Over the years I have been very fortunate to have access to lots of original examples of 17th-century furniture to study & learn from. Museums & collectors have been very gracious with their time & collections so I could get an education.
Last week I revisited for the umpteenth time the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT. Among other things, this museum is home to the furniture collection assembled in the early 20th century by Wallace Nutting. Nutting worked a lot of his furniture over; and had a mentality and approach that is easy to criticize from 90 years’ perspective. Regardless of where one stands on the Wallace Nutting situation, the collection has some great stuff in it.
One piece is this long joined table – it’s the piece I went to see. Here is a lousy overall of it.
The top is by some thought to be new; Nutting’s book says it’s the old top, removed, replaned and now screwed onto the frame…I couldn’t decide one way or the other – but didn’t spend too much time worrying about it either. All the framing is riven; and the top is two flatsawn oak boards joined together. It might be that we expect the top boards to also be riven, quartered stock; but at 7 feet long, it’s just beyond the limits of practical working lengths for riving boards. Some square tables from the period have riven boards making up the tops, but these are less than 4′ long usually. One’s at Wadsworth.
Here is the carving that runs along one long apron.
and some of the details of the turned work -
I noted the scribed line struck across the squared section – at first I thought it marked the location for the mortise the brackets fit into -
but then I found similar marks on the lower end of the stiles. I think this scribe line marks the spot where the craftsman started turning the square-to-round transition. So this becomes one of those tiny details that always help with my work in the shop. I won’t scribe every turning this way now, but sometimes I will, knowing that it’s “period-correct” in at least one case.
I have a mental & somewhat photographic collection of these small technique/habit tidbits from period joiners. This is the kind of detail that’s hard to get without access to the original artifacts. That’s why I always try to include these sort of shots on the blog – because I know it’s not really feasible for the curators to let all of the woodworkers traipse around these collections, wreaking havoc wherever we go…
Most of the American furniture collection is in storage these days, as the museum works on a huge expansion project. I got to stroll the aisles and saw some old favorites while I was there.
This Thomas Dennis chest is Nutting’s books, but it was not part of the Nutting collection. It belonged to one of the Hartford collectors – Goodwin, I think. The lid is new, early 20th-c.
First thing I noticed this time with this chest is the very slight set-back for the panel grooves – the panels are only recessed a minimal amount; it seems the stock is riven quite thin, so Dennis adjusted how much he set the groove back from the face of the framing.
We opened the chest up & the inside face of the chest’s rear section has moldings decorating it, a nice touch. Doesn’t take much time to add this sort of stuff, and it makes things look snappy…
The rear outside is barely worked at all with a plane. Many riven surfaces; virtually nothing flat back there at all.
And then the Thurston/Houghton stuff from Dedham & Medfield, Massachusetts. To me, these chests are always charming in their simplicity.
A little bit of carving, basic framing & some scratch moldings. This one has been painted in the last few decades to mimic an old painted surface – a related one in a private collection had backgrounds painted w lampblack pigment, and the surfaces worked with either logwood or brazil wood dyes. ..so bright red with black behind. Another thing to try at some point.
As in most of the Dedham chests, this one has scribed lines to mark out the joinery right across the framing…
A great many thanks to Alyce Englund for her time & attention.