NEW BEDFORD — While setting up a Quaker exhibit at the Rotch-Jones-Duff House & Garden Museum, a curator challenged facilities manager and lead gardener Rick Finneran to rebuild an old rocking chair found in the attic.
He’s now made six.
“I had built furniture in the past, minor things, but nothing like this,” said Finneran. “A chair itself is stationary, a rocking chair has a lot more life and more components.”
Finneran said there’s a creativeness when building in a chair and having something that’s functional, that’s good looking and your own. “Rocking chairs have sort of a life of their own and so I kind of liked that aspect of it,” he added.
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He was inspired to build his first rocking chair after refurbishing the one for the exhibit and finding it very comfortable when sitting.
He then took some scrap wood and put together a template. “I really wanted to build a rocking chair, without any nails or screws,” he said.
When building one, Finneran said you have to think about it almost as a bridge — everything works with itself. It needs to be properly dispersed or else it will collapse. Proper dispersal will allow it to remain sturdy, which will make it a longer lasting chair, too.
However, Finneran is no stranger when it comes to tacking a challenging task.
Since 2016, Finneran has been the facilities manager and lead gardener for the Rotch-Jones-Duff House. He is responsible for a majority of the garden as well as the look of many of the exhibits.
He is also well-versed in the history of house knowing all the stories. I have leads many of the tours.
Creating something that is your own
When it comes to rocking chairs, Finneran said people are acquainted mainly with older people sitting on the porch or a nursing chair used to rock a baby. However, as he goes forward, he’d like to make them a little more stylish.
“I want them to sit in a room and not look like a rocking chair,” he said.
It takes about 50 to 60 hours to complete a chair. His main challenge from him has been not having the right equipment, using only the regular carpentry tools that he has on hand.
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He also said the seat itself was at first an afterthought. “I ended up taking some oak and joining it together and then having it to just sit on all four,” he said.
He then adds a clear shellac and a light coat of polyurethane to make it look more durable. On the bottom of the seat, he writes the history of where he got the wood, signs his name of him and writes his own poem.
He sold his first chair to a museum volunteer and gifted another to his sons who lives in Nashville. Finneran said it feels great to be able to have something he built that may remain in someone’s home for a long time.
“Is this the greatest rocking chair in the world? No,” I admitted. “But it’s a rocking chair that I built. That means something to me and the people that I build it for.”
Carpentry and poetry
Aside from carpentry, Finneran is also a skilled poet—after being inspired in the third grade by poet Robert Frost. “There’s a lot of metaphors and symbolism, it’s kind of nice to put it together in your mind,” he said.
When he was 17, while his father was sick, as a cathartic way to grieve he started writing poetry.
“It was an emotional reaction,” he said. “I found that when something’s running through my mind, it just won’t stop unless I write it down. I will just keep going over and over and over it, and my thoughts will never become clearer.”
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On April 14, Finneran will be part of the Rotch-Jones-Duff House’s series of conversations from “makers” that includes an artist, woodworker, and glassblower. He plans to weave together the topics of repurposed wood, woodworking and poetry.
“What I find is people don’t apply some of the things that they read to their lives, like they actually think there’s a mystery,” he said.
“I want people to realize they just have to do things and go for it, and about how much better you can do for yourself.”
Standard-Times staff writer Seth Chitwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter: @ChitwoodReports. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.