AUBURN, Maine — For years, Aaron Moser wanted to see his family’s furniture decorate a presidential library.
He’d come close. Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers did some work for the Ronald Reagan library in California, though it wasn’t big — mostly public benches, public seating and occasional furniture. The Auburn company hand-crafted a podium for President Bill Clinton during his presidency. And when President George W. Bush welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to the White House in 2008, the men sat in Thos. Moser’s signature Harpswell chairs.
But the 40-year-old company’s custom tables, chairs and desks had never filled a presidential library.
Thos. Moser furniture — all hand-crafted from American black cherry wood — graces the new George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. About 60 pieces, including chairs, benches and desks, decorate spaces throughout the center.
Not only that, but when presidents and their wives attended Thursday’s dedication ceremony, where did they sit? On stage, on Thos. Moser’s Harpswell chairs.
“When I turned on the TV, they were setting up the stage,” Moser said. “Our PR people, nobody believed me, so I had to take a little YouTube video to say, ‘No, really, they’re using our chairs on stage.’ It was very exciting to see.”
Founded in 1972 by Moser’s parents, Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers has become known for its handcrafted high-end and custom furniture. It has about 130 employees, 100 of them in Maine. Sixty-five are furniture makers.
Moser first tried to get his furniture into the George H.W. Bush library about 16 years ago. But it takes years to develop such a large project, he said, and he started the process too late.
He wouldn’t make that mistake again. Moser’s had his eye on the George W. Bush library since the younger Bush was still in the White House.
About 10 years ago, he met first lady Laura Bush at a social function. It turned out she was already a Thos. Moser fan.
“She was a librarian,” Moser said. “A lot of people don’t know this, but Thos. Moser has been doing libraries for 30 years.”
The company gained more attention in 2008 when its chairs were used during a White House visit with Pope Benedict XVI.
When the George W. Bush library opportunity presented itself a couple of years ago, Moser jumped at the chance.
He and his team began working with library designers about a year and a half ago. Many of the pieces were custom-designed, with input from the center’s decorators. But the center also ordered 20 Harpswell chairs, a Thos. Moser speciality.
It took a core team of 10 people six months to handcraft the furniture, including the 20 chairs, 15 research desks, 12 benches, eight conference-room tables and a large proctor’s desk.
The pieces cost about $200,000.
Originally, the library’s designers wanted pecan wood from Texas, but it was difficult to find. And the pecan Moser could get was typically used for veneer.
“You’re not going to make a chair out of veneer,” he said.
Instead, the company went with American black cherry from the Allegheny Plateau of western Pennsylvania. Although Thos. Moser usually uses natural oils on its wood, the Bush Center’s furniture was stained to match the building’s wall panels.
Moser and a partner installed the furniture in January. He called the experience “humbling.”
“The building interior is just — I was in awe,” he said. “It wasn’t flashy. You didn’t get the sense that they over-spent. What you did see was that there was a sense of minimalism and incredible execution, quality at every step.”
The company has posted pictures of the pieces on its website, though Moser said he has not yet been allowed to post photos of the furniture inside the center.
Although Thos. Moser doesn’t plan to reproduce the Bush Center furniture as a regular part of its line, it will replicate it as custom pieces for buyers.
“We hope to build them again,” Moser said.
Since the installation and dedication, several people have asked Moser whether Thos. Moser’s involvement in the Bush library was political. Not in any way, he said.
“If President (Barack) Obama wants us to furnish his library,” he said, “we’d love to do it.”