95-Year Old Chairmaker from Royal Named an Arkansas Living Treasure

Update: Dallas Bump passed away in 2016. More about this inspiring artist can be found here. 

2013: The Arkansas Arts Council just sent an interesting news release about a 95-year old chairmaker from Royal who has been named an Arkansas Living Treasure by the council. Below are more details that they sent on this fourth generation artist. Enjoy!

Dallas Bump relaxes in one of the Bump Rockers he created. Bump still uses the same patterns and designs that were used more than 100 years ago by his father, Fred Bump. The rocker bases or “runners” of the Bump Rockers are cut on a radius that allows the chairs to rock with very little effort while supporting the back and shoulders.

At age 95, Dallas Bump, a chairmaker from Royal, doesn’t have time to sit. He’s too busy making sure that others can sit in his legendary, hand-crafted rocking chairs. The Arkansas Arts Council has named Bump the 2013 Arkansas Living Treasure and will honor him at a reception from 5-7 p.m., Thursday, May 16, at Smokin’ In Style BBQ on 2278 Albert Pike Road in Hot Springs. The reception, sponsored by the Arkansas Arts Council and the Department of Arkansas Heritage, is free and open to the public.

Now in its 12th year, the Arkansas Living Treasure program recognizes an Arkansan who excels in the creation of a traditional craft and who actively preserves and advances his or her craft through community outreach and educating others. A distinguished panel of practicing craft artists and community leaders selects the recipient based on the quality of work, community outreach and total contribution to the field of traditional crafts.

A fourth generation artist, Bump has been making chairs for 75 years. The ancient art of chairmaking was passed down from his ancestors who trace their lineage from France. As a young boy, Bump apprenticed under his father, Fred Bump, who learned the trade from his father, Philander Bump. Philander came to the United States from Canada and opened the chair shop with his father-in-law, Wiley Rouse, in 1870 in the community of Bear, Ark., where it still operates today.

Bump runs the Bear Chair Shop with his nephew Leon Sutton, whom he has trained for six years. The shop is a rustic barn where Bump uses many of the 100-year-old tools, patterns and equipment that his father used.

Dallas Bump bores holes in the wood using a boring machine made by his father, Fred Bump, in the 1800s.

Sutton selects and cuts the trees, mostly red and white oak, and dries the wood in a kiln. He and Bump turn each piece by hand using a hand-turning lathe and they assemble the chairs one at a time using a unique method that involves no glue or bolts. 

“The side rungs are kiln dried. The posts are half dried so they won’t crack. We half dry the frame. Then we drive them together and they shrink down to make the lock. After about two days, you can barely take a chair apart,” Bump explained. Sutton’s wife, Donna, weaves the seats with white oak strips. She learned how to weave from Bump and his late wife, Amelia.

The most popular of his chairs is known as the Bump Rocker, which is made of red oak and white oak strips for the seat. The Bump Rocker comes in two basic sizes: one for the average size person and an extra-large version known as the “John Lewis,” which will seat up to 350 pounds. Bump also creates rockers for children, stools and a double-seated rocker known as the “Love Seat.” 

His customers come from all over the United States, including such notables as former president Bill Clinton and Governor Mike Beebe. He has exhibited his chairs at festivals throughout Arkansas and the Smithsonian Center for Folk Life and Heritage. He has been featured on Good Morning America and in Southern Living, as well as many local media outlets.

“Making chairs is just something the family has always done,” Bump said. “I still enjoy working at it. There’s always something different and always something new to learn. I don’t know when I’m going to quit. The best advice I’ve ever received is to find something you like and stay with it.”