In summertime when I was a kid my family would make the annual pilgrimage to the Connecticut coast to visit my mother’s parents, who lived in a converted ‘pony barn’ a few hundred yards from the Long Island Sound. My grandfather was an accomplished woodworker, and their humble home was filled with furniture he had made from local maple and pine. His chairs and tables were fastened with exposed dowels and had soft, curvy contours after the Heywood-Wakefield furniture he emulated. He would burn his shop scraps for the morning fire, and I remember watching the knots and wane burn brightly in the fireplace, smelling the sweet smoke of New England sapwood.
My grandfather was a retired aeronautical engineer, and graduated from one of the first degree programs at Pratt Institute in the early teens of the last century. He designed zeppelins during their heyday and kept piles of photographs from the shop floor, showing dirigibles and other early aircraft under construction and being tested.
I liked how the photos looked like a past long gone but at the same time futuristic, the ‘old world’ of horses and hand tools giving way to machines. I liked the attitude of the workers and draftsmen- wiry guys with gleaming eyes, wearing hats, neckties and field boots, working in teams to design and build the amazing new flying machines.
But most of all I liked seeing that wood featured so prominently in the realization of something so innovative. I developed the notion that if you could imagine something, you could probably build it with wood.
Along with these photos I inherited my grandfather’s drafting tools, his technical books and a few of his planes and chisels, all of which I use to this day. They share a distinctive “W.A. Martin” engraved by his hand (‘Jay’ was a nickname presumably adopted to lighten the more formal ‘Wilbur’).
I designed The Jay Martin Chair as an homage to my grandfather, who died when I was eight years old. Though still in prototype phase, I plan to have a limited production available for sale this fall, based upon the prototype pictured above.