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Writing-Arm Chair

Origin: America, Kentucky, Lexington or Georgetown
OH: 45 1/4"; OW: 38"; OD: 32 7/8"
Eastern white pine and various hardwoods, iron, and paint
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1981.2000.2
Painted writing-arm chair with rosewood graining. Back composed of two rounded stiles with fronts flattened about one third of the way up to top of stile, shaped horizontal crest rail between stiles outlined in yellow and painted with grapes and grape leaves above a slat of four horizontal bars each separated by three golden oval balls and decorated with a yellow wavy line, over a rectangular horizontal slat, outlined in yellow with a yellow stripe across the center with a dark wavy feather type motif, above four banisters, yellow outlined arrow shaped at top above three gilded rings over a rounded section at base. Proper left arm scrolled at arm terminal with applied roundels on either side of scroll, supported by one rounded with three rings at center and one baluster shaped arm support. Proper right arm composed of a shaped writing surface supported by three rounded supports, one with turned three rings at center. Rounded rectangular seat with extension at proper right side to support writing surface, incised line around back of seat in front of banisters. Four turned legs, rear legs with bamboo-style shaping, front legs with gilded rings and rounded sections. Front rectangular stretcher painted with yellow stripe across center with dark wavy feather type motif. Two rounded side stretchers. One rear stretcher with turned ball at center.
Label:Newton Franklin Smith of Cynthiana in north central Kentucky owned this fancy-painted writing chair in the 19th century. Its turnings closely relate to those on a labeled 1821 chair by William Gaunt of nearby Georgetown. Gaunt, in turn, trained under and, for a time, worked with chairmaker William Challen of Lexington, also nearby. One of the two men likely made this chair.

English by birth and training, Challen arrived in New York in 1797. In 1809, he advertised that “he has commenced the FANCY CHAIR making business” in Lexington. During the early years of the 19th century, the rapid inland migration of European artisans such as Challen ensured that furniture fashions were transmitted to Kentucky and other Backcountry states while they were still current along the Atlantic coast and in Europe.
Provenance:Prof. Newton Franklin Smith, Cynthiana, KY.; to his daughter, Mary Smith Hood, Lexington, KY.; Thompson and Riley, Ltd., Lexington, KY.; Boultinghouse & Hall, Lexington, KY.; Robert E. Arnold, Alexandria, VA.; Boultinghouse & Hall, Lexington, KY.; David and Susan Cunningham, Denver, PA.; Milly McGehee, Dallas, TX.