Sunday, October 27, 2013

Boston Furniture Workshop: Day One

This Saturday I got up at 4 am to head out on the road down to Haverhill, MA for Historic New England’s Boston Furniture Workshop. This was day one of the two day event based on the last Winterthur Furniture Forum. (Day two is next Saturday.) After a brief welcome by curator Nancy Carlisle, we were the recipients of a wonderful talk by Gerald W. R. Ward, curator at MFA Boston, titled “Pigeon Holes and Patriots: A Case Study of the Desk in Eighteenth - Century Boston”. Gerry discussed the importance of organization in desks and the role it played in New England society in the 1700s. He explained that the pigeonhole’s primary role was as a business organizing tool. He then compared this to containers and compartments for organizing important documents and keepsakes both prior to and following this period even up to the development of today’s digital storage devices.

The second presentation was of the collaborative efforts of conservator Christine Thomson and curator Tara Cederholm in researching “Japanners in Early Eighteenth-Century Boston”. Chris and Tara have been traveling to most of the 51 extant examples of period “japanned” furniture. Their goals have been to investigate for attribution purposes as well as to better understand the craft practice and techniques. During the course of their research, they’ve created a database of photos of figures and details from the surviving surfaces. I’m looking forward to hearing the result of their further research on the topic.

Robert Mussey discussing Seymour's work

After lunch, Robert Mussey and Clark Pierce gave presentations on the “Boston Regency” style, the work of Thomas Seymour, and Seymour’s influence in the shop of Isaac Vose. These presentations, designed to be presented together, were captivating. Mussey argues that there was a style present in Boston between 1808 and 1817 which was neither Federal nor Classical (Empire). This style was a sort of hybrid between the two which had features similar to English Regency pieces. Mussey and Pierce’s work the past few years has given them an understanding of the stylistic distinctives of Seymour as well as a few construction clues that can be used to confirm attribution. They showed us a unique Seymour chair joint where the rear seat rail tenons into the stiles and they used a Seymour chair from the Historic New England collection to illustrate it.

Mussey and Clark examining a Seymour chair

The last presentation of the day began with a plea to relinquish our “eighteenth-century biases” and learn to appreciate the high quality work of 19th century Boston manufactured furniture from the John Ellis and A. H. Davenport furniture companies. Nancy Carlisle gave us some background on the design sources and manufacturing methods of the companies. She saw the the high level of workmanship as well the ability of the firms to cater to a diverse clientele’s demands as the keys to the success of the businesses.

For each presentation we were able to view objects in the collection which were discussed by the speakers. This in-the-flesh time was invaluable for crystallizing the content of the talks. I look forward to next week’s presentations: Brock Jobe, Peter Follansbee, and more. Oh my. I can hardly wait. If you haven’t registered and would like to attend, check here for availability: Boston Furniture Workshops.

The Historic New England Haverhill facility at 151 Essex st.

The MA and ME "Patina" plates.

For dinner, I was able to meet up with my dear friend Bruce Hamilton and his wonderful wife Renee. It was a treat to visit, commune, and dine before I headed back up I-95 to Maine. Home by midnight, I slept soundly.


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