Re: How did you get started in the chair caning business?
Mon Mar 10, 2014 1:17am

I've loved reading your stories. The common theme seems to be that a "someone" introduced you, and the passion was ignited. My story is similar in that vein, except the person I credit with introducing me to caning is someone I never met. Since my entry into caning is quite recent, the details are vivid ...

Apologies for the length ... you might wanna grab a cuppa coffee/tea (or Scotch!) and settle in for a story ...

Spring 2012 and I begin a local hunt for someone to replace the cane on one of our six DR chairs. All attempts ultimately pointed to a fellow named Ray Corliss, and all my attempts to reach him failed. The voice on his message machine belonged to an elderly fellow, so I imagined he wasn't diligent about replying to messages.

Many weeks pass, and I am resigned to just live with failing cane. That should be my worst problem, right?

Eventually, a lovely woman, Ann Corliss, returns my call. She's his daughter, from Ohio. Ray was quite ill and won't be caning again -- at least none too soon. However, his friend Geoff agreed to finish the work Ray had taken on and perhaps Geoff would take on one more chair. She gave me Geoff's contact info. I contacted Geoff and while he was not happy about yet *another* chair to cane, he agreed that I could bring it to him.

It turns out that a few months prior, Ray taught Geoff the basics of 7-step and also cane webbing. They, along with several other resident craftsmen worked from the well-equipped, climate controlled wood shop in their retirement community here in Albuquerque.

When I brought the chair to Geoff and saw him working on hand-caning some seats, I was intrigued and asked if I could watch for a while. He agreed I could watch -- but only until I understood enough to DO some of the caning for him. That took about 15 minutes! He said we could work on the 5 (hand caning) pieces in the shop and then he would work on my chair.

I spent much of my free time that spring and summer working in the wood shop with talented and interesting fellows -- most of them could be my uncles. It was fun to be considered a youngster, too, I admit that! I had a ball learning and soaking up precious inter-generational time. Not sure which I loved more at that time -- caning or adopting a gaggle of new uncles.

Geoff and I agreed that I would help him for free and he would teach me for free. A perfect arrangement. He'd buy me an occasional lunch and I would bring in an occasional treat from the garden or kitchen. As I saw several chairs transition from unusable to lovely, I got hooked and imagined that when the backlog was completed, I'd find some practice chairs on my own.

As we were completing a pair of chairs for a customer, JC - the owner of a furniture refinishing shop in town stopped by. He, too, had been trying to reach Ray Corliss for weeks, because Ray had been caning chairs for their company for many years. Geoff told him of Ray's ailing health and then introduced ME as the person who'll be taking up where Ray left off. Truthfully, my thinking hadn't gone that far, because I was still working (university prof). Still, I gave JC my contact info. He has since become my most steady source of work. [Sidebar, even as a Jewish woman, I'm aware of the irony that "JC" showed up and essentially launches my little biz!]

While I never met Ray Corliss, I credit him with introducing me to caning. I'd ask about Ray's progress and prognosis for the weeks I worked with Geoff, but Ray was already too ill to meet a "new person". Inevitably the day came when Geoff told me that Ray had passed quietly in his sleep overnight. I felt a personal loss for this fellow I'd never met. I arranged to attend the memorial service where I could learn about the man and also express my gratitude to his children (out of towners).

Ray's children were delighted that someone, ANYONE was interested in caning. They asked to meet privately with Geoff and me and then offered us all of Ray's caning materials, supplies, and equipment. Our taking it would solve their problem of figuring out how to dispose of it from afar. We could have whatever was useful and donate the rest. They drew up a document to that effect, and we all signed it.

I was stunned by that generous outcome. Grateful and stunned. Geoff was eager to get back to his real love restoring antiques, so he gave me the lion's share. So, I "inherited" hundreds of dollars in strand cane, webbing, fiber rush, wicker, and tools. There are also some gizmos I still can't figure out, but I think they might somehow be assembled to hold work pieces in position.

Within 24 hours of finishing the last of Ray's chairs, rearranging a guest room in our home, and moving Ray's treasures out of the wood shop, I got my first call to recane a chair. That call came from a resident of the same retirement community who -- ironically -- had been a staff member working with me at the university. After I completed her chair, she referred her daughter to me ...

I've stayed in touch with Ray's family and they delight in seeing my progress and enthusiasm. My little biz, The Caning Room (CR) is also a nod to Ray Corliss (RC). I see Geoff from time to time; he refers residents to me and I help him with some of his own caning projects. I provide him materials. It's the least I can do for an "uncle" whose many many hours of teaching and encouragement led me to a craft I love.

While I've now come to realize that some of what I learned was not correct, it really doesn't matter at all. That Geoff took the time to share what he knew was a gift I can never fully repay. And that, just a few months before his passing, Ray took the time to share a bit of what HE knew, well that is simply astonishing. And JC ...

Now that I have "officially" retired (mostly), I'm so grateful to have this fabulous craft to hone. And every time I complete a new project, I marvel at just how perfectly these fellows came into my life to guide me toward this wonderful source of lifelong learning.

Promising to never post such a long message here again!

Laurie Schatzberg
Albuquerque, NM
Intermittently weaving seats since June, 2012

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