The workshop sits down a tree lined gravel drive, barely visible from the road. Since 1973, thousands upon thousands of Windsors went from freshly harvested logs to exquisitely crafted chairs by one man in a modest workshop. You’ve never seen Richard Grell’s name in a woodworking magazine, but his chairs are found around the globe, sought after by serious collectors. The big auction houses know to call Richard when a buyer scores that final chair on their bucket list, often commissioning a sister chair or a set based on the prized original. He’s known for museum quality reproductions, as well as his own graceful adaptations of this iconic chair form.
Today when we think about design, it’s often in the context of exploring new ground and novel forms. Yet, our tradition also has a long history of extending and perfecting the past work of artisans. This comes with it’s own challenges. Building on a tradition as rich as Windsor chair making; respecting that tradition while adding to it, requires attention to detail and a practiced eye. It’s rare as gold to find someone so deeply immersed in a craft. Rarer still is Richard’s open and sharing attitude. With nothing to prove and a true love of the craft, he’s a treasure trove of knowledge. As we talked chairs in his shop, I noted how he still gets excited about a new detail, using his hands to explain how the lines of a chair converge to make music with wood. Although he’s noted for stunning reproductions, his own Grell chair designs add depth to our American Windsor chair legacy.
One big change is on the horizon, and we all stand to benefit by it. Richard reached the point in his craft where he feels compelled to pass on the knowledge. Starting in 2013 he’ll be offering a variety of workshops on chair making, chair design, and finishing (his painted finishes are second to none). Whether you are a novice or experienced maker, Richard has much to share from a lifetime making his living with his hands and wits. Details are forthcoming, but for now here’s a link to his commercial site to wet your appetite. Check out the section on finishes.
George R. Walker