Traditionally made willow furniture is rare now. In Murray, Justin Roberts has learned the skill from a master.
He started harvesting weeping willows to make Easter baskets. The director of the Murray Art Guild then asked him to meet master craftsman George Beard.
“He’s built willow furniture for over 50 years,” Roberts said. “And he got to the point where he was just making a living at it. And he never thought of himself as an artist, never pursued it as art. It was just a way of life for him.
“There are only a handful of people worldwide that actually build the traditional way. …. But George, he really perfected it.”
Roberts gave up a career as an aspiring chef to make willow furniture. He recalled how Beard taught him not to use a tape measure. “He does everything by eye,” Roberts said.
Roberts cuts year-round, and said there are about 470 different types of willow. “The more you cut it, the more it grows back,” he said. “It’s one of the fastest growing plants. They can grow up to 10 feet in one year.”
He cuts what he needs and decides whether the wood will become chairs, tables, or swings. He bends the willow to make it more pliable. Roberts said he has about two to three weeks to work with the willow wood before it hardens.
“It conforms to your body, the more you sit in it, especially if you sit in it while it’s green and in the drying stage.”
Roberts promises the furniture will be comfortable. “Rustic, yet you could sit in it with a satin shirt and it wouldn’t snag,” he said.
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2105 which originally aired on January 30, 2016. Watch the full episode.