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Crow’s Nest: The Leopold Chair

January 19, 2014

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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Each year, usually around the holidays, I try to treat myself to a special project to complete at the preserve. Some years it has been building a new footbridge, or installing a bench at an overlook—something outside of the normal routine of land management.

This year I thought I’d build a Leopold bench, or a few as time permits. It’s after the holidays now, and time to buckle down on conservation easement monitoring, mowing meadows, and other winter projects before the burst of spring work. But I finished one bench and started two more.

I first saw the plans in the December 2013/January 2014 issue of Organic Gardening magazine. It’s a simple, elegant design that conservationist Aldo Leopold designed for his shack using scrap lumber. The OG plans make it easy to build. I didn’t recall seeing this kind of bench before, but apparently I have, since I found this photo of me standing in front of one at Aldo Leopold’s shack in Wisconsin while attending the Land Trust Alliance Rally in 2005:

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Note that the one at the shack features a dadoed-in seat and uses oversized oak planks—built to last. Ours are made of simple Douglas fir and spruce boards available from any home center. I opted for untreated wood, since I don’t like the idea of people sitting on and coming in frequent contact with the chemicals in pressure-treated lumber. I chose instead a water-based natural wood treatment that I applied myself, that makes the boards look weathered and is supposed to offer protection from decay. I’ll let you know how that goes.

I think the preserve would benefit from a few of these sprinkled around in various places where visitors can enjoy them: along trails with nice views, in the visitor center barnyard garden, in the kids’ natural play area (so we counselors have a place to relax while the kids play). I’ll build them as I have time and can obtain more wood. (If you have some wood lying around that you’d like to pass along, the bench uses 2×6, 2×8, and 2×10 boards.)

Coincidentally, or perhaps with editorial purpose, the same issue of Organic Gardening features the home garden of horticulturists Dan Benarcik and Peggy Ann Montgomery in Wilmington, Delaware. Dan Benarcik—a long-time gardener at Chanticleer, a premier public garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania—has also made a mission of promoting the De Stijl-style Garden Chair, also known as the Wave Hill Chair. Both are adaptations of the “Red Blue Chair” by Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld in 1918 and now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. These chairs don’t look very comfortable because they’re made with flat planks—but they are actually very comfortable. You recline a bit and your knees are higher than your hips, but unlike Adirondack chairs, they’re easy to get up out of. You see them at Wave Hill, Chanitcleer, and other fine gardens—including in the barnyard at Crow’s Nest Preserve.

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Here’s a photo of ours, which I built for myself during a summer vacation, taken when they were new in 2003. They’re built of naturally rot-resistant cedar, with glued joints and stainless-steel screws, and have held up extremely well outdoors without maintenance for more than ten years. They’re a little more formal and take longer to build than the Leopold chair, so I think it is the Leopold chair that you’ll see here and there on the admittedly-rustic Crow’s Nest Preserve.

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