Identities of the vast majority of the skilled woodworkers who created rustic furniture in the mid-19th to early-20th centuries are unknown. So it is a particular thrill when an antique example of outstanding rustic craftsmanship can be traced to a known maker, and thereby placed directly into the historical context of that person’s home region and the time period in which he lived.
The circa 1920 Adirondack center table (35” x 41” top, 28” high) that we are now offering for sale is just such a piece.
This table was made by Elmer Patterson who was born in Amboy, New York in 1859. By the age of 26 he was living in the Adirondack town of Speculator, NY, making pack baskets and snowshoes with his father to sell to guides, trappers and visiting rusticators. By the 1920s he had turned his talents towards creating rustic furniture at his home in the Adirondack foothills of Osceola, NY, where the yellow birch that he liked for furniture making was more abundant than in Speculator.
This center table showcases Patterson’s masterful use of his preferred Northern hardwood species. It has four sturdy yellow birch branch legs and a creatively designed base. There is a yellow birch pole at the center of the base from which four straight yellow birch branches extend outward, creating spoke stretchers to brace the legs.
In contrast to the straight yellow birch spoke stretchers, the four yellow birch branches that serve as leg-to-leg stretchers, plus the two branches that anchor those side stretchers to the center pole, are pleasingly sinuous. Four other curvy yellow birch branches that extend from near the bottom of each leg to beneath the table top add additional grace and stability to the table.
Patterson extended the decorative use of yellow birch in this table by applying half-round branch segments in tight rows all along the four sides of the apron.
The table top is made of smoothly processed and finished cherry boards that create a handsome reddish contrast to the golden yellow birch base and apron.
This table was included in a special exhibition of rustic furniture at the Adirondack Museum in 1976, and a photo of it appears as Figure # 67 in the landmark 1987 book Adirondack Furniture and the Rustic Tradition, written by former Adirondack Museum Director and scholar, Craig Gilborn.
According to Gilborn, most of the known pieces of Patterson’s furniture descended in his family after his death in 1949. In the endnotes of Adirondack Furniture and the Rustic Tradition where Gilborn thanks people “for permitting the reproduction of furniture, vintage photographs, and other works from their collections,” he credits Earl and Clarice Stanyon (of Wells, NY) for the Elmer Patterson table that he photographed as Figure # 67. Clarice Stanyon, born in 1906, was Elmer Patterson’s niece.
The Stanyons have now passed away, and we are not sure of the exact date in the late-1980s to mid-1990s when the table was transferred from their family’s ownership to that of an avid Adirondack furniture collector, although we do know the dealer (now retired) who handled the sale.
Other than being familiar with the table through its photograph in Gilborn’s book, we did not see it in person until late 2009 when we visited the home of its owner who was anticipating downsizing. We sold it on behalf of that collector in 2010 to the owner of an historic Adirondack Great Camp who was actively restoring and decorating its multiple buildings.
Subsequent transitions led to this table coming on the market once again recently, and we were fortunate to reacquire it.
Some Additional Context
We have bought and sold six additional Elmer Patterson pieces, all of which we acquired when we purchased the Richard S. Marrus collection of Adirondack furniture early in our rustic antiques career.
Dr. Marrus was a prominent collector who filled the buildings of his 1906 Adirondack Great Camp compound on Tupper Lake, Hemlock Ledge, with outstanding examples of rustic furniture and accessories. He was a passionate connoisseur who worked to preserve classic Adirondack camp style and tradition up to his death in 2001.
We were able to purchase the entire Adirondack collection from the Marrus estate in 2002 because of a recommendation that Jeff’s mentor in rustic antiques, Bert Savage (who had helped Dr. Marrus form his collection over the years), had made to the executor of Dr. Marrus’s estate shortly before Bert himself passed away, also in 2001.
The Marrus collection included important examples by renowned rustic furniture makers who worked in the Adirondacks in the late 19th through early 20th centuries. Those artisans included Ernest Stowe, John Champney, Lee Fountain, Elmer Patterson, E. E. Sumner and George Wilson, along with many anonymous makers of high-quality, iconic rustic furniture.
One of the Patterson pieces that Dr. Marrus owned was a center table that is a near match to the table that has now come into our possession again. Either Patterson made the two tables as a pair for a particular room placement, or he was simply pleased with the aesthetic power of his innovative design, so made a second one.
Dr. Marrus used his Patterson table in the “Indian Room” at Hemlock Ledge to display some of his Native American artifacts.
The other Patterson furniture that we acquired within the Marrus collection (shown below in photos we took in 2002) were a two-seat settee, a pair of yellow birch side tables with square cherry tops, a yellow birch side table with a half-round cherry top, and a yellow birch book stand.
All of these additional pieces of Elmer Patterson furniture are still being used and appreciated in rustic lakeside homes within and beyond the Adirondacks.
The Next Chapter
Being specialists in antique rustic furniture over the course of several decades has allowed us to develop our own relationship with the significant pieces of Adirondack furniture history that we’ve had the opportunity to look after, however briefly. One of the privileges of playing a role in this furniture’s legacy of ownership is that we’re able to tell its past and evolving story, in which our customers become a new chapter.