Today the red chair left the Woods Hole Inn, departing on its latest journey across New England. Friend of the Woods Hole Inn, Kate Kavanagh, volunteered to help the Red Chair reach its destination. There were lots of photographs and a small goodbye as the chair made it’s way out of the inn.
The red chair will be traveling for the next six months to 40-plus inns in the most beautiful corner of America. For it’s first stop, the Red Chair will be visiting the Cliff Side Inn in Newport, Rhode Island. Surrounded by the mansions of the Gilded Age, a scenic cliff walk and ocean-side views, the Cliff Side Inn was the perfect choice for the start of an epic journey.
Remember the story of the red chair? You know, the image I put on Facebook that inspired a visit from a Californian photographer who then sent me the most amazing photograph she had taken of the chair? I wrote all about this last spring, and told everyone I ever met all about it, and you can catch up with the story here.
Well, now the red chair is headed on a very unique trip. I have reached out to innkeepers all over Cape Cod. This chair is going to have the most amazing spring visiting the very best places to stay on the Cape and Islands.
Having checked in on the phone with these fabulous hoteliers, I can genuinely say I am jealous of the chair’s journey. I too want to spend five weeks crisscrossing the Cape, exploring every nook and cranny from the dunes of Race Point to the shops of Nantucket, from the farms of Martha’s Vineyard to the sand flats of Barnstable Harbor. I too want to try a growler of Cape Cod beer in Hyannis, or see the whales and dolphins off Provincetown, or chow on steamers in Truro, or skip the boardwalk in Sandwich.
Why send a chair on a journey like this? Because, like the surrealists used to say, this chair is not just a chair. It is a metaphor, an invitation to come explore yourself in a quiet and beautiful place. It is an open seat at the table of relaxation. It is the beckoning hand of civilization, marking the edge of the wildness of nature where you can lose and find yourself at the same time. It is the dialogue between artists and innkeepers, dreamers and shop-girls, lost travelers and those that welcome them into warm beds.
And that, my friends, is why the chair needs to travel!
Today I prepared my heart, then drove the chair to thirty minutes up the road to the lovely village of Sandwich where the chair will be hosted by the Belfry Inn and Bistro for a few days. This is a really cool place — a converted church with all the stained glass still intact. I must admit, I felt a bit like a mother taking their child to overnight camp for the first time! I mean, all the preparation I have put into this trip, and when it came down to it I really did not want to let that chair out of my hot little hands. I was feeling anxious and worried, wrote a long note to my fellow innkeepers about it’s care and safekeeping, even fretted a little about leaving it on side deck rather than handing it directly to the next innkeeper.
But I have to remember, the soul of this chair was meant to be shared. I found it at the swap shop, and so much joy has come already from sharing it. I have to believe more joy, laughs, curiosity will come as others are touched by it too.
Some nostalgic images of the chair at the Woods Hole Inn before it headed out:
Oooh, that Cape light.
On a foggy day:
Then getting ready to head out today, with a little note that says “Read Me!” filled with instructions and well-wishes.
Here we are all loaded up in the car:
Arriving at the Belfry Inn in Sandwich MA, a lovely 30 minute drive on a windy bright day:
Isn’t everything better when shared?
More to come on this story, plus read about it directly in a new blog called RedChairTravels.com.
Becoming an innkeeper is a curious transition that starts with worrying about all the little details (do we have enough toilet paper? Is the boiler working?) and eventually transforms to a place where the small interactions with one’s guests can make or break a year. On that front, 2011 is a very good year.
Thus begins the tale of the red chair. We moved to Woods Hole last year and made numerous trips to the swap shop (a wonderful institution at the town dump where you can drop off or pick up gently used stuff) and one day we found these two painted red wooden chairs. Pretty solid, I said to my husband. Yes, perfect for our new porch, he mused. So into the trunk they went, paint peeling a bit, dirt crusted in the corners but a nice solid color, definitely worth cleaning up.
Six months later, in January, the small pond behind our house froze. We decided to go skating one afternoon. I grabbed one of the red chairs to help the kids get their skates on. It was glowery and cold, with the light threatening to turn to actual darkness. The pond was grey, silent, ringed with houses many of them dark in winter. I stamped my feet to keep warm, listening to the skates whisk across the ice. Cold and too dark now, I hustled the kids inside for dinner. As we cleared the gear, I looked back and noticed we had forgotten the red chair. There is sat, alone on the pond. I snapped it’s portrait with my handy iPhone.
Later that evening, I posted the picture on Facebook as part of my photo project (“365″ – I attempt a new picture every day). The image of the red chair ignited my FB friends and fans — I have never received as many comments. People wanted copies of the photo, poster size. I explained that this picture was taken on my iPhone in low light — unlikely to look very good blown up beyond 5×7.
One day in March, I received an email from a prospective guest from Santa Barbara. She was coming to Boston to see her boyfriend and they were looking for a good place to stay. She had seen my photos of Woods Hole on Facebook and wanted to come to the Woods Hole Inn because Woods Hole looked so beautiful (which it is, BTW). Wow, I thought, all the way from the west coast…it really is a small online world. She booked the room. As we got close to the date, she emailed again. She was a photographer, she said, and she loved my picture with the red chair. Could she borrow it over the weekend for a photo shoot?
Well, I have to admit my first reaction was, huh? Now that is an unusual request! That’s MY chair. Then I remembered the swap shop. This is not my chair at all, it is a chair passing through my life and I need to share it, I reasoned. It is meant to be shared. I loaded the chair up in my Prius, drove it over and parked it on the front porch of the Inn.
We had a family obligation that weekend and I left the Inn in the hands of my very competent staff. When I came back, on Monday, the chair was still on the porch and I asked — did our guest use the chair? Oh, I told her where it was and I think she did. Well, did she say anything about it? Nope, said she had a good time, that was it. Hmmm, not very satisfying after hauling the chair across town but I brought it home and forgot about it.
About a month later, the red chair guest emailed asking for our address. She had taken a picture with the chair and wanted to send me a copy. She said the red chair had opened a whole new place in her work and she wanted to thank me. I emailed back that she could just send me a digital file or post it on Facebook but she said no, she had something to send me.
Turns out our red chair guest is a professional nature photographer. And a really good one at that.
About two weeks later a huge package arrived — what is this, I thought, what have I ordered now? I opened the package, and there was the most incredible shot of Nobska Beach in winter, with the red chair out on the beach before the crashing waves. I was literally breathless looking at this image, tears welled. It was such a simple composition, both the chair and the beach so familiar to me and yet a totally fresh and new juxtaposition. The winter waves crashing toward the grey sand. The snow fence perfectly framing it, inviting me in. Breathtaking.
I carried it around the inn like a teenage girl with a Justin Bieber autograph. Look at this! This came from our guest! Can you believe it #@*?!! It’s the red chair! I put it right up in a prominent place by our guest water cooler. I put a little sign next to it with the photographer’s website. I emailed her a love note of appreciation.
So now, whenever I pass this picture, I think about the dialogue we have with our guests. Sometimes it’s as simple as can I have another towel, or where is the best place for dinner tonight? Or repetitious, yes the Martha’s Vineyard ferry is right across the street. Or even disappointing, as when someone is tired or grumpy.
But this dialogue always involves the give and take between real people who come to the inn with the rich back stories of whole and interesting lives. It reminds me that we mostly scratch the surface when there are oceans of personality, talent, life experience floating underneath the rote interactions (here is your room key, breakfast is served between 8 and 10, the parking lot is right behind the building). I wonder if we added questions like, what is your favorite color, what does the ocean mean to you and have you ever read Sartre? — would we learn more or just scare people? Probably the latter.
For me, the metaphor of the red chair is the invitation to come explore yourself in a quiet and beautiful place. It is an open seat at the table of relaxation. It is the beckoning hand of civilization, marking the edge of the wildness of nature where you can lose and find yourself at the same time. It is the dialogue between artists and innkeepers, dreamers and shop-girls, lost travelers and those that welcome them into warm beds. We are all – on some level — lovers of destination, landscape, color.
What does the red chair mean to you?
To read an update on this story, check out this post.