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  • Writer's pictureRobin

Mme B's Beginnings

Galax, Virginia’s name hails from the native galax plant whose leaves were often harvested by the florist industry. The city Galax at its height of industrial manufacturing in the mid-20th Century was home to a number of thriving furniture manufacturers and textile manufacturers. Sawyers Furniture Company was one of those, established in 1945 by C. F. Sawyer, and had I a guess, Galax Weaving Plant just down the road supplied Sawyers Furniture Company with its (then) modern upholstery fabrics.

West Galax is the birthplace of my new project. It’s pretty cool to discover the manufacturer's label or maker’s markings on a piece. Sometimes you have to peel away some layers to find the clue inside, but with more modern furniture you can usually find it right under the cushion. (That popcorn and change collector under the cushion is called the “deck,” by the way.) Without labels, there’s some guessing involved, and it’s easy (for me) to be fooled.

When I first saw the chair that I am reupholstering now (the one I’ve named “Mme B”), it struck me as very unique. I cannot say that I have ever seen a chair quite like it. From my quick first impression, I attributed it to the trailing end of the Art Deco period – its grandiose frame, curvilinear back, and carved wood detail. I really wanted to believe I had found an Art Deco gem and, for a while, had convinced myself of that. Well, I probably should have paid more attention in my Art History classes and stuck with my Interior Design program… (Anyhooo…) Upon a second inspection, there were many obvious features that dated the manufacture of the piece way past that period. The conical legs are the number one, dead giveaway that this piece was a contemporary to Danish modern design that spanned from the 40s through the 60s. Secondly, it has an atomic, space-age design. In fact, it even LOOKS like a small, pink spacecraft! A third biggie: its fabric has a post-WWII fiber content and construction. (And, you'll see in the photo, that "carved wood detail" turned out to be a tacked on veneer!)

The Sawyers Furniture Company label didn’t have a date, and there’s not much information to find through research. But I did find these other gems from Sawyers. [These images are credited to] Interestingly, this “style” was apparently a thing! I found similar styles manufactured by other companies, too!

As I’m researching this chair’s history and writing this, I am a little remorseful that I’ve already started reconstructing the Mme B in a new design. (How cool and unique she originally was! But marketable in 2018?) There may be great value in restoring a piece nearest to its original state as possible, yet in other situations, not so much. For a piece like Mme B, other than for an owner with a sentimental value attached or one who may have an acute design aesthetic, in my opinion, I fail to see the value to restore such a trend piece to its original design. I’d go out on a limb to say we won’t see pieces like this in the future. And isn't it ironic that we are living in the very “future” that inspired and captivated the world during the time this chair was manufactured. Wrap your head around that…

Nevertheless, the chair is now being rebuilt in order to give it a more classic modern design. (Did I coin a new term: "classic modern"?!) It’s been a challenge to reconstruct it since I’ve deviated from the way it was originally built. Sort of like gender reassignment surgery – adding or taking away parts that weren’t originally intended to be added or taken away! (How the heck can I go from the galax plant to gender reassignment surgery?!) All I will say now, Mme B is undergoing an out-of-this-world transformation! Despite being old, she's made solidly and is taking the process very well. She's built to last! Stay tuned for her final reveal in a couple weeks! You won’t believe your eyes!

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