In a field along Cobb’s Hill Road, across from the old vestry that served as Thos. Moser’s first showroom, rests a rusted 1800’s sickle bar mower. Frozen in place, it harkens back to a sweltering day in late August when a farmer sat upon its cast-iron seat, guiding a team of plow horses to harvest his final crop of hay. Throughout New Gloucester, country roads are dotted with these snapshots into the past. A glass gallon jar that once held haymakers punch sits propped against the wheel of the tractor. Along these roads, we catch a glimpse of history, when men and women worked the land developing communities of self-sufficient farmers and craftspeople who settled into this landscape.
Incorporated in 1774, New Gloucester, Maine, was a town comprised mostly of early settlers from Gloucester, Mass. Hence the name “New” Gloucester. Drawn to the rich soil, New Gloucester developed into a prosperous farming community. Resplendent with orchards, gardens, wide-spreading elms, the early settlers utilized the land and its natural resources to support a growing population—including six sawmills, two tanneries, and gristmills.
In the 1850s, as New Gloucester began to grow from its initial sixty inhabitants to nearly thirty times in size, the Industrial Revolution was taking shape — making significant advancements in technology for the farming community. Until the mid-1800s, farmers were still manually harvesting hay with sickles and scythes. The advent of the sickle bar mower was the first step in making the hot and dusty work of haying by hand less brutal, more efficient, more productive, and even more comfortable.
Lending to these newfound machines’ comfort and productivity was a flat wooden board for a seat. In the mid- 1850s, manufacturers began adding cast-iron supports to the wooden board, and by the 1860s, almost all tractors had seats made entirely of cast-iron. The earliest version of the cast iron seat was solid— meaning they held water during inclement weather and became blistering hot as the tractor sat in the mid-day sun. Born from necessity, tractor companies began designing seats with holes for drainage and ventilation— creating a form of agrarian art. Artisans created the seat by first carving the shape and design in solid wood, and then, from that wooden mold, the seat was cast in iron.
Over 100 years later, the purity and austerity of the traditional handwork in these iron seats captivated Tom Moser. In 1978, Tom began carving the first iteration of the High Stool– which at that time, he called the “studio stool.” Made from two or three, twelve-quarter blocks, the seat, cut from the same log to ensure color and grain match, reflects the old tractor seats and western saddles’ defining characteristics.
The hand-sculpted seat features a rounded cantle, the back edge of the seat, and a gentle and smooth pommel to cradle the occupant. Unlike its industrial cousins, the High Stool makes no use of metal screws or bolts to hold the seat in place—the old iron seats would be attached to the tractor using a metal bolt and washer placed through the middle of the seat! In the High Stool, tapered ash legs, used for their tensile strength, pierce through the bottom of the seat and join the top with a wedged tenon made from either cherry or walnut, creating a conscious design moment. Once the tenon has dried, it is sanded to match the seat’s grade; the beautiful joinery creates a secure hold and unimpeded seat. The sculpted movement on the top of the stool travels over the rounded edges to the seat’s underside, where an inverted cut in front highlights the dramatic rise of the pommel.
There is an inherent beauty to old farm machinery. Perhaps it’s the way the sunlight strikes the rusty hay rake and iron seat resting, unmoved for decades in an open field. It’s a reminder of days long gone, to a time when agriculture and hand-crafted items dominated the economy, and families made their living from the fertile land. In many ways, we have come back to celebrate this way of life, one that honors the local community, its farmers and values the sustainable beauty of a hand-crafted piece of furniture that gets better with time and is made to be used for generations.
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