“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!