Chester Cornett


established a reputation as a highly inventive chairmaker in the 1950s and 1960s. Working within the craft traditions of southeastern Kentucky, he created pegged andslat-backed armchairs, “settin” chairs,” rockers, and folding chairs from a variety of local woods, and he wove chair seats from hickory and other barks. Although helearned the techniques of chairmaking from his grandfather, Cal Foutch, and other family members, Cornett was an innovator. Some of his more idiosyncraticconstructions combine chair elements with bookcase and other furniture forms, or add to the number of legs or rockers customarily used in a chair. Several of Cornett’schairs have carved decorations or are made of wood of contrasting colors to augment their visual impact.Cornett was born in Letcher County, Kentucky, a mountainous region bordering Virginia, and he spent his childhood there as well as in neighboring Harlan County.As an adult, he lived and worked in Dwarf, a hamlet in nearby Perry County, where he created his chairs. According to Michael Owen Jones, who visited Cornettfrequently, a sign on his property in Dwarf advertised “hand Mad Furniture/maker of the Cornett chaires/we make iney thin/ar hit Cant be mad.” The family lived incrushing poverty, experiencing serious illness and sorrow.Cornett occasionally turned his creativity to other efforts. An impressive eight-foot-high crucifix by the artist, with a carved figure of Jesus, is now in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum. According to a story that has been published in several exhibition catalogs, Cornett dreamed sometime in 1968 that eastern Kentuckywas going to be engulfed in a great flood, which he associated with the Second Coming of Christ. Building a twenty-foot ark that he hoped would carry him and hisfamily to safety, he affixed the figure of the crucified Christ to the bow of the vessel. Although the flood did not occur as expected, a subsequent storm carried the ark away. The sculpture was saved, though, and Cornett reworked it several times until it took its present form. In another version of the story, Cornett created the crucifixduring a time of intense sorrow occasioned by marital discord and loneliness. He moved from Kentucky to Indiana, and it was there that he carved the figure, linking hisown sufferings to those of Christ on the cross.
See also
Chairs; Furniture, Painted and Decorated; Religious Folk Art
Jones, Michael Owen.
Craftsman of the Cumberlands: Tradition and Creativity.
Lexington, Ky., 1989