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Kilt-Wearing Bridgeport Woodworker Makes Thrones and Custom Furniture

By Casey Cora | March 27, 2014 8:57am | Updated on March 27, 2014 9:09am
 The kilt-clad woodworker specializes in carving custom furniture.
Bridgeport Throne
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BRIDGEPORT — Most of Hal Link's clients pay him to design and build smaller works of furniture, things like benches and tables and custom chairs.

But every few years, the Bridgeport woodworker catches some serious jobs — his exquisite cabinetry creations have been delivered to a ritzy Downtown penthouse and an enormous buffet was installed in a home he designed in New Mexico.

Last year, fate came knocking in the form of a north suburban woman with a penchant for period furniture who asked him to build a throne.

Challenge accepted.

His Boender Throne, a somewhat-faithful recreation of the coronation chair commissioned by King Edward in the 13th century, took roughly a year to complete.

Made of smooth black walnut, the throne has custom touches from top to bottom and is accented by ornamental, hand-carved griffins, gilded gold leaf and a handsome foot stool.

"It's about 80 percent accurate" to the original, which was last used in the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, Link said.

Although the showcase throne is already sold, Link said he'd be happy to make a new one. The cost? About $40,000.

In a lot of ways, the yearlong process to build the throne was the ultimate project for Link, whose name is Gary but who goes by Hal, which he said was a slimmed-down version of Halldoor the Red Bear, the name Gary picked in the Society for Creative Anachronism to honor his Scandinavian roots.

A bearded, burly man almost always dressed in a kilt — "mostly for comfort ... I haven't worn pants in over 11 years" — Link is equal parts Medieval scholar, art historian, engineer, architect and teacher.

"Hal's an imposing presence in the room," said fellow woodworker and Chicago Furniture Design Association board member Matt Seiler. "He’s one of those rare guys who’s really embraced the spirit of the kinds of esthetics that he builds ... He lives it. It's really a total immersion. I wouldn't be surprised if he were just an old soul who hailed from the time of King Henry II."

Link's career as a Renaissance man began within the laboratories at Indiana University, where he dropped out just shy of completing his degree in art history on account of his dyslexia, which prevented him from passing one of the intensive writing tests required to graduate.

But he stuck around the college, working in the mechanical shop of the school's psychology department, building things like human-sized mazes and living quarters for squirrel monkeys, all part of the university's research experiments.

After hours, he tinkered with the Gothic and Medieval designs in his head and started to build them.

A passion was ignited.

"For me, the hand-eye coordination and looking at something and learning how to build it is a natural for me. To compensate [for the dyslexia] I've built a visual way of doing things," he said.

Another woodworking pal, Bill First, credited Link's attention to detail and obsession with historical accuracy.

"This isn't your common weekend warrior stuff. He does very complicated work. He designs and creates it. His carvings are unbelievable," First said.

After to moving to Chicago in 1997, Link began working in a Hyde Park workshop then moved into studio space at the old Spice Factory warehouse on Cermak Road.

At one point, he changed the name of his business, "Jactance," a French term that's sort of a defiant middle-finger to naysayers, to Halldoor Woodworking.

Today, Halldoor is a thriving one-man business and Link, who resides in East Village, is among the longest tenured artists at the Bridgeport Art Center, 1200 W. 35th St.

Link, 49, hopes to soon take on interns and also begin teaching courses, starting with an upcoming free beginner's session at Third Fridays, the monthly open house event at the art center.

"I'd love to teach people how to find something better than IKEA," he said.