How can you tell if something is of high quality? Does it depend on what the thing is that you’re evaluating? Are there quality-indicators that are transcendent? These are some of the things I found myself thinking about after a visit to George’s Furniture in Marietta, PA today. We are visiting Lancaster County for a couple of days on a quest to find a few factory tours and whatever else seems interesting.
When we arrived at George’s Furniture, Anthony met us and welcomed us. He explained that he was one of the furniture-makers, and that he would be happy to show us around.
The first part of the tour is their showroom where they have several dining room sets and lots of smaller pieces on display. Among other things, we saw cherry, walnut, and oak tables, chairs and hutches. The finishes were as smooth as silk, and the grains were beautiful. Anthony explained that the cherry was almost exclusively Pennsylvania-grown.
When he showed us the inside of a drawer on a hutch, that’s when I realized that we were in the presence of something special. This drawer was made of hardwood inside and out. Ordinarily, the insides of drawers are made of the cheapest material, because they are never seen. Once the furniture is in use, the drawers are filled, and the construction material is hidden. In this case, the insides of the drawers were at least as beautiful as the outside. As if to emphasize the uniqueness of this construction feature, the furniture-maker had put his signature above the company’s imprint. (I’m not 100% sure of this, but I think it was Anthony’s signature on this piece.)
During the rest of our tour we learned about George Martin, the founder of the company. George is no longer alive, but his values, creativity and vision were present everywhere.
In the workshop we saw a well-organized, clean environment where every scrap is turned into something useful. Even the smallest chunks of wood are recovered and collected, to be used in heating the building in a burner something like a pellet stove.
While I had at first thought that this was just a small, local furniture craftsman, I soon realized that they ship their furniture all over the country. Six furniture craftsmen are currently employed. The fact that they deal directly with the final customer rather than through dealerships apparently allows them to offer their products at affordable prices. (We didn’t discuss prices, because we aren’t currently in the market for any furniture.)
By the time we left we realized that we had just experienced a taste of something extraordinary.
So, what constitutes “quality?” People have been pondering that question for as long as people have been thinking. It is what my students will recognize as an Essential Question. Good teaching centers on the consideration of Essential Questions. They aren’t meant to be answered and disposed of. They are meant to provoke inquiry, wonder, and amazement. They are meant to be the fuel for good education