Texas Co-op Power, December 1999
Sitting in a Work of Art
When people sit in one of Gary Weeks’ rocking chairs, they usually don’t want to get up. The gently curved seat and arms of the chair cradle the occupant as if custom-made. Of course, that’s the way Weeks designed the chair. “I know this doesn’t sound possible,’ he says, “but 98 percent of the people five feet to six-feet-four-inches tall, who try this rocker, tell me that it fits them perfectly.”
Eight years ago, Weeks was working as a homebuilder when he designed his Weeks Rocker in his workshop on an old ranch near Wimberley. Using a self-built contraption that allowed him to measure people’s posture and the angle of their body while sitting, he designed a rocking chair that combines comfort and beauty.
Each Weeks Rocker is crafted to show off the natural beauty of the wood. When a new shipment of lumber arrives, Weeks stacks the boards in the shade of a spreading oak behind his shop. He spends a lot of time sorting through the cherry, walnut, maple and mesquite boards, finding the perfect wood for each chair. While others may handle other aspects of making a chair, choosing the wood is Weeks’ special talent. “It’s like the chair is a vehicle for displaying the grain,” he says. “Every one is individual.” The chair seats alone use seven boards with carefully matched grain patterns.
Weeks uses wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, an organization that certifies forests that have met strict environmental standards to protect forest diversity, sustainable harvest, soil and water quality and wildlife habitat. While most businesses are moving forward into the 21st century with an emphasis on high-tech ad computer automation, Weeks has chosen a business firmly seated in centuries-old craftsmanship. “Craftsmanship is a labor of love, and there has to be a lot of it [labor] in what we produce,” he says. “Building a craft business is like going upstream. It has taken years for us to establish our place.”
Rather than mass-produce a uniform product, Weeks has chosen to create individual pieces that command high prices. “Craftsmanship means a high labor cost,” he points out. “We’re selling the finest woods, and the application of the finest skills in a product built to last for generations. That is very unusual in the market today.”
The decision to devote himself full-time to building rockers wasn’t an easy one. “Two things are absolutely necessary to do this,” Weeks says. “The first is a very stubborn persistence in the face of obvious reasons not to do something. I have that. And I have a very frugal and understanding wife.”
Leslie Weeks says she appreciates the fact that the work has allowed her husband to stay home and involved in family life. “It’s definitely been an influence to keep us close,” Gary Weeks agrees. “My children have grown up with a direct understanding of the need to produce something to make a living. We’re all aware of this thing that provides for us.”
Oldest son Austin now works in the shop, crafting chairs alongside his father. “He’s very sure of himself,” Gary Weeks says of his son as he watches Austin fit the arm of a chair securely into the back. “He’s fast, focused and careful.”
Weeks’ risk has paid off. Many private individuals now own Weeks Rockers, and public institutions from hospitals to libraries are buying them. Austin’s Renaissance Women’s Center ordered 20 rockers for use in its birthing rooms and other patient-care spaces. About 40 hours of labor go into choosing and shaping the wood, sanding the pieces, then finishing the chairs with multiple coats of hand-rubbed finish. “A lot of the reward of this business has been that the people who buy the chairs are elated,” Weeks says. “And every day I get to see something happen. It’s not on a screen, and it’s not on paper and it’s not far away.”
Weeks also makes dining tables and chairs with the same sleek lines as the Weeks Rocker. “We take this tremendous resource, wood, which is a gift, and make it into something particularly meaningful to people,” he says, running his hand along the satiny finish of a new chair. “People keep rocking chairs, and they develop a history. They’re worthy of our time and investment.”
-By Cindi Myers