BRADENTON — Earl Baker’s inspiration for cane weaving was not unusual.
Most married men will relate.
“My wife got me into it,” said the 73-year-old Parrish resident.
It was back in the early 1990s and Norma Baker’s mother was going into an assisted living residence in Marlboro, Mass. The woman loved old-fashioned chairs with cane-woven backs and seats and had a dozen in need of repairs.
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“My brother-in-law was going to toss them out,” Baker said. “But my wife picked them up, hired a mover, brought them to Florida and told me, ‘Do it.’”
He did just that.
And Baker’s been cane weaving people’s treasured old chairs ever since.
“It keeps me busy and out of my wife’s hair,” he said, laughing.
Baker’s work is just some of the handiwork on display at the Folk Craft Exhibit, a year-long exhibit at the Manatee Village Historical Park.
Besides cane weaving, there is saddle making, pottery and quilts.
“What we’re highlighting here is finding the beauty in every day craftmanship, something born of necessity to future generations because of the attention and care put into the item itself,” said Phaedra Rehorn, special events coordinator at the Historical Park.
“These are all usually passed down generation to generation, not necessarily taught in a class, but things you learn from your peers, neighbors and family.”
Baker learned cane weaving from his father, Warren, who owned a pair of 5-and-10-cent stores for 48 years in Hingham, Mass.
“He did it after he retired. We talked, I watched,” he said. “It’s like stitching and weaving. Over-and-under, over-and-under, a thousand times, and then you get a nice pattern out of it.”
It’s quite a switch for Baker, who spent a career as a nuclear plant supervisor; first with the Navy, then with Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point facility in Homestead.
“It’s definitely relaxing,” he said. “You don’t have the pressure, the worrying about something catastrophic happening. You don’t punch a clock, but I probably put more time into it to get one chair out the door.”
Baker orders his cane — the outer bark of a rattan vine — from a company in Los Angeles, that imports it from Southeast Asia. He usually gets one “hank” — 1,000 feet of cane — at a time.
That’s good for two to three chairs.
Baker might spend as many as 16 hours on a chair — 10 on the seat; six on the back — over several days. He’ll average a couple of chairs a week, using scissors, hand tools like picks, and pegs.
“A lot of people bring me rocking chairs that have been passed down from their families,” he said. “They may not be in great shape, but they want them done. They enjoy them.”
He and his wife also buy and sell old chairs at Arcadia’s monthly Antique Fair.
“I’m into small children’s rockers, Lincoln rockers, Bentwood rockers that are really old,” Baker said. “I’ll buy them, refinish them. It’s something from way back and I think it’s nice.”
Right now he’s got at least a dozen chairs in his shed to work on.
“It keeps me out of trouble,” he joked.
IF YOU GO
What: Folk Craft Exhibit
Where: Wiggins Store at Manatee Village Historical Park, 1404 Manatee Ave. E., Bradenton
When: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. second and fourth Saturdays monthly
Phone: (941) 741-4075