Big chair set to return to Bennington
BENNINGTON - It seems everyone has memories and photographs of themselves, friends or family perched in the big chair in front of the former Haynes and Kane furniture store - even the new store's owner, Christopher LaFlamme Jr.
That consummate photo opp is set to return this week when a recreation of the 19-foot, 1-inch-tall ladderback chair is placed at the intersection of Harwood Hill and Northside Drive, where LaFlamme's reopened last July. An unveiling has been scheduled for next Saturday, Dec. 1, with live music, food, raffles, and in-store promotions including scale-sized replica chairs free with any large purchase.
"We hope to stand it right in the exact same spot," said Joe Curran, a timber frame specialist who worked over recent months along with Scott Hutton and Barry Bishop rebuilding the chair in his Shaftsbury shop. Curran said he got involved after his friend Hutton, a fellow carpenter and cabinet maker from East Arlington, needed someone with "big stick" experience.
"When you're building a 19-foot chair, you need a big stick guy." Curran said the new chair would be nearly the same size (the final installation may round up to a height of 20 feet, he said) and assembly required the same traditional peg and notch construction as a regular ladderback, "just on a larger size."
In a telephone interview Sunday, Hutton said he volunteered for the job after a conversation with LaFlamme about the chair's return. "I said, 'Well, I can build it for you.'" A chair that size necessitated extra hands, however, "so we pooled together."
"I was too excited to take on the project," Hutton said. "Just for me, just to be able to rebuild a historical landmark. ... I was excited to be chosen."
The effort to rebuild the chair received the support of former store owner Kathleen Haynes as well as the son of the original builder, Ken Porter Jr., a Shaftsbury resident who passed away this past August.
The recreation is based mostly on photographs from Porter of the original, both completed and during the build process. Although the woodworking may have been straightforward, the planning process took most of the summer and materials had to be ordered from a specialty supplier for custom home builders, Mead Lumber in Glens Falls, N.Y. Each of the finished knotty pine logs is 9.5 inches round, meant for log homes, while the spreaders are 6-inch and the cedar slats are 3 by 18.
"It's always been a landmark," said Curran. "I'm glad (Christopher LaFlamme) had the gumption to do it."
Paula LaPorte, of Paula's Weaving Workshop in Bennington, wove the new seat using a weather-resistant hemp rope created for sailboats and sourced from R & W Ropes in Massachusetts. A storyboard with the history of the chair is slated to be added by Sealand Graphics.
LaFlamme said many partners were supportive in offering donations and discounts.
The original sign proclaiming World's Tallest Ladderback Chair will also be returned to the corner. The sign had recently adorned the wall at Jensen's Restaurant, before owner Amy Jensen agreed to donate the sign back for placement on the chair.
Conceived by William Haynes and built by Ken Porter Sr., the original chair was hailed as one of the world's largest ladderback examples at the time it was built in the 1960s. It was dismantled 12 years ago after the original timbers began to rot.
In an announcement, LaFlamme said rebuilding the chair involved support from many people and businesses. The owner of a chain of furniture stores in nearby New York, LaFlamme began a signature campaign to bring back the chair after purchasing the former Haynes and Kane earlier this year.
The petition drive indicated community support and LaFlamme soon received permission for a variance from the Bennington Historical Preservation Commission to move forward.
The public unveiling begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1. In addition, chair aficionados are encouraged to bring photos of the original chair, and everyone who does will be entered into a contest for a special prize. For more information, call the Bennington LaFlamme's store at (802) 681-7381 or visit www.facebook.com/visitlaflammes.
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