Retired from their former life as teachers’ chairs, two wooden seats have found modest fame in their second life as art and literature props.
Artists and writers, journalists and actors with links to the city are probably very familiar with the two humble and unassuming seats that spend much of their time as admired accent pieces in Little Acorns Bookstore at Bedlam in Pump Street. However, the uninitiated might be surprised to know that the two seats have a secret life, appearing on stage in major drama productions, have made guest appearances on television, are sought after as conversation pieces on radio and are heavily into being abused with a permanent marker by the rich and famous as well as the common man... who deface their surfaces by autographing them. There are now over 130 autographs on both the Legenderry Writers’ Chair and the Theatre and Media Chair.
“I have had the two chairs in my possession for 10 years and when I first opened the book store they seemed perfect to come in as decor,” said proprietor Jenni Doherty.
“So many people have come in and asked me to sell them the chairs, but I have said no, they are just such a part of the fixtures and fittings of Little Acorns now,” she said of her prided possessions.
The first signatures on the chairs came about after a Field Day Theatre Company production back in 2012, when actor Stephen Rea and the rest of the team staged two plays in The Playhouse. It was around this time that one of the chairs debuted on stage - in fact it went on loan to the theatre company for two weeks, making its first appearance under the spotlight in ‘Farewell’ and ‘Half a Glass of Water’.
“Margo Harkin [film maker] supplied the very first marker and the actor and director Stephen Rea followed through, getting all the cast to sign the underside. So that was the very first signing,” said Jenni.
One missed opportunity to get a signature was when Sam Sheppard was in town, said Jenni, but she was up-beat again almost instantly, as she talked about how that chair, now called the ‘Theatre and Media Chair,’ made its debut on radio, being interviewed on Eileen Walsh’s show on Drive 105 on July 13 that year.
“I spoke on behalf of the chair, of course,” Jenni confides, laughing.
The second chair, is the Writers Chair, and it started being signed in December 2012 as part of Little Acorns ‘Authors Christmas Extravaganza’ that featured 15 authors reading from their new books back to back.
“Everybody got to sign a poster for that event and then everybody signed the chair,” Jenni recalled, adding: “I would say 99 percent of the people who have signed the chairs have signed them in the shop, but sometimes one of the chairs will go on a little road trip. The first one of those was to the First Derry Presbyterian Church on the Walls, where it met Melvyn Bragg, who was talked into signing it. Everyone else was queuing up to have books signed, but I stood in the queue with my chair and he signed it. He was such a darling.”
Giggling, she recalled how the chair’s next outing was the same year, when the chair was taken to Christ Church to see BBC 3’s Ian McMillan [The Verb] and Kevin Barry [author]. Jenni describes the event as “some of the best fun I have ever had with the chair”.
It transpired it was a live broadcast and the chair was the ‘ice-breaker’ with the audience. After that the chair became a ‘poster girl’ for BBC3 for a spell, as it was featured on the homepage for Radio 3 for some time afterwards.
Of course, a visit to Radio Foyle followed, where bemused staff were charmed and bowled over in equal measure. In the many months since the chairs have been repeatedly signed by famous local folk as well as international writers and stars, including Jon Ronson, formerly known for ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats. Jenni recalls the signing: “He had been at an event in Sandinos and we arranged to meet at Radio Foyle...”
There are no lengths to which the chairs will not go to collect an autograph, even blagging a signature from Jennifer Johnston the novelist before she headed off to Dublin, as Jenni recalled: “We went out to her house for tea and I sat on the chair while I was there...”
At this stage the Writers Chair must have over 80 signatures, while the Theatre and Media Chair is heavily defaced with the names of journalists, a small scattering of politicians, Mayors, television personalities and radio presenters, but one name that Jenni is really please to have added to the collection is that of the Late Mickey McGuinness,
“I feel privileged to have that. It is quite special to me to have his signature. It is great to have famous names, and I love the fact that they are mixed up with the names of people from the area who write for a living or who might have a new book coming out through Guildhall Press, and the fun part of that is they get to sign the chair too. It has become a wee tradition and I even have a special marker that is used and I have made it known that the marker is not to be used for anything other than signing the chairs.
“At this stage the Writers Chair is running out of space and we are now at the stage of signing the top of the chair as the base has been used,” she said.
If you dander into Little Acorns among the many names you will see are Oliver Jeffers, Tony Ross, the illustrator Ian Whybrow, Colette Bryce, Carol Ann Duffy, Jennifer Johnston and Nell McCafferty.
In addition to their famous inhabitants, Little Acorns Bookstore, sells both new and second-hand books covering all subjects and genres, as well as stationery and gifts, and in its spare time the little shop of literature also likes to masquerade as the world’s smallest typewriter museum, with over 30 typewriters.
Open Wednesday to Saturday from 11am to 5.30pm, there is a stock of 7,000 books peruse at your leisure once you have met the famous chairs and admired the quirky decor and, of course, the little shop is also online at www.facebook.com/LittleAcornsBookstore