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Workshops merge skills, story of industry, worker
Garfid Gauldin (left) holds a copy of the chairs to be made at workshops in August and September as part of the â€œBig Chairâ€� dedication. Looking on is Ben Bowman, coordinator of work force development at Patrick Henry Community College. (Bulletin photo)
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Bassett Furniture's big chair is coming soon to the Martin Plaza parking lot uptown, but before the September unveiling, people of all ages will have a chance to create small chairs of their own.
The Southern Virginia Artisan Center is hosting a series of "Build-A-Chair" workshops, starting Aug. 15, in which people will be able to learn how to build their own child-sized chairs and paint them to create personalized pieces of art.
The completed chairs will be displayed uptown for a short time leading up to the Big Chair dedication, and then participants can take them home.
Workshops are co-sponsored by Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.'s (EDC) Tourism Office.
The chair-building classes were designed by a former furniture company employee, Garfid Gauldin of Ridgeway, who came up with the lesson plan and design as part of an internship while earning his bachelor's degree. Gauldin, now 48, went back to college to retrain after Hooker Furniture closed production in 2007.
"Garfid exemplifies the best of our community," said Ben Bowman, PHCC work force development coordinator who supervised Gauldin during his internship.
"(Gauldin) has a strong history in furniture," but "he's having to make changes in a new direction" by gaining new skills, Bowman said. "He's had a lot of challenges in his life, but he hasn't let that hold him back."�
Gauldin worked at Hooker Furniture from 1982 to 1995, then at Fieldcrest until 2000 before returning to Hooker as an industrial maintenance mechanic until the plant closed.
Shortly after he started his furniture career, Gauldin said, "I lost my left leg in an accident at work at Hooker," and his leg was amputated below the knee in December 1982.
Doctors told Gauldin "it would take me six months or more to learn to walk again." However, he said, "I learned to walk within a week" of starting rehabilitation and even started playing softball shortly after he returned to work in April 1983.
"I thank God for enabling me to do that," he said. "I coined a term: I'm handicapped, but I'm not disabled."�
Gauldin said he did not consider leaving the furniture industry after his accident.
"It's in my family's blood," he said. His father worked at American Furniture for 27 years before joining Hooker, and Gauldin's brother worked at Hooker for 40 years. Between the three men, they have more than 80 combined years working at Hooker Furniture, he said.
"Before they closed the doors at Hooker, they were generous enough to help my daughter with a scholarship," he said. His daughter, April Gauldin, 26, now is a registered nurse at Martinsville Memorial Hospital.
Also, when the plant announced its closing, workers were told, "If your job was replaced by foreign competition, they would help you get training," Gauldin said.
Gauldin, who previously had earned two associate degrees from PHCC, took the opportunity to pursue his bachelor's degree through distance learning at PHCC. He earned his degree in occupational technical studies in May from Old Dominion University and said he "definitely" recommend would the experience to other displaced workers.
"Education is the key," Gauldin said. "When you obtain your bachelor's degree, it opens a few more doors."�
A college degree has become more necessary because of the economic downturn, he went on.
"Many years ago when the industry was prospering here, a lot of kids quit school and went to work," he said. "Now, you often need more than a high school degree to find a job. Patrick Henry is a good place to jump off."�
Gauldin was required to do a 225-hour internship to graduate. The idea for him to design the chair-building workshop for his internship came about as "kind of serendipity," Bowman said.
The EDC had been discussing plans to turn uptown Martinsville into a furniture shopping and heritage destination as part of its Deep Roots initiative.
Part of these efforts include converting Martin Plaza into a three-story furniture outlet and creating a furniture heritage park in the lot across the street. At the center of the small park will be the 25-foot-tall chair made by Bassett Furniture Industries for its 100th anniversary in 2002.
During these discussions, EDC Tourism Director Debbie Robinson said, Gauldin "had some informative suggestions and brought in a whole new component. Ben (Bowman), working closely with Garfid, picked up on his talent very quickly."�
Bowman added, "Debbie and I were talking and said, "˜We're doing a big chair; what if we made a bunch of little chairs?'"�
The idea behind the workshops is, "It's something parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren can create together," Bowman said.
Gauldin said he tried to plan the chair-building lesson "so any ordinary person can understand what we're talking about," even with no woodworking experience.
"We wanted to make it as simple as we could, so even children could do it," Gauldin said. Building their own chairs will "give them a sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride, to say, "˜I did it.'"�
PHCC "has really gotten involved in this whole project," Robinson said, adding that students in Lloyd Cannaday's computer-aided drafting class provided blueprints of the chair design.
During Gauldin's internship from February to April, Bowman said, "I can't say enough about what a help Garfid was for me."�
In turn, Gauldin said the experience showed him "you can mix the old way (woodworking) with the new way (computer drafting technology) to create a fine piece of furniture."�
He added he enjoyed "seeing what I've learned through the years of work experience and college. It all comes together. We're always learning."�
Having finished his degree, the next step for Gauldin is "just finding a job, a career that fits me," he said. This is similar to the task that faces the community at large, he said.
"We, as the people of Martinsville and Henry County, need to find what our niche is, to find our purpose and strive for it," Gauldin said. "The Bible says, "˜Without vision, the people perish.' We need to focus on a vision for this area. All the leaders need to pull together."�
Gauldin said he wants "to encourage the community to rebound, to pull together and focus on getting the word out that Martinsville-Henry County is a good place. There are fine people here, people that are hard workers, and they just need to have the doors opened."�