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Armchair, Banister Back

Origin: America, Virginia, Southside
OH:38 3/4" OW:20" SeatD:17 1/2"
Ash, white oak, and red cedar (all by microanalysis).
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1960-179
Appearance: Turned armchair with rectangular arms (taller side is vertically oriented) that extend past arm supports and terminate in a simple, stylized, uncarved volute that turns downward and back towards the rear posts; back consists of three flat rectangular rails with two spindle banks in between; single spindle bank below arm set into seat rails just above seat lists; splint seat on round lists (sides higher than front and back); rear posts taper 1/2" from bottom to top, and are plain turned with incised vergier marks, surmounted by a filleted and coved neck, a raised ring and a tall, vasiform finial; front posts are plain to seat and decoratively turned above, consisting of a central, flattened ball with addorsed tapered surrounds, the supports terminating below the arms in plain cylindrical shape that is narrower than the lower width of the legs; feet are turned in an inverted baluster shape; all stretchers mimic the arm support design, with a more attenuated ball in the center and tapered shoulders the terminate at the posts.

Construction: The crest rail and stay rails are joined to the posts with square tenons, the shoulders fo which are rounded to follow the curvature of the posts. The arms, seat lists, and stretchers use conventional post-and-hole construction.

Materials: Ash (front and rear posts, stretchers, seat lists, crest rail, stay rails, arms, and stay beneath right arm); white oak (splint seat and stay rail beneath left arm); red cedar (spindles); all by microanalysis.
Label:The arms on this elaborately spindled chair differ from those on many contemporary southern examples. Ranks of full-height arm spindles are common in New England, but the detail is rarely seen in the South where most chair makers either employed short, widely spaced arm spindles or left a large void. Microscopic analysis of the finish history on the chair confirms that the arms have always been configured as they are now; structural details strongly suggest that the arm spindles were added to the chair after the posts were turned but before the object was assembled. Perhaps the original owner of the chair requested the change during construction.

The chair exhibits design elements associated with French chair making. Its back features turned spindles set into rails that are square or rectangular in cross section. Although the same features were employed on French chairs, cradles, and other turned forms throughout the eighteenth century, they were not usually seen on British work until the 1790s. Thousands of French Huguenot refugees came to the South beginning in the late seventeenth century. Many eventually settled in the Tidewater Virginia counties of Norfolk and Nansemond, while others founded Manakin Town on the James River west of modern-day Richmond. A scattering of French cultural traditions, including chair making, were thus introduced into Virginia and survived for generations.

Research by the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) has identified several Virginia and North Carolina chair groups that may represent the work of Huguenot immigrants and their descendants. These include a series of armchairs made in Mecklenburg and Dinwiddie Counties in Virginia during the last half of the eighteenth century. The CWF armchair, which was found in Nansemond County, cannot be directly related to any known Virginia shop groups. Even so, its local history and clear ties to French chair making techniques suggest an origin in the Southside. This attribution is reinforced by the maker's use of decorated stretchers on all sides of the chair and the presence of ornamented feet on all four legs, approaches that were common on southern turned chairs but relatively rare elsewhere.
Provenance:The chair was acquired by CWF in 1960 from antiques dealer Joe Kindig, III. It carried an oral tradition of having been purchased by his father, Joe Kindig, Jr., in Suffolk, Nansemond Co., VA, in the 1920s.