In 1964 Carl Bird, aSaugatuck boat builder and craftsman who had a picturesque shop on FrancisStreet just west of Butler Street, restored for his niece, Margaret (Graves)Van Houtte, a desk that had been built by hergreat-grandfather, Henry Bird Jr., who had first come to Saugatuck in 1868.Henry ran a lumber mill on
You will be surprised andshocked to get this letter
Now, as I approach some of these restoration jobs, after over thirtyyears of thinking about them, they begin to tell stories that are not soevident to most people.
CarlBird caning a canoe seat
When I build boats or any other structure I first build it in bed sothat I know every detail and just what it will look like when complete.
I imagine this desk is one of grandpa's first ventures in cabinet making and that he did not know just wherehe would wind up. I think he felt it out and "built it as he went along"so that it is to a certain extent what I call "cob-house."
I think this piece was early in his experience because I have restoredother pieces of his and the engineering was better. As far as that is concernedI have found many more pretentious builders of this period who seemed tounderstand little about furniture design. Chairs are more liable than otherfurniture to be off in some respect.
You see, when one builds a boat or anything else he builds to certainspecifications of which there may be six and it is only possible to work to twoat the same time. You or anybody can understand that if you work for beauty andspeed you might not have the most comfort and seaworthiness. I have had chairsas beautiful as a picture but upon examination I wondered how they stayedtogether.
Now, I have dragged your great-grandpa over the coals long
The angles of the front were embellished by plastic lionsheads one of which the worms have left us. Some people think that plastics arenew, but this molded plastic was probably made of glue and sawdust and theworms evidently like the glue. These heads were only at the top and, aftertrying every source without success I made turnings for top and bottom. I alsoturned medallions for the front doors which were full face lions.
The fabric on the desk top seemed to be a heavy muslin or light canvas paintedblack and extended from the front to the back rail where there was a
This desk was in the old Brittain House whichwas the O. R. Johnson House in lumbering days, O.R. being one of the lumber barons. He afterward built the Park House along theriver below
The house on the hill where we lived and your ma was born was the SamJohnson House, a cousin of O.R. and also a lumber baron.
When Julia Brittain sold the house andcontents, the first object was the desk for which I paid $5.00. "
Harry Moore was my grand uncle, your great grand uncle. I do notremember him, but I remember Aunt Kate, a petite, charming little lady as Iever knew, not at all like grandma who, to my notion, was tall and ungainly.Her name, too, was not Kate and not Katrinka either,but some unusual Dutch name which was charmingly quaint. [Her name was
Grandpa was born June 11, 1817, and came by ox team from
The most surprising thing about the whole business is that grandmamarried before most girls know anything, raised a fine family, was a good cook,but also had a home institution that was as near self sustaining as it possiblycould be. I have seen her flailing out bears with flail and blanket on the barnfloor. There was the ash-barrel on a platform which took a pail of water nowand then to leach the lye, not only for soap but also for hominy i.e. hulledcorn.
My cousin Edith, bless her dear soul, was the only one interested
I am glad the desk is now up to you. You can figure out how you will
I am not asking you to read this all at once- you can take the balanceof the winter to figure out what I am trying tosay in this "damned crampedpiece of penmanship.
P.S. I forgot to say that besides the lion gargoyle in the drawer is ahome made lure, partially done. It is hollow for a weight, had fins to make itswim by jerking a line on a stick. When the big fish came he was socked with aspear thru the ice inside a shanty.
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As Carl Bird points out he remembers little firsthand about the