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10.5: New World Furniture and Crafts (18th Century)

  • Page ID
    46314
  • The demand for beautiful furniture in the 18th century created a new class of artisans. These skilled craftsmen became experienced cabinet makers constructing fine furniture for the plantation manors to small items for local households. The abundant natural resources provided numerous types of wood, oak, mahogany, cherry, white pine, birch, walnut, and hickory. Early tools, axes, chisels, mallets, saws, and planes were easily packed and brought with the craftsmen on their journey across the ocean. A four-drawer chest created in the 18th century would take a cabinet maker about eight days if they worked 12-hour days. Later, the industrial revolution began the age of automation, reducing the overall time to make furniture; however, the quality was not the same as handmade pieces.

    John Townsend (1733–1809) was one of the paramount eighteenth-century American craftsmen, born in Newport, Rhode Island, into a family of Quaker cabinetmakers. The Quakers were a traditional religious society of friends living in upstate New York and known for their impressive furniture building talents. Townsend introduced a line of furniture named Newport Case (10.21) or the block and shell. The block front desks and chests, with solid wood drawer fronts, were popular in Boston. Townsend added shell motifs for a dramatic focus and eventually evolved to a concave and convex alternating pattern on the front of the drawers. The key features of the block and shell still can be seen in furniture today.

    Townsend chest
    10.21 Townsend chest

    Charles Lannuier (1779-1819) was a French-born American cabinetmaker who lived in New York City. His work is classified as Neoclassical or French Antique because of the ornately carved legs and unusual motifs. Lannuier used architectural motifs found in ancient Greek and Roman art, including laurel wreaths, stars, columns, pediments, and winged figures. He used different types of wood, like mahogany, giving the furniture a beautiful colored appearance. Lannuier was known for his sideboards, dining tables and chairs, and game tables (10.22) for the living room.

    RedRoomGueridon.jpg
    10.22 Game table
    Tambour dressing table
    10.23 Tambour dressing table

    Duncan Phyfe (1768-1854) was a Scottish immigrant to New York in the late 18th century. A poor immigrant, Phyfe, never created a new style of furniture, but he did interpret fashionable styles from Europe as interpreted in the Tambour dressing table (10.23), incorporating the designs into Neoclassicism style in America. Phyfe furniture was characterized as having superior proportions, symmetry, and balance, as demonstrated in the green striped sofa in the Green Room at the White House (10.24). As the 19th century was underway, he was a well-known furniture designer.

    Barack Obama in the Green Room next to a striped D. Phyfe sofa, ca 1810-15, Mahogany, cherry, pine, gilt brass, and modern upholstery
    10.24 Barack Obama in the Green Room next to a striped D. Phyfe sofa, ca 1810-15, Mahogany, cherry, pine, gilt brass, and modern upholstery

    Benjamin Randolph (1721-1791) was another American cabinetmaker specializing in Queen Anne and the Philadelphia Chippendale styles of furniture. Randolph is credited with making the portable writing desk (10.25). Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on one of Randolph's portable desks stating, "It was made from a drawing of my own, by Ben. Randall [sic] a cabinetmaker in whose house I took my first lodgings on my arrival in Philadelphia in May 1776. And I have used it ever since."

     Portable writing desk
    10.25 Portable writing desk
    Service ware
    10.26 Serviceware

    Paul Revere (1734-1818) was one of America's most famous silversmiths. Before the Revolutionary War, Revere produced handmade, exquisite silver products which he sold in his dry goods store. He produced flatware, especially spoons, tableware, and service ware (10.26). His days as a silver artesian were short-lived, and after the war, Revere turned to the massive production of iron, opening a foundry in Boston. He began mass-producing church bells, copper pans, cannons, and became known for his rolled copper. Even though the factory was set up for standardization and production, two cannons were rarely the same. The cannons were molded for shape and then handcrafted in the final steps to produce a customized product.

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