THE ceremonial chair on which Ireland’s 9th President, Michael D. O’Higgins, sat upon during his recent inauguration, was crafted by a Kildare man, writes Henry Bauress.
John Lee (37), who was taught woodwork in Maynooth Post Primary school, won the contract from the Office of Public Works when it commissioned a replacement for the 19th century vice-regal throne used during such ceremonies since the inception of the state. John, who runs his own business in Pagestown, Maynooth, lives in Ballivor, county Meath, and is increasingly contributing to Ireland’s small export trade. The OPW made the requirement for a chair that would reflect “the national and pre-eminent role of the president”, without being “overwhelming or dominating.”
He tendered in May and won the contract.
During his school days in Maynooth Post Primary school, John was part trained by former Mayor of Kildare, Senan Griffin, when the latter taught woodwork in the school.
John, who gets numerous high quality commissions for his work abroad, went on to train at GMIT Letterfrack, The Furniture College in Donegal.
He was student of the year in 1993 and then went to the UK to work with a leading company there.
He did not attend the recent inauguration but perhaps it is just as well. A very busy man, he started his business in 2004. “I have gone international more and more, particularly in the last six months,” John told the Leader after the inauguration.
While his work is furniture, he describes it as “almost art.”
His work can be found in numerous international collections including most notably the acquisition of a piece by HSH Prince d’Arenberg for his private collection in Switzerland. He has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally including Collect London and SOFA Chicago, USA. Earlier this year Lee won the Crafts Council of Ireland’s Craft Bursary Award.
The most prominent feature of the Presidential Chair is the free flowing sweeping arms which dynamically link the entire piece.
He said it is inspired by the Irish saying “céad mile failte” (a hundred thousand welcomes) the outstretched and welcoming arms on the chair reflect the ambassadorial role of the President. “The clean crisp lines, elegant proportions and timeless design are a reflection of the dignity of the Office of the President without being overwhelming or dominating.”
The materials, high quality Quarter Sawn Oak (Quercus Robur) and leather hide, were sourced in Ireland for the making of the chair.
Recent commissions were for clients in Switzerland and New York. “I have some really loyal clients,” said John, who works from home.
While he is now taking on some help, much of the skilled work is done by himself.
John is married to Lillian, who come from near Birr in Offaly.
His father, Sean, from Wicklow, is a retired woodwork teacher. The eldest of a family of five, his mother has passed away.
John and Lillian have two children, John (6) and Aine (5).