Brandy Clements is weaving history into a new business. Although she worked for years repairing cane chairs in the River Arts District, a bright new location at CURVE Studios will give her the space not only to cane chairs but teach the craft to others. Silver River Center for Chair Caning will be the nation’s first chair caning school and museum, bringing a centuries-old craft to Asheville’s modern-day riverside.
RAD gives Silver River a reason to stay
The business was previously housed in a 500-square feet space with no windows. Chairs were piled to the low ceilings. “It was a good space,” her husband and business partner, Dave Klingler, says. “It served us well and we rung everything we possibly could out of it.”
But after five years, Clements focused on rebranding her business. She searched for a new location within a 45-minute radius of Asheville without much luck. But when Julia Fosson — the president of River Arts District Artists and “a chair nerd” like Clements — offered Silver River Center its own section in the RADA studio guide, Clements and Klingler decided to stick around.
“It was great for us to be able to stay in the neighborhood,” Klingler says. “We love too many people here.”
With the help of their new landlord, Clements and Klingler turned a shared workspace at CURVE Studios into a private area for their business. “We did not object to having a retail space, but we didn’t want to be in a strip mall,” Klingler says. “It had to feel right, and this location is just perfect.”
Strings and things
One half of the studio is the designated museum area, displaying antique cane chairs and several primary chair caning styles. One 1930s liege stool — a German term for deck chair — boasts the work of a German architect. Another piece dates back to the 1700s. Other examples include an antique wheelchair with “the classic foot through the seat,” Clements says, and a hanging chair made of rattan. One piece Clements wishes she still had for display is an antique caned toilet seat, but it recently sold. “All these chairs have a story,” she says.
Clements uses social media to connect with chair caners near and far, including a Greek woman who linked Clements to other chair artists. “I saw, ‘symbol-symbol-symbol likes your page,'” Clements says. “I looked her up and she’s a chair caner in Greece.”
An online presence has helped Clements keep a solid monthlong backlog for more than five years, but there is still little information on the Internet about the work in general. Most of what Clements has learned about her craft came from old books like American Seating Furniture: 1630-1730 by Benno M. Forman.
“[Forman] said that chairs are documents and chair caners are historians that preserve centuries of designs and techniques,” Clements says. “When I read that, I was jumping up and down. It’s true. We’re a link in the chain. We’ve had a couple people break into tears when they see their chair restored. It’s a pretty good feeling.”
Now that Clements can work from a much larger space, she has begun teaching classes so that others can learn how to cane their own chairs. In her classes she teaches skills beyond the literal weaving process, like patience.
“[If] you make a mistake, you can back it out and fix it,” Clements says. “That’s something that’s fun to teach students.”
A recent student of Clements’ and Klinglers’ broke the last strand he was to weave into his chair. The student was frustrated, but Klingler says beginners must laugh it off and learn that “stuff like that is funny instead of infuriating.”
Clements teaches five basic styles of chair caning from beginner to advanced levels, and students can choose to practice on a kit or on an actual chair. If fixing a chair is more complicated than usual, Clements offers hourly help. But as long as a student has hand strength and can turn a chair over many times, Klingler says a class exists for them.
“We want people to fix their own chairs,” Clements says. “It’s really gratifying.”