“I was talking with Dave Sawyer last week and I asked him if you could go work with him. He said ‘yes.'” I was standing in Curtis Buchanan’s garden, helping him pick vegetables. I had been apprenticing with Curtis for six years and he was worried that I was becoming his little clone. Maybe my horizons would broaden if I worked with some other chairmakers. I’m so grateful he did.
The following January I drove to Vermont (you can read a story about my trip here). I spent three weeks living with Dave and Susan and their daughter Annie in their old farm house, working for Dave and building a chair with him. His son George was still off engineering, beginning to plan a return home to take up the family business.
That trip for me is full of memories. I remember Dave’s precision and his attention to detail. I remember his piles of books and train magazines on the worn wooden dining table. I remember walking past the dining table through the shop door and down a trio of steps into the little shop, an extension of his house. I remember Dave’s unconcerned calm when the shop chimney caught fire. I remember trying to paint my chair one evening by the light of a single bulb mounted on the ceiling – my 25-year-old eyes couldn’t see what Dave’s experienced eyes could. I remember my paint running out before I was done: “If you had added a splash of water to the paint a little earlier, you would have had enough,” said Dave. I remember feeling nervous when I first arrived, unused to their quite Vermont hospitality. I remember feeling deep affection for Dave and his family as they helped me weight my truck down with rocks from their farmhouse basement the morning I left on my snowy trip home.
Five or six years passed. We spend a couple more weeks together, teaching and visiting. Then one day I got a call from Dave. “I’ve got a one-way ticket to the promised land,” he said. “They’re giving me till the end of the summer.” He sounded as chipper as if he were talking about chairs – which is what we talked about for the following ten minutes. “This and that” is all he would say when I asked him what was wrong.
Dave’s final summer was a long one – he lived for another good handful of years. But last weekend I learned he died.
A kind and generous man is gone. You are missed, Dave.
P.S. I realize that I have not one photo of Dave. If anyone has any photos from the class we taught together (or other photos of him that you like), I’d love to see them. Post them in the blog comments (or you can e-mail them to me). Thanks!
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Here is a photo from the class you and Dave did at the Woodwright school in 2012.
I was fortunate enough to take a continuous are chair class with George in July 2019.
This was in Dave’s workshop before George built the shop he has now.
I has heard so much about Dave over the years from other woodworkers so was thrilled to
meet him. He came out into the shop several times to watch our efforts to make a chair.
With Susan and her art, Annie’s green woodworking and George continuing Dave’s
tradition it is a family living very much in the arts and craft tradition. I have one of Annie’s spoons and the chair I made to remember my time there.
My friend Walt Crawford and I spent a week with Dave in 2010 making what Dave called “a quality chair”. Dave told us how he graduated from MIT in the 60’s as an engineer and after a couple of years, he gave up engineering to make wooden pitchforks and eventually chairs. He was very definite about most things, and it was really great to work with him. Sorry about the dark photos, but Dave didn’t waste a lot on electricity. The young lady shown is his daughter.
Thanks for sharing! That was a year after I was first there and it’s the Dave I best remember – without a beard. It’s good to see Annie again too. Thanks!
Nicely said. I didn’t know much about him until he passed away, but it’s amazing the influence he had to so many people. I know he’ll be deeply missed.
What a beautiful sentiment.