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Arm chair, splat back

1760-1780
Origin: America, Maryland, Frederick
OH: 40 1/2; OW: 22 1/4; SD: 19.
All components of black walnut.
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1967-72,8
Appearance: One of a set of six side chairs and two armchairs with cresting rail in the shape of a flattened oval flanked at center top by a serpentine curve at each side and with terminals of a molded scroll flaring to the back; splat of a vase-shaped outline with a central piercing of a lozenge with two tear-drop shaped piercings above and below; straight stiles with quarter round molding at front outer edge; arms shaped and boldly curved in a serpentine form terminating in deeply carved spirals; straight seat rails with side rails mortised through back legs and with quarter round molding at front and each side; slip seat; front legs square in section with quarter round molding at outer edge and chamfered on inner edge; rear legs square in section, flare to rear and chamfered on inner edge; stretchers rectangular in section with one at rear, one at each side, and one medial; original slip seat frame missing for #3, #4, and #6; original slip seat frame missing for #7 and old replacement in #8.

Construction: Most of the joints on the chair are secured with original wooden pins. The arm supports are half-lapped to the seat rails and each is further held by three steel screws that are driven through the inside of the side rail. Only a single steel screw covered with a wooden plug holds each flush-mounted arm to its stile. No evidence of corner blocks can be found.

Label:Although the early history of this chair is unknown, an examination of its stylistic and structural elements leaves no doubt that it belongs to a large group of related seating furniture, most of which was originally owned in or near the Piedmont Maryland town of Frederick. All chairs in the group have the same vasiform splat design, usually unpierced, and always with pairs of small nodules at the shoulder. Other shared design elements include relatively deep seat rails with molded upper edges, cove-molded shoes topped by quarter-round moldings, and the frequent use of box stretchers. Side chairs, smoking chairs, and armchairs were produced in this pattern.

Frederick had become an important commercial hub for the upper Potomac River valley by the end of the colonial period. Settled by Pennsylvania Germans, it took on an increasingly British character after the middle of the eighteenth century, probably due to migration from the lower Potomac valley and solid trade connections with the port of Baltimore. Consequently, Frederick's cabinet wares often reflect a blending of Pennsylvania-German and British craft traditions. This chair is a case in point. Its overall stance, serpentine crest rail, boldly scrolled ears, and voluted arm terminals are strongly reminiscent of contemporary British chairs. At the same time, the chair exhibits the deeply coved arm supports and through-tenoned seat rails generally associated with chair-making traditions from eastern Pennsylvania.
Provenance:Acquired from Arpad Antiques of Washington, D. C., in 1967.
Mark(s):A Roman numeral "I" is chiseled into the front seat rail rabbet.
Inscription(s):A modern paper label nailed to the inside of the rear rail is lettered in pencil "A" and "I."