More on the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site

June 9, 2013 Comments Off on More on the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site

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Months back I wrote about our visit to the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site (Site) in John Day, OR, and followed that with a post about the wooden stool collection at the Site. Associated with the museum is the Friends of Kam Wah Chung, a volunteer-led fund raising arm that runs a small gift shop in the museum’s interpretive center. Small museums like Kam Wah Chung don’t have the six-digit grant writing resources like the Smithsonian. The gift shop, along with some small grants, help to fund the museum’s mission. Shortly after I posted about the Site the museum’s curator, Christina Sweet, asked me to build a few versions of the stool to sell in their gift shop.

I drove back to John Day last weekend to deliver the first stool and take another look at the Kam Wah Chung building. Christina graciously gave me another tour, and took me into a few additional rooms that I didn’t get to enter on our first tour. The building continues to fascinate. Christina explained how they made every attempt to keep everything in the same room it was found. A few things had obviously fallen off shelves and were placed back, but for the most part everything you see today was found in very close proximity to when the building was rediscovered several decades ago. In one of the storage rooms were a few boxes of tools that resembled the typical home repair tools you might see in any house – some hammers, screwdrivers, and such. Except for a few buck saws, some crosscut saws, and a large hand auger, there were no specific woodworking tools. From the historical records, there is nothing to suggest that the Site’s long time residents, Ing Hay and Lung On, were woodworkers. The tools left in the building confirm this. The stools, along with the rest of the furniture in the building, were likely made elsewhere.

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A few buck saws hanging in the storage room.

The furniture in the building is a mix of Chinese and American influences. The small stools are clearly Chinese in design. A red drop-leaf table that sits in the main room is also classic Chinese. There are at least two dovetailed chests, however, that would blend right into a 19th-century New England home. In the storage room are several shipping crates, many of which originated in China. Almost all the crates had beautiful dovetails or finger joints. It wasn’t long ago that even the humble shipping crate was built to a high standard.

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Ing “Doc” Hay’s chair in the apothecary shop.

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Note the hand auger in the background – one of the few woodworking tools found in the building.

The stool I built for them was not a straight reproduction from the Site. Both Christina and I agreed it would be more appropriate to build a stool that was simply inspired by those at Kam Wah Chung. While on my second tour, I was able to pick up a few stools to get a closer look, and they were all undoubtedly made from local Ponderosa Pine. I made my version from a native Oregon white oak tree salvaged from the Willamette Valley. I purposely made the stool asymmetric. One end of the foot rest extends out from the leg just a trifle, while the other is cut flush. Two nails secure the upper side stretcher on one side, while four nails were used on the opposite side. These little differences were a nod to the rustic nature of the Kam Wah Chung stools. I have one more in the works, made from local CVG Douglas-fir that I should finish in the next few weeks.

Again I would like to express my gratitude to Christina Sweet and the Friends of Kam Wah Chung for the opportunity to build a few of these little stools, and for providing me with another tour of the Site. Small little gems like Kam Wah Chung are everywhere, so if you notice a museum or heritage site in a small town on your next road trip, stop on in!

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More: The beautiful Oregon white oak used for this stool came from Tim Jewell of Jewell Hardwoods in Clackamas County, Oregon. Tim specializes in large table-ready Walnut slabs, but occasionally he has some lumber for sale as well.

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