the “other” New England furniture of the seventeenth century

Readers of this blog will be quite familiar with the oak furniture that I have made over the years, based on English & New England examples. These feature lots of carved decoration, along with some integral moldings, sometimes enhanced with paint as well. Like this:

joined & carved chest, 2010
joined & carved chest, 2010

Happening at the same time as this style is the “applied molding” style – for lack of a better term. Here in New England these are pretty common – many years ago I co-authored with Bob Trent and Alan Miller an article about a series of large joined cupboards in this style, http://www.chipstone.org/framesetAFintro.html These cupboards, made in northern Essex County, Massachusetts in the 1680s or so, were really some of the most involved constructions. Many feature jettied overhangs like timber buildings of the period. they have some carved work, but the bulk of their decoration is applied turnings and moldings. Here’s a plain one from this group – from the MFA, Boston

Essex County cupboard
Essex County cupboard

And this really amazing one from the Massachusetts Historical Society – look at the effect of the moldings on the door in the upper case.

Essex County cupboard, MHS
Essex County cupboard, MHS

I think we ended up with 13 cupboards or so. Numerous chests of drawers and chests with drawers were made by the same shop(s) – and some tables, etc.

Similar, but simpler examples were found made in Salem, Massachusetts and down in Plymouth Colony (later a county of Massachusetts, 1692). Here’s the best Salem cupboard:

Salem cupboard
Salem cupboard

and a typical Plymouth chest with drawers. These are distinctive because they use two narrow side-by-side drawers. Everyone else used full-width drawers mostly.

Plymouth Colony chest with 2 drawers
Plymouth Colony chest with 2 drawers

But by far the most articulate and finely executed versions were the works we now associate with 17th-c Boston. In 2010 Trent & I published an article that really for me only touches on what’s going on in Boston then…but it’s a start. Here’s a Boston chest from Chipstone’s collection.

Boston chest w false drawer
Boston chest w false drawer

And the cream of the crop – the chest of drawers with doors at Yale:

chest of drawers with doors
chest of drawers with doors

I keep thinking that making this stuff is so much more work than carving – on a carved chest, you make 30-40 pieces of wood, carve them, then fit them together. On one of these applied molding/turning jobs, you make the 30-40 bits that form the carcass – then make a slew more of other woods, and cut & piece them together. Maybe hundreds once you have them cut to bits…

Over the years I have built a few pieces in this manner; a Plymouth style chest with drawers back in 1995, then copies of the Pope family cabinet in the early part of this century.

PF version Pope family cabinet
PF version Pope family cabinet

I built a made-up version of a chest of drawers when my wife & I got married in 2003.

chest of drawers, 2003
PF chest of drawers, 2003

I’m fast at carving, but pretty slow at this stuff. So now my goal is to do enough of this so I can get quicker. That’s how it works. So I’m hoping we’ll see me making more work like this in the coming months…

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5 thoughts on “the “other” New England furniture of the seventeenth century

  1. Peter ,these are amazing pieces, and I could only hope some day I could make these. But here in the Hudson Valley, I’m trying to determine what the 17th century Dutch style of chest was like, and I have not identified any so far. The Dutch Kas is the most distinguished and readily identified, so where are the smaller Dutch chests from this period?

    • Rick,

      Funny you mention this topic. Ive been researching Chesapeake region furniture of the era and the Dutch had a significant influence here. The question remains, were Dutch craftsman working here….and if so, in a Dutch or English style…or were Dutch traders merely exporting stuff from England?

      cheers
      -Drew

  2. Peter,
    Are the turnings that are split in half and “attached”, are they truly split in half? I saw in some other pieces that you had a center piece (white wood) glued in the middle when you where popping off the bosses. Same idea here for these turnings on the chests?
    Dustin.

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