Building on fond memories from playing chess as a child, a burgeoning local woodworker has found a new way to connect with the game
Stephanie Fan and her brother learned chess from their grandfather at a very young age, with an eye not just on the game but also on the prize.
He promised to give us a pony if we could beat him, so we tried really hard to learn the game, she recalled.
They never got a pony, but those special times, and a love of games in general, helped inspire Fan to return to the game as an adult in a new way crafting her own chess sets.
Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Fan worked in the food and beverage industry for nearly a decade before moving to Lexington in 2015. Ive always loved working with my hands, she said. After we moved and I stopped working, I needed something to fill that creative void. After watching a video on YouTube, she decided to give woodworking a go.
I bought a table saw specifically to make a chess set, said Fan, who had always wanted one of her own after growing up with the game. My early attempts were terrible, she admitted, but after several redesigns, and some help from her fellow creators at Kre8Now Makerspace, where she rents studio space, she landed on the winning design: a solid wood chess board with resin inlay and storage for the pieces underneath.
Over the past five years, she has crafted wall clocks, cutting boards and other wooden games, like peg solitaire and topographic puzzles, selling the handmade pieces in her Etsy shop, Atlas & Lily, which is named after her son and daughter. The chess sets, however, are the bread-and-butter of her business, especially since the surge in popularity of The Queens Gambit on Netflix last fall.
I definitely think the show bringing chess to the forefront and the media saying good luck finding chess sets this Christmas has helped my business, she said. I sold out before Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and again before Christmas.
Her geometric chess pieces fit together perfectly in a nesting design inspired by a similar set crafted by designer and modern art aficionado Lanier Graham in the 1960s.
The design and function of the pieces are very much tied together, Fan explained. The rook has straight edges because it moves in a straight line; the bishop has diagonal walls because it moves diagonally; and the knight is L-shaped because it makes L-shaped movements.
The boards themselves are made from regional hardwoods, like walnut, cherry and maple, with Fan sourcing the lumber from a sawmill in Indiana.
I have no interest in using exotic wood because I dont want to ship a piece across the country or the ocean, she explained. There are such beautiful things to use here.
She has even salvaged wood around town from fallen trees that would have otherwise gone into a chipper.
In addition to sourcing her materials in a sustainable way, Fan is committed to offsetting her usage of them. As a small-business partner with the National Forest Foundation, she donates a tree for every sale she makes, and shes currently looking for a charitable partner to help balance out her resin usage.
New chess sets and other wood goods get listed in her Etsy shop, but since she can do a lot of different colors with the resin, Fan likes to work directly with her local customers to bring their custom visions to life. She encourages people to message her on Instagram (@atlas.lily), send her an email or request a custom order through Etsy if they have something particular in mind.
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