Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Though I'd heard of him previously, I first met John McAlister in 2004 at the first event of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM) I ever attended. SAPFM may sound impressive, but it is really just 800 guys who have $35 and a table saw in their basement, and have a serious interest in 18th century American furniture. John had received the 2001 Cartouche Award from SAPFM recognizing outstanding American Woodworkers.He was the second person to be recognized with this award.

John grew up in Greensboro (he is of the Greensboro McAlisters) but spent most of his life in Charlotte where he was in the textile business. He began woodworking as a hobby in 1968 and is entirely self-taught--but boy, is he taught! I had the opportunity to visit John's home last weekend to see some of his furniture and his workshop.

Though he has never sold a piece, he has a large family (two marriages and seven children I believe he said) and so he has given away a lot of furniture he has made to family. I believe he said he is currently working on his fifth grandfather clock, for instance. Even with that, he has a home full of the most beautiful 18th century furniture you can imagine.

John's most famous piece is a copy of the Nicholas Brown tall secretary that sold for $12 million in 1989. Since then a number of woodworkers have made copies of this secretary, but John was one of the first, and he did a great deal of original research to be able to make the plans for the piece.

I've posted other pictures of John's furniture (and some of his workshop) on Flickr here but they hardly do justice to the scope of John's woodworking. I suspect there are very few woodworkers who have two bonnet-top highboys, one in their dining room and another in their bedroom.

Upon leaving John's house, one of the other amateur woodworkers in the group sighed "Boy, was that humbling." He got that right!

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