the lady who commissioned the project along with her husband to come over for two progress showing.
The first one was after I finished the drawings and selected the wood.
The second one was after I had dry fitted the basic bench. This was absent any seat design because I had not decided on a final one as of yet.
They were so excited; they took several pictures of the project.
I was relived, because I really had considered and felt this bench might end up being left in my shop as a place to sit down when I took a break.
In other words, I didn’t think much of this project. However, I did need a bench to sit on for my coffee breaks.
I also though I might be able to pawn it off on my sister if I delivered it free. Worse case I figured that she might be able to sell it at a garage sale.
I was convinced I had designed and built nothing short of an ugly disaster.
I still am.
I had more fun working with the spalted maple and really found the wood to be very interesting.
In fact, I was so excited about the wormy spalted maple that I built three different side table prototypes out of the wood as something fun to do. After all, I had a whole garage full of this wood and needed to get rid of the wood some how.
I figured if I had to, I could always burn those pieces my fire pit if no one wanted the prototypes.
I finally finished the project and stained the bench in a natural color. I used several coats to achieve the desired result. I sanded between the coats.
The project sat finished on top of my portable bench for over two weeks before I got the courage up to call the woman who commission the bench.
I was convinced she wouldn’t like the project.
I never did warm up to this project.
In short I was embarrassed I built this and never put my name on the bottom of the bench like I am accustomed to doing with my original pieces.
I had already decided I would call here up and offer to deliver the project and if she didn’t like it I would promptly remove it and donate it to some charity or dispose of the piece.
Chapter closed, I figured. I then made arrangements for delivery for the following Saturday.
I dreaded taking this project to her home all week.
I arrived at eleven o’clock Saturday morning which was the agreed time.
When I drove up to the front of the house which I might add was very large and breath taking. This home was overlooking the Mississippi River; I noticed several cars parked in front of the house.
I thought she must have had company and I was somewhat relieved that I would just be able to drop the piece off and go.
Imagine my surprise when her husband and several others greeted me at the front door with a huge applause.
They were all gathered to see the new piece of furniture I had built.
I almost died.
I was one step from panic, I felt like just getting in my truck and driving away.
On top of every thing else I was in my work cloths and still full of saw dust from that morning projects.
I also had brought along the other three side tables in hopes that I might use them to sweeten up the deal and perhaps helping to convince her to take piece easier. Sort of like “try it out for a while” then decide.
In short, I was horrified right now and was afraid as to what was coming as a reaction to the pieces.
I had all the pieces wrapped in blankets and other moving material so they wouldn’t get scratched up in moving or wet in case it snowed or rained.
It was an early spring day and the sky was overcast.
Her husband and two other gentlemen helped bring the pieces in to the house.
There had to be thirty people present.
They all stared waiting for the unwrapping of the blankets and unveiling of the bench.
My heart was in my throat, I was near hyperventilation along with feeling any moment I might either break down and cry or perhaps just run.
I was so petrified I wouldn’t have been able to do either.
The time had come.
Finally in a room that was at dead silence; I slowly unwrapped and unveiled the bench.
The lady who commissioned the project was standing next to me screamed “OH MY GOD”. Catching me off guard.,
I nearly passed out.
She started crying, she said “it is so beautiful I never imagined it to be this beautiful, and gave me a huge bear hug.
I think I wet myself.
To this day I am not sure if I did or it was just from sweating.
Applause broke out!
I stood there with a stunned look.
I am sure I was beat red in color.
I even teared up and took several deep breaths.
I excused myself to take the blankets out to my truck, not knowing what else I should do.
I caught my breath and returned to thank them for there warm welcome.
They insisted I stay for the lunch.
I insisted I had to go.
I told them I had another appointment.
They didn’t need to know it was to change my under shorts.
I then left.
They kept the side tables and made a very generous donation to the local food shelf.
My sister took the prototype, and returned it later claiming “it was too big for her porch”.
I took it back and gave her the one I had built previously and had in my bedroom.
The prototype bench I took back still sits in a corner of one of my spare bedrooms to this day.
I still don’t like piece.
Oh well, that is woodworking I guess.