Our Newest Immortal

During the July 23 sack back class Sir Gordon Keller became the most recent inductee into the Chairmakers Hall of Fame.  That makes Sir Gordon the most recent Immortal, and the first since 2004.  His innovation is known as Keller’s Colors.  The innovation solves a problem that has plagued Windsor chairmaking students as long as I have been teaching.  The mistake occurs when shaping the seat edge.  The student cuts with a draw knife along the bottom edge, flips the seat, and cuts on the top edge.  The mistake usually ruins the seat blank.  We have long tried to avoid the problem by writing TOP in large letters on the seat’s upper surface.  We have tried to teach students to place one hand on the top before cutting.  It was all to no avail. Almost every class experienced a ruined seat blank.  Sometimes there were several.

The beauty of Keller’s Colors is that it is so simple.  It is also very effective.  In field trials, the only student to cut the top edge had also failed to use the technique. 

Sir Gordon attended the July 23 class to do the teaching stint required for dukedom.  In November he will be earled and duked at the settee class.  The College of Dukes had given him a dispensation so that he could teach before having taken  his last class.   A dedicated chairmaker, Sir Gordon also signed up for the December 3 Balloon back chair class, even though his earldom had already been assured.

Sir Gordon was not aware that the staff had  nominated him for membership in the Hall, and that his technique had undergone field trials.   The last time Sir Gordon was here for a class, I had noticed him using his technique. I quietly described the solution to Fred and Don, who agreed the technique seemed worthy of presentation to the Board of Trustees.  Having themselves seen many seats ruined in classes, the trustees approved the innovation for field trials.  When I reported the results, the trustees voted unanimously to induct Sir Gordon.  There was not even much of the rather lively debate that usually takes place at their meetings.

The staff decided to surprise Sir Gordon with his membership.  We  invited  the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, His Grace Wayne Murray to attend the July 23 class on Monday afternoon, when we normally begin working on the seat.   Before Fred began demonstrating the shaping of the seat, I introduced H.G. Wayne and told the class about the Hall.  I  noted that membership is so difficult,  that no one had been inducted since 2004, and no one before that since 2000.  I described the very involved nominating and vetting process that weeds out merely good ideas from the truly great ideas.  I told how Hall of Famers are so revered in the world of Windsor chairmaking that they are referred to as the Pantheon of Immortals. That is all true, but I was also setting up Sir Gordon. 

Next, Fred explained the technique,  and demonstrated it.  He told the class  we had gotten the idea from someone, but the staff couldn’t remember who.  I noticed Sir Gordon’s eye brow raise as he recognized his idea.   However, being very shy and self-effacing, Sir Gordon kept his counsel.  I then stopped Fred and told the class that H.G. Wayne was present because the Hall had a new member.  At that point His Grace presented the stunned Sir Gordon with his certificate.  Gordon was invited to hang a framed copy of his certificate in the Hall where now,  anyone visiting  The Windsor Institute can see it.

Some innovations that have resulted in membership in the Hall of Fame are applicable to only some styles of Windsors.  Keller’s Colors is used on every chair.  Therefore from now on, it will be taught in every class, and anyone studying at The Institute will learn it.  At home, when chairmakers don’t ruin expensive seat blanks, they too, will sing Sir Gordon’s praises and know why he is now an Immortal.