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Clark Pearce, Catherine Ebert, and Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley
From Apprentice to Master: The Life and Career of Philadelphia Cabinetmaker George G. Wright

American Furniture 2007

Full Article
Contents
  • Figure 1
    Figure 1

    George G. Wright, sideboard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1811. White pine with yellow poplar. H. 29 1/2", W. 73", D. 23 1/4". (Courtesy, Philadelphia Museum of Art; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The sideboard’s kidney shape is similar to that of contemporary mahogany examples from Philadelphia. This example sat on top of a baseboard and would have been several inches higher than it stands presently. The associated panel was probably installed in the wall above a mirror surmounting the sideboard. 

  • Figure 2
    Figure 2

    Detail of John A. Paxton’s, This New Map of the City of Philadelphia for the use of Firemen and others, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ca. 1816. Engraving on paper. 13 7/8" x 24 1/8". (Courtesy, American Philosophical Society.) George Wright’s shop locations are designated chronologically as 1–3. John Aitken’s shop locations are designated chronologically as A and B, and Joseph Barry’s as C–E. The box area shows where the French émigré community settled. 

  • Figure 3
    Figure 3

    Detail of the inscription on the sideboard illustrated in fig. 1. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 4
    Figure 4

    A. C. Kern, The Waln House—S. E. Cor. Chestnut & Seventh ST., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1847. Watercolor and ink wash on paper. 11" x 15 1/2". (Courtesy, Library Company of Philadelphia.) 

  • Figure 5
    Figure 5

    Side chair designed by B. Henry Latrobe, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ca. 1808. Yellow poplar, oak, maple, and white pine; painted, gessoed, and gilded ornament. H. 34 1/2", W. 19 3/4", D. 19 1/2". (Courtesy, Philadelphia Museum of Art.) 

  • Figure 6
    Figure 6

    Pier table designed by B. Henry Latrobe, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ca. 1808. Yellow poplar and white pine; painted, gessoed, and gilded ornament; silvered glass, pot metal, and yellow cut velvet. H. 41 1/2", W. 66", D. 23". (Courtesy, Philadelphia Museum of Art.) The backboard is inscribed “Thos: Wetherill.” His uncle Samuel Wetherill was a paint manufacturer patronized by Latrobe and Bridport. 

  • Figure 7
    Figure 7

    Card table designed by B. Henry Latrobe, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ca. 1808. Yellow poplar, maple, and white pine; painted, gessoed, and gilded ornament. H. 29 1/2", W. 36", D. 17 7/8". (Courtesy, Kaufman Americana Collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) This table is one of a pair. They are among the earliest American examples with swivel mechanisms for their tops. 

  • Figure 8
    Figure 8

    Pier table made under George Wright’s supervision by Joseph B. Barry & Son, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1810–1813. Mahogany and satinwood, mahogany and burl veneers with poplar; gilt bronze mounts and cast brass moldings. H. 38 5/8", W. 53 7/8", D. 23 7/8". (Courtesy, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum Purchase 1976; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) Like the pier table illustrated in fig. 6, this example was made without feet. This architectonic detail amplified the mass of both objects. Wright may have done everything but the carving.

  • Figure 9
    Figure 9

    Detail of George Wright’s initials on the pier table illustrated in fig. 8. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 10
    Figure 10

    Detail of George Wright’s inscription “Jos B. Barry & Son” on the pier table illustrated in fig. 8. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 11
    Figure 11

    Design for a pier table illustrated on pl. 10, no. 2 in Pierre de La Mésangère. Collection de Meubles et Objets de Goût (1802). (Courtesy, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1930 [30.80.1]. Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

  • Figure 12
    Figure 12

    Detail of the carving on the pier table illustrated in fig. 8. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 13
    Figure 13

    Design for a frieze or tablet illustrated on pl. 36 in Thomas Sheraton’s The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book (1791). (Courtesy, Philadelphia Museum of Art.)

  • Figure 14
    Figure 14

    Detail of the label on the pier table illustrated in fig. 8. Barry’s shop was located at 132 South Second Street in 1804 and 1805. (William Macpherson Hornor Jr., Blue Book Philadelphia Furniture [Philadelphia: By the author, 1935], pl. 432.)

  • Figure 15
    Figure 15

    George G. Wright, card table, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1813. Satinwood and satinwood, birch, and burl veneers with mahogany and white pine. H. 30", W. 38 1/4", D. 20 1/8". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) On a mechanical card table the two rear legs are hinged to swing back simultaneously as the leaf supports rotate out, thereby supporting the table as its center of gravity shifts owing to the top opening. An iron rod running through the pillar is attached to a series of pivoting iron bars housed in a box underneath the top of the table and to iron straps on the underside of the legs. This structure is found on both rear pillars of this table.

  • Figure 16
    Figure 16

    Detail of George Wright’s initials and the date 1813 cut into the underside of the card table illustrated in fig. 15. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 17
    Figure 17

    Michael Allison, card table, New York City, ca. 1810. Mahogany with unidentified secondary woods. (From the Collections of the Henry Ford Museum.) This table is one of a pair representing the only documented New York examples of the “mechanical” form known.

  • Figure 18
    Figure 18

    Detail of the plinth of the card table illustrated in fig. 15. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 19
    Figure 19

    Detail of the apron construction of the card table illustrated in fig. 15. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 20
    Figure 20

    Detail of the rear rail and mechanical system of the card table illustrated in fig. 15. The mechanism box is made of mahogany and beveled on three sides. The paired struts forming the short sides are half-dovetailed into the front rails. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 21
    Figure 21

    Detail of the top of the card table illustrated in fig. 15. When veneering tops in this pattern, Wright always used an odd number of rays to ensure symmetry and to have one segment centered at the front. The underside of the fly leaves and the tops of the stationary leaves of these tables are veneered with single flitches of what appears to be birch. The edges of the tops are crossbanded with the same wavy satinwood used in the rays. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 22
    Figure 22

    George G. Wright, breakfast table, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1813. Satinwood and satinwood, mahogany, birch, and burl veneers with mahogany, white pine and yellow pine. H. 30", W. 36 1/4", D. 18". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 23
    Figure 23

    Detail of the crossbanding under the drawers of the breakfast table illustrated in fig. 22. The underside of the apron is tooth-planed beneath the strips housing the crossbanding. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 24
    Figure 24

    Card table attributed to George G. Wright, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1813–1815. Mahogany and mahogany veneer with white pine and oak. H. 29 5/8", W. 36", D. 18". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 25
    Figure 25

    Card table attributed to George G. Wright, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1813–1817. Mahogany and mahogany veneer with unidentified secondary woods. H. 28 1/2", W. 37", depth not recorded. (Courtesy, Photo Archives, National Gallery of Art.) The table descended in the Biddle, Priestley, and Lyon families of Philadelphia. 

  • Figure 26
    Figure 26

    Card table attributed to George G. Wright, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1815–1817. Mahogany and mahogany veneer with white pine and white cedar. H. 30", W. 35 3/4", D. 19 1/4". (Courtesy, Winterthur Museum.) The secondary surfaces of this table are covered with a red wash, or “pinking.” Several similar tables attributed to Wright are known. A pair made for Robert and Elizabeth Barnhill of Philadelphia (Sewell C. Biggs Museum of American Art) have playing surfaces covered in broadcloth and edged with mahogany veneer. The Journeyman Cabinet and Chair Makers’ Pennsylvania Book of Prices (1811) referred to that edge treatment as “lipping the top for cloth.” Another card table differs primarily in the execution of its carving (Northeast Auctions, The Charles V. Swain Collection of Pewter, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, February 24, 2007, lot 849). 

  • Figure 27
    Figure 27

    Detail of the playing surface of the card table illustrated in fig. 26. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 28
    Figure 28

    Detail of the lower edge of the apron of the card table illustrated in fig. 26. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 29
    Figure 29

    Detail of the plinth construction of the card table illustrated in fig. 26. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 30
    Figure 30

    Card table attributed to George G. Wright, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1815–1817. Mahogany and mahogany veneers with white pine. H. 30", W. 35 3/4", D. 18 1/2". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) This table is one of a pair.

  • Figure 31
    Figure 31

    Detail of the apron construction of the card table illustrated in fig. 30. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The underside is tooth-planed, indicating that it originally had strips of contrasting wood.

  • Figure 32
    Figure 32

    Robert McGuffin, card table, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1807. Satinwood and satinwood, mahogany, and rosewood veneers with white pine and oak. H. 29 1/2", W. 35 5/8", D. 18". (Courtesy, Kaufman Americana Collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) McGuffin was a journeyman in Henry Connelly’s shop when he made this table. It is one of a pair. 

  • Figure 33
    Figure 33

    Detail of the top of the card table illustrated in fig. 32. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)