Tuesday, June 19, 2012

'I get chill bumps': Virginian makes reproductions of Confed. generals' furniture

Joe Cress, who operates Logan Creek Designs in Abingdon, Va., specializes in making and selling reproductions of furniture used by Confederate generals. Saturday, at 7 p.m., he will speak at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., about items he crafted for the 2003 Civil War movie “Gods and Generals.” Cress, 60, also will discuss battlefield preservation. He became interested in making high-quality Civil War furniture reproductions during a visit to the Virginia Military Institute Museum. Cress is a re-enactor with the 2nd Virginia Cavalry. The Picket recently spoke with him.

Q. How did you become interested in cabinetmaking?

A. My hero is my high school shop teacher in the 1960s. He allowed me to come work in my spare hours. My dad had a shop in the basement. I was in the shop at 6 or 7, fooling around with things. We made race carts and go-carts.

Q. What was the process of obtaining measurements and the like for this historic reproductions?
A. You arrange to have the artifact taken off display so you can physically handle it with gloves with someone there. You draw it, photograph it and measure it. (Sometimes Cress makes repeat visits). I get chill bumps talking about this (furniture). These guys carried it and worked from it, or in Stonewall Jackson’s case he died in it.

Q. Any favorite woods to work with?

A. My favorite is cherry. Walnut or pine were common then.

Q. What is your personal favorite?

A. The Stonewall Jackson deathbed (photo, above). It took several years to come out with the final element. I have one that I sleep on here. The original is at Guinea Station, Va. (A leg he makes for the bed is among the pieces he is bringing to Kennesaw). That bed can use a mattress or rope, although the latter is not real comfortable. Mine is made of cherry, the original is part heart pine and part maple. It was not made in a factory because all four legs were different in dimension. Artistically, it is a functional bed. What is different is that it is an acorn top bed (top of legs). Most others are cannonballs. There are so many intricate turnings (it) showed the fellow spent a lot of time he did not have to take.

Q. What is the most popular item?

A. The Jackson desk (photo, below) is the flagship. I lose myself (in the detail). I select each piece of wood.

Q. How long does it take to make one of the reproductions?

A. A Jackson bed ($6,300 plus tax and shipping) takes about a month. I can make the Jackson field desk ($4,695) in three weeks and a Robert E. Lee chest ($1,850) in one week. (Cress is bringing such a chest to Kennesaw)

Q. What about your royalty arrangement with museums and institutions? (Cress has an agreement with the Museum of the Confederacy that allows him to make and sell reproductions of the Robert E. Lee camp chest and the J.E.B. Stuart field desk. VMI permits him to make the popular Jackson field desk.)

A. They get a set percentage of every sale. We change a joint here and there, alter it dimensionally (so it can’t be mistaken for the original). Soon after (Stonewall) Jackson died in 1863 there originated in New York a dozen original Jackson Bibles. A discerning collector can tell a replica from an original at 15 feet. We also render a fee to the National Park Service for the reproduction of the Jackson death bed at Guinea Station and the Robert E. Lee field desk ($5,650) at Gettysburg.

Q. Who are your customers?

A. My demographics are 45 to 75 in years, successful professionals, with discretionary income. They are furniture collectors, not just Civil War people. I get to know these people. The furniture is functional. You can put your feet and laptop up on it. Three out of four of my clients use the furniture.

Q. Tell me about your preservation efforts.

A. I do fund-raising for endangered land (particularly with Central Virginia Battlefields Trust). My advice is get active in the preservation of the endangered lands, buying it up and putting it up in perpetuity for the National Park Service. Don’t just shoot your black powder. Get out there and put your money up. The reproduction Stuart field desk I am bringing to Kennesaw will be auctioned later to benefit the Central Virginia trust. I am hoping to raise $25,000 with it.

Q. What about your own designs?

A. I created the Little Sorrel (Jackson’s horse) casket (1,250). It has his actual cremains. The casket is buried on the VMI parade ground under the Jackson statue and four guns. People have bought the reproduction casket to hold the remains of their (entire) family.

For more information on Saturday’s free program, contact Michael K. Shaffer at mshaffe3@kennesaw.edu or 678-797-2551. Guests should park in the Kennesaw State University West Parking Deck, then enter Building 22, the Social Sciences building, and go to the auditorium. Photos, courtesy of Logan Creek Designs.

Kennesaw State University campus maps
Logan Creek Designs

1 comment:

  1. Joe Cress renews my faith in people who love wood. His work is beautiful. I wonder if he allows low-income duffers like me to visit?
    Kyle Noble, Independence, VA