Jim Geier rocks his chairs into perfection

STARKSBORO — Back in 1975, Jim Geier made his first Vermont Folk Rocker. The ‘65 Saint Mike’s College grad was renovating houses in the Burlington area at the time and had some two-by-fours, plywood and clothes line laying around. So, naturally, he made a hammock.
“But the hammock didn’t come out so well,” laughed Geier in a recent interview. “So I made it into a four-legged chair… I was playing around and making things, and sometimes it turns into something. All art is like that. I do a lot of painting and it’s very much like making furniture: you have a canvas or a piece of wood and try to make something.”
Satisfied that he had something, Geier hired a guy who knew more about furniture making than he did, and put a “sloppy shingle” out on the corner of Howard and Pine streets in Burlington. Soon after, a client from Shelburne made a large order. “It was a crash course,” said Geier. “But after making 50 pieces, I figured I probably knew how to make furniture… and if I didn’t, I was in trouble.”
After 15 years in Burlington, Geier moved his operation to Starksboro, where he continues to make the iconic rocking chairs. These days he has help from seven employees: Shawn Euber, Ryan Lee and Debbie Blakeslee, all of Starksboro; Pat Cyr of New Haven; Shea Denny of Richmond; DJ Detweiler of Huntington; and Alice Chandler of Bristol. Oh, and don’t forget Geier’s Jack Russell Terrier, Wally.
The team begins with wood from northern forests, they plane it into boards and make the parts of the chair. “Everything has a jig, and each jig has a different purpose: mark, hold, cut, glue, squeeze… you can’t go out and buy these; we made our own,” explained Geier.
The woodwork happens in a large shop with dust-covered anti-nuke memorabilia and other faded poster art. Geier’s passion for peace and creativity is on display throughout the shop with his own artwork and others.
Once the chair frame is assembled and sanded, it is soaked twice in linseed oil. “There’s no dryer in it,” said Geier. “Dryer is what makes it dry fast and hard.” It also has a lot of nasty chemicals. “Linseed oil will not totally dry for months, but eventually you get a patina that feels really smooth.”
A series of connected wooden blocks are finished, oiled and “quilted” together to make the chair seat and back. This is Geier’s signature. The chair frame is held in a jig while the blocks are sewn into place with what looks like a very large needle.
The final touches come from Blakeslee, who makes each chair a custom, handmade pillow-headrest and footstool. The footstools are not your normal ottoman, they call them “footsie rolls” because they look like two Tootsie Rolls put together. “They’re meant for your feet to rest on, not your whole leg. It’s really comfortable,” said Geier.
Each batch of chairs (60-80 chairs per batch) takes three months to complete. Chairs retail for $1,775. Every year, Geier does at least four raffles including the upcoming 5-Town Friends of the Arts event on Sunday.
“Over the years, the angle of the seat and the armrests have changed,” said Geier. “But now, it’s perfect… or at least at a point where I like it just the way it is.”
Can’t make it to the April 9 show but still want to buy a raffle ticket? Purchase them at Art on Main; only 300 will be sold.

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