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The Chair

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  • The Chair

    The Dream

    Years ago, I don’t know how many, I had a dream. It wasn’t the sort you have at night often full of symbolism and confusion and frustration. Instead it was clear and soft and simple. It was of practicing in a house with a generous front porch. I had a treatment space in the dining room and the furniture in the waiting room was unique and inviting. There were books everywhere.

    The Chair

    Because of the way it was placed in the window for many years the left arm is lighter in color, but this gentle flaw only seems to add character to something that already seems alive in a number of ways. My sister Laurel found this mahogany masterpiece in a yard sale in Lakewood Ohio nearly fifty years ago and left it behind when she and Ken moved to the west coast about the time I opened my office in 1979. When I sit in this chair I sense that my sister is holding me as she did in my infancy.

    About 1870 someone revealed the chair he saw in a few pieces of wood, and this was obviously material that he knew well. The craftsman knew how it would respond to sharp pressure, the application of a well-timed blow, heat and cold. He knew how to shape it so that it resembled flowing water, and he knew how to piece it together in a way that created the illusion of wholeness where it didn’t actually exist.

    The chair’s effect on thousands of patients over the years has been something I’ve written of several times. In my book there’s an essay titled A Practice Made By Hand that contains a passage similar to this: “The backrest contains two opposing dragons, leaping toward each other, teeth bared. Anyone seated in the chair is simultaneously accepted by the broad, beautifully shaped seat while their head rests between two remarkably fierce and opposing images. It’s all here – mythology, natural asymmetry and beauty, and all of it made by hand.”

    I notice that the craftsman made use of negative space very well and that the tapered backrest and three simple spindles supporting the arms allow you to see through the chair quite easily. Someone seated in it might hide parts of this, but not all of it. Solid and light, transformational and comforting, ancient and enduring – all of this can be found in the wood somewhere. At least, that’s the way I’ve come to understand this resting place. The chair itself is the centerpiece of my practice.

    Last month I read an article in New Scientist about “sustainable design.” The author quotes an artist describing those things we might build that have an “emotionally durable design;” a design that contains a “sustaining narrative.” He implies that if these elements are present the owner of the object will create a unique and renewable story around it, and they’ll keep it. Our current “throw away” society is an inevitable consequence of design that doesn’t compel a story, and thus we grow bored with it and let it go.

    But the person who designed my sister’s chair had a story in mind, and though I don’t know what it was exactly, it continues to grow today. It probably helped that the carver followed the Egyptian Gothic Revival style of design popular back then. This style displays “a deep wellspring of fantasy,” and that kind of design is hard to find today.

    The chair comes home with me today and I’ll place it near a new desk where I’ll continue to write. They’ll be no more patients to admire it or caress its smooth and ferocious design. Because they will be absent I’ll have an opportunity to sit in it more often.

    I realize now that my dream came true. The only thing missing was the porch.

    That’s okay. I have this space to share with my colleagues, and it’s a very large and comfortable place.

    Tomorrow I’ll sit in my sister’s chair and begin a new chapter.
    Attached Files
    Last edited by Barrett Dorko; 22-02-2007, 09:14 PM.
    Barrett L. Dorko