What do the Lincoln Presidential Library in Illinois, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, and Boston media personality Kim Carrigan all have in common?
They all own chairs that have been caned by Heritage Caning Company in Peabody.
Heritage Caning Company was founded by the Northeast Arc in the early 1960s to create an activity for people with developmental disabilities. It quickly spun into a business that has been providing employment for people with disabilities for nearly 50 years. When visiting the shop, located inside the Arc-owned ArcWorks Community Art Center on Foster Street in Peabody, you will find highly skilled craftspeople performing expert hand caning and seat repairs.
In fact, two of the expert caners—Ron Leosz of Salem and Ron Lavino of Lynn, affectionately known as Big Ron and Little Ron, respectively—have been at the company since the day it opened.
They are joined by Danny Taggert of Swampscott and John Braucher of Gloucester, who have both been with Heritage Caning for over 30 years. Relative newcomers Will Merrill and Nicole Amelia, both of Salem, have been practicing this Old World craft for three years and one year, respectively.
Over time each of the caners has developed a specialty in one of five types of chair weaving: hand cane, pressed cane, fiber rush, porch weave, and Shaker cane. It is the only storefront business on the North Shore—and one of only two in Massachusetts—where customers can bring in antique chairs, footstools, rocking chairs, porch furniture, and even canoe seats to be re-caned.
Tim Brown, Director of Innovation and Strategy for the Northeast Arc
Dining room chairs are by far the most popular item that comes through the doors for repair, with hand weaving and fiber rush being the most in-demand caning styles.
Ron Leosz specializes in fiber rush, and he has the calluses on his hands that show the effort that goes into each chair. He uses tacks to start the process, and then carefully weaves “Craft Brown” recycled paper to make the seat. The paper comes in two different sizes on 45-pound reels. These master crafts-people can make or repair about ten chairs from each spool.
When asked what he likes most about the job, Leosz says, “Seeing the finished project and knowing that I did it.” He then adds, “I really like the money,” referring to the paycheck he receives each week for his handiwork.
The artisans are supervised by Melissa Dulude, who has been with Heritage Caning Company for 21 years. “Caning is an art form that takes time to master,” says Dulude. “We have shop chairs that are used to practice on, so all of the training is hands-on. Once one style is mastered, the craftspeople move on to another style.” At the end of the training, where it can take nine months to a year to master each style of caning, the employees get the added bonus of keeping the furniture they worked on.
Because the caners are aging and retirement is not far off for many of them, the Northeast Arc is looking to recruit the next generation of employees to learn the craft and carry on the tradition to meet the needs of customers.
“This job is ideal for people who like fine motor control, can sit for long periods of time, like repetition, as well as some social interaction,” says Tim Brown, director of innovation and strategy for the Northeast Arc. “This has been a viable business for nearly 50 years, and with today’s focus on reusing and recycling, combined with the quality of work done at Heritage Caning, we expect the demand to continue. We just need to find folks that want to join our team.”
Heritage Caning Company is one of New England’s best kept design secrets. As it is regularly used by interior designers, furniture restoration specialists, and general consumers, the Northeast Arc is dedicated to keeping this traditional craft from becoming a lost art.
Heritage Caning Company makes furniture repair and restoration easy and affordable. At the same time, employees feel good that they are offering a valuable service to customers, and they gain a sense of self-satisfaction when each project is completed and they have something beautiful to show.
Heritage Caning Company is open 6 days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday. While there, customers can also take a tour of the ArcWorks Community Arts Center gallery and gift shop. For more information, please contact Melissa Dulude at 978-531-5094.