Woodworkers take a seat for THT ‘chair-ity’

MIDDLEBURY — People visiting downtown Middlebury after Memorial Day are likely to wonder if they became Lilliputians overnight.
That’s because five over-sized chairs will be set up at some conspicuous downtown spots, a scene that will make for some comical seating opportunities and photo ops.
It’s all part of the Town Hall Theater’s “Big Chair Project,” through which five area woodworkers are crafting some Gulliver-sized seats to draw attention to the nonprofit organization’s annual membership drive. The chairs will be on display through mid-July, after which four of them will be put up for auction to raise money for THT.
“We love the idea of getting all of the creativity here outside of the building,” THT Executive Director Douglas Anderson said on Thursday of the project. “This is one way we can do it. It’s a different way to serve the community, and I enjoy it.”
This isn’t the first time the THT has taken its entertainment mission outdoors. Last spring, several area artists decorated pianos that were displayed downtown and routinely played by passersby. The THT ultimately auctioned off those instruments as a fundraiser.
“It was immensely successful,” Anderson said of the piano project.
The only negative last year was a very rainy June that required THT officials to constantly cover and uncover the pianos at the whim of Mother Nature. That won’t be an issue this year, as the wooden chairs will be impervious to raindrops and relatively maintenance-free.
Earlier this year Anderson reached out to various woodworkers in the community, asking each if they’d be interested in crafting a chair for the THT’s membership drive. Anderson’s only directive was that the chairs be unusually large but still close enough to the ground for people to sit in them.
“We want them to look like the real thing,” Anderson said.
Answering the call were Bruce Byers, who is building a director’s chair; Nancy Malcolm, who is making an Adirondack chair; Timothy Clark, making a Windsor chair; Ben Raphael, an old-style school desk; and Ben Wright, a park bench. Once completed, all of the chairs will be placed near appropriate village spots. For example, the director’s chair will be sited near the Town Hall Theater. The school desk will be placed behind Middlebury College’s Twilight Hall, which was once Middlebury’s grade school. The park bench will be placed in Court Square.
“It’s interactive,” Anderson said of the project.
Byers was drawn to woodworking later in his life. The Cornwall resident, who is retired, took a woodworking class 10 years ago and has a shop where he makes cabinets and other projects. He acknowledged the director’s chair has proved a challenge, so much so that he has enlisted two friends — Susan Highley and Allan Duclos — to help out. He’s using white pine as the primary wood for the chair, which will require a special fabric for the seat and back.
“It’s kind of fun to push a little bit beyond what you know,” he said of the project.
Malcolm is also a woodworking hobbyist. Like Byers, she works on various furniture projects — including the occasional Adirondack chair — and was intrigued by the super-sized chair assignment. The first thing she did was take some photos of some large chairs in the area. She used poplar wood for the big Adirondack chair, which is yellow. It will be placed near the new park at the Marble Works that overlooks the Otter Creek Falls.
“It was fun,” she said of the project. “It was a challenge to figure out how to do it and make sure it’s sturdy.”
Clark has for the past 28 years made his living creating fine furniture out of wood. He owns and operates Timothy Clark Cabinetmaker/Chairwright in Waltham. Clark’s contribution to the effort will be a double-sized Windsor side chair. He will use bass wood for the seat, and ash for the spindle and legs. He is not yet sure what variety of wood will be used for the top rail.
He is pleased that the chair, once completed, will be placed near the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History. It’s a museum where he has given talks and which, of course, possesses an impressive collection of antique chairs.
Clark’s Windsor chair will be approximately 76 inches tall and 4 feet wide. The seat will be 36 inches off the ground. It is likely to be painted a traditional black, he said.
Clark attended Middlebury College and said he loves the community.
“It has a warm place in my heart,” he said. “It was nice to be asked to be a part of the (chair project).”
Once the THT membership drive has run its course, Clark will use the Windsor chair as a promotional vehicle, either for his business or for the Vermont Guild of Furniture Makers, of which he is a member.
The other chairs will go to the highest bidders. People can submit their bids to Anderson at [email protected]. Anderson is hoping for some good bidding wars to support the THT, which has a goal of collecting 550 members this year. Those members pledge varying amounts of money to help keep the THT financially solvent as it stages its diverse blend of entertainment each year.
Anderson explained that community theaters cannot subsist solely on gate receipts; it is dependent on donations to fill in some of the financial cracks.
“We need to raise money to support a staff of six full-time and five part-time employees,” Anderson said. “We have no debt. We’ve just begun to raise an endowment to make sure the building is maintained in perpetuity.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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