Bodgers Get a bad Rap explains Chris Eckersley
Artistry through action; the benefits of bodging discussed in a talk by furniture maker, Chris Eckersley
Bodgers get a bad rap because they are often confused with botchers explained Chris Eckersley in a fascinating talk at Messums Wiltshire telling the story of a new wave of furniture makers using green, unseasoned, wood.
Ten years ago Eckersley launched The Bodging Project having spent a week in the woods of Herefordshire with ten other makers being taught how to make furniture out of green timber by Gudrun Leitz.
Each of them responded to the material in quirky and unexpected ways with the result that the chairs they made were shown at the Milan furniture fair – stars in the biggest and most prestigious design exhibition in the world.
‘We did come in for criticism from traditional crafts people’ Eckersley said.
‘It always surprises me that we have continued. ‘
One of the makers on that first exploration into reviving this ancient technique of furniture making was Dave Green, owner of one of the biggest wood chair manufacturers in the country, Sitting Firm.
‘At the time they were making traditional Windsor chairs and I kept saying – why not make modern ones?’ recalls Eckersley.
The Windsor chair takes its name from the English town of Windsor where is originated in around 1710. It consists of multiple thin, turned spindles all of which fit into a solid, sculpted seat. It has straight legs that splay outwards and a back that slightly reclines. Its enduring popularity is not only based on its pleasing aesthetic but the fact that it is flexible and light as well as very strong, moving to accommodate the different weights and girths of the people sitting on it.
The point of using green wood rather than seasoned, was to ‘make the strongest chair possible’ explained Eckersley.
‘The seat always has a higher moisture content than the legs as it is a bigger piece of wood,’ Eckersley said. ‘The seat is wetter and as it dries out it shrinks and the holes the legs pass through shrinks too making it very strong.’
Chair making in Britain has historically centred on High Wycombe and the Chiltern hills where there is a plentiful s supply of beech wood. Showing old photographs of the greatest chair maker of the 19th century Philip Clisset who lived and worked in Herefordshire however, Eckersley said that there were also great furniture makers working further west too. Clisset had an enormous influence on Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Charles Ashbee and other leading lights of the Arts and Crafts movement.
It was in Bosbury, the birthplace of Clisset in Herefordshire that Gudrun Leitz bought the woods in which she now runs bodging courses using ancient tools like foot powered pole lathes,. adzes and drawing horses.
‘We were as far away from CAD computers as we could be’ says Eckersley. ‘Everything we designed was done by simply drawing on the back of an envelope.
The conditions were harsh:. ’It was completely freezing; there was no electricity, one tap and an earth closet,‘ recalls Eckersley
‘As designers we are used to imposing our will on materials but greenwood workers like, what we call, wavy gravy; they accentuate the natural grain of the wood and make it part of the design. The wood we were using was much more of a living thing than we were used to working and a lot of it was back breaking work. ‘
The hard graft led , however, to a fluidity of thought that expressed itself in a remarkable and eclectic collection of chairs that have wowed the furniture world.
On their return from Milan, Dave Green invited the group to his factory to make chairs inspired by the ones they had made in the woods that could go into mass production.
Five of these chairs won awards by the Guild of Furniture Makers and have sold in stores such as Heals and John Lewis, successfully popularising the Windsor chair for the 21st century.
‘What we learnt through bodging is the benefit of designing through making; not working everything out too much in advance but just getting on with it,’ concluded Eckersley.
‘Bodge thinking is like working as a sculptor’ said Eckersley. ‘It’s a quality of mucking about until you get something you like rather than sitting at a computer and making a virtual model. It’s artistry through action.’