Gareth Irwin works in the tradition of centuries of traditional furniture makers before him, finding beauty and virtue in simple pieces of locally sourced and coppiced timber, to make characterful Welsh Stick chairs and benches. For Llwyn Celyn Gareth created a Welsh dresser, and a range of different seating, incorporating salvaged timber from the site. He also made a scaled down version of the carved door heads found in the building, following the traditional methods of medieval builders.
Gareth is also a very patient teacher, and like so many other craftspeople who work in traditional ways are keen to pass on their knowledge so that these skills can be kept alive. We planned training sessions with young people to make other furniture items for the museum room on site. Two groups of NVQ level 1 & 2 Furniture students from Bridgewater College in Somerset joined us for a week at a time. This was a rather interesting challenge – the students, more used to planed and prepared furniture grade timber, were presented with logs, which needed to be split, cut, shaped and smoothed with lathes and saw horses as well as a variety of hand tools.
It takes a skilled craftsman like Gareth two weeks to make a Welsh Stick chair, so the first group of six apprentices did well to create one chair in less than five days. The finished piece is a delight – and will be put proudly on display in the Beast House. The second group of apprentices made two benches, using great lumps of timber reclaimed from one of the barns. This timber, felled hundreds of years ago required a different approach. It was carefully cleaned and gently shaped to retain the waney edges, knots and branch stumps. The legs however are light and were carefully turned on the pole lath to create a contrast to the weight of the seat.
Gareth’s furniture and the work of the students will remain on site for all to use and enjoy and hopefully inspire the next generation of traditional furniture makers.