James Michael Gaynor

October 31, 1950July 31, 2014

Jay was Director of Historic Trades at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation at the time of his passing. He was one of the most caring people that you are likely to come across in life and was dearly loved by all family, friends and work colleagues. He had an insatiably enquiring mind and over his life, he developed probably the most comprehensive understanding that has ever been accomplished in the study of historic tools and trades. Perhaps the most singular thing about Jay was that he shared that knowledge so generously and freely with anyone who showed an interest, whether they be academics, working tradespeople or just interested amateurs or collectors. Not only was he hugely knowledgeable and willing to share, he was also immensely interested in whatever his colleagues and friends were doing, sustaining that level of interest throughout his career. Jay was born in Elkton, VA, on October 31, 1950. His parents, Michael (now deceased) and Frances Gaynor stayed in Elkton until 1957 when Jay’s father took up a job at the Woodrow Wilson Rehab Center in Fishersville, VA, and they moved there. They lived at the Center until 1959 when they moved to Waynesboro into a house his parents had built and where his mother still lives. He started school in Fishersville Elementary, moving on to Westwood Hills Elementary before going on to Kate Collins. He graduated from Waynesboro High School as Class Valedictorian. After two years at Davidson College, Davidson, NC, he entered William & Mary College in Williamsburg where he received his BA in History with Honors in 1973. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He spent time during the summers of 1971 and 1972 doing architectural research for the Ohio Historical Society at the historical sites of Ohio Village and Zoar Village and in 1973 he became Assistant Curator at Ohio Village and in 1975 was appointed Associate Curator of History. It was during this period that he became more specifically interested in historic tools and trades. In 1977 he was appointed Director of the High Point Museum, High Point, NC. In 1980 he and Joseph Hutchins formed the Jamestown Tool Company making high class English-style bronze woodworking planes. They only made around fifty of these beautifully-made tools all of which were finished to the highest degree with the exceptional attention to detail that was characteristic to Jay’s approach to anything he undertook. In 1981, he was appointed Curator of Mechanical Arts at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and left High Point for Williamsburg where he lived for the remainder of his life. During his time as Curator, he worked to improve the collection at the Museum. By studying specific tools and technology, he advanced a whole new way of looking at objects based on the way they were made and the tools used rather than the style. In 1994 he curated Colonial Williamsburg’s tremendously successful exhibit, “Tools, Working Wood in 18th Century America”, which ran from January 1994 through June 1995 in the DeWitt Wallace Gallery at Colonial Williamsburg which brought together the best of many collections from both America and Britain. He edited the publication “Eighteenth-Century Woodworking Tools”, a collection of the papers presented at the symposium that accompanied the exhibit when he brought together leading historic tool experts from England and America. He co-authored, with Nancy Hagedorn, the book “Tools, Working Wood in Eighteenth Century America” which gives a lasting record of the exhibit and is a seminal reference work for anyone interested in this field. In 2002 he was appointed Director of Historic Trades and a Consulting Curator for Mechanical Arts, responsible for all historic trade shops and tradespeople at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He carried out his duties with great thoroughness and care whilst also managing to be fun, caring and a wonderful friend to them all. To everyone who was associated with him in Colonial Williamsburg his passing is a huge loss that will leave an immense hole in their lives. As part of his duties he ran a number of symposia covering various trades, including the hugely popular Woodworking Symposium, held in January of each year. He has written and lectured extensively on historic tools and trades. He was a founding member of the Tools and Trades History Society in Britain. He served on the Board and was President of the Early American Industries, continuing to serve on various committees after his term. He has many interests besides the historical study of tools and trades including archery – he ran a tournament each year in Williamsburg – military history, particularly regarding World War II, amateur radio and model building. He took a huge interest in the activities of his nephews and the children and grandchildren of his friends and loved to spend time in England, pursuing the activities of many like-minded friends. When growing up in Waynesboro, he was an active member of the Westminster Presbyterian Church and after moving to Williamsburg was a member of the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church. He is survived by his mother, Frances, his brother, Walter, sister-in-law, Malina, nephews Clay, wife Becca and son Reed Gaynor of Washington, DC, Will Gaynor of Austin, TX, his beloved friend, Jane Rees of Wellow, England and many aunts, uncles and cousins. Two memorial services will be held, at Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, Richmond Road, Williamsburg, on Friday August 8 at 1.00 pm, and at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Mount Vernon Road, Waynesboro, on Saturday August 9 at 12 noon. A reception will be held after each service in the churches. Honorarium may be made to the Endowment Fund of the Early American Industries Association c/o Executive Director, PO Box 524, Hebron, MD 21830-0524, email: or the Williamsburg Salvation Army,


  • Memorial Service Friday, August 8, 2014
  • Memorial Service Saturday, August 9, 2014

James Michael Gaynor

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Art Peters

September 3, 2014

Many years ago as a neophyte woodworker, but 12 years his senior, I spent two years replicating the Williamsburg Masterwork's Coates Family side-chair. Frequent trips between Florida and Colonial Williamsburg were made while learning the requisite classical design and hand crafting skills. Each trip represented an interruption to a busy schedule that Jay graciously accepted with cheer and masterful guidance. I learned to love that guy and will never forget his kindness to this thankful friend. He is missed.

Suzanne Jacob

August 21, 2014

I just learned of Jay's passing. Though not a tool collector, per se, I got to know and enjoy Jay's intellect and knowledge of tools through the EAIA's Grants in Aid Committee. His calm demeanor as chair of the Grants in Aid Committee brought out the best in each one on the Committee. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and close friends.

August 13, 2014

I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Jay Gaynor. May he be well.

William Robertson

August 10, 2014

Jay will be so missed by so many. CWF & EAIA will just not be the same without him. I always cherished his comments about my work or the latest addition to my collection. I am so glad we spent some time together in May but so saddened to realize it was the last time after knowing him nearly 30 years. My thoughts are with Jane and his family.

Ginger Bryan

August 9, 2014

What a huge loss for CW as well as jays friends, coworkers, and family. He was an inspiration and a man who live bed sharing his love and knowledge of history.

Rodney Crawford

August 9, 2014

I haven't seen Jay since we were small children. My sister, Shay and I used to play with Jay and his little brother, Walty when they lived in Elkton. I often wondered what become of him, it comes as no surprise that he did quite well; as he came from a very nice family. My prayers go out to his family, especially his Mom. God Bless.

Debra and Tom (Thomas) Smith

August 9, 2014

I met and worked with Jay in the 1970's at the Ohio Village. When he moved to High Point I visited him there. He was always such a warm, welcoming, and delightful person! As the years went by we lost touch, but reconnected a few years back when someone put together a reunion of the Ohio Village. He traveled to Ohio for the reunion, and what fun we all had! When we came down to CW in Aug of 2011 Jay spent a delightful afternoon with us, showing us 'behind the scenes CW,' and sharing stories. We were in CW again this week, and planned to see Jay. How shocked and saddened we were to learn of his passing. He was truly a wonderful, warm, and funny man! He will be missed. Our condolences to Jay's family, and to Jane, who brought him such joy.

Jae White

August 9, 2014

Jane and Jay's family are in my heart and prayers. I enjoyed working with "the other Jay", his humor, generous spirit, genuine caring and vast knowledge will be deeply missed.

Freddie Cottrill

August 8, 2014

I was deeply saddened to learn of Jay's passing. He was always a ray of sunshine whenever we spoke to each other. He was truly a gentleman and a scholar. I admired him at his trade and he was always there when I needed him. I agree that he was definitely one of a kind. He will truly be missed. My deepest sympathy to his family, many friends and to Jane.

trish hough putnam

August 7, 2014

Jay was a dear friend to so many. We will all miss him sorely. My deepest sympathy to his loved ones.