The Australian Woodworker, June 2003

The Texas Rocker

Australian Woodworke

Sometimes an item of great beauty and form just grows on you, grabs your interest and won’t let go. In my case, this interest was a piece of furniture--a handmade rocking chair of original design and the highest workmanship. However, the object of my desire was in the united states and I was in Melbourne, Australia.

I had been considering a woodworking project of my own already having made two tables, a bookcase and a butcher’s block, so I trawled through a number of internet sites for fresh ideas.

One site that sparked my interest was that of furniture maker Gary Weeks from the town of Wimberley, Texas. For 10 years, his small family company has specialized in making rocking chairs designed for fit and function and they are a delight to the eye. I was hooked from the start, deciding that I would have an expertly designed and crafted Texas rocker made for me.

The website had all the information I needed. Any one of the rockers in different woods would look just right in my lounge room.

Contact was made and after a few emails I decided on a rocker in Walnut. It was easy to give in to the gentle curves and polished surfaces, the subtle grain and deep chocolate colour of the wood. This level of quality is not what you would find at your local department store, even if it does carry an item as personal as a rocking chair.

The rocking chair is, as Gary Weeks says, an American icon. There are so many of them in the US and they are highly regarded and handed down through generations. Given such elevated status, legions of fine woodworkers have turned their skills to the rocker.

So it is with Gary Weeks. He states on his website that ‘Being in the building business for a number of years got me interested in having a product into which I could put all the craftsmanship desired.’ He also says that ‘ the rocker has a connection with health, home and family, giving it a unique opportunity for heirloom status.’

This status is achieved through hard work and well thought, tried and true methods of working with wood. Gary says that while he has the standard array of small woodshop machines, he also has ‘several special ones that I have built. Our shop-built machines, fixtures, tools and jigs help us achieve precision in fit and assembly. But we must still follow the line at the bandsaw.

As the weeks went by, the progress of the rocker was easy to track thanks to my email correspondence with Gary. Shipping the chair to Australia when finished, a task fraught with potential hiccups was also easy.

Having never imported anything before, I had many questions--how much would it cost? What duties or other charges would apply? Would these other charges would apply? Would these costs be prohibitive?

Weeks Rockers have been sold in Europe as well as most American states and Gary was quickly in touch with an international freight company that had an affiliate in Melbourne--they had all the answers. Even easier, all the paperwork was done from Gary’s end. ‘Geoff is about as far away from Texas as you can get and still be on land. It was fun to figure out how to ship the chair and exchange the money.’

The internet has meant that over the past two years, Gary has been doing more business with people farther away from home and community. As he says ’Artisans serve communities of shared interest. The web weaves together the lives of people who don’t necessarily live near one another into communities of shared interest. The internet has provided a real boost to our business, connecting us with people from all over the world.’

Back in Wimberley, Gary had carefully chosen the wood and was ready to start work. ‘We shape, carve, sculpt, inlay and turn, guided only by hand and eye. Our furniture is handmade.’ That the small band of artisans work on about six rockers at a time is a tribute to their skill. Setup and precision.

And precision was just what was needed for my next request. Noticing the Texas inlays displayed on the website, I wondered if a particularly Australian version could be possible and maybe even in Australian wood. Gary was equal to the task.

By fortunate coincidence, a friend had a piece of Australian Blackwood that was perfect. ‘In the shop we were excited to pick the parts of Geoff’s chair and follow it on’ Gary said. ‘Displayed in the showroom, with its inlay prominent, the chair primed many conversations that we coloured with Texas bragging and carrying on. We were sad to see it go.’

The rocker was now on its way to Australia and my anticipation was only heightened by the photos sent ahead my Gary.

Unpacked and unveiled in my living room, the rocker was every bit as smooth, stately and comfortable as I imagined. It will be, as expected, the focus of the room or indeed of the whole apartment when anyone visits.

And anyone is welcome to come and look. You’ll know exactly where to find me--snoozing happily and dreaming of beautiful furniture, forests and trees, always thankful for the trees.

-By Geoff McGowan