I have just returned from Winterthur Museum, where I gave a few demonstrations of the seventeenth-century style woodworking I practice, as part of a furniture forum surrounding their new exhibition Harbor and Home. When Winterthur told me I could have some pieces from the collection in the room where I was demonstrating, I knew right off that one would be this cupboard door in the study collection.
This piece is the first one Jennie Alexander showed me years ago, that eventually got me hooked on work of this period. Alexander studied this door in great detail, with a succession of curators at Winterthur, where its pins had been removed to explore the joinery details. Ultimately Alexander & I published an article on this group, for Chipstone’s American Furniture in 1996.
The door is a part of a well-defined group of surviving furniture from Braintree, Massachusetts, circa 1640-1700. I thought I would dig out some pictures to look at three versions of this carved pattern, showing the succession of three joiners’ work.
The cupboard door we attributed to William Savell, Sr., who emigrated from Saffron Walden in Essex, to New England by 1637 or so. William Savell was born in the late 1590s, and died in Braintree in 1669. He had several sons; John born 1642, Samuel, b. 1643; Benjamin, b. 1645 and last, William born 1652. John and William became joiners, their father’s will stipulates that William is to live as an apprentice with his brother John. William was only 17 years old when the elder William died in 1669.
The second group consists of work we attribute to John Savell. A tradesman’s working career is generally considered to start at age 21, thus John Savell spans about 1663 to his death in 1687. These are my favorite versions of this pattern; featuring the graceful curves seen in the previous work, with slightly more details; although some of the details are more simplified than the work we assign to his father.
Several chests survive that we have assigned to William Savell’s son William. His carving is different than his brother’s; one explanation is that he did not train long, if at all, under his father. Thus he is one step further removed from the strongest link to the English tradition that the elder William transferred to New England. (sorry for the garish photo, naturally that chest is here at the house, thus I have never really worked at getting good photos of it…)
The article is online at www.chipstone.org go to “publications” then – American Furniture – 1996 – Follansbee & Alexander.