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Awesome Men Throughout History: John Krubsack

I must say, this week’s Awesome Men subject – John Krubsack – caught me off guard. He was a banker, for one, and certain current events (meaning the last three years or so) have made reading about bankers a very complicated and emotional task. Banking, speaking in strictly moral terms, has become less reputable than delivering hog semen to farmers in a van. Yes, that is a real job.

John Krubsack

But Krubsack, as you may have guessed, was not akin to the modern financial class that defrauded the government for billions of dollars and threw a Halloween party where everyone dressed up as foreclosed-upon homeless people. No, John Krubsack left behind a much greater legacy, greater even than his ridiculous last name. He grew a chair.

Let me explain. Krubsack, born in 1858, was a naturalist who made his own cheese, landscaped, and basically did all the stuff that sustainability-obsessed yuppies do now, with the added benefit of not being an insufferable douche about it. John was also a woodworker with a particular interest in building furniture from found branches, which made him something of an outsider artist as well.

Quick primer on outsider art in case you forgot: outsider art is art made by amateurs with little training or connection to the greater art community. They tend to come in two varieties – respectable people with weird hobbies, and batshit insane compulsives. Krubsack was the former.

Anyway, Krubsack loved showing off his homemade furniture, but combing his property for beech driftwood wasn’t enough. According to a letter written by his son, Krubsack told a friend that, “dammit, one of these days I am going to grow a piece of furniture that will be better and stronger than any human hands can build.” His friend replied with the turn-of-the-century businessman’s equivalent of “bro, I dare you,” and things took off from there.

The idea of a grown chair is to plant trees that, through minor assistance, grow into the shape of a piece of furniture sturdy enough to support human weight. Luckily, Krubsack took the time to explain it. He planted “32 trees all box elders,” and grew them to about six feet tall before “bending the stems of these trees and tying and grafting them together so as to grow, if possible with all the joints cemented by nature,” into the shape of a chair.

But what if some trees grow faster than others, you might be asking. Well, smartass, Krubsack had a plan for that. To keep things even, he “cut the stems of those trees that to [his] notion had grown large enough. This did not kill these trees but simply retarded their growth so as to give the weaker trees a chance to catch up.” The whole process, from seed to finished product, took eleven years. In his defense, he lived in Wisconsin, so by default he had a lot of free time on his hands.

Besides, his grown chair garnered a certain amount of celebrity. It was shown at the 1915 World’s Fair and the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and was featured in movie theatre newsreels and Robert Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” column. Mickey Mouse even sat on it, which is more than you can say for the Mona Lisa.

I guess John Krubsack’s awesomeness depends on context. Given what the banking industry has become, reading about a guy who dedicated his time to something goofy and harmless is damn refreshing.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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