Luke Beckerdite

American Furniture 1996 presents exciting new research on a wide variety of subjects. In their article on seventeenth-century joinery from Braintree, Massachusetts, Peter Follansbee and John D. Alexander attribute a remarkable group of carved furniture to the shop established by William Savell, Sr. Years of making furniture out of green wood have given the authors unique insights into seventeenth-century woodworking technology and enabled them to separate the products of the Savell shop from those of contemporary New England joiners. Deborah Dependahl Waters’s article “Is It Phyfe?” explores the continuing problem of differentiating the work of New York cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe from that of his early nineteenth-century competitors and from later copies and adaptations. The South Carolina Low Country was an important market for New York cabinetmakers during the early to mid-nineteenth century. In “Beautiful Specimens, Elegant Patterns: New York Furniture for the Charleston Market 1810–1840,” Maurie D. McInnis and Robert A. Leath show how New York artisans such as Phyfe, Charles Honoré Lannuier, and Deming & Bulkley marketed their wares in Charleston and how they accommodated wealthy patrons with a taste for the latest European fashions. Although previously unpublished, the furniture that the authors attribute to Deming & Bulkley ranks among the finest American work in the classical style.

Few American designers have attained the status of Louis Comfort Tiffany. His participation in the furniture reform movement is documented in Milo M. Naeve’s article on a unique suite of breakfast room furniture designed by Tiffany and made by New York cabinetmakers J. Matthew Meier and Ernest Hagen. Naeve’s analysis of this suite and contemporary articles encouraged by Tiffany sheds light on the designer’s artistic philosophy during this period. Reform designers admired the simplicity and practicality of earlier vernacular furniture, particularly seating forms. In “Frog Backs and Turkey Legs: The Nomenclature of Vernacular Seating Furniture, 1740–1850,” Nancy Goyne Evans explores the variety and vocabulary of vernacular seating. Because terminology changed over time and varied from one area to another, Evans’s study will be an invaluable reference for future researchers.

By showing alternative sources for rococo imagery, Richard Randall’s article “Designs for Philadelphia Carvers” builds on Morrison H. Heckscher’s “English Furniture Pattern Books in Eighteenth-Century America” in American Furniture 1994. Luke Beckerdite’s article on immigrant carvers and the development of the rococo style in New York also expands on earlier research by attributing several examples of architectural carving to an apprentice trained by Henry Hardcastle. Other articles in this volume challenge previous attributions. In “Boston and New York Leather Chairs: A Reappraisal,” Roger Gonzales and Daniel Putnam Brown contend that many of the early eighteenth-century leather chairs that curator Benno M. Forman and historian Neil D. Kamil attributed to New York were actually made in Boston. Similarly, Leigh Keno, Joan Barzilay Freund, and Alan Miller’s article, “The Very Pink of the Mode: Boston Georgian Chairs, Their Export, and Their Influence,” is a compelling argument for attributing to Boston an enormous body of seating furniture thought to have been made in New York and Newport. The authors tie several chairs directly to Boston carver John Welch and indirectly to merchant-upholsterer Samuel Grant, who purchased chair frames from members of the Perkins family and distributed them through a clientele network that included merchants, professionals, and ship captains in New York and Rhode Island. Their exhaustive research also reveals that Boston merchants and artisans like Grant dominated the coastal chair trade by “making style a commodity.”

American Furniture is all about new ideas and new ways of looking at furniture. Carey Howlett’s “Admitted into the Mysteries: The Benjamin Bucktrout Masonic Master’s Chair” shows how symbols connected Masons to ancient traditions and served as instructional devices that promoted Enlightenment ideals of tolerance and individual responsibility. In “The Rococo, the Grotto, and the Philadelphia High Chest,” Jonathan Prown and Richard Miller argue that contemporary interpretations of American rococo objects are more rooted in nineteenth- and twentieth-century perceptions of the world than in the cultural ideas that the style expressed. Prown and Miller urge the reader to “think rococo”—to see the Philadelphia high chest through the eyes and minds of educated eighteenth-century patrons.

In establishing American Furniture, the Chipstone Foundation sought to provide a forum for new research, to forge a link between American studies, social history, and the decorative arts, and to create a dialogue between academics, curators, conservators, collectors, and individuals in the trade. Response to the first three volumes has exceeded our expectations. Only a few copies of the 1993 and 1994 issues remain, and our last publication, comprised of papers presented at the symposium “Diversity and Innovation in American Regional Furniture,” has received very favorable reviews. The 1997 volume will include papers presented at “A Region of Regions: Cultural Diversity and the Furniture Trade in the Early South,” a symposium co-sponsored by the Chipstone Foundation and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and scheduled to be held November 13 to 16, 1997. For information on registration, please contact: Deborah Chapman, Program Manager, Williamsburg Institute, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, P. O. Box 1776, Williamsburg, Virginia 23187-1776.

American Furniture 1996