Chair caning, the craft of applying rattan peel or cane to the backs or seats of chairs, is a form of basketry that has been used for thousands and thousands of years. Some of the oldest caned chairs dates all the way to the ancient Egyptians, as far back as 1300 BC.
Caned chairs have been popular all across the world for millennia, and the hard work put into manufacturing the furniture transformed caned chairs into something of a status symbol (with prices to follow). Chairs or chair-like stones have been a physical symbol of being elevated above another animal or human since prehistoric times. As the need for all kinds of chairs evolved, the demand for people who could craft them increased. With the introduction of mass production, however, chairs became less less of a meaningful artistic craft and more of a mundane, everyday object made of plastics and other cheap materials.
Silver River Center for Chair Caning is the only caning school and museum in North America today. Located in the River Arts District of Asheville, North Carolina, Silver River is operated by two chair nerds on a mission to “revive” the “dying art” of chair caning.
While many can appreciate on a superficial level the aesthetic of a nicely caned chair, very few have an appreciation for the techniques and true beauty of a well-caned chair. But one need not be a chair snob to appreciate the work that goes on at Silver River. The working museum is free, and is kid/dog/cat friendly. Restoration and classroom areas are open so that visitors can see the work in progress and ask questions.
Visitors can also look around at the museum’s permanent collections of chairs, such as The Chair Wall (with eight different styles of weaving!) and Anatomy of a Rush Chair. The museum also includes a library on the subject, and holds special events like The Chair Affair and The SeatWeavers’ Guild Gathering, and classes on chair restoration.
Outside the museum is a public art installation in the garden: The Chair Arch. The 8-foot tall cathedral arch honors the tradition of chair arches built in High Wycombe, United Kingdom since the late 1800s. Chair nerds have traveled from as far away as Tasmania to geek out in this Chair Nerd Mecca.
Know Before You Go
Parking is onsite at CURVE Studios & Garden, a 3-building complex at #5 River Arts Place (formerly 9 Riverside Dr). Silver River is upstairs in the middle building of CURVE, in a sunlit converted industrial space with no elevator. Open 10 a.m. -5 p.m. Mon-Fri, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. on second Saturdays only. Closed on Sunday and the usual holidays. The buildings are part of an old Standard Oil Company complex, constructed in 1916 along the French Broad River.