PEMBERVILLE — Bonnie Rashleigh wove history and love into a chair that she re-purposed to honor her remarkable grandmother.
“When it came time to give this chair new life, I wanted it to be as different and as stunning as my grandmother’s life had been,” said Rashleigh, who does chair caning and weaving as part of the business, Rick’s Wood & Wire, with her husband.
She took her grandmother’s old rocking chair, reweaved it and entered it into the Daughters of the American Revolution American Heritage contest, in the basketry category. This year’s theme was Rise and Shine Your Light on the 19th Amendment.
The chair won third place nationally.
The rocking chair had an original seat in it, and was probably 80 years old, Rashleigh said.
“Since we had the capabilities to redo it, I wanted to do it a little bit different than you’d normally see. I chose a two-tone look,” she said.
The chair was woven in a herringbone weave using binder cane, but also smoked hickory splint. This two-toned weave made the pattern stand out, she said.
Rashleigh’s grandmother, Ethelyn “Babe” Patton, was born in 1897 in Toledo, and as a young child fell down the stairs and broke her back. She spent years in casts and was not expected to survive past 1911.
She was a determined young woman and rose above the odds to lead a normal healthy life, Rashleigh said in her entry. Her spirit and zest for life led her to march as a suffragette, a World War I Red Cross volunteer, a factory worker for war production and an aviation spotter during World War II.
She was a wife and then a divorced mother to two young girls back in the days when divorce rarely happened, Rashleigh wrote in her DAR entry.
Her home was filled with woven furniture of all types, wicker, caning and woven chairs.
“I was raised by my grandmother and was taught the value of family, home and commitment to what you believe in. This rocking chair was grandma’s favorite chair, she was short and after the broken back had a severe curvature of the spine. This was the most comfortable chair for her,” Rashleigh said. “We would sit together for hours and she would tell me stories of our ancestors and of her life as a young woman.
“I saw the beautiful dress she wore during the Suffrage parades. I was shown the scar on her forehead when she was beaten by strike busters at her factory job. We looked at the identification pin that she wore and the aircraft identification books used as she watched for enemy planes from the roofs of local buildings. This old chair was special.”
The chair was brought back to Pemberville for a photo opp a few weeks ago, but Rashleigh has already passed it on, so it can be loved and nurtured by other family members.
“I also wanted the chair to have a good life in a home where there would be grandchildren to rock and love. When completed, I gifted it to my sister-in-law to rock and read to her grandchildren and to use as a favorite knitting chair.”
Rashleigh said a variety of arts were entered into the DAR contest.
“You could make dolls, paint, write a song or poem — anything that would be considered arts and crafts,” she said. “Each year it has a different theme. Since this year is the anniversary of women’s right to vote, the theme is Rise and Shine Your Light on the 19th Amendment.”
Rashleigh has been married to Rick for 43 years and they have two children; a son died in a vehicle accident in 1999. In addition to helping at the business, Rashleigh works at the ProMedica Pathology Laboratory in Toledo.
She’s making a place in history right now, too. Rashleigh is part of the COVID-19 antibody testing.
To join DAR, Rashleigh had to do some extensive research, to trace her lineage to the American Revolution.
“I had my husband’s line back to 1770 and my grandma’s line back to Poland and Switzerland, but I didn’t know much about my grandpa, who was her husband. He ran away from home and they didn’t talk about it much,” said Rashleigh, who called herself a genealogy nerd.
“Finally one day I came back, and more and more records are being published online. I happened to find his parents’ wedding license online. That opened up the floodgates.”
She’s been a member of DAR since 2012. The Ursula Wolcott - Black Swamp Chapter meets regularly in Maumee and has 51 members on the roster.
A June ceremony is planned for the DAR award for the chair, but Rashleigh doubts that will happen, with the coronavirus pandemic.
Rashleigh said that she has always been a crafter and started with the weaving when Rick opened the business. He does the furniture refinishing and replacing, and she handles the chair caning and weaving.
“I grew up surround by wicker and cane furnishings.”
It wasn’t until Rick’s Wood & Wire opened in 2001 and they started getting calls for the specialized work that Rashleigh took it up.
“I have a crafty background and just dove into it,” she said. “The seat weaving is what I do for relaxation and to help out the shop.”