February 26, 2014 —
LIBERTY, NY — On a rural back road in Liberty there exists an unseen world.
Pull into the car park, turn off your engine, walk up a snowy path and step through a door. Now you’re standing amidst ranks of state-of-the-art workout equipment. This is the Flextime personal training studio. The place is world-class. You might have walked in from a street in mid-town Manhattan.
I interviewed John Roziak in an outbuilding across from the gym. We sat facing an industrial treadle sewing machine, vintage 1873. This machine was built to last. It’s motorized now, and Roziak uses it in his work, reupholstering furniture. Another machine stands next to it, one that stitches vinyl. “Upholstery picked me,” he says.
Roziak has been upholstering furniture for 40 years. As a young man with a new wife and a baby on the way he answered a newspaper want ad and began apprenticing at Muller’s, a local upholsterer. Apprenticeship is a lost way of life, Roziak tells me. “Almost slave labor,” he said. “But I learned from a master upholsterer. That doesn’t happen anymore.”
When he was skilled enough he began taking jobs on the side. He had the few tools he needed: spit tacks, a tack hammer, a sewing machine. “All you need,” he said. “You don’t need anything fancy. Nowadays people go to school, get a diploma, buy a lot of equipment. But the crafting isn’t there.”
After he worked for Muller’s, Roziak went into business on his own. He reupholstered for The Concord Hotel. Then Kenny Saltzman found him.
Saltzman owned Memories, the antique place on Route 17, one of the biggest collections of European antiques on the East Coast. Saltzman bought antique furniture by the crate, shipped to him from all over the world.
In the process of reupholstering chairs and couches for Saltzman, 50 to 60 a week, he learned about and studied the antique market. And, by dismantling the work of the upholsterers of times gone by, the workmanship of the masters he’d never meet, his understanding of the craft deepened.
“There are layers and layers that you have to peel back. Thousands of staples and tacks that have to come out. They had something we don’t have any more. They had time.” Sometimes he found pieces of paper tucked into a fold of fabric, a signature of the artisan of another time, another place, whose work he was taking apart.
Once Roziak reupholstered an emperor’s chair, made 2,600 years ago. He dismantled it, ivory tack by ivory tack. It was priced at $37,000. He’s never forgotten its crafting, its layers of old silks.
“Instant gratification,” he tells me. “You take something old, something that looks like nothing, and you restore its beauty—it’s new again.”
Pieces that once stood in the great houses of Europe, Asia, cast away over time, through Roziak’s crafting, have found new life.
Next to the two sewing machines there is a potter’s wheel. Roziak studied pottery. He is an artist. A beekeeper. And with a great awe and respect for nature, he’s also a body builder. Across the driveway at the gym, Roziak and his wife offer classes and personal physical training. He is passionate about the body’s capacity to restore itself, to heal. “We have everything we need—it’s built in.”
Roziak learned this personally at 12 years old, when his knee was shattered. He was bike riding and was hit by a truck. He was left badly injured.
There were no gyms then. No physical therapists. The consciousness of health and healing was still 25 years in the future. “All this grew from Jack La Lanne,” he tells me now. But John Roziak was a fortunate 12-year-old. Andrew Neiderman, an English teacher in Fallsburg, where Roziak went to school, had a gym set up. Through weight lifting and exercise he helped Roziak rehabilitate his knee. Within a year he was riding his bike again. Deeply impressed, his interest in the body’s capacity to heal itself took root.
On the walls of the gym are photos of body builders. Arnold Schwarzenegger is there, and Lou Ferrigno, The Amazing Hulk. These are people Roziak knows. There are also pictures of John’s wife Kelly, a professional, competitive body builder. The Roziaks also manufacture Flextime clocks, modeled after barbell weights and marketed internationally.
Roziak, it should come as no surprise, also restores cars. Restoration is his passion, the thing that animates him. He’s a man who lives in thrall to the blooming of new life where none seemed possible.
Check out the website www.rosiaksupholstery.com , or to reach the Roziaks by phone, call 845/436-7884.