Two hundred years ago, in 1817, seven-year-old Thomas Chandler Jr. left Virginia’s Eastern Shore with his family for the city of Baltimore where he would learn the skills to become one of the American South’s most celebrated potters. At the same time a fifteen-year-old from New Hampshire named George Ladd was most likely aboard a merchant ship sailing the Atlantic coast dreaming of one day becoming a portrait artist. And on the banks of Virginia’s Rappahannock River, cabinetmaker John C. Bowie, possibly alongside his brother Walter, completed a major commission of over a dozen pieces of furniture for the owner of Gay Mont plantation.
Also in 1817, but much farther inland, a ninety-year Quaker furniture-making tradition in the Lower Shenandoah Valley among the Ross, Lupton, and Fawcett families was coming to a close. And in the heart of the North Carolina Piedmont in another Quaker community, Henry Macy was enjoying the apex of his cabinetmaking career.
Although two hundred years have passed, the amazing variety of experiences and influences that made up the material landscape of the early American South are revealed through the exceptional scholarship found in the 2017 MESDA Journal.
A poignant article by emerging scholar Katherine C. Hughes reveals the very specific farm and individual that Thomas Chandler Jr. applied in cobalt decoration on his iconic 1829 salt-glazed stoneware butter churn. Chandler is better known for the alkaline-glazed stoneware pots he made in the 1840s and 50s after moving to Edgefield, South Carolina. This Baltimore-made churn is an important document of his early career. More significantly, the churn may be unparalleled in American pottery for its extraordinarily personal connection to family and place. Hughes deciphers its pictorial decoration much like a landscape painting that depicts his family’s ancestral homestead on the Eastern Shore.
Meticulous research by scholar Patricia V. Veasey gives the little-known itinerant portrait artist George Ladd overdue attention. Although Ladd’s career has been overshadowed by the notable accomplishments of his wife—the writer, artist, and schoolteacher Catherine Stratton Ladd—his portraits reveal an artist of talent and merit. While Ladd advertised as a painter in cities throughout South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, often in tandem with his wife’s notices for educating young women at various schools and academies, his best documented body of work was executed in Fairfield County, South Carolina.
A chess table with an Italian-made marble top purchased abroad by John Hipkins Bernard led Colonial Williamsburg’s Curator of Furniture Tara Gleason Chicirda to produce the first scholarship identifying a Port Royal, Virginia cabinetmaking shop. Through letter, receipts, and surviving furniture with Bernard Family provenances, Chicirda documents the work of brothers John and Walter Bowie and illustrates how they successfully—for a time—adapted to competition from large urban furniture manufacturers.
Coming soon are articles about two distinct southern Quaker communities and their cabinetmakers. The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley’s Curator A. Nicholas Powers investigates furniture made by Quaker craftsmen over a ninety-year span in the Winchester region of Virginia. Robert Leath, MESDA’s Chief Curator and VP of Collections & Research, does the same for Piedmont North Carolina, thoughtfully explaining the stylistic influences of three separate migration patterns upon the Quaker furniture made in Guildford County.
With best regards,