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Windsor Side Chair

Origin: America, Virginia, Richmond
OH: 32 1/2" OW:16 1/2"OD:15 1/2" H(seat): 15 1/2"
Maple, oak, and tulip poplar.
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1990-154,1
Appearance: Fan-back Windsor side chair; plain eared crest rail; baluster-turned stiles; plain back spindles; shaped seat; baluster-turned legs; turned, H-plan stretchers; early but not original black-green paint.

Construction: Typical round-tenon construction is used on the chair. Both the legs and stiles penetrate the seat. The legs are wedged at the upper ends and some appear to be double wedged. Both the stiles and the central spindle are pinned with cut nails where they join the crest rail.

Materials: Maple legs, stretchers, and crest rail; oak spindles and stiles; tulip poplar seat.
Label:Richmond, Virginia, was one of the few southern cities that eventually supported a substantial Windsor chair industry. At least a dozen documented makers were at work there between 1790 and 1820, among them Robert (d. 1823) and Andrew (d. 1805) McKim (also M'Kim), the makers of this labeled fan-back side chair and its mate. Partners from 1795 to 1805, the McKim brothers ran a prolific chairmaking operation, and surviving records suggest that they became relatively wealthy in the process. Evidence of their prosperity first appeared in 1797, when the McKims had amassed sufficient capital to build a large brick tenement next to their chair shop. Robert occupied one of the apartments in the new building. The rest were leased to other artisans and businessmen, thus generating additional income.

Like many southern Windsor chairs, those from the McKim shop closely resemble Philadelphia models, which were still being shipped to the South in quantity at the end of the eighteenth century. The McKims' leg and spindle profiles and their use of cut nails for pinning the stiles and central spindles to the crest rails echo Philadelphia practices exactly. William Pointer (w. 1796-1808) and other prominent Richmond Windsor makers followed northern prototypes to a similar degree. This abundance of Philadelphia technology is not surprising given the number of Windsor makers who moved from that city to the South during the early national period. Michael Murphy (d. 1804) is a typical example. In 1799, Murphy closed his Philadelphia shop, which had been listed in city directories since 1793, and relocated to Norfolk where he advertised the opening of a new "Windsor Chair Manufactory." Over time, men like Murphy ensured the survival of Philadelphia chair-making traditions in eastern Virginia by passing their skills on to local apprentices wherever they moved.

As did large shops in northern urban centers, the McKims' Richmond operation supplied a wide range of other turning needs. For instance, Robert made the balusters for the stair at John Marshall's new Richmond house in 1789. The McKims fabricated a variety of rollers, cogs, and pulleys for the water-powered machinery at Richmond's Virginia Manufactory of Arms in 1802. Other central Virginia Windsor shops offered similar services. Chairmaker Joel Brown (w. 1796-1815) of Petersburg offered to "turn columns for porticos or porches in the neatest and most approved style."

After Andrew McKim's death in 1805, Robert continued to produce Windsor furniture until his own demise in 1823. Although no documented examples of Robert's later work have been discovered, his apparent prosperity and later service as an alderman for the city of Richmond speak strongly of his abilities and of Richmond's role as an important regional Windsor chair-making center.
Provenance:The chair has no known early history. It was purchased by CWF in 1990 from the collection of Giles Cromwell.
Inscription(s):A printed paper label on the underside of the chair seat reads "Andrew & Robt. M'Kim, / makes every kind of / WINDSOR CHAIR[S?] / In the neatest and best manner, at their / Chair Shop near the Post office / RICHMOND."