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Easy chair, upholstered

1750-1775
Origin: America, Virginia, Eastern
OH: 45 3/4"; OW: 30 1/4"; OD: 30 1/2"
Black walnut and beech; linen, tacks, hair stuffing, corn husks, silk damask, wool, and cotton
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1988-433
Appearance: Easy chair with flat crest, rounded at corners, rounded wings sloping down from crest, horizontally rounded arms ending in scrolls with flat fronts, straight skirt undercut with flat arch, and cabriole legs (cut off before feet) with castors. Chair retains parts of at least seven upholstery campaigns from the original blue and cream silk damask, to red worsted and printed cottons.

Construction: The seat frame retains its original nailed-on diagonal braces. Knee blocks were applied to the face of the seat rails.

Label:This easy chair, which descended in the Tayloe family of "Mount Airy" in Richmond County, Virginia, is remarkable in that it retains 27 unique textiles on frame and cushion and remnants of 12 different show covers; some fixed and some loose covers. These can be peeled back like strata in an archaeological dig to reveal changing tastes from the mid eighteenth-century to the mid-twentieth. The chair's original finish upholstery was a costly silk blue and cream compound weave. Subsequent layers include a red wool and silk damask-like fabric, several nineteenth-century printed cottons, and even a Colonial Williamsburg reproduction stripe.

Eighteenth-century upholsterers sometimes chided one another about the materials they used for stuffing chairs and sofas. One London craftsman advertised that he used only high-quality horsehair; filled his chair seats with sweepings from the shop floor. Interestingly, the right arm and wing of the Tayloe chair was originally padded with pieces of a woman's worn-out petticoat; in the nineteenth century, as the chair became shabby and its legs were cut down, the arms were restuffed on the plantation, this time with corn shucks.
Provenance:The chair descended through the Tayloe family of Mount Airy plantation, Richmond County, Virginia.