Sunday, September 7, 2014


The simple corner chair sits before a white background ready to be photographed for our catalog.  It is a study of stark contrast, of wood turned ebony black from three hundred fifty years of oxidation.  Simple turnings with unassuming lines, pragmatic, humble, Spartan.  This beautiful simplicity was crafted in seventeenth century New England by a believer, created by a man who saw man's need for decoration as the sin of pride, decadence or simply unimportant when compared to his belief in god.  What he achieved is a masterpiece of understated design and straightforward utility.

Age has been kind to this simple chair.  It has survived hundreds of frigid New England Winters and stifling hot Summers, voracious insects, accidents, children, moves, poor attempts at preservation, even the late twentieth century mania of "restoration".  It is a survivor and remains a testament to another age.  The passage of time has worked gentle changes upon its honest frame.  The expansion and contraction of the wood has made its geometry wonderfully imperfect.  The top rail leans precipitously to the left, it sits a bit off kilter, the stretcher is uneven and the turnings are no longer spherical.  But it is a survivor!

This chair was created in the primitive woodworking shop of a colonial joiner or cabinet maker in the second half of the Pilgrim Century.  It is a contemporary of those courageous souls who risked all to build a new Jerusalem on the American shore.  It likely sat at a desk, its occupant busily writing or studying by candle light.  Could it have borne silent witness to the pursuits of an examiner at the Salem witch trials? Perhaps a Minister crafted his most inspiring sermon, or might it's owner have rested heavily in it after weeks in field fighting Indians?

This work of art would have been out of style by the early 18th Century.  American furniture began to adopt the refined lines and curved legs of the "Queen Anne" style.  Maple and Walnut were the preferred wood then, the turnings were executed in ring and vase design.  A Spanish foot would replace a simple straight leg.  More fashionable pieces may have relegated this simple chair to a back room or quiet corner.

This chair would have been a relic of another age by the time of the American Revolution.  It may have been viewed as a curiosity and was kept no doubt for nostalgic family attachment.  At the close of the 18th Century, American cabinet makers were building masterpieces.  Workshops turned out highly carved pieces with beautiful proportions bringing the English Chippendale style to American homes in exotic Mahogany.   

By the 19th Century the corner chair had run its course.  There have been many reproductions of early styles, but no innovation or original design for any broad market. By the second half of this century, furniture would become mass-produced and machine made.  It would devolve into a mix of many styles, with no clear form.

This  remarkable chair is a  survivor.  I wonder at how many examples of Pilgrim century furniture exist Today.  A rare opportunity is at hand, you could be the next chapter in the story of this simple chair, what will the twenty first century hold for it? Please join us and it on the eighth of November for the Mayflower society auction.  Until then I'll see you at the auction.