[Diocese of Atlanta] A ministry of love by artist John Seigel was recognized July 30 as Seigel and his husband John Tempelton carried the 1,000th chair he had hand painted and given away down the aisle during the offertory.
The Rev. Sam Buice, priest-in-charge at St. James Episcopal Church in Clayton, Georgia, said that when he had visited Seigel and his husband before the service to talk about the chairs, Seigel pulled out seven albums containing pictures of each of the 1,000 chairs given over the past 25 years. Seigel said the conversation reminded him of how his journey of compassion began.
“What I realized while we were talking was that my first chairs went to my grandchildren, but the first chair I donated was to a seven-year-old boy whose family had lost everything in a fire, “ Seigel said during an interview with Diocesan News.
And his chairs have brightened the lives of children ever since.
During the service parishioner Ginny Heckle talked about meeting a young woman who worked at a local physical therapy practice. As Heckle told the PT assistant about the church service celebrating the 1000th “Happy Chair,” the woman exclaimed, “I have a “Happy Chair!”
Seigel said the young woman and her two siblings received the chairs as children from their Court Appointed Special Advocate. They were Seigel’s 76th, 77th and 78th chairs.
After the service, Seigel took his book of chair pictures to the PT office and talked with the young lady. “It was wonderful to meet one of the recipients of my chairs and know that they had some meaning to them,” Seigel said.
Seigel said St. James has been a very big part of his and his husband’s lives for probably 18 years. “We were the first same sex couple to apply for a marriage license in Rabun County and were married at St. James in 2015,” Seigel said. “The church was full, and the ladies of the church gave a reception for us afterwards.”
Siegel started painting “Happy Chairs” as second birthday gifts for his grandchildren. Each small rocker had the grandchild’s name painted on it.
Eventually, Seigel said, he ran out of grandchildren but enjoyed painting the chairs so much, he decided to keep painting them for other children. Each chair has either been given to a child in need, sold to raise funds for a charity, or given to individuals who wanted to give a gift to a special child in their life.
Each chair is painted with a combination of 22 colors. No two chairs are exactly alike. The majority have the name of the child painted on the chair.
Chairs have gone to nonprofit organizations including Path to Shine, CASA, Habitat for Humanity, the Clayton Senior Center, Atlanta’s Cathedral Towers, three retirement homes in Clayton, a Clayton domestic violence program, Head Start & Pre-First, and to Indian Springs elementary school and Friends of Refugees – both in Clarkston, Georgia.
In 2020 he painted his 800th chair. It was an adult-size chair to be auctioned at St. James to benefit Our Little Roses Orphanage (OLR) in Honduras, which the parish has supported for many years. When the bidding got to $1,000 by two separate individuals, John said he would paint a second chair. The bidding ended, having raised $2,000 for OLR. A parishioner, so inspired by this outcome, donated another $1,000.
In the Spring of 2022, having by then painted 900 chairs, Seigel decided the next 10 chairs would be available for purchase for $195.00 to support kids caught up in the Ukraine war. St. James invited parishioners and friends to purchase a chair. All ten chairs were sold. A couple of the chairs were sold twice. All the funds raised were sent to a charity helping Ukrainian children.
This July Seigel completed his 1,000th chair. It already has a home at Paws4Life in Clayton.
And Seigel is not stopping. A school in Clarkston wants 29 chairs. He has painted three so far, only 26 to go.