I’ve been around chair caning all my life. My family came from Scotland, through Canada and into Michigan. My great grandmother Gladys McInnes Allen moved to North Carolina with her itenerant farmer family. She taught my grandmother, Ida Allen Clements how to cane.
Ida was one of these American icons during World War II. She wrote down her life story and in it, she describes a time when she put an ad in the paper for chair caning to help support the kids. Ida taught my granddad Hobert (who served in World War I and was in the Battle of the Marne) how to cane. My aunts Linda and Gladys, and my dad (also Hobert) learned how to cane from Ida’s brother and Granddaddy. Most of the caning was done in an old school house in North Garden, Virginia, where they lived and had a ceramic shop on the property.
My aunt Linda has operated a caning business in Norfolk, Virginia for over 30 years. My dad always told me I should learn (mainly because I was a gypsy-like college graduate and was, in his words, “artsy fartsy”) and so I finally did back in 2005. I was living in Oregon where I worked in art galleries and picture framing shops and had just moved back home to Folly Beach, SC. I attended Chair Repair Boot Camp at Linda’s house and learned different cane, rush, and splint weaves on chairs she picked up at antique stores. When I returned to Charleston, I got my first job re-rushing and painting over 30 chairs in Kasper’s Diner in the heart of downtown Charleston. Ed Kheiling got a really good deal on that job but if anyone deserved it, Ed did! I then began contracting out with local furniture companies like Chehaw River Woodworks and Charleston Interiors.
In Charleston I was able to work on some amazing old antiques, including a 1940’s FDR style wheelchair, and I also fixed the cane chairs in the 5 star Charleston Place Hotel’s Palmetto Cafe. I’ve always been drawn to the mountains of North Carolina. Living in spectacular places like the Park City, Utah and in the Cascade Mountain Range of Oregon, I always felt there was something homey and comforting missing from the awe-inspiring volcanic peaks. Despite the good times on Folly, Asheville called me back.
During college I had taught arts and crafts at Falling Creek Camp for Boys in Tuxedo, NC and visited Asheville on my days off. I came back in 2007 for yoga training at Asheville Yoga Center and then stayed on for more grounding and uplifting yoga training at the Asheville School of Massage and Yoga.
Since moving to Asheville in 2007 I have worked with lots of individual clients and several furniture repair shops including McCall Restoration Services, Furniture Repair Works, Woody’s Chair Shop, and Barnhardt’s Restoration. I was honored to be the Artist in Residence at the Grove Arcade Arts and Heritage Gallery in the fall of 2008 where I began making original contemporary antiques by refurbishing, painting, and re-weaving old chairs. I have taught chair caning classes at the True Nature Country Fair and you may have met me doing demos outside of Mountain Made or at the Folk Art Center. I am honored to be a part of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild among really impressive artists and extremely cool people.
Dave Klingler and I opened our studio Planet Art in 2010 in the fabulous River Arts District where we did chair caning and picture framing. Dave received a promotion from #1 minion to Member Manager of the LLC! It didn’t take long for Dave to become master of rush weaving and technical problem solver. Indeed he is a chair master. The chairs quickly took over the studio and in 2014, we decided that we should focus on the chair business. We are forever indebted to Mountain BizWorks and Annie Price at Birds Eye Business Planning for invaluable education in business.
Dave and I met on Folly Beach where I was caning for businesses around Charleston. He was in need of some cash and I was in need of some help gutting the Charleston Place chairs (okay, and I wanted him to think I was cool cuz I worked with tools), so I paid him $100 to help dig out old cane from difficult chairs. Best $100 I’ve ever spent. Since then Dave has mastered rush, machine cane, splint weaves, and laced cane…and manages to figure out any difficult weave that comes our way! He even dug out this crazy perfect groove and fixed and “impossible to fix” antique chair that nobody in town wanted to attempt. I bet the mechanical engineering degree helps…
By fixing (saving!) an old chair, we are preserving a piece of history and conserving valuable resources in a disposable world. (I saw a rush bottom chair on Antiques Road Show for $50,000.00! ) But my favorite part of caning is seeing the look on people’s faces when they see their newly refurbished chair. Benno M. Forman of American Seating Furniture 1630-1730 states that chairs are documents and caners are historians that preserve centuries of designs and techniques.