The Sisterhood of the Traveling Fish Chair
A funky furnishing with a backstory sparks a week these women will never forget.
Last Labor Day, 30-year-old Emily DelFavero was enjoying a rare day off from her job as an auto mechanic. She was puttering around her house in Syracuse, New York, when she paused to check her Facebook feed. To DelFavero’s delight, there was a new post from one of her favorite Facebook groups, Weird (and Wonderful) Secondhand Finds That Just Need To Be Shared.
The latest find, spotted at a shop in Baltimore by Thea Lenna, was a chair beyond compare, and when DelFavero saw it, she just about fell out of hers. It had pastel polka dots along its frame, bright stripes on the seat cushion, and, as its back, two giant fish carved out of wood. She recognized it right away.
This was the hand-painted handiwork of well-known designer Victoria MacKenzie-Childs. More relevant, it was the image inked onto DelFavero’s own right calf. On a whim, she had gotten a tattoo of this exact chair nearly two years earlier, based on a dollhouse version of it that caught her eye at the MacKenzie-Childs studio in Aurora, New York, near DelFavero’s childhood home. “I stood in front of that dollhouse for 40 minutes,” she says. DelFavero didn’t know that the little chair she had gotten tattooed also came in a full-size version until she saw the picture on Facebook.
DelFavero felt this coincidence was too mind-bending to keep to herself, so she posted a picture of her tattoo to the group. Within moments, the Facebook page was in a frenzy. Many of the women felt this was a sign. DelFavero needed to have that chair. Several of them took it a step further and started a new Facebook group, From Baltimore to Emily D., to make a plan to get it to her—even though the chair cost $700.
Group members started pooling their money. In less than 48 hours, they had more than enough, which raised the question of what to do with the surplus. And this is where the fish chair took on an almost mystical aura.
As they traded messages and got to know each other, the women realized they had more in common than just their passion for funky furniture. “All of us had experience with domestic violence,” says DelFavero, who, as a teenager, followed her mom out of the house when she left an abusive boyfriend. “The National Domestic Violence Hotline helped us get back on our feet,” DelFavero says. She suggested donating the excess funds to this organization, and the others readily agreed.
DelFavero is quick to point out that she has sweet memories of her childhood too. Emblazoning a crazy chair on her leg actually was a way to reclaim that history. “It reminded me of the happy times,” she says. “We had MacKenzie-Childs pieces in my house growing up. My mom was a collector.” DelFavero remembers eating dinner off colorful plates shaped like fish and lilting in the light of a brightly painted lamp. It was those recollections that left her mesmerized in front of the dollhouse—and now inspired strangers to bring her the chair’s full-size version.
With the donation made and the chair paid for, the only remaining matter was getting it across the distance “from Baltimore to Emily D,” more than 300 miles. Some volunteered to transport it while others mapped out the route into equal parts.
Jen Garrard led things off. She picked up the chair in Baltimore and drove it to Meredith Skyy, who brought it to Maryann Wetzig. As fate would have it, the exit Skyy had to take for the exchange also took her to the cemetery where her grandmother had been buried just months earlier. Because of the pandemic, her family couldn’t hold a service. Skyy told Wetzig she was making a detour.
Wetzig’s mother was buried at the same cemetery—yet another connection she had with a woman she hadn’t known just days prior. When Skyy gave Wetzig the chair, Wetzig had something to give Skyy: flowers. “For your grandmother,” she said. From there, Wetzig brought the chair to Jacqueline Sergent, who drove it to Rhae Blumer, who took it to Cyndy Buiniskis, who delivered it to Sarah Edwards.
Edwards’s trek to Syracuse was the last of the seven legs of the fish chair’s journey. It had gone from sold to Syracuse in just one week.
As Edwards presented DelFavero with the chair, the two laughed and celebrated, but they also shed a few tears. “I was drawn to your story,” Edwards told DelFavero, “because your mom’s story was not my mom’s story.” Edwards lost her mother to domestic violence. Being part of this effort, she said, “gave me something that I needed, and I didn’t know I needed it.”
None of these women knew each other before the sighting of the chair in that Baltimore shop. Today, they talk regularly. DelFavero, Lenna, all seven drivers, and the four women who mapped out the route now refer to themselves collectively as The Fellowship of the Fish Chair.
“At first, I couldn’t believe that all these women wanted to come together for what seems so silly,” DelFavero says. “But now it makes sense. Knowing them, of course, they’re the kind of people who would do this.”
As for the chair, it has become her “guitar throne.” DelFavero started playing at 13, but as she got older she didn’t practice as much as she once did. “This chair gave me a reason to sit down and play every night,” she says. Sometimes she films her strumming sessions and shares the videos with the rest of the fellowship. “It really is a gift,” she says. “This chair has changed my life.”