Sidewalk Salvages, Craftsmanship, and Thomas Merton

1870s rocker (before and after)

“We find in the Rule of St. Benedict, that the monk does not treat material creation with contempt. On the contrary, we find the humblest material things handled with reverence, one might almost say with love. If the monk loves his monastery, it is because it is the ‘house of God and the gate of heaven’ and he sees in it something of the beauty of heaven hidden among the trees of the forest. In a word, the humble stone buildings, the cloister set in the peaceful valley, the plain wooden furniture of the monastery, the bare little table and the trestle of planks in the monk’s cell, far from being despised as “vain creatures” are respected and valued and even loved, not for their own sakes but for the sake of God to whom they belong.”–Thomas Merton, The Silent Life

I found this rocker more than ten years ago abandoned on the sidewalk in Hyattsville, MD. At some point I painted it purple and reupholstered it with a scrap piece of purple tapestry I bought at G-Street fabrics. It stayed that way for a long time and gained its moniker “the purple chair.” A few years ago, I decided I wanted to strip it down to the original wood. I used all kinds of heavy duty stripper. I sanded and sanded.

Eventually, I found Haridi — an amazing furniture refinisher. After working with it he determined the chair was a mix of maple and oak, probably dating from the 1870s, probably made in Europe. It still had the original horsehair cushion. This week he brought my chair back home. It looks gorgeous and happy. Merton’s reflections above say better than I can why it gives me such satisfaction to salvage a well-crafted creation and, through labor and partnership, restore it to its original artisan beauty.

One response to “Sidewalk Salvages, Craftsmanship, and Thomas Merton”

  1. I’ve heard it said that almost equal to a mother’s first gaze upon her newborn is the artisan’s looking at his/her finished work. It is often a God-moment.

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