Alan Daigre stands beside his handsome barstool. Some of his vintage woodworking hand tools, such as bit braces, hand planes, spoke blades and draw knives are displayed on the wall of his shop.
While he labors 90 percent of the time using his hands, mental therapist turned furniture maker Alan Daigre enjoys challenging himself with mind games.
Thus the rope rocker he premiered in 2006 has evolved into a dining chair, armchair, barstool and chaise lounge.
The Readyville craftsman, who plies his trade in the woodshop at his farm on Ferrell Hollow Road, created his unique rocker by weaving a single piece of wire rope, three-eighth of an inch in diameter, through the frame of the chair and the 90 to 110 wooden blocks that form the seat and back. This allows the chair to move and conform with the body.
“I knew in the beginning I had a good idea. My goal always is to refine my design. As my buyers sat in my rocker, they said things like, ‘If you would do this in a dining chair or barstool that would be amazing.’ I heard that enough and thought I’d better listen to what I’m hearing,” says Daigre, who displays his handiwork at about eight shows annually across the Southeast and in the East.
He and other members of the Stones River Crafts Association open their doors for the 18th annual 2011 Art Studio Tour Nov. 18-20 and invite folks to drop in and see where and how they do what they do. (For the tour, Daigre will share his space with his wife, Cindy, who makes handmade, natural body products, as well as with potters Mike and Louise Kelley.)
A couple of years ago, Daigre found himself facing the dilemma of whether he was going to simply be known as the rocking chair guy or evolve as an artist. He opted for expanding his line of chairs from one to four more.
“While I’m still using the rope-based design, I’m using that to diversify my product offering in what I’m making. For people who may not be interested in a rocking chair, then there are other options. Now I’ve got a barstool, a dining chair, an arm chair and chaise lounge.”
Having produced more than 300 of the rock ropers in the past five years, Daigre knows where his bread is buttered, but it’s creating new furniture that challenges him in a most delightful way. Most lately, he has added mother-of-pearl gingko leaves as an inlay into a few of his chairs.
“I have an innate need to create. I absolutely love it. That’s the thing that keeps my juices flowing and keeps me coming to the shop. I have a deadline, I gotta crank ’em out, so sometimes I have to force myself to find creative time to study my own needs,” he said.
Daigre does not literally “crank ’em out.” He has a backlog of orders four to five months deep. He figures a rocker takes four to five weeks to complete, and by that time will have 120 to 140 hours of work in it. Some rockers are one type of wood, while others are a patchwork of woods.
Primarily, he uses walnut and cherry for the frames, all of which was grown and sawn in Middle Tennessee and made between 1972 and 1988. As for the handsome hardwood blocks, they run the gamut of mostly indigenous hardwoods such as, maple, ash, oak and sassafras. He buys his wood locally, from Rutherford, Cannon and Davidson counties.
But his chairs have crossed the nation to customers in 30 states, mainly in the Southeast but also to Maine, Connecticut, New York, Texas, Colorado and California. “My goal is to have a chair in every state,” says Daigre.
His rope rockers fetch $3,200 to $4,300 apiece, while his other chairs range in price from $1,300 to $1,850 each.
While Daigre still assembles each frame, for the past two years he has had assistance from Evan Lacy, his shop manager, who strings up the chairs and “can do most everything.” He also has an apprentice in Dylan Matheny, 14, a Rutherford County home-schooled youth, whom he has tutored a couple of days a week for the past two years.
Daigre continues to hone his craft himself, saying, “I’ve only been a woodworker for 12 years. I find there’s still a lot for me to learn, just in my woodworking skills.”
A native of Natchez, Miss., the furniture maker was a mental therapist in Nashville for 20 years and has lived in Readyville the past 12 years. His wife, Cindy, who has always owned horses, purchased the farm several years before they married while she was in graduate school at MTSU.
“After I moved out here, I really started exploring doing things with my hands and asked myself what I really wanted to do,” he recalled. “I took a class at the Appalachian Center for Crafts in Smithville in 2000. It was then I got hooked. It could have been metal work or glass. It just happened to be wood.
“For the first three to four years, I did everything by hand. I enjoyed the experience of working with raw material and a few tools and making an utilitarian object, something that could be used on a daily basis, opposed to a piece of art. That inspired me,” said Daigre, who puts attention to detail on each piece he puts his hands to.
As for hand tools, he works with chisels, gouges, scrapers, spoke shavers and a handsaw, while several electric-powered tools come in mighty handy, namely a band saw, router, table saw, jointer and planers.
Daigre is a member of the Cannon Area Craft Artist Association in Woodbury, where he and partner, furniture maker Alf Sharp, own Stones River Hardwood.
“We have 140,000 board feet of walnut, cherry and maple for sale,” he said of the business that is open only by appointment. “It’s all air-dried, furniture-grade hardwood and exceptional in width and figure.”
When not making beautiful chairs, Daigre makes old-time rock ’n’ roll music as a keyboardist with The Stones River Pilots, a band that plays a couple of gigs a month in Murfreesboro.
For more info about Daigre's business, go online to www.alandaigre.com.MEET LOCAL ARTISANS
The Stones River Crafts Association presents its 18th annual 2011 Art Studio Tour. Times and dates are: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 18-19 and noon-5 p.m. Nov. 20. The local craft artists of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County will be opening their studios to the public, offering a unique and wide selection of artwork and demonstrations. Their work includes forged iron, pottery, stained glass, weaving, wood work, fine jewelry and functional home accessories. Visit the studios to see how and where their artwork is designed and made. The tour is free. For more details, go online to www.artstudiotour.org. This year’s studios and artisans follow:
NORRIS HALL STUDIO
(at Leslie Hall’s School of Dance, 1431 Battleground)
Norris Hall: Clocks, sculpture, & home accessories
Ann Rob: Gold & sterling jewelry
Vickie Vipperman: Weaving
Kathryn Faille: Stoneware pottery
Doug Pelren: Turned Wood
Andy Hutchins: Photography
STUDIO S POTTERY
(1426 Avon Road)
Lewis Snyder: Clay
Eric Snyder: Clay functional pottery, sculptural-decorative stoneware-pit fire
Dolores Weaver: Jewelry
POPCORN STUDIO POTTERY
(2031 Nelson Lane)
Ray and Susan Allen: Stoneware
Elizabeth Bray: Jewelry
Kae Allen and Pam Johnson Bennett: authors
RAMSEY HALL DESIGN
(2430 Kingwood Lane in Rockvale)
Ramsey Hall: Mixed metal jewelry
Marc Barr: Pottery
Teresa Hays: Marbled silk accessories and clothing
BROWN VIEW FORGE
(3538 Cripple Creek Road in Readyville)
Joe Brown: Hand forged iron work
Maggie Sunsera: Wood jewelry
ALAN DAIGRE DESIGNS
(5323 Ferrell Hollow Road in Readyville)
Alan Daigre: Furniture & woodwork
Michael and Louise Kelley: Stoneware pottery
Cindy Daigre: Natural body care products
Note: Throughout the year most studios are open by appointment only. Studio S Pottery has business hours; please call their studio for more information. Ramsey Hall Studio is open only during the studio tour.