As promised, more American Federal Furniture!
Elizabeth begins a discussion of a Raleigh, North Carolina clock works as well as the many other fine pieces in the lateral entrance hall of Ayr Mount.
Elizabeth worked with the groups throughout the day discussing some of the unique qualities of carving and construction in the Phyfe workshop. Here she is pointing out the so called acanthus leaves of Phyfe’s work, which tended towards a water leaf looseness of design, the long gentle leaves with a central vein and carving more like a stone sculptor than a wood carver. These elegant, gently formed leaves lack the frenetic quality of his contemporaries working both in New York and elsewhere during the Federal period.
This was a particularly interesting table, attributed to either New York or Boston/Salem and acquired by Mr. Jenrette in a 1984 deaccession sale of pieces from the Columbus Museum of Art. It is always intriguing to encounter such moves by museums–did they have a better (hard to believe) or did they decide to abandon the field of American Decorative Arts? Anyway, I am pointing out several usual and one exceedingly unusual construction technique. The screws inside the storage compartment sink through a central mahogany piece into a secondary block and possibly into the tops of the four exquisitely carved posts (no way to tell without removing one and measuring down). What is unique is the very dark mahogany block used to make the curved front corners–obvious in this photo. Curved parts were by this time made of multiple pieces of secondary wood cut into the desired form and had been so constructed since about 1770. HOWEVER, this corner piece is Cuban or other fine, dense mahogany cut into the curve, glued on a long slant to the front piece of wood (white pine) and the whole is veneered as normal. The maker must have had a couple of large blocks of mahogany too small for any constructive use–perhaps the ends of bedposts–and so he used this wonderful surface for his veneer base on this tricky corner. The apron sides of white pine are dovetailed to this front piece, then veneered to match the front apron veneers. Fascinating and perhaps a lead someday to the maker, but also perhaps just a “oner” using those handy mahogany scraps!
Here I am having fun with the Phyfe attributed bed–almost certainly correct as the elegant water leaf/acanthus leaf carving is classic–simple stone sculpture like leaves on a graceful single vein. Bill and Schatzie Crowther who oversee Ayr Mount went to the trouble of completely stripping the bed and photographing the clever construction which presages later 19th century construction–the bed bolts are completely hidden, lying laterally within deep railing channels and sinking into nuts buried deeply in the posts. What an effort–and deeply appreciated by every student during the day! And again let me give Cory Crowther a shout-out for all the photographs, which left all of us to work and study while he recorded us with nearly 150 photos. I will share more in the days to come!