Archives: 2018

Editor's Welcome
The McAdams Family of Cabinetmakers and the Cultural Palette of East Tennessee’s Rope and Tassel School of Furniture

Amber M. Clawson, PhD

    The rope and tassel inlay found on early-nineteenth-century furniture made in East Tennessee’s Nolichucky River Valley reflects the region’s ever-evolving cultural identity. Patriotism, religion, ethnic diversity, migration, and the physical environment all played a role in the changing discourse of material life in the first decades of Tennessee statehood. The cabinetmakers of the rope and tassel school created furniture that spoke to the social and material aspirations of Nolichucky River Valley residents as expressed through Republican and agrarian symbolism. As an example of the imaginative entrepreneurship that formed the material landscape of the early American Backcountry, the rope and tassel tradition reflects a particular time and place. This article provides such context by introducing readers to East Tennessee’s rope and tassel tradition and the shop of Hugh McAdams, the first cabinetmaker who made examples of rope and tassel furniture. The intent is to employ that context and attribution … Continued

The Men Who Built Salem: A Biographical Look at the Builders of the North Carolina Moravian Town

Nathan Love

  The Moravian town of Salem serves as a microcosm of the American architectural experience. From its roots in the Old World Germanic style to the early American period designs, Salem’s architecture is as varied as the people who contributed to its built landscape. Celebrating the 250th anniversary of the founding of Salem, this article presents biographical sketches of many of the talented and industrious craftsmen who created the town out of the wilderness and continued to shape its architectural legacy well into the nineteenth century.The sixty-five biographies included here are of men—black and white; free and enslaved—who could be determined through the historical record to have left a lasting mark on the buildings of Salem.[1]   Click Here to Browse Salem Craftsmen Alphabetically by Name Click Here to Browse Salem Craftsmen by Trade     Introduction to Salem and the Moravians The Unity of Brethren—better known in English-speaking regions as “Moravians” for their … Continued

Research Note: The Turner and the Cabinetmaker, Seth Haywood and Willis Cowling of Richmond, Virginia, 1825–1829

J. Christian Kolbe
Fig. 5: Engraving of a turner working in his shop from “The Panorama of Professions and Trades: Or, Every Man’s Book” by Edward Hazen (Philadelphia, 1837).

This research note examines three sets of documents from the years 1825 to 1829 when wood turner Seth Haywood was working in the Richmond, Virginia cabinetmaking shop of Willis Cowling (Figure 1) and is an addendum to the author’s 2001 MESDA Journal article about Cowling (click here to read the original article).[1] The documents allow for a deeper understanding of Cowling’s business activities and provide a glimpse into how a specialized wood turner, Haywood, worked within an urban Virginia cabinetmaking shop. Specific types of turned elements completed by Haywood and prices for such work paid by Cowling are revealed through the documents. The documents also identify a number of previously unknown apprentices and enslaved artisans associated with Cowling’s shop. Willis Cowling (working c.1810–1828) was a major cabinetmaker in the city of Richmond during the first decades of the nineteenth century. At the beginning of his career, his shop produced furniture … Continued

Portrait of Brigadier General William Washington by Thomas Coram

Christopher Bryant and Sumpter Priddy
Fig. 1: “Brigadier General William Washington (1756–1818)” attributed to Thomas Coram (1756–1811), ca. 1795. Oil on canvas with original gilt, gesso, and pine frame; HOA: 29-1/2” (34” in frame), WOA: 25” (30” in frame). Private collection.

The exceptional portrait of famed Revolutionary War cavalry commander Brigadier General William Washington (1752–1810) illustrated in Figure 1 was last documented in a 1799 newspaper advertisement before slipping unrecognized into the mists of time. The painting, attributed to the artist Thomas Coram (1756–1811), recently came to light in a private East Tennessee collection. Depicted in the uniform of the Charleston Light Dragoons, a South Carolina militia unit that William Washington commanded from 1792 until 1798, this oil-on-canvas painting reveals a fascinating two-hundred-year-old tale of heroism, commemoration, and ambition. The deep historical significance of Washington’s portrait is found not only through its famed sitter, but also through the context in which Coram produced the painting and the individuals with whom the artist interacted in the closing years of the eighteenth century. Those men included, directly and indirectly, luminaries such as the American painter John Trumbull (1756–1843), Charleston-born engraver James Akin (1773–1846), … Continued

2016 Editor’s Welcome

Gary Albert
Adapted from "Benjamin Franklin Yoe and Son" attributed to Joshua Johnson; Baltimore, MD, 1809-1810. Acc. 2170.1.

The articles of the 2016 MESDA Journal represent four states—Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee—and explore paintings, furniture, and the diverse skills included in the building trades. There is something of interest for nearly every decorative arts aficionado.  The Moravian town of Salem in North Carolina celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2016. To mark that milestone, Nathan Love presents an in-depth look at the builders who built the town. The sixty-five biographies included are of men—black and white; free and enslaved—who have left a lasting mark on Salem’s built landscape. South Carolina is the stage for an article about a portrait of the Revolutionary War cavalry commander Brigadier General William Washington. Christopher Bryant and Sumpter Priddy attribute the painting to Thomas Coram and along the way provide new information about the print culture in early America. The Virginia cabinetmaker Willis Cowling is revisited by Chris Kolbe in a research note that uncovers the intricacies in operating an urban furniture making shop. … Continued

© 2019 Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts