The dear mother of Miss Manners, who originally named her daughter Judith Martin, advised her that when sailing across the Atlantic, she should travel first or third class, but never in the mediocre middle. As Judith explains, “In first class, in those days, you had luxury; in third class, you had fun. This is the proper distribution of the world’s blessings. In second class, you had neither.” Remember the movie Titanic, which didn’t even bother to show the people in the middle? We saw the rich having cocktails and the poor having a dance to music they made for themselves.
Finances here at the museum sometimes make me feel like one of those people riding in third class, also known as steerage. I produce exhibits and carry out repairs on a shoestring. It can be pretty fun to come up with creative ways to do things on a low budget, like when I made an exhibit on trash out of, well, our old junk. Nevertheless, I was happy to move on up to the middle class when some generous foundation funding allowed us a more comfortable budget for the creating the new Browder Springs Hall. No more bargain basement for us.
I was enjoying our newfound modest wealth, until it came time to choose chairs in which the public could sit while attending events at the hall. Our requirements were not modest. We needed comfort, sturdiness and good looks, preferably historic in nature. They had to stack or fold for convenience. They had to resist the outrages of children painting and adults drinking wine. And they had to cost no more than $125 each.
I don’t know if you have shopped for stacking chairs lately, but that price point falls in a sort of donut hole of the stacking chair market. There are $50 chairs out there that will have your audience squirming in pain after ten minutes. The chairs will then collapse just as the board of directors sits down. High-end makers like Knoll offer chairs that are works of art to behold, in which one could relax all day. If we had $500 to spend on each chair, we would get those and be first-class all the way.
So we wondered. Are we the only ones enjoying middling financial status combined with high expectations for audience comfort? There is a small industry devoted to such buyers, the makers of church chairs. It seems many churches have a voracious need for seating. These upholstered chairs can be locked into rows for services, or rearranged for other activities. Perhaps that invisible second class on the Titanic was actually quite full of people, all sitting comfortably on church chairs.
So we contacted the good people at churchchair.com in Rome, Georgia. A sample chair has arrived and we take turns sitting in it. Our staff fortunately includes a wide range of heights and widths. From large men to short women, we all approve. As you can see, even staff members from the rodent control department have tested the chair and declared it comfortable. It is not flashy or avant-garde, but it is sturdy and comfortable, and what more could the contented middle class like us want?