For the love of chairs....
Work is a funny thing....when it's something that interests you and you enjoy, it seems...less like work and more like an adventure. That happened to be the case when I traveled in Italy.
My muse asked me what I would like to see when we went to Rome and I said "there's this chair shop..."
"Really? What about the Coliseum, the museums, the architecture?"
"Sure! After we go to the chair shop..."
Prior to my trip I had spent a few months seeking out connections on my social media pages for seatweavers and basketmakers in Italy. I was hoping to learn more about the traditional weaving style using straw, similar to cattail rush seats in America. A Facebook friend, Katarina had posted a picture of "La Botegga Della Sedia". That was my destination.
After a delicious breakfast at the hotel, we set off on a 2 mile walk across town to find the shop. Some confusion started the trip, as I am overly reliant on internet services and the hotels' internet was not functioning properly. Luckily I could find the address and we used ...(kids, this isn't a bad word)...a MAP. You know...the kind you read and have to figure out North and South and such. I learned not to count on technology as much. After a couple weeks of less technology, though...I started liking the absence of it.
Walking over cobblestone, ornately paved streets, with sights and distractions at every corner was an adventure. We got to the vicinity and stopped to ask for some quick directions at a frame gilder's shop (we returned after our chair visit)
Around the corner, in a building from about the 1500's was a familiar sight. Stacks and stacks of chairs. The signage outside loosely translated was "we are artists and there are no discounts" Hooray!
Barbara was gracious and welcomed us into her shop. Stacks of chairs lined the walls and ceiling and I felt right at home.
She explained most of the local seatweavers were women, not very many men.
"Impagliatori" (menders) was a name we used a lot when asking people in Monterosso and Rome about seatweavers. Sedia was added to my vocabulary (chair)
Barbara was working on a hand-caned chair which was described to me in Polia as "Vienesse Straw". Instead of my typical wooden pegs I use, she was using nails to hold the cane. We chatted (through interpretation, of course) about pricing. While we typically charge by the hole, she was charging by the seat as a whole. Looking around the shop showed there was no shortage of work to be done.
We didn't chat about the order of weaving (U.S. weavers will notice a difference in the steps) but if the end result is the same...that's all that matters.
The majority of the chairs in the shop were hand-caned and sheet-caned. The materials were the same as I was used to. I asked about rush chairs and she showed me some pretwisted natural rush similar, but a little different than mine.
Some names are universal in chairs, and we talked about Thonet chairs, of which there were quite a few .
We didn't stay too long, as I didn't want to interrupt her workday. She knew we would be there because I had sent an email earlier in the week and we called the day before.
We did speak the same language as far as social media icons, and quickly liked each others' pages on Instagram.
It's a pleasure to have international weaving friends.
There was something special about the age of the streets, the pace of the city and things to look at, at every corner.
To take in a lot of Rome in a solid day was a challenge and I'm glad I had my camera to record the sights. I'm already planning a second trip next year, now that I have an idea of what I would like to see.
As usual, my camera was also exhibiting it's own anthropomorphic personality by inviting itself into spaces and situations that might not be as accessible
with just a grin and a wink.
You would think by now I'd have a name for it...but it really is an extension of myself.
I have been so busy reweaving chairs this year that I have not spent as much time as I would like behind the lens.
This adventure fixed that.
We left the Bottega and strolled back to the gilder's shop.
After exchanging some conversation, I asked if it was ok to take some images , and could I send them to him?
He was intent on his gilding in progress, feather light pieces of gold being picked up by brushes charged with static electricity and placed on perfectly sticky sections of sizing on the frame, ready to be burnished.
Molded corner impressions of an antique frame sat on another table, waiting to be cast and then placed on a broken frame, to be followed by gilding.
He was patient with my picture snapping, and was proud to show us a photo of him in his youth as he worked on an enormous door that would be installed in a government building.
Art is truly an international language, as well as smiles.
There was lots to see in Rome and I lost track of how many pictures I took. Click on any of the images to see more or go to https://www.suemuldoonimages.com/Travel/Artisans-in-Rome
But, that's another story...this is about chairs...and the story continued back in Monterosso.
I was given a private tour of the local museum, dedicated to the arts , agriculture and skills of the area. It was a bit of a surprise to find out I had something in common with the town...my home town Manchester CT and Monterosso were both known for their silk production at some point in time.
Antonio Parisi gave me a tour that showed the tools and lifestyles of olive growers, blacksmiths, linen weavers, chair makers, farmers and seatweavers. Tools included huge horse-propelled grinding wheels, blacksmith bellows, and foot-driven lathes to name a few.
Finally, I saw the straw-woven seats I had been looking for. Polia, a town a bit farther up the mountain, had been home to over 75 artisans at one point, creating chairs and seats. When I visited town, I heard the same things I heard here..."my grandfather used to do that, my grandmother used to do that"
The museum had an exhibit of the old tools, the way they used to steam bend the back slats of the chairs, and weaving in progress.
The straw is collected from the marshes around the lakes, similar to our cattail, but thinner.
The weaving was familiar. I'm not sure why I didn't do the typical "turn the chair over to see the bottom" that's ingrained in every seatweavers' nature..I'll do that next year.
A wooden plate was draped over a chair on a leather string. Antonio explained it was used as a breastplate, a wooden guard to keep the crafts person safe from the drawknife when shaving wood on a shavehorse to shape pieces of the chair.
Each piece in an older farmhouse was cherished. Every piece had a function.
Antonio explained the chairs "were meant to sit and relax after a hard day and enjoy the warmth from the stove"
I'm back in the States, reminiscing about my trip and making plans for the rest of the year here. January and February are when I schedule any shows and classes for the year.
Proposals are in the works and you can find out more about upcoming classes by signing up for the newsletter.
If you would like to see more pictures, they can be found at
Enjoy a video compliation by Mikoh Capamolla of the museum:
What's on the schedule: 2019
"COVENTRY -- A ‘Winter Stroll’ event will be held along Main Street in the historic Coventry Village on Saturday, Feb. 16.Coordinated by local merchants along with community groups and organizations, the event will showcase the ongoing revitalization taking place in the historic area.
Shops along Main Street will feature specials, demonstrations, drawings, sweets treats and other refreshments. Stops along the way include the Worn Yesterday Shoppe, the church run Thrift and Gift Shop, Rusty Relic Gifts, and Antiques, eye-Trade, Preserved Antiques, Nathan Hale Antiques, Coventry Arts and Antiques, and Stein’s Classic Antiques.
At Coventry’s newest community space, Mill Brook Place, from noon to 4 p.m., an art exhibit will be on display featuring the works of Lorraine Funk, Roberta Bates, Janet Osorio, and Thomas Hurlbut.
Donna Perkins, author of Summer Ice, My Life at the Bidwell, will be a guest at Coventry Arts and Antiques from 1 to 3 p.m. The First Congregational Church will offer hot beverages and desserts from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with music being provided by local musician Mark Campbell and others.
Preserved Antiques will offer a demonstration of chair caning by local restorer Sue Muldoon from noon to 4 p.m. The Coventry Historical Society will have an antique sled exhibit on display at the district’s newest retail establishment, the optical shop, eye-Trade. Also at the shop will be information on the Coventry Arts Guild, along with music, from 2 to 5 p.m., provided by guild members Ruth O’Neil and Jim Hammitt, owners of the Song-a-Day Music Center.
A chocolate fundraiser will also take place. Coventry Historic Society members Steve Marshal and Jim Wicks will be at the Main Street Professional Building from noon to 4 p.m., to share information on antique tools.
The Booth and Dimmock Library has scheduled a pirate party from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and the“860 Rocks” gathering from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.
A full listing of specials/activities offered will be available at participating locations during the day. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., but also during regular business hours. For more information on the Winter Stroll in Historic Coventry Village, contact 860-208-8215. "
Watch for class listings!
August 14-19, 2019Twist Fiber Festival, Montreal
NEW HOURS! Sat. 9am-5pm, Sun. 9am-4pm
Sue Muldoon divides her time between 3-dimensional and 2-dimensional work. She bounces back and forth between photography, web design and graphic design to seatweaving (chair caning, wicker repair, rush, splint, etc.) and basket weaving.
Basketry started as an add-on to seat weaving because there was material begging to be used in more than one format.
Sue’s career has always been creative, from wallpaper hanging and interior painting to a lengthy career in the floral industry as designer and merchandiser. Wood carving, furniture refinishing and upcycling furniture in novel ways using unique materials like leather belts, ties and alpaca wool set her apart from traditional seatweaving methods.
Color is rampant and unapologetic.
Where some might see a chair, Sue sees a statement. She spends the majority of her time now repairing seats (an unabashed “chairnerd” and webmaster of The SeatWeavers Guild, Inc) but enjoys branching out into basketry.
She considers her seatweaving work to be part functional and part emotional. Along with repairing chairs, she repairs the memories that are attached to seats that are in demise and disrepair. The joy on a client’s face when they see family history brought back to functionality is inspiring.
Her photography and design work enable her to get the word out about what she does, and her skills in social media are in demand from farmers markets, growers, artists and authors.
Creating special baskets for her most rapt audience, her 3 and 8-year-old grandsons, keeps Sue busy and inspires her to teach them to appreciate nature, natural materials and art.
A frequent instructor at various sheep, wool and fiber festivals and art retreats and farmers markets, she enjoys sharing seatweaving and basketmaking to new crafters and artisans.
Contact Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org