When looking for information on the history of twig furniture I found so many references to rustic furniture but very little on twig furniture made from fresh saplings. Rustic furniture is made from logs, split logs, saplings and twigs. The two basic types of rustic furniture construction are: bentwood where sticks are harvested and used fresh or steamed to make them easier to bend into the different types of furniture or twig work where straight, curved or forked sticks are cut and assembled into decorative shapes within a structure.
As a child I attended a summer camp in Michigan where the camp pastor, Rev. Sinclair made what he called twig furniture from fresh saplings when he had time away from looking after our immortal souls. Watching him fashion chairs, tables and benches from these young trees fascinated me. He said his father taught him as a child during the depression how to make the furniture. Growing up in rural Appalachia, Rev. Sinclair said his family could not afford store bought furniture so they made all their own chairs, tables, benches, footstools, hat stands, shelves, bedsteads, etc. During the Great Depression, times were so difficult that people looked for resourceful ways to make a living as well as outfit their homes on a shoestring budget. If a family was lucky enough to sell some of their handmade furniture they could put food on the table as a result of their resourcefulness. Making twig furniture gave them a way to make something beautiful without having to spend any money and ultimately make a little money which was sorely needed.
Every day at summer camp, Rev. Sinclair would get up before the sun and go tromping through the woods looking for the perfect saplings to cut and bend into chairs for the camp. Each day he cut enough for one chair then came back and made the chair, bench or stool in the afternoon while we were supposed to be resting after lunch. He said early morning was the perfect time to reflect on the beauty of our world, find a few good sticks, do a little praying and thank God for all He’d given us. Most of his furniture held up throughout many, many years of use and abuse by campers not familiar with or respectful of the amount of time, effort, and expertise needed to form these amazing pieces.
I became the keeper of this small stool in the late 1980’s when the camp was going through some renovations and the manager at the time was getting rid of all the twig furniture. We just happened to be visiting the camp at the time and I rescued it from the trash heap. It’s still as sturdy as the day Rev. Sinclair made this stool and the bark continues to hold fast to the wood but now, it is time for me to pass this wonderful piece onto someone else to appreciate.
So many pieces of this twig furniture fall victim to the ravages of time; the bark falls off, some of the smaller twigs snap due to neglectful use, sometimes young fidgeting hands stripped the bark. Because this type of furniture lends itself to outdoor spaces, it often got left out in our northern winters and the severe weather conditions destroyed the furniture. Any number of maladies could have destroyed this piece but it is still here looking just as good as the day it was made.
Being in this huge antiques market at Round Top Texas, I took it as a prime opportunity to find more examples and went looking for twig furniture.
I found some modern pieces designed for your yard but almost no other true twig furniture.
Coming back to our building, near a camper I found a couple chairs and a small table that had been painted. When I asked why they painted it, the owner said the bark was starting to fall off and painting it refreshed the look and allowed them to keep the furniture a little longer.
So next time you see furniture made from logs, sticks or twigs, remember the resourceful folks that made a living making this furniture in the 1930’s.