Rural Missouri - December 2011 - (Page 14)
Bent on Perfection
John and Marcia Whitt have reﬁned the craft of rustic furniture
“We opened the Bent Tree Gallery in Clarksville because of the support of artists in this region,” says Marcia. “It is great to be around other artists to help spark our imagination for new ideas.” uring the farm crisis of the 1980s, rural Looking at the pieces of work John and Marcia America and the agriculture industry was create, it’s apparent creativity is something they deﬁin disorder. Banks foreclosed on family nitely do not lack. From the famous willow chairs farms, and thousands were forced to leave that started it all to loveseats, bundle tables, beds, their land in exchange for a different job and new dining sets and shelves, the couple ﬁnds countless way of life in urban areas. uses for just about every part of a tree. Newer items John and Marcia Whitt were not immune to the include chandeliers, wooden orbs, hickory twig problems going on in the country. On their farm mobiles and custom wallscapes in which John lays near Bethany in northwest Missouri, out several ash tree twigs to form the illusion of a they were looking for something to supplement their farm income. • miniature forest scene. But it all comes back to the skills John has “I was reading an article in Mother Clarksville perfected in making chairs. Earth News about making a willow chair To begin the process, John and Marin a day,” recalls Marcia. “We had just cia head out in search of proper willow built a new patio and wanted some new trees. They are looking for straight, narfurniture and thought, ‘Hey, we have wilrower trees of the same diameter for the lows in this area. Why not try this?’” backs of the chair and slightly crooked, A couple of days later, John had ﬁnthicker branches for the chair’s frame. ished his ﬁrst chair made out of willow trees. John “We cut with a method called coppicing,” says admits it wasn’t the most perfected piece he has Marcia. “This process which allows multiple new ever built, but it was the beginning of a passion for trees to grow from that stump.” perfection and thousands of willow chairs for the The thicker pieces are set inside a kiln to dry. Grundy Electric Cooperative member. Drying depends on the length and diameter of the John soon was making chairs for relatives and stem since John does not remove the bark, instead friends as word got out about his rustic pieces. At allowing the moisture to work its way laterally down the same time, Marcia was starting a business selling the piece of wood. For the chair backs, John wants handmade baskets at to help support the family. a more pliable tree so he only uses freshly harvested After more than two decades showing their work tree cut within the past two weeks. at fairs and showrooms across the country, the Construction then begins as John meticulously Whitts decided it was time for people come to them. assembles each piece. Next, the wood is sanded A visit to the small northeast Missouri community lightly and a water-based urethane ﬁnish is applied of Clarksville was enough — they decided to open a for protection and to give the wood a subtle shine. gallery to showcase their work ten years ago. John also counts on two long-time employees, The two still live on their farm in Bethany, but Richard Stanley and Dee Wood, to help in the crethey make the trek to Clarksville on the weekends ation of the many pieces. to staff the gallery and relieve their daughter, Stacy, What sets John’s furniture apart is the effort he who runs the store during the week and creates onemakes to perfect each piece to the best of his ability. of-a-kind leather bags. “I reference Colossians 3:23 ‘Whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men,” John says. Since John is always working on several projects at once, his shop is full of pieces at different stages of construction. For this reason, he ﬁnds it hard to say how long it takes to complete a chair. “The whole process might take ﬁve to six weeks, but I am not a clock-watcher,”
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says John. “It doesn’t matter if it takes ﬁve minutes or ﬁve days, it doesn’t seem like work. I tremendously enjoy what I do.” The chairs have become so One of the Bent Tree Gallery’s popular that in bent willow wood chairs shows the last few years, the expert craftsmanship. John and Marcia began offering workshops at their gallery for those wanting to learn to make their own. Over the course of two days, John takes students step by step through the chair construction process. Not only does he break down his construction steps, he takes the class out to the forest to show how to select the proper stems for a chair. “There is a science to building one of these chairs, but John helps take the learning curve out of it,” says Bill Mitchell of Webster Groves, who recently attended a workshop with his father and brother. “With the way he has the class set up, all different skill levels can do it whether you are very skilled in carpentry or whether you are a grandma that wants to make a rocking chair. John is a great teacher and takes you through a slow, simple process.” Even though most of their days are spent making new creations and working at their gallery, John and Marcia are as enthusiastic about what they do now before than ever. “This is our retirement plan,” laughs Marcia. Adds John, “As long as God allows me to use the ability He gave me for creating rustic pieces, I will continue to make them. It’s a great deal of satisfaction to ﬁnish a piece of art and yet it is functional. I always look forward to the next piece, getting that same satisfaction.” The Bent Tree Gallery, located at 102 2nd Street, is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 12 to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. For more information on the workshop and other products offered, call 573-2423200 or visit www.thebenttree.com/clarksville.html.
Marcia and John Whitt rest on a bent willow bench with their dog, Shotgun, at the Bent Tree Gallery in downtown Clarksville.
John Whitt, left, instructs Bill Mitchell of Webster Groves as he constructs a chair out of willow wood. Over the course of a two-day workshop, John helps students create a chair of their own.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - December 2011
Rural Missouri - December 2011
Table of COntents
Giggin’ on the Gasconade
A historic rumbling
Bent on perfection
Out of the Way Eats
Christmas country church tour
Hearth and Home
Of two governments
Best of rural Missouri
Rural Missouri - December 2011