Gary Weeks' Biographical Sketch
At about age 6, in the backyard, I "helped" my father build a picnic table with attached benches of clear heart redwood assembled with copper nails. I remember still the texture and smell of that wood, how easily the hammer bent the nails and dented the surface, and the sense of wonder that we had built something of use. Beyond the awe inspired by the wood and the making, the table had further lessons. With too much weight on one bench (often revealed when someone stood from the bench on the opposite side), the table would tip, spilling the burger fixing, homemade ice cream, birthday cake, or watermelon. I became interested in design.
I had other experiences, teachers, lessons, and influences, which inspired or prepared me to become a craftsman. I spent days with my grandmothers while they sewed. I cut cloth to pattern, and was taught that there was machine work and handwork and how one complemented the other. Uncle Charlie had a shop behind his house. It smelled of pine, machine oil, and iron. Any cousin could use a handsaw if we clamped the wood in the vise. One summer a cabinetmaker came to help remodel Aunt Dorothy's kitchen.
While pulling long, fat shavings he said to me, "Hardly anyone knows how to use a draw knife any more." I wanted to be one who knew. Dad was a fireman but also built fence (chain link, barbed wire, and redwood) with his partner, Miles, on their days off. With them I learned to use many different tools, to build straight and strong, and that you won't make any money if you don't work hard and smart and take care of your customers. Many of those fences still stand.
At school and at home I drew. I drew ships, planes, tanks, horses, cars, and people to accompany them. I filled tablets, book covers, and odd sheets. In the early and middle years of school, I was the class artist who made the murals or other necessary decoration. By high school I was no longer taking art, but math and science. The elegance, certainty, and discipline, of the math especially, provided a counterpoint to my adolescent angst and attitude. I got it. Today I keep the trig tables next to my drawing board.
I went to college, graduated even. But because it was fun to serve people directly and because I was outside a lot, I began fixing porches, building bookcases, and taking what other carpentry jobs I could handle with my handsaw, hammer, square, chisel, and pliers. Various asides and interludes notwithstanding, the jobs grew to home building and the tools to a shop and truck full. Opportunities arose to design and build furniture for my family and clientele, and I became more and more interested in fine woodworking.
Early in the furniture making, a gallery owner said of me, "His work is impeccable, but he has yet to let himself go in terms of design." When the quote trickled down to me, I was conflicted and introspective. It was true. I was solving the practical problems of purpose but little else. I still tend first to the solution of functional problems. (I don't want any more of my tables to tump over.) If I have "let myself go", it is in the direction of the sculptural refinement of the functional form. I have no thought or intention of working in any "style," but I believe my furniture has some.
The vicissitudes of competitive bidding and custom work got me interested in having a product or small catalog of products — something that I could more easily control and manage. Because rocking chairs have a connection with hearth and home and families tend to keep them, I decided to design one worthy of heirloom status, figure out how to build it, and try to sell some. The Weeks Rocker® is my masterpiece. There are hundreds of hours in its design and development. The chair is comfortable far beyond the norm or even the imagined. People love it; it has been the foundation of a reputation and a business.
The refinement of the rocking chair brought a coherence and vocabulary to my work that manifest in the dining chairs and other pieces that have followed. My furniture features mortise and tenon joinery (often exposed), sculpted surfaces, flowing intersections, subtle curves, and a finish to delight the hand and eye. I have built tools and machines specific for what we do, enabling us to concentrate the handwork to its best effect and most pleasurable effort. Building the chairs, or other pieces of furniture, multiple times is no compromise of quality or, to me, of interest. In fact, given the will and commitment, repetition gives the opportunity for improvement, so the furniture, now in very subtle ways, becomes better over time.
I have spent much time in forests, even worked there some cutting pulpwood and saw logs in Arkansas and East Texas. I worked with Daniel Burkhalter in Linden, Texas on his ancient sawmill, cutting crossties for the railroad and lumber for the local trade. I have taken wood from forest to living room. Trees must come down for me to do what I do. The cutting of trees can be devastating to soil, wildlife, and local communities. Or, it can be part of a healthy community (natural and human) and a sustainable harvest. The Forest Stewardship Council is an organization that establishes rigorous standards for sustainable, healthy management of forestland. I try to use wood that comes from FSC certified forests. Most of what we use does. My business has been "chain of custody" certified so that our products from certified wood can carry the FSC logo. (For more information see the Forest Stewardship Council page elsewhere on this website.)