December 4, 2013

Slices of Life: Former pastor now hand-crafting beautiful furniture

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Charlie-John Sweitzer

Darrell Hoemann

By Aske Denning — From morning to late afternoon, Monday through Saturday, Charlie Sweitzer works in his shop, next to his home on West John Street in Champaign. He is 78 or 77… no, 78 years old.

This morning, he is ready to begin crafting a wooden rocking chair. Its distinctive back will be made of four bowed slats of bird’s eye maple. The wood’s name derives from the lumber’s thousands of tiny, spiraling eyes, a pattern that makes the maple surface look like a map of a hilly landscape. Charlie is a little nervous about building the chair because the client living in the country outside Mattoon is a fellow craftsman Charlie admires.

“He’s such a fine woodworker, so I’m very hesitant.”

Back in about 2005, Charlie and his son, John, founded the Sweitzer & Sweitzer furniture shop. They sell handmade furniture inspired by the Shakers, a Protestant sect that emigrated from England to America in 1774.

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This story was written by a University of Illinois journalism student in Professor Walt Harrington’s Literary Feature Writing class taught in collaboration with The News-Gazette. Funding for the class, which was taught at the newspaper’s headquarters in downtown Champaign, came from the Marajen Stevick Foundation. The story was part of an occasional series titled “Slices of Life” that ran in the newspaper’s Sunday Living section. All the stories in the series are also collected in the book “Slices of Life.