Ben Willis will be teaching our two Windsor chair making courses here in Wernog Wood this summer - Click here to make your own chair
WRITTEN BY CLAIRE
I first met Ben 15 years ago in a wood. He was a fresh young apprentice to Mike Abbott, chairmaker and author of 'Living wood' and 'Going with the grain', and was honing his skills in greenwood working. I was there with my dad as we wanted to make a chair the traditional way using only hand tools. At that time I had a really stressful job and a week in a peaceful wood seemed like the perfect antidote to my daily office tangle.
As Mike's apprentice, Ben’s role was to help us beginners get to grips with the craft. He was patient to the extreme and consequently dad and I made chairs that still sit proudly around our kitchen tables. It was a week with dad that I will always treasure and we enjoyed it so much we both made three more. These are some of the chairs we made.
It is hard to describe the impact of that week. In the short term, I realised that the complete immersion in a craft which was both physically and mentally absorbing was the most restorative break from work that I can remember... but it made a long lasting impact too. For my mental wellbeing, I made it a priority to continue making things alongside my stressful job. I began my own apprenticeship as a jeweller with Tony Thomson in Oxford. And here I am now as a full time jeweller, doing what I love. But the lasting feeling of my week in the wood was that I wanted to recreate that tranquility and satisfaction for others, of making things with your hands away from the hustle of the rest of the world. Luckily I found my man Rob who loves a challenge and was equally inspired to build a quirky place that will offer perfect escapism. I will tell you more about Rob in the next blog.
During that week so many years ago, Ben and I became firm friends. Over the years I have watched his craftsmanship and beautiful chairs evolve... he is increasingly making his living as a chairmaker and teacher, in between his other role as an environmental journalist. We hope that Wernog Wood will help boost evolving artists and craftspeople like Ben. If you are an artist or craftsperson with skills to share, please do get in touch.
I was thrilled when Ben called to ask me to make an engagement ring (and later wedding rings) for his intended. Luckily she said yes but there was a torrid moment when she managed to drop it in a river minutes after Ben had given it to her.