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Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Big chair is at home
Chair called symbol of past, present and future of area
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Bassett Furniture President and CEO Rob Spilman addresses about 150 people at Friday’s dedication of the big chair in uptown Martinsville. Bassett donated the chair to become a permanent fixture in the business district. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
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Sunday, September 20, 2009

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A big chair that traveled all around the country now is at home in uptown Martinsville, where it symbolizes the area's past, present and future.

Bassett Furniture Industries President and CEO Rob Spilman said it is fitting that the chair's "final resting place is right here in the seat of the furniture industry."�

Spilman was among several speakers at a dedication ceremony/ribbon cutting Friday. About 150 people heard him say the chair was built to mark Bassett Furniture's 100th anniversary in 2002, and then it was used to open Bassett Furniture stores across the U.S.

The company donated it for use as an icon in the local Deep Roots campaign, which will use the area's furniture, textile and motorsports legacies as a springboard for tourism and revitalization efforts, according to

The project would not have been possible if not for a donation from Mrs. Dudley Walker, according to Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., which spearheaded the big chair effort and Deep Roots drive.

"What began as Mrs. Walker's gift has been continued with the efforts of many," Heath said.

In all, more than 20 partners helped with the project, he said, adding that the EDC appreciated all their contributions.

The project, he said, "is not about the big chair, but rather what it represents."�

Forty-four percent of area residents who are employed in manufacturing - about 3,000 people - work in furniture, Heath said.

"Let's consider what the chair is and what it is not," he said.

"The chair is not the focus" of the Deep Roots initiative, Heath said. "It is a symbol of our effort to fight back and rebuild" the local economy.

It is not intended to draw thousands of tourists, but it will be a centerpiece for the thousands of customers patronizing businesses in Martinsville, he said.

It is symbolic of the past, present and future, according to Spilman, Heath and many other speakers, including Debra Buchanan, chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors.

"This Big Chair represents all three eras," Buchanan said at Friday's ceremony.

It represents the past because so many residents were employed in the furniture industry, Buchanan said. She added that those jobs put food on the table for many families and "put us on the map."�

The furniture legacy instilled "an incredible work ethic to get the job done," she said.

Although there have been changes, furniture-related work "still plays a big role" in the present, she said.

It also outlines a vision for the future, Buchanan said, recalling when the area dominated the marketplace.

"I'm confident we will find" that dominance again, she said.

Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson said the chair "honors all the men and women whose labor created the legacy we celebrate. ... Every piece of furniture made over the decades stands as a part of history."�

Furniture employees have a "love and compassion for what they" did and continue to do, Lawson said. "Each piece of furniture was not JUST a piece of furniture, it was their art.

"To those of the furniture industry who have passed on, this is in their memory. To those who in the past worked in the furniture industry, this chair represents memories.

"To the current furniture worker, this represents decades of those before you whose labor established the beginning of a rich heritage," Lawson added.

Debbie Robinson, outgoing tourism director for the EDC, organized the big chair effort and worked with the Deep Roots campaign. She told those gathered that tourism, especially when related to an area's culture, is playing a key role in economic development today, and this area is poised to take advantage of that trend.

The chair is located in a brick landscaped area on the Church Street side of the Broad Street Parking Lot. The site was donated by Fred Martin and Associates.

Bassett employees such as David Compton were responsible for "the outstanding craftsmanship" evident in the chair that was made over several months in 2002, Spilman said. "You don't just whip one of these things into shape overnight," he quipped.

Weighing nearly three tons, the chair towers at more than 20 feet tall and spans more than 8 feet across. For Friday's grand opening, a similar but normal-sized chair was placed underneath to put the big chair's size in perspective. It was a popular spot for photographs after the dedication.

"You can't talk about this without talking about the many people who worked so hard" to build the area's furniture legacy, Spilman said.

That legacy endures, he said.

"Are we as big as we once were? No, but we're here today," Spilman said.


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