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Colonial Williamsburg is my Disneyland

I’m back from another trip down to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. The Liberty passes we bought last October have definitely paid for themselves since this is our 3rd trip down there. For a woodworker this is a great place to go. For a woodworker like me who is fascinated by history and proud of my American forefathers, this is like Disneyland! This time around was a little different. The weather was glorious with sun and upper 60 degree weather. It was the last week before the official season begins so the crowds were low and the interpreters were warming up their presentations for the bustling masses that will descend in the coming months. This meant that we were fortunate to get the “extra” bits of history that they normally don’t have time to tell you. The house tours that normally run 15-20 minutes during peak season can sometimes run 45+ minutes when there isn’t a line forming outside.
Mr Nelson at Charlton's

This means that I got to spend a lot of time in colonial interiors and up close and personal with southern Queen Anne or “Neat and Plain” furniture. I particularly recommend the Peyton Randolph and Everard houses for a look at fine furniture of the Virginian Gentry. Another great spot is the newly opened Charlton’s Coffeehouse where you can sample coffee or chocolate and get to see and use some more common furniture.
Randolph House Dining Chair

And don’t forget the DeWitt Wallace museum. This is like Winterthur south of the Mason Dixon line, where you can really get a look at southern furniture.
DeWitt Tea Table

I also got to chat with the historic tradespeople extensively. Over the next few weeks I will be putting up individual posting on the woodworking related trades practiced in Williamsburg. I also will be heading back for a full week in early June once school lets out for my wife and will have an opportunity to ask more questions put forth by any of you who follow this blog.
Ramona the Cooper

In the meantime, I urge you to head over the Williamsburg website where you will find a bounty of information. This is an organization that has ironically embraced 21st century multimedia marketing and has well over 300 podcasts in audio, video, and enhanced formats. Pay particularly close attention to the episodes on the historic trades and you will learn a lot about cabinetmaking, brickmaking, wheelwrighting, coopering, joinery, etc, etc. There are also several trade slide shows and videos that contain great pictures of the tools and processes for each trade.

The motto in Williamsburg is “that the future may learn from the past” and it is indeed a noble pursuit. Regardless of our woodworking passion, there is so much to see and learn from this trip and you cannot but be proud and impressed with our founders and what they have wrought. You may be surprised at just how little things have changed in 250 odd years politically and socially.

The sights are beautiful to take in and you can easily get lost in the moment and be transported back to the last half of the 18th century. Most of the trades still practice the apprentice system and this is run by the Historic Trades department. Apprentices are taken on for 7 year contracts and in almost every case the folks I spoke with had little to no knowledge of their craft when they started their apprenticeship. Many of them either joined the foundation as an apprentice or had spent time working as a tour guide or retail shop worker before making the leap into a lifelong pursuit. This was inspiring to see and the extremely low turnover in the employee ranks is a testament to the experience each of these tradesmen live. I must admit that my thoughts are turning to making my relationship with Williamsburg more of a professional one and you can believe that I will keep my eyes open on this apprentice program and will be the first in line should something come available. Anybody want to put in a good word for me?

As a parting thought, the woodworking world seems to have gained an interest in design lately. This is largely driven by the intelligence of fellow SAPFM member George Walker. For those of you who follow his column and blog you will appreciate the proportional ecstasy provided by this structure.
Williamsburg House

Can you tell I really like this place???

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