Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Eliza's Rocking Chair

The small green-painted rocking chair stood in Grandma Eliza's bedroom, placed to the right of the closet door and near the double bed.
If one angled the chair toward the south-facing window, the view would have been of the side dooryard. a huge maple tree, and the gravel drive which stretched toward the barns.

I don't recall my great-grandmother sitting in the chair.  She was likely too busy!
Bedrooms in those days weren't considered a place for personal retreat; bedrooms were meant for sleeping, not dawdling, with a chest of drawers and the 'clothes press' to contain belongings.

The chair wore many coats of grey-green paint which my Uncle Bill, ever the conservationist, had layered with varnish.
Strangely, I haven't a clear memory of when the chair was presented to me--I think that Bill [as we always called him] gave it to me during a generous moment when we were building the small house next door in 1980.
An older neighbor told me later that such scaled-down chairs were termed 'nursing rockers'--small and light enough to be tucked out of the way or pulled out for use when an infant needed feeding or comforting during the night.
The seat of the chair was shaped from a single thick slab of wood and the side spindles have the form known as 'rabbit ears.'

When I was in my first phase of refinishing old furniture a neighbor used a heavy duty stripper to cut through the many layers of paint and varnish--the same man who cleaned up the old chest of drawers pictured in my last post.
Jim inserted some screws to reinforce the shaky joining of the rockers to the legs of the chair.
In our first-built Wyoming home I placed the little chair in a guest room where I had displayed a number of small vintage collectibles. 

As we built houses, moving  into several of them, incompletely furnished, until they sold, the rocking chair was among pieces that we stored away.

Our first Kentucky home--the yellow house--was a small 1980 ranch with no room to fit 
all of our furniture.
We had to edit our belongings to suit the space.
Perhaps unwisely, the rocking chair saw several seasons on the covered front porch.

Last month I brought the chair out from the muddle in the basement storage room.
I was dismayed to see how very fragile and weathered it had become.
In a practical sense it is probably unsafe for anyone but a slender youngster to use.
It wouldn't stand a good galloping rock.

Still, I couldn't let it go.
I dusted away the cobwebs and carried it across the drive to Jim's workshop.
When I went out several days later I found that he had applied wood glue to many of the 
cracks and fissures.
I undertook some careful hand sanding and on a day when sunlight streamed through the south-facing windows, began to apply paint.
Working with the chair I noted some features which suggest it was home made, or at least mended over the years by a home craftsman.
The lower back rung appears to have been repurposed from another chair; possibly one or two of the spindles replaced.
The chair, with other household chattels, would have been ferried across Lake Champlain
to Orwell, Vermont when my great-grandparents and grandparents bought the farm there in 1913.
It had most likely been in one of the family homes in the hamlet of Hague, New York.

The chair has been lovingly refurbished with two coats of 'Apple Grove' satin paint--the color is close to what I remember of the original and is the paint I purchased to refinish the hutch/bookcases Jim bought for me several years ago at a local auction.

Eliza's rocking chair now has its place in the small guest room.
I intend making a cushion using some of the toile fabric left from the curtains.
Perhaps this delicate treasure should wear a placard such as one sees in a museum display:
Do Not Sit On The Chair

Eddie and Eliza [Bartlett] Ross
The formal portrait isn't dated.
I believe Eliza [in reality my step-great-grandmother] was in her mid 40's at the time.
Great-grandfather Eddie was 10 years older.


  1. What a treasure! I love the soft green color you have used. We have a rocking chair that was given to my husband's grandparents when they were married in 1911. It has been refinished and repaired, but we keep it up in our bedroom so it won't be sat on. My father-in-law was rocked in it as was my husband and we have sat in it long enough to rock our grandbabies in it!

    1. Jan; We hope that someone in our respective families will cherish such things. I suspect Eliza's chair was already old when it made the journey to her new home in 1913.

  2. How wonderful to have something that has been in your family for so long. It looks great with its new coat of paint. I love that portrait photo as well, sadly I have nothing like that from my ancestors.

    1. Rowan; We are blessed to have a number of family portrait photos--as well as several of nice-looking people with no identification.
      I love the bits and pieces that have been passed along to me.

  3. I suspect it was too Sharon! You will have to put a teasel on it to stop folk sitting there as they do here in the grand houses of the National Trust. I love that soft colour green - I have used it here on walls and some small pieces of furniture.

    I love the way that the rockers have been set INTO the bottom of the chair legs. Here it is the other way round - Keith has repurposed old Windsor chairs with very worn-down legs into rockers by drilling bottom-of-the-leg sized holes into sturdy curved wooden rockers. I shall show him this way later and he will love it.

    A lovely photo of your great-grandparents and I can see some of them in you.

    1. Jennie; Your observation about the chair rockers sent me on a scouting mission. I have 4 other rocking chairs. Another small one has the same type of rockers as Eliza's chair. One [my Grampa Mac's chair] has the rockers as you describe. Still another is a 'hybrid' rocker attachment and the newest--a Western lodge-pole chair-- has gliders. I couldn't put my finger on why the old chair seemed a bit odd as I worked on it--thank you for pointing out the differences of style,

  4. That is a real treat to have in your home. A nice history to go with it.

    It is a lovely shade of paint that you have lovingly applied.

    Enjoy ~ FlowerLady

    1. Rainey; I think of you mixing paint to get the tender shade of purple/lavender you recently used. Color is such an important part of life.

  5. What a nice treasure. I have several antique Hitchcock chairs that are too fragile for sitting. I place small wreaths on the back and baskets on the seats to dissuade anyone from having a seat.


    1. Jane; I like your ideas for keeping the chair a safe 'for display only' treasure. I have a thought on how I can do this--I need to rummage through my fabric stash and see what I can come up with.

  6. Lovely little chair and definitely one to be cherished.

    1. Janet; I am fond of the chair and the memories of great-grandmother Eliza--I'm sorry that for a few years the chair suffered my neglect.

  7. I'm so glad you're using the little chair again - so charming. I got a closeup of your great-grandparents' portrait. They are such a handsome couple.

    1. Lillian; I have several studio photos of my great-grandparents. He was always a handsome man. The portrait of them in mid life shows Eliza at her very best--she appears quite plain in their wedding photos and when they were photographed with the 4 children [3 from his first marriage, including my maternal grandmother, and the son they had together.]

  8. Thank you for your comments on my blog. It's good to connect with other strong women.x

    1. Yarrow; I often have resented the situations which demand that I be 'strong', but that seems to be life--and the alternative, of folding up, simply isn't a good choice.