Published online and in print by Denton Live on June 9, 2017
A manicured green lot cornered between two houses in a friendly, residential neighborhood holds a Denton treasure. Lining the fences of the bordering houses, hanging from the trees and scattered across the yard are dozens of chairs.
It’s not a big lot, but when you put your imagination to work, a patch of grass can hold your wildest dreams…if you’re dreaming of furniture.
About 275 chairs fill the lot: big chairs, small chairs, dining room chairs with tables, a Papa Bear chair complete with a stuffed bear family. Wheelchairs, high chairs, hammocks, benches, and toy chairs.
The entrance is marked with a tall metal chair arch. Past the entrance is a sight one might expect to see in Alice in Wonderland, a sight so fantastical that it could only live in a storybook. But this isn’t a story. This is Denton, home of the Chairy Orchard.
The Chairy Orchard is the project of Judy Smith and Ann Pearson, who own the houses on either side of the orchard. The pair of friends have owned the green flood plain between their homes for more than 40 years. When their children were growing up, they played in the space. Once the children were gone, the ladies repurposed the lot and the Chairy Orchard was born.
Ann got the idea to create a pocket park full of chairs after Judy spent years covering a single tree with small chairs and paintings, which Ann dubbed the Chairy Tree. Judy just calls it “art.”
The two neighbors set out with a goal to get as many chairs as they could to begin the Chairy Orchard. “We were like crazy women, looking for chairs,” Judy says.
The pair collects chairs from garage sales, thrift stores and from the side of the road to add to their marvelous collection. Since it’s become a Denton “thing,” people have started donating chairs.
A special part of the Chairy Orchard is the independence it gives visitors to be creative and enjoy themselves, freedom to move the chairs wherever they like during their visit. Some arrange the chairs in circles and bunches to have meetings.
“It’s almost as if they’ve been given the freedom to do something. Like it’s almost illegal or against the rules,” Judy laughs. “They can do anything they want with the chairs.”
One afternoon, while both Ann and Judy were in their homes, someone came by and moved every chair to the edge of the lot, leaving the middle empty. Judy now laughs at the prank, saying it gave them the opportunity to cut and rake the grass with the chairs out of the way.
Chairs have even randomly appeared at the orchard in the morning, dropped off in the middle of the night like a covert operation. Residents of Denton love the undercover nature of the Orchard. At other art galleries, there’s a look-don’t-touch policy, but not here.
The Chairy Orchard is a place to unwind. Children run around and play, trying out every chair. Adults adopt a child-like attitude, taking silly photos and relishing the reality of this wild idea.
A backdrop of chairs makes for interesting photos. The wacky, original scene attracts parties, photo shoots, Easter egg hunts and even weddings.
The Chairy Orchard is another wonderful Denton quirk, a creative expression found only in Denton.
“Each chair has its personality,” Judy says. “Because, to me, a chair is like a person.”