The Queen's Chair

Adirondack Ingenuity

There was a small chair. It was hidden in a dimly lit corner. It probably hadn't been moved for half a century. It was dusty and a little dirty. Still there was something magical about it.

The humble little chair, with all of it's 58 dowels and hand tooling marks seemed to have a story that wanted to be told. It did not seem right to let the story lay in a corner for another century.

What could a century old STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) driven chair teach us about the value of ingenuity today?

  Click or Tap the Play Button below to Listen to the story behind this amazing little chair.

  Scroll down to Read More.

  Access the Image Archive and Listen the the Story.

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  Preserving an Adirondack Artifact

  • The Iconic Adirondack Chair

    The original Adirondack Chair was made in Westport, New York by Harvard graduate Thomas Lee between 1900-1903. When perfected it was considered a perfect chair that was stable on nearly any terrain and above all incredibly comfortable.

    In 1904, Lee's friend Mr. Bunnell was given the plans and he produced his own version of the chair for over 20 years. In 1938 Irving Wolpin patented a design featuring the same slanted seat and wide armrests - but with a rounded back and contoured seat made of slats of wood. This Adirondack Chair design became the most popular and iconic lawn and beach chair and remains so to this day.

  • Adirondack Red Spruce

    Old growth Red Spruce from the Adirondack region of upstate New York before World War II was always the choice of specialty, custom made guitars for it's sweet characteristic that could be played loud without losing clarity. Today, new growth of Red Spruce from high elevations in the Adirondack Forest are used by musical instrument manufacturers CF Martin, Gibson and many others.

    While woodworkers will tell of the fine irregular grain structure, your author fondly remembers the distinct aroma of the wood and the needles that blanket the ground season after season. Experiencing pristine areas deep in the Adirondack Forest Preserve is nothing short of an ethereal experience for all the senses.

  • Antique Adirondack Children's Chair

    Almost all authentic Adirondack Chairs made were full size to accomodate young and old alike. Very few original vintage children's Adirondack Chairs appear to have made it into the 21st century.

    A quick check with curators, historians and old timers familiar with the era indicate they were rare.

    A children's chair required far more precision and labor. The slats had to be smaller and spaced closer together. The arch on the back and seat needed a finer curve. The slat spacing allowed a child to climb up the front, without getting a finger stuck.

    Dowels were painstakingly used in a way that has long since passed. Nothing was left to chance where a child's exclusive use of the chair might bring nothing but joy.

  • A Rare Artifact Unearthed

    Thank goodness for trusty friends. One day I got a call to take a walk through one of the oldest houses in Oswego, New York. The former mayor lived a few blocks from another old house where your author lived at one time.

    The local historical reference to the chair has been documented, but omitted from this document for brevity.

    My dear friend said "you should take the chair and preserve it until finding the right home for it."

    It seemed like the right decision and the rest is history.

  • The Old Woodworkers

    Not being a woodworker, restorer or expert in finishing wood I enlisted the old woodworkers for advice on how to restore the artifact to pristine condition. I was reminded first to leave all tool marks from the craftsman. Restoring would be a time honored system dating back centuries and would take months to do properly. I was promised I would learn the value of "hand rubbed and finished" in the end and that it would be worth it.

    58 dowels and a lot of very fine sandpaper later the wood once again was beginning to glow. It was also emitting a wonderful aroma of northern spruce. It was April of 2017 and the Adirondack Red Spruce was probably two centuries old.

    The old way of finishing used natural oils that penetrate into the wood. After the right mix was obtained, three coats were meticulously applied and the chair sat for two weeks. This was followed by 25 days of lightly saturating the wood 2 to 4 times a day with a magical concoction that rejuvenated the wood to it's former luster.

    On the 27th day a finishing wax was applied. The nonslippery finish was reapplied multiple times and then lightly buffed. The old woodworkers provided a formula that would preserve the artifact for another century, if well cared for and never left in the elements. The "Queen's Chair" was finished August 16, 2017.

  • The Custodians

    After consulting with friends, it was decided in order for the "Queen's Chair" to truly come back to life, it must be used by a child once again.

    It would also be critically important that the parents know they had a valuable artifact in their possessions.

    Everyone agreed, the chair would stay in my custody until the right time arrived.

    In 2016 a future candidate was announced. That remained central to my thinking and the chair was kept in safe keeping. The parents could certainly understand the hand tooling marks were not defects and the imperfection made the artifact an heirloom of Adirondack cultural history.

    So as the final coats of finishing wax are lovingly applied for the last time these words are written with sincerity and hope. While I am sad to see it go, I am happy with the prospect of the "Queen's Chair" being cared for and used by the next generation.

    It is my hope someday the "Queen's Chair" will one day return to New York where it might be preserved for another century as a true mark of authentic American Adirondack history.

    Custodians add new life to important historical artifacts with vivid details reflecting the times and the lineage of the object. Keeping records allows that history to march forward in time with graceful authority.

  • Preserving American Adirondack Heritage

    It is quite rare to be be able to take a century old object and restore it to a condition that will last for another century. Not only do we preserve our cultural heritage, we remind ourselves of the value of human ingenuity and handcrafting. Where else can you get a payback in satisfaction that is measured in generations.

    The little "Queen's Chair" will make it's rounds for professional high resolution photography at historic locations in northern New York (Towpath on Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor, the Blue Barn, Old Mrs. Frosty's, woodworkers, etc).

    It is my hope that other historians, curators and woodworker artisans weigh in on the object to help color the story of the Adirondack children's chair. Collectively we can certainly embellish it with something far more valuable than money by preserving our American Adirondack cultural heritage and bringing it to life.

    The goal: keep the rich, important history alive and bring the stories to life.

  • Image Archive

    Follow the link to The Queen's Chair image gallery to view imagery from April through August 2017, plus a few friends. The high resolution professional image captures planned for September will be posted here when available.

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