Krubsack pictured in 1919 sitting in the chair that he grew himself.
|Known for||The 'Chair that Grew'|
John Krubsack (1858-1941) was a banker and farmer from Embarrass, Wisconsin. He conceived, planted and shaped the first known living chair. He started in 1903 and harvested it 11 years later in 1914 dubbed the chair that grew.
In addition to banking, Krubsack was a prominent naturalist. He farmed, made cheese, and landscaped his property long before these were common practice. His house was the first in his region to have running water. He also was skilled at piecing together furniture from found branches. He’d scour the local river flats with a yardstick and a saw, looking for just the right shaped piece of blue beech, a hardwood tree with a smooth, wavy bark and a beautiful blue color when varnished. John took his youngest son, Hugo, on these weekend wood-hunting excursions, and it was during one of his trips that the idea first came to him to grow a chair.
Krubsack planted the seeds in a sort of chair shaped diagram, planted the seeds and as they grew he grafted the trunks together to create the back, seat, legs and arms. In a letter sent to his nephew Dennis in 1975, Hugo described his father’s announcement of the living chair:
One day after showing the beech furniture to a friend, a Walter Glen, the president of the F.W.D. Co. at Clintonville, a nearby town, Mr. Glen called the work fantastic. Then here is what I will never forget for [it was] the birth of the grown chair. My father told Glen, 'Dammit, one of these days I am going to grow a piece of furniture that will be better and stronger than any human hands can build.' Glen replied, 'John, that I have got to see!' a remark I never forgot.
Krubsack explains the process in detail of how he grew the chair:
After I had planted 32 trees all box elders, in the spring of 1907, I left them to grow in their new home for a year until they were six feet tall, before beginning the chair. In the spring of 1908 I gradually began the work of training the young and pliable stems to grow gradually in the shape of a chair. Most of this work consisted in bending the stems of these trees and tying and grafting them together so as to grow, if possible with all the joints cemented by nature. This was largely an experiment with me and it was with a great deal of interest that I watched and assisted nature in growing piece of furniture.
The first summer's growth found all the joints I had made by tying and grafting grown firmly together. Some of the trees I found, however, grew much faster than others. To overcome this, I began to cut the stems of those trees that to my notion had grown large enough. This did not kill these trees but simply retarded their growth so as to give the weaker trees a chance to catch up.
In this manner I let these trees grow for seven years. During the last two years I had only four trees growing from the root. These were the four that consisted the legs of the chair and all the other stems kept alive from these four stems because they were grafted to them. After the seventh year all the trees were cut, making in all eleven years from the time the seed was sown until the chair was finally completed.
The chair, eventually dubbed the “Chair That Grew,” had its first big public showing in a natural history exhibit at the 1915 World’s Fair, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, held that year in San Francisco, California. Hugo assisted his father in all aspects of the living chair project and went on to promote it in many ways, including contacting Robert Ripley, who ran it in his “Believe It or Not” column and later filmed John standing beside the chair explaining all about it. The film ran in the weekly newsreels of the time in theaters across the US. The Lloyd Mfg. Co. at the Chicago Furniture Mart subsequently showed the chair during a large trade show for furniture manufacturers. The “Chair That Grew” was displayed on a golden pedestal at the entrance. Krubsack’s chair garnered many offers (one was $5,000) from would-be buyers over the years, but John, and later Hugo, turned them all down. Hugo had no heirs and simply could not bear to see it in the hands of others. He maintained possession of it until he let his nephew Gerhard A. Krubsack buy it for a token amount to use in advertising his furniture business, Noritage Furniture of Embarrass, Wisconsin.
In 1988 the chair was summoned to make another appearance, this time to be sat upon by an actor in the costume of Mickey Mouse, at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, on the occasion of the character's 60th birthday. Currently the chair sits inside a special Plexiglas case at the entrance of Noritage Furniture, the furniture manufacturing business now owned by John Krubsack’s descendants, Steve and Dennis Krubsack.
- Tree Shaping
- Arthur Wiechula
- Axel Erlandson
- Dr Christopher Cattle
- Richard Reames
- Fab Tree Hab: Living Home of Shaped Trees
- Gilroy Gardens: Home of the Circus Trees
- Making Rustic Furniture By Daniel Mack. p. 78
- Wisconsin Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff by Michael Feldman, Diana Coo. p. 64
- Letter from Hugo Krubsack to Dennis Krubsack May 13, 1975
- Newspaper Shawano Leader October 19, 1922 with what appears to be a reference to Milwaukee Journal link to newspaper's article http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/wlhba/articleView.asp?pg=1&id=14813
- Reames, Arborsculpture: Solutions for a Small Planet, 2005 p.50 ISBN 0-9647280-8-7
- Milwaukee Sentinel, 5-4-1930
- Reames, Arborsculpture: Solutions for a Small Planet, 2005 p.51 ISBN 0-9647280-8-7