Issue Five: Chester Cornett’s Masterpiece by Brendan Gaffney

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Chester Cornett’s Masterpiece
by Brendan Gaffney

“This Rocker is Reley strang    Neve seen iney thing like hit in my hole life    hit Reley looks like my Master Piece of furniture.” – Chester Cornett

Mike and I have been looking for someone to research the work of Chester Cornett (1913-1981), a native of the remote Appalachian hollows and hills who had spent the better part of his life making all manner of green-wood chairs, for a while now so when Brendan Gaffney and Chris Schwarz began combing through archives to study his furniture and look through his drawings, we were ecstatic. After many hours of research, Brendan has put together a wonderful technical study of Cornett’s “masterpiece” bookcase rocking chair for M&T Issue Five. Here’s what Brendan has written about it:

“Many craftspeople approach their work in an improvisational manner – a drawing or simple plans may give a maker a target, but once the tools come out and the lumber worked over, the results have a tendency to diverge from their original intentions.

For Chester Cornett, an Appalachian chairmaker that was anything but a typical craftsperson, improvisation was generally undesirable. As Michael Owen Jones notes in his book “Craftsman of the Cumberlands” (1989, University Press of Kentucky) about Cornett and his unique chairmaking practice, “Chester was by nature planful in his work.” Looking through his drawings, ledger and plans, it is clear that Cornett rarely improvised his work. Each chair was contracted specifying the wood, type of chair (sitting or rocking chair), number of slats, seat materials and more. For someone who went “trunk to chair,” Cornett sought to make a living at making chairs by hand, and so, had often to keep to the plan.

So what was it about this particular chair, one Cornett would eventually refer to as his “two-in-one, bookcase rocker, masterpiece of furniture,” that made it such an exception to his usual practice? By examining this exceptional chair’s form, construction and intention, we can actually pin down much more about Cornett’s motivations and technical prowess than we can in examining a dozen of his more standard forms. The chair distills a certain amount of Cornett’s driving force, is exemplary of his traditional joinery and shaping techniques and, in being an exception to his usual practice, highlights the pursuit, intention, and effort Cornett put into his practice as a chairmaker.”

The next Issue Five article will be announced tomorrow...



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