The Adoptive Stick-Back Chair
What was it they used to say? The age of miracles is not yet past.
You could certainly be forgiven for thinking that is so, when you open the front door early one summer morning with dreams still swirling around inside your drowsy head and see … what?
Is it reality? Or a dream? This stick-back chair that is standing there on my doorstep, eyeing me with curiosity.
I rub my eyes in disbelief, half-expecting the chair to magically disappear. But no. It’s still there.
Coffee, I think, retreating inside and taking care to close the door behind me so the chair doesn’t get any ideas about trying to follow.
Coffee is such a wonderful pick-me-up and, rightly enough, it starts to help me unravel the mystery of the sudden appearance of the stick-back chair. I peep cautiously out of the window. There is something about the chair that seems vaguely familiar.
Then, after a second cup of coffee, I begin to recall my visit to a large farm not so very long ago that had recently been renovated. Everything about the place was immensely impressive – marble floors wherever you looked and a huge indoor pool with a view over meadows and green pastures.
And outside was a chair from another era, standing quite alone and clearly unaccustomed to its surroundings. More likely than not, it had been left out there in the wind and rain for years. Maybe it had once been part of the furnishings in the estate office that all big farms used to have.
“What a sad end for such a splendid chair,” I remember saying to someone I was with at the time as we strolled through the park-like grounds in which the farm buildings were set.
Now, suddenly, this very chair had appeared outside my door.
“Well, I know you like chairs,” said the person who had left it there, when I finally managed to get in touch with him. “There was no one here at the farm who wanted it, so it had been left outside, forgotten, when we were renovating the place.”
The chair was badly in need of a little tender loving care and a coat or two of brown stain, but otherwise it was in good health. The H-stretcher gave stability to the legs, and it had six turned spindles in the backrest, the outermost ones slightly thicker than the four in the middle. It wasn’t easy to determine its age. Someone hazarded a guess at the 1960s, while others thought that 1950 or thereabouts might be closer to the mark.
My Swedish dictionary defines a stick-back chair as “a simple chair with a backrest usually consisting of wooden spindles. First known usage: 1791.” Is it conceivable, do you think, that the humble stick-back shares some distant kinship with the Windsor chair? In Sweden stick-backs have been common as kitchen chairs since the second half of the 1800s, often made of birchwood with a seat shaped like a saddle for extra comfort.
This particular chair is made of pine, heavy and sturdy with a finely sculpted seat.
Maybe it’s a sign of the esteem in which we Swedes hold these modest, hard-working chairs that we even use a special word for pine to describe them in Swedish.
A practical chair …
… a chair to throw your dressing gown over in the bathroom
… a chair sturdy and stable enough to clamber on to reach that old copper pan on the top shelf in the kitchen.
But who needs rational arguments? Suffice it to say, the chair has moved in. It now enjoys a cosy and comfortable existence among thick towels, fragrant soaps, skin creams and perfumes. But most of all, it does so indoors, safely beyond the harmful reach of rain and snow.
by Gun Bjerkander Handberg
A little tale about the author…
Gun Bjerkander Handberg, has devoted much of her life to art and antiques as a museum curator, lecturer, columnist and auctioneer. She has also penned two delightful books, the Please Be Seated series recounting tales of an eclectic selection of historic chairs. You can order online or from your local bookshop.
Please Be Seated – Historic Chairs & The Tales They Tell (ISBN:978-0-9927084-7-4)
Please Be Seated – More Historic Chairs & The Tales They Tell (ISBN:978-0-9927084-8-1)
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