Rocking chairs prove a big hit

Stu Robbie rocks away at his stand at the Canterbury A and P Show in Christchurch this week....
Stu Robbie rocks away at his stand at the Canterbury A and P Show in Christchurch this week. Photo by Sally Rae.
Elton John might be the Rocket Man - but Stu Robbie can lay claim to being the Rocker Man.

Mr Robbie, who has spent all his career working with wood, went through a "complete revival" four years ago, moving from making fine furniture to landscape furniture.

While manning a site at the Canterbury A and P Show in Christchurch this week, the Dunedin man joked he was a "born-again cabinet-maker".

"I absolutely love it," he said.

His trade display was one of 600 at the show. which celebrated its 150th anniversary during the three-day event.

Originally from Waimate, where he grew up on a strawberry farm, Mr Robbie always wanted to work with his hands, and with wood.

After leaving school, he served his cabinet-making apprenticeship at well-known firm B.J. Abraham in Waimate, before moving to Dunedin and starting his own business when he was 21.

He made both furniture and joinery, later concentrating on fine furniture.

But after decades of crafting fine furniture, he got to the stage in life he needed a change. A desire to make a rocking chair led to the formation of a new pathway using his cabinet-making skills.

Macrocarpa timber, some of which he milled from his own property, was used to make the furniture, coupled with trad-itional cabinet-making methods.

Rope was incorporated in the designs, while another feature of his work was the use of brass, with copper nails.

When he first started doing it, his mind "ran wild" with the possibilities.

"I could do anything. There was absolutely no restrictions and it was so creative," he said.

Mr Robbie loved the combination of rope and grain, saying it was something "totally different', and the style was timeless.

"I make what I want to make and people love it."

His signature pieces were his rocking chairs and big swing seats, which he described as the "cream of the cream".

There was an art to making a rocking chair. It required the right combination of angles and rock, and he believed he had come up with something that was "absolutely spot on".

He reckoned he could not leave wood alone and he loved both the feel of it and the grain - "you never know what the grain is going to be like until you dress it up".

The shape of the timber also dictated what he did with it.

Furniture was not his only foray. At the Canterbury A and P Show, he had "man platters" for sale, which came with the tongue-in-cheek warning "women may handle under strict man supervision".

While the change in style was a big risk, it had paid off. Business was "absolutely fantastic", he said.

Mr Robbie and his wife, Shirley, attended about 42 A and P shows, fetes, fairs and garden events a year.

They included small A and P shows - "which I love doing because country people are my market" - to the massive New Zealand National Agricultural Fieldays at Mystery Creek.

Transporting the furniture was a major exercise and required a large truck.

The couple enjoyed the camaraderie among the stall-holders at the various events.

"We are gypsies in a way. We just travel. We're on the road all the time," he said.

However, the beauty of their product meant they could sit down on the job. "I can rock to my heart's content," he said.

Mr Robbie loved living in Dunedin, which he described as a fantastic city, and he always loved returning home.

Winter was spent busily making all the components while, in the summer, he only had enough time to eat Christmas pudding, quipped.

He was helped by his original apprentice, Roger Simpson, who has a small shop in Dunedin.



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