By Brandon Martin
While visitors to the City of Martinsville may be awed by the Big Chair longtime residents know the landmark has ‘Deep Roots’ in the community.
The new Big Chair was recently installed in city’s Furniture Heritage Plaza to replace the original chair, crafted by Bassett Furniture Industries to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
The original chair “toured all over their stores in the U.S.” Sarah Hodges, director of tourism, said.
After the tour, the chair was placed uptown, but “unfortunately, the chair wasn’t designed for long term outdoor life and was removed” for in-depth maintenance, she added.
To make the landmark better suited for outdoor life, the new chair is made of metal and powder coated with a wood finish “allowing it to sustain the elements for years to come,” Hodges said.
The new attraction is a replica of the original Grove Park Mission style chair. It stands 21–feet, 3-inches tall, and weighs 4,400 pounds. It took approximately 519-hours to craft, she said.
“A lot of the coordination was handled by PAC Custom Woodworking & CNC Routing, the local company that built the chair,” Hodges said. “The mission of VisitMartinsville, the destination marketing organization for Martinsville-Henry County, is to market our community to visitors. The chair was funded as part of a larger marketing plan and was fully funded by the tourism office’s budget.”
Like the original chair, the new one is tied to the tourism department’s “Deep Roots” campaign, which seeks to highlight the area’s history and attract more visitors to the city.
“As our area continues to grow and diversify, it is important to celebrate our history in manufacturing and those who helped build that legacy,” Hodges said. “The Big Chair was a hit in the past with locals and tourists who came to Uptown Martinsville to see one of the largest chairs in America. With many local groups partnering to bring new development to our uptown district, the Big Chair really couldn’t have returned at a more perfect time.”
The Deep Roots campaign has been ongoing for 12 years. It covers the area’s manufacturing legacy in furniture and textiles as well as its motorsports, outdoor recreation and cultural heritage.
“Deep Roots gives a respectful nod to Martinsville’s past, bringing relevance to the present by celebrating contributions, and providing a gift to the future with repurposed activities, facilities, and new economic development opportunities,” Hodges added.
The chair compliments an array of other attractions that highlight the city’s achievements in furniture manufacturing, including the plaza in which it is located. Other attractions are the 1939 Fresco “Manufacture of Furniture” by William Carnelli, in the Bassett Post Office, the Bassett World Headquarters and the HGTV Design Studio.
The chair also signifies some of the community’s furniture brands like Bassett Furniture, Bassett Mirror Company, Hooker Furniture and Shenandoah Furniture.
The concept of manufacturing also ties into other community initiatives, according to Hodges.
“The newly formed Uptown revitalization group, MartinsvilleUP, has identified a transformation strategy built on promoting Martinsville as a space for ‘Makers,’ she said. “In support of that mission, we are hoping the big chair shows our communities commitment to continuing the legacy of handmade goods and skilled craftspeople into our future.”
Now that the chair is situated in the plaza, the tourism department office will shift gears to focus on other ways to enhance the experience of the city.
“VisitMartinsville is committed to creating a resident and visitor focused active lifestyle destination and will continue to improve and expand on existing and new experiences,” Hodges said, and noted three different ways that the office looks to foster these experiences.
The first is to make the city “an active-lifestyle destination with a vibrant uptown core.” Hodges said that includes marketing the city as “an active outdoor recreation destination.” The final piece of the puzzle will be transitioning the city into “a dynamic gathering place for small group activities.”
Those involved with the “Big Chair” project in 2020 were: Anstey Hodge, Bassett Furniture Industries, the City of Martinsville, Guy M. Turner Crane Services, PAC Custom Woodworking & CNC Routing, and Solid Stone Fabric.