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Masonic Warden's chair

ca. 1800
Origin: Great Britain
OH: 56" OW: 25 3/8" OD: 23 1/4"
Mahogany, beech, and lightwood inlays.
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1992-87
Appearance: Ceremonial armchair in the neoclassic style; vertically extended, shield-shaped back with larger urn-form splat and inlaid Masonic symbols; acanthus-carved arm supports; turned front legs; upholstered over the rail.

Construction: The crest rail, which is surmounted at the center by a small carved floral laminate, is mortised to receive the tenoned stiles and splat. Similar joinery connects the laminated middle back rail and the top of the lower splat. The bottom of the lower splat is triple-tenoned into open mortises on the rabbeted rear seat rail and each of the tenons is further secured with a screw. The seat rails are tenoned into the legs, and the front joints are further secured with diagonal braces and vertical glue blocks. Both arms are tenoned into the roundels on the rear stiles and screwed from behind, the holes filled by wooden plugs. The width of the roundels results from laminations on the outer edges of the stiles. The arms are tenoned into the arm supports. Instead of having squared shoulders, the upper part of the arm supports are rabbeted to receive the arms, and the upper shoulders are angled. The lower part of the arm supports are tenoned into the tops of the front legs and further supported with wooden filler strips at the rear. All of the inlaid decoration on the chair is set directly into the solid splats.

Materials: Mahogany crest rail, stiles, legs, splats, arms, arm supports, and rear seat-rail veneers; beech seat rails, diagonal braces, and glue blocks; lightwood inlays.
Label:This highly unusual British ceremonial chair and its mate, now privately owned, were imported into Charleston, South Carolina, about 1800 and apparently were first owned by Union Kilwinning Lodge 4, one of several Masonic lodges that operated concurrently in the city during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The chairs were used in conjunction with a late colonial Charleston-made Master's chair now at the Musuem of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA acc. 2023-6) and likely provided seating for the junior and senior wardens, officers who sat on either side of the master during meetings.

Local artisans often supplied ceremonial chairs and other objects used by southern fraternal, governmental, and religious bodies. Some organizations preferred to order British goods instead. For instance, the government of South Carolina ordered a silver mace from London for use in the new statehouse at Charleston in 1756. Decisions to import ceremonial goods were often made because of the South's deeply rooted cultural and economic ties to Britain, ties that proved remarkably durable in areas such as the Low Country. The present Masonic chair was imported long after America had won political independence from Britain and despite the fact that early national Charleston supported a substantial and highly sophisticated cabinetmaking community quite capable of making such articles. At present it is impossible to know whether the chair is of English or Scottish origin.

This chair is different from most early Masonic chairs because its form is unusual and it exhibits relatively little Masonic imagery. In fact, the chair is essentially an exaggerated neoclassical armchair with an oversized shield-shaped back and a few subtle inlaid representations of Masonic tools, including a plumb level just below the crest rail and an arch at the base of the splat. Arranged between these and suspended from a late rococo bowknot are images of a trowel, a stonemason's chisel, and what appears to be a setting maul, the sand-filled leather hammer used to knock stones into position. As with the other ceremonial seating, the chair's great height is intended to reinforce the sitter's elevated status within the fraternal hierarchy.
Provenance:Although English, this chair has a long tradition of use in a Charleston, South Carolina, masonic Lodge (Kilwinning Masonic Lodge).
Inscription(s):A small brass plate on the underside of the rear seat rail reads "Union Kilwinning Lodge No. 4. A..F..M."