Hunter with Dog: A 19th Century Vernacular Sculpture


19th century hunter with dog carving


This gracefully stylized, full-figure, three-dimensional portrait of a hunter with his dog, is carved from black walnut. It is signed on the bottom in careful cursive lettering: “Jas. Smith 1842 Albany, New York.”



19th century hunter with dog carving


The carving captures the affectionate relationship between the man and his dog. The dog looks relaxed, faithful and trusting, while the man conveys his own attachment to the dog by letting it rest its head comfortably, almost possessively, across his thigh.


19th century hunter with dog carving


The following photos from the same time period—daguerreotypes from the 1840s to 1860—show very similar poses of hunters with dogs and shooting accessories. Unlike the smiling norm of modern photo portraits, these men look rather formal and somber, as does the carved hunter. (Images sourced online from ebay and other auction sites.)


early photo of hunter with dog

early photo of a hunter with his dog


early photo of a hunter with his dog


Although the hunter sculpture is relatively large for a figural wood carving (16″ high, 10.5″ deep, 5″ wide), the overall detailing is minimal. The man’s face, ears and hair are representationally rather than realistically carved,


19th century hunter with dog sculpture


as are the dog’s body and face.


19th century hunter with dog sculpture


The hunter’s clothing is similarly sparsely represented as a simple single-breasted coat with a collar continuous with its lapel.


19th century hunter with dog sculpture


The only other elements in the sculpture are the hunter’s gun and shot pouch, both of which are carved with just enough detail to capture the essence of the objects and communicate clearly what they are.


19th century hunter carving

early photo of a hunter with his dog

The man on the right carries a shot pouch similar to the one depicted in the carving.


We believe that it is the minimalist representation and restraint in decorative detailing that give this sculpture such a compelling presence.


19th century hunter with dog sculpture


Vernacular Art

This carving is a stellar example of a genre of art created by untrained artists, also known as “vernacular art” or folk art to distinguish it from fine art produced by professional artists. In 18th and 19th  century America, where academically trained artists such as Charles Wilson Peale painted fine oil portraits of famous politicians and war heroes, regular people such as Jas. (19th century shorthand for James) Smith used materials they had on hand to capture familiar scenes and people in their everyday lives.


19th century hunter with dog sculpture

The hunter is posed simply if somewhat more formally than in everyday life, half-kneeling while seated on a stump.


The products of self-taught artists were not necessarily rudimentary or naive, however, nor were folk artists necessarily unskilled. Indeed, this hunter sculpture was clearly the product of an artisan who was both a skilled carver and a creative designer of three-dimensional figures.


19th century hunter with dog sculpture


The carving is minimalist and stylized, distilling the essence of the animate and inanimate forms being portrayed—a man and his dog, as well as his clothing, gun and shot pouch. This is an approach that is perhaps more familiar to us through modernist artworks of the early- to mid-1900s.

In fact there is a tangible connection between 19th century American folk art and early 20th century modern art. Avant-garde modernists began acquiring American folk art in the 1910s because “it was like modern art: it rejected a realistic or illusionistic presentation in favor of a simplified and stripped-down-to-an-essence approach” (Jacobs, 1995). In this sense, nineteenth century folk art was a forerunner to the spirit inherent in 20th century modernism.


primitive doll carving

A homemade doll, circa 1850 (Maresca & Ricco, 2002)


A leading figure in tracing the aesthetic connection between early American folk art and modern art was the museum professional Holger Cahill who organized an exhibition in 1931 at the Newark Museum called “American Folk Sculpture: The Art of Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Craftsmen.” Then in 1932, when he was acting director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he presented an exhibition titled “American Folk Art: Art of the Common Man, 1750-1900,” and in 1933 he mounted another exhibition of early American folk art called “American Sources of Modernism.”


This carved ship’s figurehead from the mid-19th century has an elemental, blocky style that effectively conveys human features. (Maresca & Ricco, 2002)


This sculpture of a hunter with his dog would no doubt have been a worthy candidate for Cahill’s exhibitions that explored folk art as a prelude to American modernism.


19th century hunter with dog sculpture


The groove-carved hair and minimalist faces of these American wooden doll heads made in the first half of the 19th century have a stylistic resemblance to the hunter’s head.


Wooden doll, circa 1850 (Maresca & Ricco, 2002)


Circa 1840 wooden doll head (




19th century hunter with dog sculpture


19th century hunter with dog sculpture


This portrait bust of a gentleman, made circa 1840 from a piece of basswood, also has similar characteristics to the hunter sculpture in the style of the face, the minimally relief carved clothing, and the figural portrayal of a man from one block of wood.


19th century folk art carving of a gentleman

(Maresca & Ricco, 2002)


While the identities of the creators of the folk carvings shown above are lost to history, we do know the name of the creator of the hunter sculpture, which enabled some further investigation.


Who Was James Smith?

Most American folk art was unsigned and thus truly anonymous. Although this sculpture is signed, it is not by a recognized artist. Just as today there are millions of artistically talented people who never pursue art as a career (likely we all know some of them among our own families and friends), James Smith was a regular person whose surviving work is a testament to an artistic talent not otherwise documented in the annals of art history.

We were able, however, to find out more about James Smith through the most comprehensive early record of “non-notable” common people that exists: the United States Census, which has occurred every 10 years since 1790. The state of New York also conducted its own census every ten years from 1825-1875, so by combining the two types of censuses it was possible to get a thorough record of people living in Albany every 5 years during the mid-19th century.

We scoured both the U.S. and New York State censuses from 1840, 1850 and 1855 for a James Smith living in Albany during those years. We found six adults named James Smith in those records, born from 1778 to 1808 (making them 27- to 64-years old in 1842), so all were of an age when it would have been possible to produce such a skillful carving.

We dug further to find clues to discern which of these James Smiths might have been a carver. Luckily the U.S. census also documented each man’s occupation. The six Albany James Smiths were recorded as laborers, farmers, a “plummer,” and a shoemaker. All but the shoemaker were also heads of households with wives and several children.


albany, ny census document


This led us to zero in on James Smith the shoemaker as our possible carver. He was born in 1808, making him 34 years old in 1842 (he was listed simply as “between 30-40 years old” in the 1840 census, and as 47 in the 1855 census). He was recorded (along with a man named Thomas Johnson) as a boarder with the Hill family, the father and two sons of which were also shoemakers. James Smith, like his landlords the Hills, was also an immigrant from Ireland.


shoemakers early photo

Anonymous 19th century shoemakers.


A shoemaker would have had access to a workshop and tools that could have been used in off-hours to pursue a sculpting hobby.


shoemaker's shop


Shoemaking in the 19th century required fine handcrafting skills to cut, shape and sew leather into shoes.


shoemaker, 19th century


Shoemaking also required wood carving skills, as shoes were shaped on hardwood forms called shoe lasts which shoemakers carved for each style of shoe they made.


19th century shoemaker


Thus a hardwood such as the black walnut that this sculpture was made from would likely have been in stock in the shoemaker’s shop, along with the carving tools to shape it.



antique shoe last

A child’s shoe form carved from black walnut.


The only place on the hunter carving where an additional segment of wood is pieced in—in a manner similar to the segments of the walnut shoe form above—is to form the dog’s paw.


19th century hunter with dog sculpture




Shoe lasts were in themselves minimalist sculptures, stripped to the graceful essence of the shape of a foot without the anatomical details that a fine art sculpture or painting of a foot would require.



antique shoe last




Although the other James Smiths living in Albany between 1840-1855 who were laborers and farmers could also have had a carving hobby, it would not have been a craft that they honed in their everyday work. Also, being a single man with no head-of-household responsibilities meant that a bachelor such as the Hill’s boarder James Smith could have had leisure time to work on refining his sculpting craft.

While it is impossible to verify the full identity of the hunter sculpture’s creator with complete assurance, contextual reasoning points to it being the James Smith who was an Albany shoemaker. The hunter he portrayed could have been his landlord John Hill, one of Hill’s sons, his fellow boarder, or another friend. It could also have been a self-portrait posed with his canine companion.


The Power of Minimalist Vernacular Sculpture

Although it is an intriguing exercise to try to track down the true identity of this folk artist and imagine the details of his life, in the end what matters most is the potency of the work itself. This carving is testimony enough to James Smith’s talents, no matter how they were honed.

This remarkably simple, skillfully executed piece of vernacular sculpture manages to communicate the bond between a man and his dog.  As viewers, we in turn feel a connection to those feelings that inspired James Smith to transform a block of wood into a powerfully uncomplicated representation of two living beings in a captured moment of time.


19th century hunter with dog sculpture




Jacobs, J. (1995). A world of their own: Twentieth-century American folk art. Newark, NJ: Newark Museum.

Maresca, F. & R. Ricco. (2002). American vernacular: New discoveries in folk, self-taught, and outsider sculpture. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Historical Canoe Trip Journal


1864 canoe trip journal
This small (3” x 5”) leather-bound journal documents a canoe trip taken by five men in two birch bark canoes in the Moosehead Lake region of Maine during the Civil War. The diary, titled “Moosehead Lake, ME. Trip in Canoes,” was kept by L. G. Barrett of Newton, Massachusetts from August 22 – September 13, 1864.

1864 canoe trip journal Moosehead Lake Maine

All entries are in pencil so luckily have not faded and are readable—albeit with the help of a magnifying glass to interpret the small, cursive handwriting. There are 77 pages of writing, plus the author’s name, hometown, and date on the flyleaf, and trip expense tallies on the endpapers.

1864 canoe trip journal

There are also 9 charming small sketches.

1864 canoe trip journal Moosehead Lake Maine

Barrett’s sketch showing two canoes traveling up Moosehead Lake toward Kineo House, with Spencer and Katahdin Mountains to the east.


Barrett’s chronicles provide descriptions of traveling to and within Maine during the time period, as well as insights into the personalities and adventures of the canoe trippers. Rich historical details are packed into the journal’s pages.

The Region and Canoe Trip Itinerary

Moosehead Lake is the largest lake in Maine (40 miles long x 10 miles wide), with 400 miles of shoreline, a maximum depth of 230’, 40 islands, and a famous geological feature called Mount Kineo whose cliffs rise 700’ straight up from the lake shore.

Mt. Kineo cliffs


By 1864, Moosehead Lake and Greenville, Maine, the town on its southern shore, were already bustling with lumbermen passing through on their way to northern forests, and well-to-do rusticators and sportsmen visiting the elegant Kineo House hotel.

Kineo House

Kineo House on Kineo Point, Moosehead Lake, c. 1880 (image:


The first steamboats had begun providing ferry service along the length of the lake in 1835, providing access to hunting camps, farms, and villages before railroads were built. By 1900, 25 steamboats were actively transporting people, livestock, mail and supplies up the lake on regular schedules.

steamboats on Moosehead Lake

Two steamboats docked on Moosehead Lake, c. 1890 (image:

Barrett and his canoe tripping party planned to paddle up Moosehead Lake from Greenville, portage across the Northeast Carry to the West Branch of the Penobscot River, and then go downriver to Chesuncook Lake, and thus into the true wilderness of Maine.

1864 canoe trip journal Moosehead Lake Maine

It is plausible that their trip itinerary was influenced by the writings of fellow Massachusetts adventurer Henry David Thoreau who had lived in Concord, just 15 miles northwest of Barrett’s hometown of Newton. Thoreau’s book, The Maine Woods, published posthumously in 1864, documented a canoe trip up Moosehead Lake, over to Chesuncook Lake and beyond. One can imagine the men from Newton being inspired to visit this area that Thoreau so eloquently described.

Chronology of the Trip with Journal Excerpts

The following provides some daily highlights of the trip, along with photographs gleaned from the internet that provide images of what the men were experiencing (although most of the photos are from a slightly later time period, taken after the 1888 introduction of the first roll film camera which made it easier for travelers to take photos).

L.G. Barrett was the journal keeper, and his companions were John, George, Bunker and Warren. L.G. refers periodically to all but John as Brother (“Bro.”). Although those three men could have been his literal brothers, it is more likely that they all belonged to the same religious group (an inference based on worshipful journal entries), perhaps Quaker, Nazarene, or Mennonite.

Unlike many canoe trippers of that time period (including Thoreau) who hired guides who were usually Native Americans, these men did not have a paid guide. However, Bunker seems to be an experienced outdoorsman, as they rely on his navigation, paddling, fishing and hunting expertise. Although John, too, seems to have been a good hunter, and George was a “most excellent cooke.”

Northern Maine lake campsite in 1896 (image:

Bunker had probably lived in Maine for some time, as they camp one night on a site where Bunker had once built a cabin. He was perhaps in Maine temporarily to work as a lumberman; at the end of the trip they depart from him in Guilford, Maine until “we see him at home again in Newton.”

L.G. abbreviates many words throughout the journal (not unlike modern-day texting), which was perhaps the typical journal writing style of the time, or perhaps he was just making judicious use of his small notebook. Words in parentheses within the excerpts below are ones that we could not quite discern.

In 1864, traveling from Boston to Greenville, Maine to begin the canoe trip took several days by steamship (along the coast and up one of Maine’s major river systems, the Kennebec or Penobscot), horse-drawn cart, and foot. So the journal begins and ends with descriptions of that journey, with the pages between describing the canoe trip itself, during which L.G. names each of their campsites to commemorate a significant event, feature, or discovery that occurred there.

August 22, 1864 (Monday) – Boston to Portland, Maine

Three men (“John, Bro. Grg., and myself”) depart from Boston on a Monday night aboard the steamship “Forest City” for Portland, Maine.

“We had a pleasant ride to Portland, a rough one from P. to the mouth of the Kennebec. From there we had a beautiful ride up the river to Augusta.”

Forest City Steamship ad

Forest City steamship

Photo of the Forest City steamship that the men took to Portland. The smaller steamship in the foreground is the size of the boat they would have taken from Augusta to Skowhegan. (image:

August 23 (Tuesday) – Portland to Augusta, Maine

They take another steamship up the coast from Portland to the mouth of the Kennebec River in Bath then north upriver to Augusta where they change boats.

View of Bath, Maine from the ferry landing, c. 1845 (image:


Merrymeeting Bay

Arial view of Merrymeeting Bay, Maine

He mentions some of the sites, such as the shipbuilding city of Bath, Merrymeeting Bay, and the U.S. Arsenal in Augusta “a fine granite building on the left bank of the river.”

U.S. Arsenal Augusta Maine

Arsenal on the bank of the Kennebec River, Augusta, Maine. (image:

“We changed boats at Hallowell taking a smaller craft bringing us close down to the water and making it very pleasant.”

August 24 (Wednesday) – Augusta to Skowhegan, Maine

They continue up the Kennebec River on the small steamboat until arriving in Skowhegan where they meet another member of their party, Warren. Warren, who may have been living in Maine, seems to have been responsible for coordinating some of the trip logistics, such as gathering provisions. They spend the night in Skowhegan with someone named Wheeler.

“Arrived in Skowhegan 36 mls. fr. Augusta at 6 P.M. Wes. Eve. Found Warren waiting for us several days. The hard tack was also ready.”


Hardtack (image:

August 25 (Thursday) – Skowhegan to Greenville, Maine

The three Massachusetts men leave Warren (who will rejoin them on Moosehead) in Skowhegan and continue on foot, walking the remaining 50 miles to Greenville, although L.G. writes:

“I was obliged to ride the last 6 mls being foot sore.”

August 26 (Friday) – (Moosehead Lake) Boarding House

The three men obtain a birch bark canoe in Greenville for their trip, and paddle a ways up Moosehead Lake, spending the night on the floor of a lumberman’s boarding house, where they chat with other men about their trip plans and await the arrival of the remaining two members of their party.

“We three (Jn., Grg. & Myself) bot. a good canoe (which J. got for $21 with paddles).”

“This A.M. went out in the high birch bark canoe. Found it delightfully easy & swift.”

birch bark canoe

Birch bark canoe and hunter with a string of ruffed grouse on Moosehead Lake in 1883. A similar scene is described in Barrett’s journal (image:

“Found fr. conversation with men who have been to Chesuncook that the ‘rapids’ are not so very bad.”

L.G. also mused about the local political climate:

“The people up here are mostly (I suppose) Union, but still Copperheads* abound. This place is no (retreat) for the secess. supporters. An officer was prevented last week fr. taking away a deserter.”

(*Copperheads was the name for a faction of northern Democrats, also called Peace Democrats, who opposed the Civil War and wanted an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates.)

August 27 (Saturday) – (Moosehead Lake) Boarding House

They are windbound on the lake, so spend the day hunting and exploring, and stay another night at the boarding house.

“Well here we are sitting on the shore 2 1/2 mls fr. Greenville. We have just backed out from an attempt to (set) out for the “Outlet.” The waves were high altho’ we had got part loaded.”

“Our first proceeds of hunting, two squirrels, red ferrets, wh. J. has just brot. in after a tromp in the woods.”

August 28 (Sunday) – (Moosehead Lake, Moose Island) “Prayer Meeting Camp”

After receiving word that another member of their party (“Bro. Bunker”) had finally arrived in Greenville, they set out to meet him and his canoeing partner Warren, the same man who had met them with provisions in Skowhegan.

“This A.M. after breakfast of johnnycake & squirrel (which was quite sweet) we went down (towards) town.”

Together the five men in two canoes paddled back up the lake to Moose Island where they had a prayer meeting and set up camp. This is the first indication that they were quite religious.

“Bro. Bunker read after we had sung “Rock of Ages” and offered prayer. We then sang and prayed & had a most heavenly time, here in the woods, with nothing but the canopy of heaven above us, and the western Zephyrs shook the foliage of the forest about us and at the rocks at our feet the waves roared, our hearts seemed in harmony with Nature, to praise & worship the God of the Universe & our Heavenly Father. Bro. Bunker then spoke of the importance of keeping a phil. frame of mind while on the trip & especially we must exercise a kind & forgiving spirit toward each other.”

Moose Island, Moosehead Lake, Maine (image:

August 29 (Monday) – (Moosehead Lake) “Camp Fossil”

They continue traveling up the lake “with a prosperous wind & good paddling” towards The Outlet, which is the headwaters of the Kennebec River flowing out of Moosehead Lake.

They take time to fish, reporting that they

“Managed to get two for breakfast. They were splendid salmon trout – yellow & reddish & sweet as honey. Bunker pulled one of some 3 or 4 lbs. almost to landing but lost him.”


Later, however, they had an ordeal coping with wind:

“It was settled that we stick to the left for some miles. But the result was well nigh disastrous.”

Their two boats got separated in the wind and nearly capsized. Once they reached the campsite they

“Joyfully congratulated each other on the narrow escape we had been allowed. Our Heavenly Father had been good to us.”

“Warren & myself found several fine geological specimens. This was Camp Fossil.”

“Fine dinner of Grg.’s hoe-cakes wh. we think the best yet.”

“All slept well including Warren who was well nigh used up.”

1864 canoe trip journal

Barrett’s drawing of Moosehead Lake from Greenville to the Northeast Carry.

August 30 (Tues) – (Moosehead Lake) “Camp Illumination”

They camp again on Moosehead as they continue heading north to the Carry. They build a huge fire that evening, which led to the naming of the campsite Camp Illumination.

“It looked splendid as the dense forest became illuminated.”

August 31 (Weds) – (Moosehead Lake at the Northeast Carry) “Bunker’s Camp”

They camp on the Moosehead shore at the Northeast Carry into the West Branch of the Penobscot.

“Bunker’s 3 partridges make a fine dinner.”

“We call this Bunker’s camp because there was a log cabin wh. he made some three yrs. before, when he came up and stayed six weeks. It was a very good one, but someone had partly pulled it down.”

Northeast Carry to the West Branch, c. 1920 (image:

Sept. 1 (Thurs) – (West Branch of the Penobscot) “Camp Porcupine”

They camp on the “Three-mile Rips ten mls. from Lake Chesuncook.”

They hunted partridge that day, and got 5. They also unwittingly shot another animal, as recounted in this amusing entry:

“We had not pushed off when we heard heavy thumping on the shore. We listen, it recurs – a bear, certain! Bunker jumps up, looks around a little, then pop goes the gun. Jn. can stand it no longer and we let him ashore. Another pop. I know the bear is dead sure. I jump ashore to help drag the carcass, when lo! it is not a cub, not even a deer, but a porcupine! We succeed in getting its body into our canoe, & are on our way.”

1864 canoe trip journal

Barrett’s drawing of “Camp Porcupine.” Note the porcupine carcass hanging from a pole in upper right corner.

Sept. 2 (Fri) – (Lobster Pond) “Camp Jollity”

They take a short side trip up Lobster Stream into Lobster Pond where they spend the night.

“Made the biggest fire of the occasion. Altogether we had a pleasant time & in consequence we named the camp ‘Jollity’.

Lobster Lake, c. 1890 (image:

Sept. 3 (Sat) – (West Branch of the Penobscot) “Camp Shipwreck”

Saturday was the climax of the trip as they had a canoeing catastrophe in the Half-Mile Rips.

“Our way is (delayed) with accident – the 1st one of the trip.”

L.G. describes in great detail how hey struggle to maintain control of the canoe in the rapids, and finally come up against a large rock in mid-stream:

“I jump out to lift her off as does Jn. at his end. But no use, she fills fr. the down current on her broadside. Grg. is out too, but the boat is nearly full of water & has already cracked clear across her middle … But she can be mended so as to be quite strong.”

Finally Bunker comes downstream behind them, and he and John get the boat off the rock and bail it out.

“During all this Grg. remains standing on the rock, he being unable to get off without getting wet. But like Rob. Crusoe, he took it philosophically & waited till Bunker floated him his pole & he was able to balance himself so as to pull off his boots. He then waded ashore. Altogether, after all, it was a most laughable scene. Jn. & Bunker in the broken canoe, L wading and traveling against the current, & Grg. on the desolate isle in midstream.

Barrett’s drawing of “The Catastrophe.”

“In the melee Jn. & I each lost a boot so that our two pairs are lost. Grg’s haversack also went overboard but was soon found.”

After the disaster, they eventually make camp.

“We soon had a roaring fire & I finally succeeded in getting warm. We built a fine camp & had a good supper after wh. I felt better. We had, to me, by far the pleasantess evening of the trip.”

Sept. 4 (Sunday) – (West Branch of the Penobscot) “Camp Shipwreck”

The next morning they search the river but are unable to find their lost boots. They have a meeting to assess how many days they have left before having to catch the steamship home from Bangor on “Monday next.”

Worried about meeting their Bangor rendezvous, they reluctantly make the decision not to push forward to Chesuncook Lake, so stay another night at the same campsite.

“We are very sorry not to reach Chesuncook, especially being within 2 mls. of it. But so it must be, and adieu to any further explorations into the wilderness. Had a pleasant day.”

Sept. 5 (Monday) – (West Branch at Lobster Brook) “Camp Welcome”

On Monday morning they start poling upstream on the West Branch to return to Moosehead the way they came, through various rapids. It is tough going as the journal’s record of the day’s commands from Bunker in the stern reveal:

“The 2nd rif is a tough one. Pull: Now, with all your might! Don’t let her head round! There – Now she goes! Oh! Wasn’t that a pull! Another and another and so on, tugging away at our poles. Keep her straight in the current! But we advance, altho’ it is hard work.”

“Now an adventure! I am pulling my pole quite hard when it slips off a stone & I lose my balance, the canoe slides out under me & down I go, a regular full length plunge into the water. After a brief while our canoe man himself loses his balance & over goes into the same as my element.”

“Our case called forth a hearty laugh from the others who have not been wet. But be not too jolly, boys, your turn may come yet!”

Poling up the West Branch of the Penobscot River, c. 1920 (image:

They stop for a while to hunt,

“But partridge do not like to be shot, & as for ducks they have no idea of it. They become (coy) with canoes full of hungry men! Not a bit of it! And they allow you just a short glimpse and bid you adieu.”

They reach their campsite at 7 pm, cold, tired and hungry, but then after a “pleasant night of fire & hearty food” they decide to call their site “Camp Welcome.”

Sept. 6 (Tues) – (Moosehead Lake) “Camp Urania”

They pole and paddle the final 2 miles upriver back to the Carry where they buy supplies of milk, molasses & potatoes (which inspires L.G. to list the entire contents of his pack) before walking the portage. They reach the lake at 11 A.M. then paddle down it for 14 miles.

However, they once again encounter their old nemesis, the wind, which had built up waves to white caps along the enormous length of the lake.

“On we go at very good speed … The waves seem mountainous high compared to so small a thing, but really are about 6 ft. the highest. Sometime we are 1/3 out of the water & when a big billow behind strikes us the (canoe) is as if a feather & (the wave) rolls on under us carrying us with it until it rolls forth fr. under the bow when down we go with a (splash), hurled forward a rod. It is fun after all, & she rides them like a dude. It is wonderful what a high canoe can weather.”

Later, however, they find the wind to be less fun, as they have to round a point to make for shore, seemingly as it is getting dark:

“But how can we turn into big waves? There is a chance! No, on again. There’s one! Yes; about with her, quick! All right, now boys we’ll go forward and round the point safely. Boys what an escape! We almost shudder to think of it. God has saved us. On, on, on in the clear moonlight.”

Illustration of waves on Moosehead Lake’s North Bay, looking toward Mount Kineo.

They finally settle into camp 2 1/2 miles above Mount Kineo. They name their campsite after the Greek Muse of astronomy, Urania, after sleeping out in the open under a clear and starlit sky.

“It was very pleasant lying down on the boughs with nothing above but the forest trees and blue sky beyond studied with stars. I enjoyed it much, flat on my back with such a (peace) above and a roaring fire at my feet.”

Stars over Moosehead Lake (image:

Sept. 7 (Weds) – (Moosehead Lake) “Camp Moosehead House”

They have a short day of paddling in order to take a hike up Mount Kineo, and along the way “have a splendid feast” of blueberries and huckleberries.

Table rock at the base of Mount Kineo (image:

“The view from the top is most delightful, the lake stretched out for 20 mls … Little did one suppose that such a lake was so treacherous!”

A view from Mount Kineo, c. 1900 (image:

“Altogether the view was one long to be remembered & the finest lake view I have seen. But the boys are in a hurry so we must be down.”

It was a cold, windy day, so when they find a logger’s cabin with the name “Moosehead House” chalked over the door, they spend the night there.

Sept. 8 (Thurs) – (Moosehead Lake) “Camp Dry Up”

On their final day on the lake, Bunker gets up at 5:00 am to fish.

“He caught some 15 small ones & we have a trout breakfast. The duck from yesterday forms an excellent dish when roasted.”

Trout catch northwest of Moosehead Lake, c. 1887 (image:

“At about 7 P.M. we land in Greenville after 150 mls. in canoes. Behold Greenville! How pleasant is the sight of that little church steeple!”

Village of Greenville, circa 1890 (image:

They sleep on a sand beach near Greenville where they have “a general wash-up” in the lake, and thus name the campsite “Camp Dry Up.”

Sand bar on Moosehead Lake (image:

Sept. 9 (Fri) thru Sept. 11 (Sun) – Greenville to Bangor, Maine

In Greenville they sell their canoe back at the warehouse where they had obtained it just two weeks before.

“And we must bid adieu to the little ferry with whom we have so long (traveled). We have been so long in her that it feels like home … over the waves in this little thing of life; & we leave her indeed with regret. In due time we land her in the old warehouse where we took her & succeed in selling her for fourteen dolls. (2/3 her cost). I feel pretty well satisfied. Our canoe therefore has cost us seven dollars or $2.33 a piece.”

“Left Greenville at 8 A.M. and start for Bangor on foot some 63 mls. Having lost my boots I am obliged to walk in Bunker’s slippers wh. I find quite easy tho’ not very solid.”

They take three days to walk from Greenville to Bangor, although they do catch some rides in carts. It pours rain during some of their trek. They part ways with Bunker in the town of Guilford. There is no further mention of Warren, so perhaps he had departed from them in Greenville.

Sept. 12 (Mon) – (Penobscot River) Bangor, Maine

The three original travelers, John, George & L.G., arrive in Bangor and board a steamship to travel down the Penobscot River, out to the coast, and onward down to Boston, about a 24-hour trip.

“We had a rough passage – at night the boat rocked badly, however we got a tolerable sleep.

The steamer “Penobscot” on the Bangor to Boston route. (image:

Sept. 13 (Tues) – Newton, Mass.

L.G. Barrett arrives home in Newton where he writes his final journal entry.

“At last got in safely at about 7 A.M. Went at once home & found the folks at breakfast.”

“I am now once again in my study, after walking 125 mls, paddling in a canoe 150 mls., & riding in steamboats & carts some 500 mls, making in all about 775 mls. perhaps 800 mls. of traveling at a cost of $24.”

“I thank Gd. for all His watch, care & protection, thru all this journey.”

1864 canoe trip journal

As the journal comes to an end, we are left wanting to know more about the men whose adventure we’ve vicariously shared. How old were they? Were they married with families? What were their occupations? Why were they not off fighting in the Civil War? Were they conscientious objectors? We’ll leave these questions to be answered by another analyst who has the time and inclination to do additional sleuthing through historical records.

Perspectives from Today

Having canoed the same Moosehead to Chesuncook route ourselves, it is interesting to make comparisons between 1864 and modern-day canoe tripping. In 1864 wilderness travelers were free to hunt, kill and eat any animal, at any time of year. They were definitely not low-impact campers, as they regularly cut balsam boughs to sleep on, and cut and gathered lots of wood and birch bark to have huge fires every night.

The West Branch of the Penobscot River has also changed since 1864. We were surprised to read of the men’s ordeal in rapids approaching Chesuncook Lake on the West Branch, as there are no longer any rapids there to speak of. But the rapids did once exist, as described in a 1902 handbook (In Pine-Tree Jungles: A hand-book for Sportsmen and Campers in the Great Maine Woods):

“(on) the West branch, quick water is encountered for about two miles below Lobster Stream to Warren Island….Several small islands dot the stream below here, and rough water is encountered most of the way to the lake. Pine Steam falls, where Pine Stream pours its waters into the river, are passed six miles below the Half-way house.”

The reason that those rapids are no longer there is that a 92’ high dam (Rippogenus Dam) was built from 1915-20 on Rippogenus Lake downstream on the West Branch from Chesuncook Lake, which raised Chesuncook’s level and thus flooded the area where the West Branch flowed into it. The original rapids that foiled Barrett’s party are now submerged.

It is also interesting that the 1864 trippers essentially rented a birch bark canoe, much as trippers might rent a canoe for a trip today, although the transaction was not called “renting” at the time.

Instead they bought a canoe for $21 and sold it back at the same warehouse for $14, in essence renting it for two weeks for $7—which was a bargain indeed, given that they had wrapped the canoe around a rock and cracked it “clear across her middle.” So, there was obviously no pesky damage clause to sign in an 1864 sales/rental agreement.

Despite the differences in canoe tripping practices over the past 150 years, we were also struck by the similarity in the general arc of a canoe trip with friends: Beginning with an anticipatory journey to the put-in, getting acclimated to the scenery and routines of camping, having harrowing adventures yet pulling through relatively unscathed, developing in-jokes with fellow trippers, having a few rest days to explore beautiful surroundings, and hating to see the trip come to an end while also looking forward to returning to the comforts of home and family.

But perhaps the most notable similarity in canoe tripping across centuries is the universal feeling of rejuvenation that traveling  through wild areas provides. Thoreau said it best:

“We need the tonic of wildness … At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us … We can never have enough of nature.” -Henry David Thoreau, 1854

The concluding line of L.G. Barrett’s 22-day journal reiterates more simply the continuity of Thoreau’s truism:

“(I) can say that I am profited in much every way, in health of body and of soul.”


White-tailed Deer Family: Three Wall Sculptures by Noah Weiss


Noah Weiss carving

These large-scale carved deer – a buck, doe and fawn – are products of the artistic vision and incredible talent of self-taught carver Noah Weiss (1842-1907).

The wall sculptures are carved from pine – in relief on the front and flat on the back – to be approximately half life-size, and they are in fairly accurate proportion to one other.

deer family

The upright buck is 35” wide x 47” high; the grazing doe is 40” wide x 29” high; and the standing fawn is 25” wide x 20” high. (The shoulder height of an adult White-tailed Deer is 32” to 40” and their body length runs 52” to 95”.)

Noah Weiss deer carvings


Weiss painted and varnished these deer, as he did all his carvings, and he added a real antler to the buck (he was also known to have added real antlers to a carving of an elk head, and horns to the carving of a bison head). Most compellingly, Weiss captured each deer’s elegant body shape and proportions – their long, thin legs, pointed snouts and alert ears.

Noah Weiss deer carvings Noah Weiss deer carvings


These circa 1890-1900 deer carvings turned up recently in Northampton, Pennsylvania, the town where Weiss lived, worked as an innkeeper, and produced sculptural works of art to decorate the walls of his inn. Fortunately, newspaper accounts during Weiss’s lifetime as well as research by art historians have documented details of the life history and creations of this incredible self-taught artist.

Noah Weiss: Hotelier and “Untaught Sculptor”

Noah Weiss was born in 1842 in Pennsylvania where his paternal great-grandfather had settled upon emigrating from Germany. He grew up on a farm in the Lehigh Valley region (near Allentown, PA) where as a boy his artistic talents were recognized by a wealthy doctor who offered to send him abroad to study art. But his father declined, saying he needed Noah to work on the farm. Thus Noah had little formal education and no encouragement or tutoring in art.

It was not until 1872, when Noah had been married for several years and his only son Howard was three years old, that his latent artistic tendencies reemerged. Howard become ill, so Noah sat at his bedside carving toys with a pen knife to amuse him. He thus discovered a penchant for carving, and from that point on Weiss reportedly “left no workable piece of wood untouched if it was possible to embellish it.” (Ames & Fiske, 1985)

carving by Noah Weiss

Considered to be one of Weiss’s earliest large-scale relief carvings and his only signed work, this lion is inscribed on the back: “Carved with pocket knife by Noah Weiss in 1881, Son of Abraham Weiss” (photo: Joe Leary)

Weiss pursued relief carving as a hobby while continuing to make a living through other endeavors, including working in cigar manufacturing for ten years, with a coach company for three years, and at a food preserving company for three years.

In 1893 he became proprietor of the Allen House in the village of Siegfried (now Northampton, PA), finally discovering his perfect occupational niche as an hotelier. This gentle family man became a “warm and genial” innkeeper. Locally he was a popular figure known as “Pop” Weiss, described as a humble man who was loved by all who knew him.

Noah Weiss carving

Photo postcard of the Allen House as it looked several decades after Weiss worked there.

By 1897 Weiss had built his own hotel, The Mt. Vernon Inn, which he designed as a replica of George Washington’s home. He ran that establishment for the rest of his life while pursuing his avocation: creating elaborate relief carvings to decorate the walls of his inn.

Noah Weiss carving

The Inn that Weiss built in the town of Siegfried, which in 1909 was combined with two other villages to form one borough and given its present-day name: Northampton.

While maintaining his active hotel business, Weiss worked in the early morning hours on mural-size carvings depicting historical and biblical characters in iconic scenes, using just a pocket knife —thus earning a reputation as an expert “whittler” whose work exhibited “gusto and vigor.” (Robacker, 1973)

Noah Weiss carving

This portrait was eventually acquired by and displayed in Merritt’s Museum of Childhood in Douglassville, PA and then sold to a private collector in 2005 after the museum closed.

This 6’ x 6’ portrait of General George Washington on horseback which hung in the office of the Mt. Vernon Inn is considered to be one of Weiss’s finest carvings. The relief-carved horse and rider are mounted against an oil-on-canvas landscape background. A similarly large-scale (6’ 4” high x 9’ 7” wide) mural depicting Civil War General Philip Sheridan leading a cavalry charge hung next to the reading room at the Inn.

Although Weiss was not a religious man, he carved at least three Biblical scenes that were even more elaborate than his military murals: the birth of Jesus, the Last Supper, and the Crucifixion—the latter of which purportedly took 14 months to complete. He made these murals available for public viewing in an outbuilding at the Inn which he called the Curio Hall.

Noah Weiss carving

This grainy photo of Weiss’s Birth of Jesus carving appeared in a 1909 publication, and is perhaps the only surviving record of the carving.


Another theme Weiss depicted in his carved wall art was hunting. Viewers have noted that Weiss’s lively portrayal of the dogs in his hunting mural indicates that he was familiar with the behaviors of hunting dogs at work.

Noah Weiss carving

Hunting mural by Noah Weiss; 16’ long x 8’ high; private collection

It is not surprising that Weiss had first-hand knowledge of animals and hunting, having grown up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania. The following appreciative account of Weiss’s art that was written during his lifetime (Jordan, Green & Ettinger, 1905) mentions that Weiss also did taxidermy, another indication that he was a hunter:

Mr. Weiss possesses marked mechanical ingenuity and artistic skill. He is one of the most expert hand carvers in wood now known to the public, and carves out life-size figures which he afterwards paints, doing all the work himself. His master pieces are the Crucifixion and the Lord’s Supper. His skill, however, does not end here, for he is an expert taxidermist and many proofs of his handiwork adorn the hotel.

Noah Weiss carving

Another ode to hunting is Weiss’s relief carved hunting dog with a retrieved duck; 22″ high

Weiss’s hunting mural hung in the Inn’s reading room along with several other carvings, as described in a 1910 account of the author’s visit to the Mount Vernon Inn (Rominger & Bornman, 1910):

The interior of this hotel is beautifully decorated with the carvings of Noah Weiss. They at once excite the visitor’s admiration. As one enters the reading room, the most conspicuous display is a hunting scene in relief. All parts are colored in their natural hues. The hunter, with a dog and gun, is roaming through the woods in search of game. In this same room there is a carving of a covey of quail with a pointer nearby, a representation of the carver’s old homestead, and a Pittsburg-Philadelphia stage coach drawn by six gray horses . . . The remaining rooms on the first floor are lavishly decorated with alligators; heads of horses, lions and bison; rural scenes; artistic furniture; etc.

Noah Weiss carving

Bull by Noah Weiss, 37″ wide. Private collection.

Weiss’s appreciation for and familiarity with animals also extended beyond game and farm animals. One of our favorite Weiss animal creations, and the only one we had seen in person before acquiring the deer carvings, is more whimsical: a huge (9′ 5″ high x 12′ 6” wide) carved and painted fantasy forest filled with wild birds.

Noah Weiss carving

The central section is a large mirror with a tree trunk surround that has applied branches adorned with birds and nests. It is flanked by two oil-on-canvas landscape panels and two freestanding tree trunks populated with owls and other birds. This extraordinary carving is additional testimony to the fact that Weiss had no shortage of imagination or talent.

Noah Weiss’s Legacy

Weiss’s 1907 obituary hailed him as an “untaught sculptor” who was locally revered for gracing his hometown with truly awesome works of art. Noah’s son Howard Weiss kept the Curio Hall open to the public after his father’s death, charging visitors a small admission to view the carvings. But after Howard’s own death in 1937, most of Noah’s carvings were sold at auction, while a few were sold privately.

In recent years, several exhibitions of Weiss’s work have brought together some of his carvings from multiple collections, including five that were shown in 1991 at an exhibit in Reading, PA called “Just for Nice: Carving and Whittling Magic of Southeastern Pennsylvania.”

Noah Weiss carving

The introduction to the book of the same name that was produced in conjunction with the exhibition explains that “Just for Nice” is a Pennsylvania German colloquialism meaning that an object exists not for any utilitarian purpose, but simply for pleasure.

What an apt descriptor for the motivations of a man who never sold any of his carvings, but produced them solely for his own creative fulfillment, as well as to amuse his family, friends, hotel guests, and fellow townspeople.

Weiss’s White-tailed Deer

Noah Weiss deer carvings

As is true of all Weiss carvings, these deer strike a pleasing balance between stylization and realism. The species’ gentle demeanor is captured, yet not sentimentalized.

Noah Weiss deer carving

Noah Weiss deer carving

Noah Weiss deer carving

The carvings are well preserved with some restoration and stabilization which can be seen from the back. Weiss’s original construction technique was to join several boards together, then carve the figures from the resulting large piece of wood.

The two larger carvings – the buck and doe – each have metal braces across the seams of joined wood, a technique that Weiss himself may have employed, although these brackets are likely later replacements.

Noah Weiss deer carving


Noah Weiss deer carving

A slight gap between two pieces of joined wood, seen from the front of the buck. The paint surface also has some age wear and chips.

Finally, there are also repairs to the ear and leg of the buck.

Noah Weiss deer carving


Noah Weiss deer carving

The result of the restoration is that each deer is structurally strong and sturdy.

Overall, the three deer show their nearly 120 years of age and history, while remaining remarkably crisp and visually appealing.


Noah Weiss deer carvings

When hung in a vertical arrangement the three deer carvings occupy wall space that is approximately 6’ 7” high x 3’ 6” wide, so they can easily be displayed in a regular room setting.

An article (Ames & Fiske, 1985) about Weiss in the American Folk Art Museum’s magazine The Clarion states:

It is in his portrayal of animals, even more than of people, that Weiss excels. The physical strength and personality of the creatures are rendered with sensitivity and conviction.

We agree! These three White-tailed Deer are superb examples of Noah Weiss’s artistic ability to convey the beauty and essence of animals using only wood and paint – and, most importantly, an expertly wielded pocket knife.



Ames, Walter M. and Fiske, Dana W. (1985). Noah Weiss Pennsylvania Folk Whittler. The Clarion.

Csencsits, Sonia. (2002). Noah Weiss Exhibition will Open Sunday.  The Morning Call, July 6.

Jordan, J.W., Green, E. M. and Ettinger, G. T. (Eds). (1905). Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of the LeHigh Valley Pennsylvania, Volume II. New York: The Lewis Publishing Company.

Lindenmuth, Keri (2018). Northampton Area Historical Society Takes Photographic Journey Through the Past. The Home News, March 13.

Machmer, Richard S. and Rosemarie B. (1991). Just for Nice: Carving and Whittling Magic of Southeastern Pennsylvania.  The Historical Society of Berks County.

Robacker, Earl F. and Ada F. (1973). Folk Whittling. Pennsylvania Folklife, Vol. 22.

Rominger, Charles H. and Bornman, Charles J. (1910). Noah Weiss, Wood Carver: An Unappreciated Genius.  The Pennsylvania-German: Volume 11, No. 11.

Whelan, Frank. (1991). Whittlers Show Best of Folk Craft. The Morning Call, July 17.

“The Fighting Muskellunge” by Arnoud Wydeveld


fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld


This dramatic scene of natural predation depicts a Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) capturing an adult Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis). The brass plate on the frame titles the painting “The Fighting Muskellunge” but more appropriate titles may have been “The Fighting Green-Winged Teal” or “The Predatory Muskellunge.” Although anyone who has ever had a Muskellunge on a line knows that it is indeed a fighter, in this portrayal it is the duck that is fighting for its life while the Muskellunge is about to enjoy easy pickings.


fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld


This circa 1875 oil on canvas is signed (lower right) “A. Wyderveld N.Y.” Arnoud Wydeveld (1883-1888) was a distinguished Dutch American artist who was born in Holland and immigrated to America in 1853 to join his brother who had settled in New York a few years earlier.

His original Dutch name was Arnoldus van Weydevelt, but in America he was known as Arnoud Wydeveld—although he exhibited at the National Academy in New York using several different spellings of his last name including Wydefield, Wydefeldt, and Wyderveld, which is how he signed this painting.


fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld


In America Wydeveld became known primarily for his luminous still-life portraits of flowers and fruit. He was influenced by the 17th- and 18th-century works of Dutch Old Master genre painters such as Johannes Vermeer, but his elegant paintings also incorporate elements of more contemporary mid-19th century European styles.




During his lifetime, Wyderveld’s still-lifes were exhibited in prestigious galleries, such as the National Academy in New York, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Brooklyn Art Association.


fruit still-life painting by Wydeveld


In the 1870s, however, Wydeveld turned his attention to painting fish in their natural habitats. Whereas most of his flower and fruit still-lifes were portrayed on table-top settings, he sometimes depicted arrangements in outdoor settings, so he did have some inclination towards representing natural landscapes throughout his career.

Wydeveld also sometimes included fish and seafood as components of meals in his dining table tableaux, and also painted freshly caught fish, so he had previously portrayed fish from an edibles perspective.


Wydeveld fish painting


What inspired his transition towards painting lively fish in active scenes—artwork that fits within the sporting art rather than still-life genre—is not documented. One possibility is that he had taken up fishing himself and was thus inspired by observing the beauty of fish and their behaviors in their natural element.


Wydeveld fish painting


Wydeveld applied the skills he had honed during his years as a still-life painter to portraying fish in the wild, including an eye for detail and the ability to impart texture and a life-like presence in his painted depictions. This painting of a Muskellunge and Green-winged Teal is a masterful product of the artist’s focus on fish during the 1870s.


Arnoud Wydeveld fish painting

Frame size: 34.5″ h x 42.5″ w; Sight size: 27.5″ h x 35.5″ w


fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

The painting (seen from the back) has been relined and restretched for longevity.


Detail of the painting’s period frame.


Clearly the star of this painting is the Muskellunge, affectionately known throughout its range as “muskie” (it is also the state fish of Wisconsin). Wydeveld depicted this muskie lurking in the bay of a large, horizonless lake, perhaps meant to represent one of the Great Lakes that it populates.


Muskellunge painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

This muskie’s dark coloration and spotted pattern are typical of Muskellunge found in the Great Lakes, while in other locations their skin can be more barred or clear.


Wydeveld accurately captures the muskie’s streamlined body, elongated snout, and far-back fin placement—an ideal physique for an “ambush predator.”

While muskies typically range from 2.5’-4’ in length, the largest can be over 6’ long and weigh over 70 lbs. Muskies eat all species of fish present in their habitats (including smaller individuals of their own species), as well as muskrats, frogs, and yes, ducks.


A muskie showing a lighter coloration more typical of those living in turbid waters. (from


A Muskellunge cruising for food (


Jeff with a muskie he caught from a canoe while on a wilderness trip in Ontario years ago.


Although muskies have large stomachs that enable them to eat prey up to two-thirds their own body length, the Green-winged Teal is a very small duck—12″-15” long and weighing just 5-17 ounces—so it is more a snack than a meal for a large muskie.


A Green-winged Teal taking wing (


Wydeveld captured the cinnamon color of the bird’s head feathers, its dark green eyebands, and the spotting on its buff-colored breast.


As beautiful as Wydeveld’s floral and fruit still-life paintings are, we much prefer his spirited portrayals of fish in the wild. “The Fighting Muskellunge” is among the largest and most dynamic fish paintings Wydeveld created. Its presence will enliven a home with the energetic pulse and implicit story of fate and survival in the natural world.


fish painting by Wydeveld



Rare Old Hickory Daybed


Old Hickory daybed

Having handled lots of hickory furniture over the years, we’ve seen the majority of furniture forms that are documented either in books or in our collection of vintage hickory furniture company catalogs. While no antique hickory furniture could be called common, some forms appear on the market more frequently than others.

There are several reasons for the differing availability of hickory furniture forms. One is that certain types of furniture, such as hickory hoop arm or “Andrew Jackson” chairs (shown below), were made in every decade of hickory furniture production for over 50 years, and several different hickory furniture manufacturers made nearly identical versions of popular styles.

hickory hoop arm chair

Another reason is that a greater number of certain forms were produced and sold in a given year reflecting differing demand, for side chairs versus desks, for instance. Finally, some types of furniture such as dressers and other case pieces, have very little market turnover—once they are in a home they tend to stay there, even when the homes themselves (especially summer cottages in remote locations) change hands.


Old Hickory dresser


So it is always a bit of a thrill when we find a form that we have never or seldom seen on the market. That is the case with this Old Hickory daybed, which is only the second one that we’ve seen or owned in over 25 years of buying and selling hickory furniture.


Old Hickory daybed

Old Hickory Daybed dimensions: 74″ wide, 27″ deep, 33″ high back, 17″ high seat


This daybed appears in the 1942 catalog titled “Old Hickory Furniture by Old Hickory of Martinsville.”


Old Hickory 1942 catalog


It was listed as No. 949W “Day Bed With Back” and the description includes the note: “Back is adjusted with ropes.” That pretty well sums up this intriguing piece of furniture. This one is in good vintage condition, retaining its original open-weave rattan cane seat and back.


Old Hickory daybed weaving


The back can be set at two angles by placing the rope loops around either of two side pegs.

Old Hickory daybed



Old Hickory daybed

The ropes are set around first peg to hold the back upright.


Old Hickory daybed.

The ropes are set around the second peg to make the back more angled.


Taking the ropes off the pegs lowers the hinged back all of the way down so that the daybed can be used as a bench or cot.


Old Hickory daybed

Daybed with the back down, seen from the front.


Old Hickory daybed

Daybed with the back down, seen from the back.


Old Hickory daybed

The daybed’s previous owner had a faux leather pad made for the bench.


With the back down, the 74” wide bench fits perfectly at the foot of a 76” wide king-size bed. It would even be possible to remove the back entirely by unscrewing the hinges, depending on desired usage and placement. In fact, Old Hickory also sold this daybed without a back, listed in the catalog as “No. 949 Day Bed Without Back.”



Versatility was clearly the intent of the Old Hickory designers who created this daybed. Whether piled with throw pillows, outfitted with a seat pad, or used backless as a bench, it is handsome and functional—and also collectible for anyone seeking to acquire uncommon Old Hickory furniture forms.


Old Hickory daybed

George Browne’s “A Bluebill Drake”


When I look at a duck painting by George, I am immediately transferred there with the duck; I am on its level, whether it be a power stroke, setting wings, or a flight pattern.
To me that is the greatness of George.
(Sporting art dealer Robert Fraser, Ordeman & Schreiber, 20041)


The best sporting art—appreciative representations of game, fish, waterfowl, and upland birds, along with their landscape settings and sometimes sportsmen in the act of pursuing them—is interpretive rather than academic. Sporting artists strive to do more than accurately represent the physical features of an animal; they also seek to capture the ambiance of a moment in time, such as a misty trout stream at dawn, the startled flush of a covey in grasslands, or—as in this oil on canvas panel painting of a Greater Scaup by George Browne that we are now offering for sale (update: sold 2/19/18)—a duck alighting on an open patch of water.

Painting titled verso “A Bluebill Drake,” signed lower left George Browne. Untouched condition with light soiling and minor abrasions, in its original molded gilt frame. Canvas size is 16″ x 20″ and frame size is 20.75″ x 24.5″.

In the opinion of sporting art connoisseurs, George Browne (1918-1958) was not only a master at painting animals and their habitats, but also of that hard-to-capture essence of place, time, and the spirit of wildlife. Browne was as talented as, yet less well-known than, his sporting art predecessors and contemporaries—luminaries such as Frank Benson (1862-1951), Carl Rungius (1869-1959), Frances Lee Jacques (1887-1969), and Aiden Ripley (1896-1969). Although Browne was quite prolific as an artist, he produced a more limited body of work than these other sporting artists, and had less time to be promoted and appreciated, given the brevity of his professional career due to his untimely death in a shooting accident at the age of 40.

George Browne with his dog “Kelly” (from Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

Browne’s painting of a Greater Scaup, known colloquially as a “bluebill” or “broadbill,” exemplifies his expert ability to capture a bird’s shape, feather patterns, and posture.

Wildlife artists such as Browne must have superb observational acuity, a skill they have in common with both naturalists and sportsmen.

A Greater Scaup coming in for a landing (photo from


This label on the back of Browne’s painting reads “A Bluebill Drake” Canvas size: 16″ x 20″ “The bluebill or broad bill is the larger of the two scaups and generally inclined to salt water bays and estuaries of both coasts of this continent in winter.”

George Browne’s observational skills were honed during his many hours in the outdoors watching wildlife as well as hunting. His field notes, a sample of which follows (Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004), are not unlike those that a naturalist would write while observing birds, although Browne’s observations of the subtle plays of light are distinctly those of someone with an artistic eye and purpose:

Bird: Canada Geese 13
Background: Timbered Ridges
Lighting: Sun just set, Early twilight
Distance: 35 yrds over River
General Impressions: Birds noticeably flying fast. General color tone cold. Black areas noticeable lack of detail. Head and body unaffected by motion of wings, but base of neck and chest rise and fall alternately with wing beats. Chests cool whitish gray, check marks buckskin color. More light areas visible on geese in profile than when coming and going. Flock seemed dense, birds between 6 and 8 ft. apart on average.

Browne often captured the finer details of feather colors and patterns of the birds he had shot by creating small oil sketches that he then kept in his studio for reference. His wife Tibby once wrote:

Fishing and shooting were his relaxation, inspiration and spiritual refreshment…George prided himself in deriving the multi-faceted satisfaction from the hunt: the bird in the hand, the sketch of the same, the meal of the same, and finally the use of the feathers of the same for fly tying. (Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

Browne’s total immersion in his subject matter comes forth in the insightful representation of a Greater Scaup in this painting.


Signature in lower left of “A Bluebill Drake”

Fortunately, Browne was as fastidious in keeping records about his art production as he was about the accuracy of his paintings, which allows us to trace the creation of this painting to 1945, and its original sale to 1950. Before exploring this painting’s history, however, let’s first put it into the context of Browne’s life and career.

George Browne’s Early Development as an Artist

The life story of George Browne must begin with his father, Belmore Browne (1880-1954), an accomplished artist, author, explorer, mountaineer, hunter, all-around outdoorsman, and widely respected man of integrity. Belmore was arguably the most important influence on George, who followed remarkably closely in his father’s footsteps.

Belmore Browne in his studio (from Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

Belmore Browne grew up in privilege, but by the time he was a young man his father’s lumber business in Tacoma, Washington was failing. In the early 1920s Belmore’s love for the western frontier led him, together with his wife Agnes and their two small children (George and his sister Evelyn), to move to a one-room cabin at the conjunction of two rivers near the then remote village of Banff, Alberta.

Settling into the Rocky Mountain countryside resulted for the Browne children in what their mother called an “idyllic existence.” Over the next decade the family took summer trips on horseback with pack mules into the Alberta wilderness to explore, camp, hunt, and fish. In 1922, when Evelyn was 6 and George was just 4, Agnes wrote about her children:

I’m very proud of them, I must say. They’ve seen magnificent country and have learned to love it and appreciate it. Because they walked, they’ve learned the deer, bear, goat and sheep tracks and many of the wild flowers. They’ve learned the discipline of keeping up and bearing fatigue, hunger and even cold from the rain. They’ve learned to be good sports, to cast a fly, and no one can ever take from George an interest in fishing that has been awakened on this trip. He has been a constant source of amazement to Belmore and me. This ability to travel—the way the trip has developed him and roused him, and with it all his sweetness to all of us. (Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

During these camping excursions Belmore would often sketch, which is when George first became interested in drawing.

George Browne watching his father sketch (from Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

George reflected on his father’s ongoing influence on his development as an artist and a person in a letter to his mother in the 1940s: “He represents (the wilderness life) and has presented it to me in his paintings and in his tolerance and patience with my feeble efforts to follow in his footstep as an artist and out door man.”

Indeed, George was much more drawn to learning through an active outdoor life than he was to passive school learning. He struggled with dyslexia, and simply did not like school. A headmistress in Banff said “his mind goes on private exploring expeditions” during school hours. A teacher in Santa Barbara, CA where the family later lived during winters said “George resisted formal education with greater ferocity than any student I have had.”

At age 15 when George was in 8th grade, his request to quit school and devote his time to drawing and painting was granted by his parents. He thus became his father’s apprentice as well as receiving formal instruction for the next five years at the California School of Fine Arts.

Belmore and George Browne (from Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

George’s artistic training was interrupted in the early 1940s when he was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII. He was assigned to a U.S.-based unit that tested survival equipment being developed for aircrews whose planes might be shot down. In his capacity as an equipment tester he survived for three weeks without food or water adrift in a small inflated life raft in the Gulf of Mexico. He was also the first person to survive a parachute jump from over 40,000 feet, an assignment for which he eagerly volunteered.

But painting remained his central passion throughout his years in the service, as he expressed in one letter home:

I can no longer continue life without a paint brush in my hand, and when I get paid…I will go into town and purchase a small oil paint kit. Then when Sunday rolls around, I will rise at dark and go out and get some duck skies for future reference and to keep in practice. I will also get some sketches of water with both lakes and streams with reflections of trees, grass and mud banks. The dead grass and autumn trees will provide me with valuable sketches for bird pictures, and after the war I will be as good and probably better a painter than if I just let it go.  (Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

In a subsequent letter he wrote:

I am learning a lot from my Sunday painting, and it means a lot to me…Painting is my biggest form of recreation and takes all my days off. For the first time I am beginning to know a little about water and reflections. I have been painting a lot along the river and the lake, and this practice is just as valuable to me as painting in the Rocky Mountains, but not so much fun.  (Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

While in the army George also went hunting on his free days. In a letter he recounted one adventure in which his gun went over the side of his boat one pre-dawn morning while he was setting up decoys for waterfowling. He dove in the water while it was still pitch dark and followed a decoy line downward for seven dives before realizing the gun had sunk into the mud. So he dove again to search more deeply on the bottom, where on this eighth dive he found and recovered the gun from a foot of mud. This episode reveals his perseverance, stamina, daring, and strength of mind and body—characteristics that people noted about George throughout his life.

When George came back home following his discharge at the end of the war, he and his father did much bird hunting while George concentrated on painting waterfowl and other gamebirds. His mother commented in 1947:

George was developing fast—the grouse picture, a beauty—the groups of pintails on the marshes in the early morning. The bluebills around his decoys. And he often worked into the late hours by electric light.  (Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

Study of Ruffed Grouse by George Browne (from





Browne painted our “A Bluebill Drake” in 1945, so it was completed during the period from the early to the late-1940s when George was focusing on perfecting his painting of waterfowl. The late 1940s is also when his career started to take off as his work began to be more widely shown and promoted.

George Browne’s Early Professional Career and Gallery Representation

Prior to going into the military George had sold a dozen or so paintings for $10-$50 each, and while in the army a New York art dealer sold three of his paintings for $25-$45. In 1947 a more prestigious gallery in Manhattan that had been handling Belmore Browne’s paintings, the Grand Central Art Galleries, agreed to exhibit George’s work. They sold ten of his paintings from 1947-1949 in prices ranging from a few hundred dollars up to $750, a marked increase over his former earnings.

George became increasingly focused on the amount of money he was able to earn as a painter after marrying Isabel “Tibby” MacGregor in 1948, and eventually having two children to support as well. As his parents had done before him, he and Tibby moved to a small cabin in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta where George focused fulltime on producing art.

Although George admitted that he became a painter of wildlife in part to spend a lot of time outdoors, he became a disciplined artist in his studio as well. He was devoted to the life of painting, working between 12-14 hours a day which according to Tibby allowed “scant time for sleeping and eating and still it gave him a solid sense of fulfillment.”

His concern about providing for his family by selling paintings came through in the detailed records he kept of every painting he completed, how large it was, how long it took him to paint it, and how much the painting sold for—he even calculated a “Square Inch of Canvas to Sale Price Ratio” and broke down his yearly income as gross income per picture, profit per days worked, and income per day, week, and month.

We were able to locate our 16” x 20” bluebill painting on several pages of his log books (reproduced in Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004). In one book it appears as the 103rd painting he had sold since 1934.

Another log page shows the “Blue Bill Drake” as the 11th and final painting he produced in 1945, the prior ten of which he had sold for a total of $220.

He did not sell “A Bluebill Drake” however, until 1950 when Grand Central Art Galleries (abbreviated as “G.C.G.” in Browne’s logs) mounted a one-man show of Browne’s paintings at their Manhattan gallery.

George Browne during his show at Grand Central Art Galleries in 1950 (from Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

“A Bluebill Drake” was included in the Grand Central Art Galleries 1950 show, and the gallery’s label is still intact on the back of the painting.

When this painting sold at the show, George went back to his 1945 record book and added the information “Exhibition G.C.G 1950,” and in the Remarks column he noted that the painting sold to “Cousin Elizabeth” for $175, which is the price that is on the label still present on the back of the painting.

Browne’s Upward Career Trajectory, Move East, and Tragic Death

George Browne’s solo exhibition at Grand Central Art Galleries in 1950 provided a substantial boost to his career, helping him sell 22 paintings that year. But an even more significant opportunity came in 1952 when George made a connection with Ralph Terrill, the director of the a New York gallery specializing in sporting art, the Crossroads of Sport Gallery. From 1952-1958 Crossroads sold half of the paintings Browne produced.

Based on Terrill’s advice that “People seem to like to buy something which reminds them of their favorite shooting terrain,” Browne accepted invitations from Terrill’s clients to hunt with them and then paint their favored eastern terrain around the Chesapeake Bay, Georgia, and the Carolinas, as well as the birds they hunted there.

Pheasant painting by George Browne (from


Mallard painting by George Browne (from

Crossroads gallery sold George Browne’s paintings through their annual catalogs from 1952 until his death in 1958. Sporting art collectors across America could thus purchase Browne’s work along with that of Pleissner, Rungius, and Jacques whose paintings appeared in the same Crossroads catalogs.

As Browne was gaining success selling paintings of upland game birds and waterfowl to eastern sportsmen, his patrons convinced him to move closer to New York which was the center of the sporting art business. So George and Tibby Browne eventually sold their house in Alberta and in 1956 they moved into a home they had built in Norfolk, Connecticut.

Remarking on George’s artistic development, especially during his time in Connecticut, one critic wrote the following in the magazine Sporting Classics:

Almost daily his work grew stronger, richer, more poetic. Not only did he have the gift for breathing life into his birds and mammals, he knew how to arrange them in a composition for maximum dramatic effect. Few artists have been better at crafting the illusion of space, of three dimensionality; perhaps it was because of Browne’s own lack of depth perception,* a function of his monocular vision, forced him to pay extra attention to perspective. (*He had sustained an eye injury when he was 10 from the ricochet of a shotgun pellet.)

Likewise, his sister Evelyn once wrote about George’s deep knowledge of habitats and the individual qualities of each species he painted:

George knew what he was painting with scientific accuracy, and he had the transcendent ability to render what he saw, in paintings of unparalleled and arresting beauty.

It is all the more tragic then, that this artist of great accomplishment and even greater promise, was accidentally killed in 1958 by an acquaintance who was inexperienced with guns.

They were in the Adirondacks attending a March outing of sportsmen who served on the Camp Fire Club of America’s Conservation Committee. They were target practicing by shooting balloons blowing across a frozen lake when one of the men mishandled a gun’s hang-fire; the delayed discharge of the bullet then struck Browne in the neck. Thus George Browne, who by the age of 40 had survived parachute jumps, weeks alone in a life raft, an expedition up Mount McKinley, Rocky Mountain wilderness excursions, and countless hunting adventures, died within an hour being shot.

His family and friends lost a gem of a man that day, and the world lost a talented artist. Through his work George had attained what he once predicted and aspired to, as written in a letter to his parents:

“I believe I will gain an individuality and originality found in the work of men who are inspired by their subject rather than by themselves.”

George Browne painting on Mount McKinley in 1947 (from Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

Fortunately, photos of Browne, his personal records and letters, and descriptions of him as a gifted man of integrity written largely by the women who loved him—his mother, sister, and wife—remain for posterity, as do the images of landscapes and wildlife he so deftly captured on canvas.


1 Background information, images, and page references throughout this article are drawn from the book Artists of the North American Wilderness: George and Belmore Browne (2004) by J. T. Ordeman and M. M. Schreiber. Toronto: Warwick Publishing.

A Wildlife Woodcut


In all of the years that we’ve admired the book illustrations of outdoor and natural history artist Henry B. Kane, we had never seen a stand-alone piece of his artwork on the market until recently finding this woodcut (now sold).

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

It is a portrait of a mouse (likely a white-footed mouse, Peromyscus leucopus), rendered in a small scale befitting its subject (frame size: 8.5” wide x 9” high; woodcut size: 4” square). The crisp black and white contrasts that comprise the image of the mouse nestled on a small branch of a red pine in its woodsy home habitat, are the distinctive attributes of woodcuts. The artist was able to achieve great clarity of detail by carving a block of wood so that when inked and pressed onto paper the portions of the woodblock that were raised in relief join with those that were gouged away to create a stunning black-and-white image.

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

This woodcut is one of a limited edition, number 16 of 100, and is signed by the artist in pencil in the lower right.

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

The artwork was matted and framed in Boston, not far Lincoln, Massachusetts where Kane lived for many years with his wife, two daughters, and a son.

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

While Kane’s personal and professional lives were rooted in the Boston area, his artistic abilities and book projects allowed him to travel in his mind’s eye, by immersing himself in the variety of habitats and settings that his collaborating authors explored. He was a rare individual who was equally drawn to and adept at science and art, as well as skilled in administration. What else do we know about this accomplished man?

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Pyrography Center Table


pyrography center table

This graceful center table (30″ wide, 21.75″ deep, 30″ high) is a stellar example of a decorative technique called pyrography, literally meaning fire writing, but better known as wood burning (a.k.a. “burnt wood etching” and “pokerwork”). The table dates from circa 1910, so was created during the late 19th-early 20th century time period when pyrography reached peak popularity with artists and crafters.

pyrography on birch bark

Before describing this table in more detail, it is worth recounting a bit of the fascinating background of pyrography which includes pieces of history from the domains of art, science, society, and commerce.

A Brief History of Pyrography

Burning designs into wood, leather, and bone for artistic expression dates back to at least the 1st century AD. In early times designs were etched with hot implements that needed to be constantly reheated as the artwork progressed.

That inconvenient and tiresome technique changed radically in 1889 when an artist named François Manuel-Perier introduced a “pyrography machine” at the International Exposition in Paris. He had adapted a medical instrument that a French physician had invented in 1875 for cauterizing wounds. The tool had an insulated handle with a sharp tip made of platinum, a metal which was uniquely able to absorb a certain gaseous mixture that could keep the tip hot. 

Within a year, a compact version of Manuel-Perier’s thermo-pyrography tool, made by Abbott Brothers Manufacturing, was being sold in England within a kit called “The Vulcan Wood Etching Machine.”

The basic necessities included in the kit were pencils with varying size platinum tips, an alcohol spirit lamp, a jar of liquid benzene, and two lengths of rubber tubing – one connected to a bellows and the other connected to the hollow platinum pencil tip.

The artist would initially heat the sharp platinum tip of the pencil in the flame of the spirit lamp, then extinguish the lamp. While using the pencil tip to burn a design into wood with one hand, the artist would then constantly pump the bellows with their other hand which transmitted benzene vapor through the tube to the platinum point which then absorbed the gas to keep the tip glowing hot.

Conveniently, in 1891, a year after Abbott Brothers introduced its pyrography kits, a book titled A Handbook on Pyrography written by a Mrs. Maud Maude was published in England, declaring that “the art has lately attracted considerable attention and is now a most fashionable art with enthusiastic feminine amateurs.”

The book, along with a series of articles Mrs. Maude penned for the U.S. magazine The Delineator in 1892, gave explicit instructions for producing pyrographic art using the Vulcan kit, thereby helping the art form became a fad as a home craft, particularly among women. It turns out that Mrs. Maud Maude was a pseudonym for Ann Maud Abbott Freeman, a sister of the Abbott Brothers who manufactured the Vulcan pyrography kit. Savvy marketing, indeed.

Additional publications encouraging the craft of pyrography as a “delightful and profitable pastime” for women followed, including the 1894  Fancy Work for Pleasure and Profit by Addie E. Heron which detailed how women could make decorative objects for their own homes or to sell, and the 1903 book 300 Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Lilla Elizabeth Kelley which had a chapter devoted to pyrography filled with detailed instructions as well as encouragements such as, “If the point does not work well at once do not feel vexed.” Thus began the popular trend of adorning household objects such as small boxes, mirrors, frames, and wall plaques with pyrographic art.


Riding the wave of pyrography as a popular home craft, the Flemish Art Company was established in Brooklyn, NY around 1900 to began producing pyrographic objects commercially.

Flemish Art Company


The company manufactured its own wooden objects – wastebaskets, hand mirrors, tabourettes, handkerchief boxes, wall plaques and the like – largely from basswood that they sourced “in the cold climates of  Michigan, Minnesota, and Canada” which the company believed produced superior, whiter wood. Their artistic employees, many of whom were women, then hand-decorated the objects with pyrographic designs. The company’s artists also engraved metal plates that were heated and pressed onto wood to decorate some of their commercial products.

Flemish Art Company

A Flemish Art Company production room (from


A Flemish Art Company artist at work (from

This frame (which we owned and sold several years ago), depicting a sporting woman with a tennis racket and bag of golf clubs, was likely handmade by a Flemish Art Company artist.

pyrography frame

( archives)

The Flemish Art Company also sold pyrography kits that included paints, stains, waxes and varnishes, instruction booklets, and other handy tools for do-it-yourself pyrographers.


One particularly interesting accessory was the “Flemish Art non-explosive absorbent – a cotton-like substance called asbestos” which crafters were encouraged to “place in the benzene bottle to absorb the volatile fluid make it safe and non-explosive should the bottle break.”  

Although pyrography instruction books included some ominous warnings such as: “You should always have a fire extinguisher at the ready and preferably another person nearby who could help in case of an accident,” and “If a red flame issues from your vent hole, your benzene is too strong,” no one at the time understood the carcinogenic hazards of working with these materials.

Pyrography and the Rustic Aesthetic

The era of mass popularity of pyrography as a crafting activity, roughly 1890 through the 1920s, coincided with the rusticator era when city folk sought not only experiences in the wilderness, but also decorative reminders of nature and adventures in the outdoors. Not surprisingly, then, pyrographic designs have appeared on antique rustic accessories that we’ve handled over the years.

Sometimes the pyrographic designs have been simple floral or geometric etchings, such as on the edges of this frame and canoe:

pyrography frame

(from archives)

The etchings surrounding a circa 1900 painting of an Indian princess (who looks very much like a Caucasian Victorian lady) on this wall plaque are more pictorial and elaborate:

pyrography plaque

(from archives)


Canoe paddles, both model and full-sizes, were often decorated with Native American themes.

This set of four canoe paddles included a Gibson girl etching along with the Native American portraits, which seems incongruous but was entirely typical of designs favored during the turn-of-the-20th-century era.

pyrography canoe paddles


This set of model paddles incorporated colors in stylized Native American motifs, as well as portraits.

pyrography canoe paddles pyrography canoe paddles pyrography canoe paddles

These souvenir model canoe paddles illustrate a specific lake landscape in New Hampshire:

pyrography canoe paddles pyrography canoe paddles pyrography canoe paddles


This pyrography landscape scene was a large wall panel surrounded with a twig frame:

pyrography landscape


This fish is another large piece of pyrography wall art from our past inventory. Most of the wood burning work is in the geometric mosaic background texture, with some lighter pyrography details delineating the features of the fish itself:

pyrography fish


The vast majority of pyrographic art we’ve owned have been wood, but one of the most unique pieces we’ve had was a birch bark wastebasket decorated with different pictorial pyrography etchings on all four sides:

pyrography on birch bark

Although the pyrography designs on these smaller accessories were likely executed by women, pyrography on larger furniture pieces were more likely done by men. There is direct evidence of this on a full-size blanket chest we once owned which was inscribed and signed beneath the lid by its maker, Thomas F. Hurton:

pyrography blanket box

pyrography blanket box


Pyrography-Decorated Furniture: The Center Table

pyrography table at Cherry Gallery

This center table that we are now offering for sale is the largest piece of pyrographic work we have owned to date. It is made of tulip or yellow poplar. The clean joinery, turned stretchers, and shaping of the curved legs and apron all indicate that the maker was an experienced cabinet maker.



pyrography table

The table is signed (via wood burning) by its maker, H. A. Frey, in an unusual location – on the bottoms of each of its four feet.

pyrography center table


The table is fully decorated with pyrography designs. Most of the surface is wood-burned with shading strokes that create a stippled background texture.



Standing out from the black-stained background are vivid red wild roses complete with dark green leaves and rosehips. Natural motifs such as flowers, vines, and fruits are emblematic designs of the Art Noveau era during which this table, and most antique pyrography, was created. A simple gold scallop delineating the center portion of the table adds a subdued color element that complements the striking red-on-black design.



In addition to the four wild roses on the outer edges of the table top, each of the table legs have the etched and painted rose designs on both sides of the legs so they are visible from all viewing angles.


This table’s combination of a refined furniture design with nature-themed, pyrographic embellishments echos the eclectic rustic decor that was characteristic of classic Adirondack Great Camp interiors around the turn of the 20th century. The table also creates a striking black contrast against white walls in more modern interiors that are infused with rustic elements.


pyrography center table


(Historic illustrations and much of the background information on pyrography in this article were sourced from

Rare Rustic Hickory Armoire


Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

Discovering new forms within a familiar genre of antiques is always a thrill for dealers on the hunt for quality pieces. This rustic armoire qualifies as one of those rare finds that expands the horizons of known hickory furniture types, so the discovery is satisfying from both scholarly and aesthetic perspectives.

Antique hickory case pieces appear on the market less frequently than hickory tables and seating because far fewer of them were produced by the six or so original Indiana hickory furniture companies during their manufacturing heyday from the early to mid-1900s.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

We know that this armoire was made by Rustic Hickory Furniture Company of LaPorte, Indiana because it retains that company’s attractive magenta and green paper label intact on the back.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company paper label

Rustic Hickory produced furniture from 1902-1934. The armoire does not appear in their catalogs and we have never seen one on the market, so we suspect it was available only as a special order or perhaps was made in a limited production run. The 1920s Rustic Hickory catalogs did feature bedroom suites (beds, dressers, and costumers) described as “Up-to-date bedroom equipment for the summer home, in typical Rustic Hickory Construction.” Although complementary in style, the armoire was not part of the company’s catalog line of bedroom furniture.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company catalog

Two pages of bedroom furniture from the 1926 Rustic Hickory Furniture Company catalog.

We are able to date the armoire to circa 1925 because it came directly from an Arts-and-Crafts bungalow-style lakeside summer home that was built in the southern sector of the Adirondack Park around that date. Upon completion of the home, the owners furnished it throughout with quality Rustic Hickory and Old Hickory furniture. The armoire had been in the house since it was built.

Although the house was relatively large with spacious bedrooms on a full-story second floor, closet space was limited. Armoires have provided a storage solution in rooms without closets since medieval times when they held everything from armor (hence the derivation of the French word armoire) to tapestries, rugs, linens, and clothing. Up until the early 1900s, most homes were built with few or no closets, so movable, free-standing wardrobe cabinets were common.

Armoire styles have changed throughout the centuries as storage needs and decorative trends evolved. This unique, rustic-style armoire has four doors, and hickory pole trim along the abutting edges of each door, between the sets of doors, and around the front, sides, and top edges of the whole case.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet
There are different storage features inside the left and right pairs of doors.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet
The doors on the left open to an empty space for hanging clothes from a hickory pole closet rod.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

The doors on the right open to two shelves and four drawers for folded garments. The shelves and drawer fronts are made of pine.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

The interior dimensions of each half of the armoire are 23” wide x 21” deep x 52” wide (the overall exterior dimensions are 51.5” wide x 24.75” deep x 61” high), so it is roomy enough to hold an array of clothing.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet
Beyond its functionality, this armoire’s grand scale, warm finish, and bark-on hickory poles make it a handsome anchor piece for a rustic room’s decor. It also evokes nostalgia for the simple lifestyle that early 20th-century rusticators enjoyed at their vacation home retreats.

Birding with Bookends


Bradley & Hubbard bird bookends

Like many people, we adore wild birds. Jeff in particular is an avid bird watcher and observer of the ecology and natural history of bird life. So it is fun to occasionally mesh this leisure interest with a business pursuit, as in the case of offering these antique bird bookends for sale. The two pursuits are not so dissimilar as they might seem, as both require a keen eye for detail and the ability to pick out beauty and salient features from a crowded field.

This pair of handsome, circa 1920 cast iron bookends features accurate portrayals of two eastern songbirds: a Blue Jay and an Eastern Towhee. Each bird is accurately rendered and painted to represent how the birds appear in their full-feathered glory.

bradley and Hubbard bird bookends

Blue Jay


Bradley and Hubbard bird bookend

Eastern Towhee


Each bookend is 5″ wide x 3″ deep x 5.75″ high, and has a brass nameplate stating the bird’s name.

Bradley and Hubbard bird bookends

Bradley and Hubbard bird bookends

Note that the Eastern Towhee bookend is labeled with the name “Chewink.” This is the former common name for this species, representing the onomatopoeic version of its call. This bird has gone through several name changes in the past decades, from Chewink, to Rufus-sided Towhee, to its current common name, Eastern Towhee.

The plants pictured along with the birds on the bookends are also northeastern species, accurately rendered and appropriate for the habitats of these two birds. The Blue Jay is shown on a branch of flowering dogwood.

Bradley and Hubbard bird bookends


The Eastern Towhee is on an American hazelnut branch.

 and the EasternTowhee is on a

The quality of the bookends is evident not only in the fine casting and detailed paint decoration, but also in the iron’s solidity and heft. Yet at the same time the shape of the bookends is delicate and balanced, having a simple scalloped edge along the top that is echoed on the base.

It will come as no surprise to those familiar with antique metalwork that these bookends were made by Bradley & Hubbard (B & H) Manufacturing Company. B & H cast iron accessories, from bookends to call bells to doorstops to doorknockers, are desirable to collectors of cast iron because of their quality and aesthetic appeal.

These bookends are each stamped with the logo that B & H used on the smaller accessories it produced:

Bradley and Hubbard bird bookends

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