The exhibit, Chairs: Antique and Unique, was on display during the Summer of 2010. An antique chair conference was attended by historians, craftsmen and interested community members. This online gallery presents a snapshots of the chairs, some antique and some unique, and each with a story to tell.
It is not generally known that before the 16th century, chairs were regarded as a symbol of authority. Even today, the word “chair” designates the head of a committee or department. Where did the common man sit in earlier days? He sat on benches, stools and low chests. But these were not decorated or upholstered and were fairly uncomfortable. Common to all chairs is that they have backs, while some have arms and others are upholstered for added comfort.
Early settlers were familiar with English Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture. They borrowed from these designs but developed their own in the New World. Typical woods were oak, pine, maple and cherry, joined with mortise-and-tenon or dovetailed joints. The Colonial slat back chair became a staple of American chair making, with 2, 3 or 4 slats across the back, a seat of rush or splint, and sometimes arms. Popular in the 17th century, the form endured for over two centuries and was adapted by the Shakers, too.
Another classic American chair is the Windsor. Originally adapted from English designs, Windsor chairs come in several styles: hoop, low, fan and comb. One version even boasts a writing arm and a small built-in drawer. It is sometimes called a “Schoolmarm’s Chair.” The Boston rocker is an adaptation of the Windsor chair, set on rockers and purely American in inspiration.
One of the most enduring chair types began in Connecticut in 1818. Yankee ingenuity prompted Lambert Hitchcock to introduce interchangeable parts to his chairs, making it possible to produce over 15,000 per year! The luminous black finish and artistic stenciling were his trademarks, and the style continues in production today.
We hope you enjoy our exhibit of Chairs: Antique and Unique. Perhaps you have a special chair of your own?