In early 1977, my wife, Michelle and I were visiting friends for dinner. I was paging through an issue of Mother Earth News and came across an article titled recycling willows for $200.00 a week. It gave step by step directions on how to build a willow chair. I thought that this was something I would like to try. The man writing the article lived in California. The material he used was a scrub-type willow called Arroyo Willow. I figured we had something similar in Wisconsin. Soon I found that Sandbar Willow grew all around the area we lived in. I continued working for a friend building houses. On weekends I would build willow chairs and loveseats.
The next year, we decided to attempt to make a living building willow furniture. Now realize, this was the late 70’s. No one was familiar with willow furniture and it was considered at best to be lawn furniture. I had no idea how it would hold up to weather outdoors. My thought was that it was probably short lived out in the elements.
We sold the first chair to a friend for $8.00. Soon we came up with 2 chairs and a loveseat to sell as a set. We put out a for sale sign in our yard with the willow pieces around it. We lived on a county trunk road that went around a popular lake and soon we were selling sets for $40.00.
We needed to sell more if we were going to eek out a living. I loaded up our old pickup truck with several pieces and headed off to the city of Oshkosh to see if I could find a store or two that might be able to buy our furniture for resale. As I was cruising through downtown Oshkosh, a car pulled up beside me. The woman in the car told me her boss, (who was a few blocks back) saw the furniture and would like to talk to me about buying it. “Bingo!” we were in business. The store was a head shop called Satori Imports and we settled on a price of 65.00 a set.
I started cranking out 8 to 10 pieces just about every week. Soon I had my system down to where I could assemble a chair in 2 hours. Realize that was just the assembly of the chair. The other parts were picking the willows, cutting the 20 pieces for the frame work and whittling the ends of each piece of willow. This is usually another 2 hours of work.
We named our new business the Willow Works.