Furniture maker Walter Wogee specializes in the art of the rocking chair. Here is his story.
ABI: What were the greatest influences on your desire to start making wood furniture?
WW: I have been a lifelong woodworker and have made most of the furniture and many of the cabinets in our home. My father, a very talented man, taught me much of what I know and helped create my love of art and especially woodwork. I have always admired Sam Maloof’s work and having the chance to meet him and tour his home and workshop a few years before he died was a very special treat.
When I retired from teaching science in 2008, I took on the challenge of making a Maloof inspired rocker. I spent eight days in the summer of 2008 working with chair maker Bill Kapple in Utah to learn more details about making a great rocker. Once I had made a few chairs, my wife and friends told me that the chairs were so beautiful and comfortable that I might be able to sell them. I entered my first art show in June, 2009, in Lake Arrowhead, CA. I won best in show, sold two rockers and received commissions for two more. Since then I have made 39 rockers and some other pieces.
ABI: What is so special about rocking chairs?
WW: Making a very great chair that is also comfortable is probably the hardest task for a craftsman. Sam Maloof took years perfecting what I feel is the most beautiful and comfortable rocker design. My rockers follow the basic Maloof pattern, incorporating my own variations. Rockers are my passion but I also make regular chairs, tables, and other pieces on a commission basis.
I do a few art and craft shows every year and it always amazes me how virtually all who sit in one of my chairs say it feels like it was made to fit their body. I have never had to make larger or smaller chairs, because my regular size chair has worked for all my patrons. My heirloom quality rockers combine beautiful wood, sensuous ergonomic design, and serve as treasured pieces of functional art becoming the most comfortable chair in the house.
ABI: Tell us about the process of selecting wood for these special chairs.
WW: Each rocker takes about 35-40 board feet of 8/4 (2-inch) lumber. My rockers feature laminated runners and back slats and incorporate the very strong classic Maloof joints. I spend at least 100 hours on each rocker and pay particular attention to selecting and matching beautiful wood to enhance the overall design of the chair. Some woods I use cost more than $1000 with over 50% ending up as dust and scraps.
I love working with many different kinds of wood and am always looking for pieces with great knots, interesting grain patterns and colors that can be incorporated into the design. I spend hours looking for the right piece of wood with character for the headboard, the center of the seat, or working to create a book match effect in the back slats or other areas. When using mesquite I inlay the cracks with turquoise, which compliments the beauty of the wood.
After all of the cutting, grinding, and sanding it is a special treat to see the wood come to life when I apply the hand rubbed oil finish. I only create five or six rockers each year because they are a labor of love and I only work part time since I am supposed to be retired.