Editor’s Miscellany: Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture

By Kyle Hoepner

Joined chest, attributed to Thomas Dennis, probably Ipswich, Mass., 1670–1700, oak and white pine. Collection of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of John Templeman Coolidge. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

According to the website, “the topic may surprise you. Massachusetts brings to mind such diverse images as the Pilgrims or the Red Sox, John Adams or John Kennedy, the Big Dig or the Berkshires—but not furniture.” That may be true for the public at large, but I’d bet the news that the Bay State has been a hotbed of furniture creation since well before it even coalesced into a single colony would be much less novel for many readers of this blog.

Tea table, Boston, Mass., 1755–1765, mahogany and white pine. Collection of Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, bequest of Henry Francis du Pont. Photo courtesy of Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

What website am I talking about? Check out Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture, a more-than-year-long partnership of eleven institutions to celebrate the continuing legacy of furniture making in our fair state.

Sofa with cabinet work by Jonathan Peele Saunders and carving by Samuel Field McIntire, Salem, Mass., ca. 1815. Collection of Peabody Essex Museum, gift of Mrs. Robert Johnston. Photograph by Dennis Helmar, courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum

The complete list of participants includes The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Concord Museum, Fuller Craft Museum, Historic Deerfield, Historic New England, Massachusetts Historical Society, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, North Bennet Street School, Old Sturbridge Village, Peabody Essex Museum, and Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, and exhibitions are slated to run through December 2014.

Side chair by Heywood Brothers and Wakefield Company, Gardner, Mass., 1897–1905, rattan and printed velvet. Collection of Historic New England. Photo courtesy of Historic New England

For those new to the subject, the consortium’s website includes a visual timeline charting Massachusetts’s 400-year furniture tradition from early production in the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies through studio artisans working today.

“Arched and Animated” chair by Jay Stanger, 1994, dyed veneers and anodized aluminum. Collection of Fuller Craft Museum. Photo courtesy of Fuller Craft Museum

Several exhibitions are running at the moment, such as Boston Furniture at Winterthur (through October 6, if you’re up for a little jaunt down to Delaware); The Cabinetmaker and the Carver: Boston Furniture from Private Collections, running at Massachusetts Historical Society from October 4 through January 17; Furniture Masterworks: Tradition and Innovation in Western Massachusetts at Historic Deerfield from September 28 through December 31, 2014—not to mention several others, plus many more lectures, demonstrations, and gallery tours. See the online calendar for full details.

Sofa table, English (London), about 1810–20, calamander, satinwood, and rosewood, inlaid with brass, gilt-lacquered metal mounts; brass casters. Collection of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of Horace Wood Brock. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

(In a related vein, you might also be interested in a visit to the new Art of the English Regency Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which just opened this week. The only gallery of its kind at an American museum, according to the MFA, it houses a choice collection of furniture, clocks, bronzes, and lighting fixtures created in England from 1795 to 1830.)

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