Greenwoodworking is a way of working with wood that eschews industrial processing of the material. It is a slow process that relies on splitting and shaving wet wood, rather than sawing, drying, or planing. It fosters a deep structural and aesthetic engagement with the fibers of the tree, integrating the cellular and biological characteristics of the tree into the structural logics of the built object. This creates an intimacy with raw material that parallels the relationship created between the human body and a chair. After many years of working with wood using more conventional techniques, this method of working has felt revelatory to me. The process of sourcing material, the longevity of the object as determined by its craftsmanship, and the way the chair supports the body, all lead me to contemplate sustainability and enliven my relationship to both material and ecosystem, even as the project asks me to confront my complicity in the cutting of a tree. I've sought the expertise of master green woodworkers throughout the process, and am deeply grateful for the knowledge they have shared.
Traditional green woodworking was the province of folk craftspeople, but it attracted a new audience starting in the 1960's due to the work of counter-cultural practitioners including Jennie Alexander, Drew Langsner, Peter Follansbee, and many others. My study of chairs and chairmaking has been deepened by an ongoing Maker-Creator Fellowship at the Winterthur Museum, where I examined and measured historic chairs, and explored the papers of Jennie Alexander. I'm also inspired and influenced by Galen Cranz's analysis of the often dysfunctional relationship between the human body and the design of the chair in Western culture. My desire is to connect to and critically engage the intimate relationship between colonialism, deforestation, and furniture making through my research, both academic and experiential.
Green-wood chairmaker Chris Nassise, of Easton, MA, demonstrating wood splitting techniques. Green-wood construction works with wood in its raw state, and does not involve sawing or kiln-drying the lumber, completely bypassing any industrial processing of the material. Instead, craftspeople utilize simple hand tools to split the wood in its "green" (not dry) state along the grain, making use of the inherent strength and flexibility of the wood's fibrous cells.
In December of 2021, I was fortunate to participate in a Jennie Alexander Chair Building Workshop for women and LGBTQIA/BIPOC woodworkers, sponsored by the Chairmaker's Toolbox, an organization dedicated to diversification of the craft of chairmaking. The course was taught by Travis Curtis and Aspen Golann, and hosted at chairmaker Greg Pennington's shop outside Nashville TN.