from the Leaves of Twin Oaks #123
Purl (Sean Samoheyl) has lived at Twin Oaks for 15 years. One job he does here is build chairs by hand for use in our kitchens and living rooms, and for sale to the general public. The money he earns from this work is part of how the community supports itself, and this is a good example of how people can integrate their personal interests and skills into the fabric of community life.
How did you start hand-crafting chairs for Twin Oaks?
I was already making chairs for the community in 2008, when there was a power outage, and I got inspired to continue working by hand, with no power tools. I have a small workshop here that is tiny and quaint and full of hand-tools and projects-in-process. I have a strong value of producing for ourselves what we use in our daily living. I value making things using a smaller carbon footprint, by using hand-tools (some power tools too) and using locally- and sustainably-harvested wood, including oak, walnut, poplar and hickory. I often use milk paint for color and tung oil and paste wax for the finish.
What kind of chairs do you make?
I make a lot of Windsor-style chairs, some ladder-backs, and sometimes related furniture like rocking chairs, stools, and occasionally a table. I’ve learned a lot from my teachers, including Peter Galbert, Elia Bizzarri, Curtis Buchanon, and Harvey Baker at Dunmire Hollow community for building tables.
One fun chair I made is for my daughter, who is now 8. I made it when she was 5, and I intentionally constructed it with extra long-legs. Every year, as she grows a little taller, we cut an inch or two off the bottom of the legs, so it’s again the right height for her to use sitting about our kitchen table.
Where are the chairs featured and how do people find them to purchase them?
I demonstrate hand-crafted chair-making at various events. I was a FolkLife Fellow Master Chair Maker with The Virginia FolkLife Festival, I’ve done displays at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, at our regional Field Days of the Past, and I’ve sold at the Charlottesville Farmer’s Market. I participated in Francis Cape’s woodworking art project in which benches from historical and contemporary intentional communities were re-constructed and featured in his book “We Sit Together: Utopian Benches” and at a gallery in NYC. I also often connect with people, either other artists or people who are interested in my work, on social media and by word-of-mouth. You can find Purl on Facebook here.
What are your ideas for the future?
I want to continue making chairs for people to use in their everyday lives. I’ve worked teaching members here some of these skills, and I have aspirations of teaching farther afield.