Rustic Furniture

Trees have been my neighbors for a quarter century. My book on rustic furniture, a dozen years in the making and essentially about "tree art," was researched and written within the Adirondack forest, in a clearing of the museum grounds that was home to me and my family for 20 years. Our next home, where I write this, is in the woods. Doe and fawn, vixen and pup, have made their careful way through the mixed forest and its tender undergrowth of moss, ferns, and wildflowers, unaware of my spying on them from my study window. On clear days, the sun glints on Long Lake, relieving the sultry shadows in which the house is usually cast.

The Adirondacks have many features that make the area an incomparable natural treasure. People play in its waters, climb its mountains, seek its solitude, and search out the wildlife that roam the forest. For me, the Adirondack forest reigns supreme. Nearly unbroken and extending roughly a hundred miles north to south, the forest nurtures all that swims, crawls, and flies. The forest has shaped the region's culture and does so even today. Once, thousands of men and women worked in the forest, cutting its trees while living in crude log shanties miles from home, family, or any real town. Today, although logging occupies far fewer people, it remains an important Adirondack industry—and the forest a dominant presence in residents' lives, shaping a culture that is different and distinct from rural cultures elsewhere.

That outdoor furniture, especially of the twiggy kind, should be a product of this forest environment is not surprising. What more natural furnishings should spring from the forest? Perhaps more surprising is the style's popularity among urbanites. It was a craft that was practised nearly everywhere in the American East between 1825 and 1900. Rustic benches and garden houses were assembled in Manhattan and shipped wherever there was a buyer and conveyance. The resurgence that began in the early 1970s continues, to my pleasant surprise, to this day.

This rustic craft jogs a memory made of our arboreal heritage among the builders and buyers. Who knows why someone purchases a chair of branches and root for an apartment 30 floors off the pavement? In any event, that lonely chair, a talisman of nature in the city, can perform its therapy as long as there are forests to visit and dream about.

Historian Craig Gilborn, the former director of the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, New York, is a builder of outdoor furniture and author of Adirondack And Rustic Furniture, published by Abrams. He lives in Long Lake, New York.

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