Journal

Old Hickory One-Drawer Stand

01.27.2014

Every so often we still acquire a piece of hickory furniture that we had seen pictured in vintage catalogs, but had yet to find on the market.  This little stand had caught our eye in the 1935 Old Hickory Furniture Company catalog because it is one of just a few Old Hickory end and side table designs that included a drawer.  We are pleased to finally have an example of this particular form to offer for sale.

Old HIckory one-drawer stand

This stand was produced within a special series of furniture introduced in 1935 that mixed hickory pole frames with distressed pine which, as the catalog relates, “lends its mellow charm to most cases and tables.” To increase the pine’s mellow surface character, workers at the Old Hickory factory distressed (or “antiqued”) the soft wood using chains and nails to impart the impression of a history of use.

Old Hickory one-drawer stand

The physical design of the pine and hickory furniture series also had a historical character, reflecting consumers’ interest in Colonial revival forms during the 1930s.  An entertaining sales pitch and aesthetic rationale for these designs was spelled out in the introduction to the 1935 Old Hickory catalog:

The files of Early Americana and a wide observation in the peasant districts of Europe have afforded many inspirations for the quaint, authentic and ‘true to type’ patterns shown in Old Hickory’s new groupings of rustic furniture…The details of a century-gone craftsmanship, the homely old materials, rope, leather, pine, square-headed nails, have all been faithfully used…There is, in these new patterns, relief from the jangle of cities and the standardized forms of today so wearisome to nerves and eyes.  They carry you back to wind-swept prairies, deep primeval forests, and last and best of all, the men and women who faced this wilderness, axe in hand, with which to new a home.

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Not Obsolete: Five (Plus Two) Popular Old-fashioned Furnishings for Rustic Retreats

01.27.2014

We recently came across a blog post listing ten furniture pieces that, in the opinion of the author, are becoming extinct in the wake of modern lifestyles, technologies and tastes – including TV cabinets, roll-top desks, and water beds. This spurred our thinking about how furniture changes with the times – not just the era-specific styles (e.g., ornate Louis XIV or spare mid-century modern) reflected in furniture design, but also the actual pieces of furniture that in some time periods are more central to daily life than in others. Curio cabinets and ferneries were particularly well-suited to Victorian hobbies and décor, whereas sectional sofas and mudroom storage cubbies are popular today.

Much of the antique furniture we sell, however, is placed in rustic retreats where families consciously lead a more relaxed and simpler lifestyle that provides a respite from the normal bustle and patterns of modern everyday life.  So along with rustic versions of the basics that are desirable furnishings in any modern home – dining tables and chairs, upholstered chairs, rocking chairs, sofas, console tables, lamps, mirrors and the like – rustic homes often include types of furniture that harken back to earlier eras.  Here are five such pieces that prove to be ever popular for rustic retreats:

1. Game tables.  Card games and jigsaw puzzles typically happen during leisure hours with family members of all ages. There is not always room in our primary homes to dedicate a table surface to a jigsaw puzzle in progress, but having a table that is always available for and well suited to holding puzzles, board games and card games is a priority in many vacation retreats.

Habitant game table

Old Hickory game table

2. Porch gliders. Nothing quite evokes an idyllic rustic lifestyle like whiling away an evening gently gliding to and fro on a porch with a view of nature.  Rustic gliders, especially versions with seat springs and cushions, are sometimes used as indoor sofas as well.

old hickory upholstered glider

Old HIckory glider

3. Coat trees. In more formal homes, outdoor coats typically reside in a hall closet.  But free-standing coat trees, developed when houses did not have commodious closets, get a lot of use in rustic homes – in bedrooms for a favorite flannel shirt and wool sweater, in bathrooms for towels and robes, and near doors for sunhats and fishing caps, binoculars and creels, jackets and rain slickers.

rustic hall trees

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Owl Bookends

12.30.2013

owl bookends

These bookends fit within several categories of collectibles, each with its own world of variation:  figural cast iron, bookends, and owls.  For our audience interested in rustic décor, it is more likely the owl form that will have primary appeal, with their value as uncommon vintage cast iron figures in excellent condition, as well as their usefulness as bookends, being secondary attractions.

owl bookends

For collectors of figural cast iron such as bookends and door stops, condition and rarity are important attributes. These bookends (6” high, 4.25” wide, 2.25” deep) retain their pristine original surface, painted in shades of yellow, green, brown, silver and black.

owl bookends

 The form is a stylized owl rather than a portrayal of a particular species – it captures the essence of owl anatomy including large, forward-facing eyes, a facial disk with shortened feathers, and an upright posture.

owls

(Barred owl photo from adenabrook.org)

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A Snowy Owl Irruption

12.30.2013

It has been an exciting early winter for bird watchers here in Maine and elsewhere in the Northeast, along the Atlantic seaboard and throughout the Great Lakes region, due to a plethora of Snowy Owl visitors.  For our final Musings entry of the year, we are delving further into the owl theme introduced in this month’s Featured Find.

snowy owl

(wikipedia.org)

Every so often birds that normally live year-round in the Arctic make their way south in large numbers during the winter months.  This past summer researchers reported high breeding productivity among Snowy Owls in the Arctic.  Their primary food source – the lemming – was plentiful, so adult owls laid as many as 8-9 eggs, about twice their usual clutch size.  But when the hordes of hatchlings became hungry adolescents later in the season they started to disperse southward, presumably in search of more abundant food supplies.

Since Snowy Owls actively hunt during the day and prefer wide-open, tundra-like expanses such as salt marshes, sand dunes and hay fields, they are relatively easy to spot.  When we’ve seen them in past winters, however, it has been across an expanse of estuary where even through a spotting scope they appeared miniscule.

But we recently had the pleasure of watching a Snowy Owl for an extended length of time from only 30’ away.  This was in Biddeford Pool, Maine, an old settlement along a large tidal pool at the mouth of the Saco River in southern Maine, where as many as ten Snowy Owls have been seen at a time this winter. The one we viewed was sitting on the arm of an Adirondack chair, no less.  We were mesmerized gazing through binoculars at its large yellow eyes and swiveling head.  Since we had neglected to bring a camera, we only got a poor cell phone photo taken from a respectful distance, so you’ll have to use your imagination to turn the blob on the right arm of the middle chair into a magnificent Snowy Owl.

snowy owl

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Rare Indiana Hickory Steamer Chair

11.25.2013

Hickory steamer chairThis hickory chair evokes the leisure lounging of passengers on the deck of a steamship, yet it is much sturdier than traditional steamer chairs which typically had light open cane weave or flat slats on the seat and back, and thin, collapsible mahogany frames.  In contrast, this chair has a sturdy hickory pole frame with solid double stretchers along its length, and a tight herringbone weave rattan cane seat and back.  It does, however, have the basic shape of a steamer chair with a long leg rest and a slightly inclined back rest, as seen in this vintage photo of passengers relaxing aboard a steamship.

passengers in steamer chairs

Photo postcard available on eBay

Despite Indiana’s proximity to the Great Lakes where passenger steamers were a popular means of transportation from the 1890s through the 1940s, these heavy hickory chairs would not have been manufactured with steamships in mind.  This circa 1930 ad for an Old Hickory steamer chair indicates that a more likely target audience for these chairs was institutions such as sanitariums, hospitals, hotels and resorts.

ohadweb

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Room Design Tools for Placing Antiques, Part 2

11.25.2013

This article is a follow-up to my previous posting on a quest for design software that could easily be used to place footprints of unique antique furniture in two-dimensional room schematics.  While the previous software I reported on fell short of ideal, I have recently found a more useful tool.

It has become common for mega home furnishings stores to provide an on-line tool that allows customers to place footprints of their products in a diagram specified to the size and shape of their own rooms.  But many of these tools only allow a user to insert furniture of the exact dimensions of the products the company sells, so are not adaptable for people wanting to try out unique antique furniture in a virtual room setting.  One tool used by these stores, however, is much more flexible, because it provides templates of generic furnishing (sofas, chairs, tables, lamps and the like) whose exact dimensions a user can specify.  It is room planner software developed by Icovia which different companies customize with their own logos and homepages, but the inner functioning across all of the stores’ applications are the same.

I tried this software as provided by Ballard Designs (download the free app at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ballard-room-planner/id504303985?mt=8) by first creating an accurate dimensional outline of a recently renovated room in our home that we are ready to furnish.  Although I first tried to use the tool as an app on a mobile device (an iPad) I found that it lacked some key features that function on a standard desktop or laptop computer, which I suspect has to do with Flash not being functional on iPads.

Once I got going with this app on my pc, however, it was quick and fun to use.  I created a diagram of our 34’ x 14’ library, and moved walls to create the fireplace, bow window and entry doors to their actual dimensions.

room layout

room layout

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Large-scale Birch Bark Canoe Model

10.23.2013

Native American birch bark canoe models that were made in the 1800s to early 1900s were accurate replicas of a tribe’s full-size birch bark canoes.  The scholarly book titled The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America by Edwin Tappan Adney and Howard I. Chapelle (Smithsonian Institution, 1964) has numerous detailed drawings and descriptions of traditional birch bark canoes and their construction.  The authors document the characteristics of many different tribes’ canoes, which makes it possible to attribute a birch bark canoe model to a particular tribe.

 

birch bark canoe model

 

This early 20th century model has the shape and characteristics of an Abnaki canoe. The Abnaki Indians included some Malecites and Penobscots, as well as members of southern and central New England tribes including those in New Hampshire and Vermont.  Eventually this group settled on the St. Francis River in Quebec, so Abnakis were also known as St. Francis Indians.

The various tribes making up the Abnaki group each had its own traditional style of canoes, but by the 1850s when they were living together in settlements along the St. Francis River they produced distinctive canoes that were an amalgam of different tribes’ designs.  Known for their excellent quality, these canoes sold well to sportsmen who used them for hunting and fishing.

 

Abnaki birch bark canoe

Fisherman and guide in a St. Francis Abnaki canoe (Adney & Chapelle)

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A Design Tool That’s Quick, Easy and … Inadequate

10.23.2013

arrangeroom2web

It can sometimes be hard to buy furniture without knowing how it will fit into a room, so I (KH) thought it would be useful to introduce our customers to a quick tool for inserting furniture footprints into a scale drawing of a room.  Huge companies such as Pottery Barn that sell mass-produced furniture online now have tools that let you draw your room dimensions, then insert two-dimensional outlines of their furniture to get a basic idea of how their products might fit your space.  This article reports the initial results of my quest to figure out how Cherry Gallery could adapt such a tool to assist buyers of unique antique furniture.

Fortuitously, we are completing renovations on an old (original portions built circa 1800, with major 1890s additions) house, and are nearly ready to furnish the final room that was gutted and refurbished over the past several months.  This room provides our real-life case study for testing online tools for drawing a floor plan and experimenting with adding furniture to scale.  My two main criteria were that the tool be free (not requiring purchased software), and so friendly that drawing the initial room outline on a computer screen would take no more time than it would to draw it on a piece of graph paper.

That quick-and-easy criterion pretty much ruled out using 3-D design tools, even though there are some good ones available online for free.  When designing our kitchen a few years ago, I was inspired by a 3-D rendering our brother-in-law had made of their kitchen plan using free but powerful modeling software called SketchUp.  I saw his rendering while visiting the completed kitchen in their new house, and was impressed by how well his plan evoked the actual space I was standing in.

Kitchen plan from Sketchup's sample renderings

Kitchen plan from Sketchup’s sample renderings

Deck plan from  Sketchup's sample renderings

Deck plan from Sketchup’s sample renderings

So I diligently set about trying to use SketchUp to transform our mental images of a new kitchen into a snazzy architectural rendering.  Suffice it to say that I flunked my self-taught course in SketchUp, being impatient to produce a product rather than master a process.  I resorted to making a 2-D floor plan on graph paper to give to our cabinet maker who then created elevations.

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Micmac Quillwork on Birch Bark

09.26.2013

Micmac quilled shair seat

This saddle-shaped birch bark panel is elaborately decorated with geometric designs fashioned from dyed porcupine quills.  It is a stunning example of traditional Micmac Indian quillwork dating from circa 1850-60, and has the provenance of past ownership by a distinguished British collector of tribal art.  That this graphic artwork was fashioned as a seat for a formal Victorian chair, and that it ended up in the hands of a European, both make perfect sense in light of the history of how this Native North American Indian craft evolved.

A Bit of History

Micmacs in the Nova Scotia region of Canada have used dyed porcupine quills as decorative ornamentation for hundreds of years, practicing this art long before their contact with Europeans.  Explorers and fishermen who first encountered Micmacs recorded observations of decorative quillwork, such as in this sailor’s account written in 1606:  “…the maids and women do make matachias (bracelets) with the quills or bristles of the porcupine, which they dye black, white and red colours, as lively as possible may be.”  (Whitehead, 1982)*

Given that there are 20,000-30,000 quills on a single porcupine (yes, somebody counted them), they were an abundant source of raw material for handicrafts.

porcupine

Illustration by Adelaide Tyrol (northernwoodlands.org)

Not long after white people started living and trading among them, Micmacs turned their craftsmanship skills to making objects to sell to Europeans.  They had traditionally used techniques such as stitchery, loom weaving, wrapping and plaiting of porcupine quills to decorate objects for their own use.  They also decorated their birch bark canoes with porcupine quills, so inserting quills into birch bark to make decorative designs was another technique within their traditional repertoire. By the mid-1700s, when the souvenir industry was in full swing, the bark insertion technique had become the Micmac’s dominant form of quill ornamentation.

Birch bark boxes decorated with geometric mosaics of dyed porcupine quills were a staple of the Micmac’s trade with French and English settlers.  European entrepreneurs began buying up these crafts, and ships’ captains would resell them at their ports of call.   By the early 1800s, the sale of quillwork and other Indian crafts in Great Britain had become lucrative enough that their importation was taxed by the British government.

As the fur trade declined throughout the early 19th century, quill work became a primary source of Micmacs’ income. This explains their motivation to adapt quickly to European tastes, which during the Victorian era included fancifying even everyday household items such as tea cosies, straight-edge razor cases, comb boxes and napkin rings.

quilled wall pocket

19th Century quill decorated comb box wall pocket (Whitehead, 1982)

Sometime around 1840, a European fad for furniture inset with panels of quilled birch bark emerged.  Micmac women began to add chair bottoms made of birch bark ornamented with dyed porcupine quills to their wares.  In 1851, the Nova Scotia Industrial Exhibition offered a prize for “the best quill work chair bottoms.”

Solitary chair seats were produced for years prior to the production of matching sets of chair seats and chair backs, which helps us date our lone chair seat to the earlier production timeframe of the mid-1800s.  Single quilled chair bottoms sold for $2-$5 to homeowners and merchants, as well as directly to the cabinetmakers who mounted them on hand-crafted chairs.

The chairs into which quilled panels were inserted were fashioned in styles popular among Europeans of the time.  Several years ago, we sold a formal hall chair that had both a quilled back and a quilled seat to an American museum.  That chair (pictured below), had been purchased by James Du Pres, third Earl of Caledon, on a trip to Nova Scotia during the 1800s – an example of the vibrant trade that existed between Micmacs and enthusiastic British collectors.

Micmac quilled chair

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Simple + Rustic + Beauty

09.26.2013

Kathadin Lake Wilderness Camps

In our business, rustic is a style of design, craftsmanship and décor.  When used to describe desirable antiques, the word “rustic” in our vocabulary can just as easily be interchanged with “refined” – at least in reference to a furniture maker’s or an antiques owner’s aesthetic sensibilities.  Yet in everyday parlance, rustic also describes something more primitive, whether living conditions or artifacts, which can have their own very tangible appeal.

More in the spirit of the latter than the former meaning of rustic, we recently spent a few days at a remote lodge in Maine where rustic would be an appropriate adjective to refer to a simple – some might call it rugged – lifestyle without electricity, running water, roads or motorized vehicles.

Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps (KLWC) was established in 1885, and the main lodge and some of the guest cabins date from that time period. While our last article titled “Rusticator Repast” featured a style of late 19th century rusticating in the lap of luxury, camps such as KLWC would have catered to rusticators more interested in hunting and fishing than in dressing for dinner.  This photograph (from our inventory) of a city couple with their hunting guide is the type of scene we imagine unfolding in a place such as KLWC in its early days.

rusticators with hunting guide

Katahdin Lake and its surrounding land are now within Maine’s Baxter State Park, and can be accessed via a 3.3 mile hiking trail.

Baxter State Park Sign

Katahdin Lake Trail Sign

The start of the hike

The start of the hike into KLWC

Crossing Roaring Brook

Crossing Roaring Brook

Emerging into a grassy clearing after a mesmerizing hike through mossy woods is unexpected, as are the sights of cabins, garden phlox and apple trees.

 Katahdin Camps

Katahdin Camps lodge

While we thoroughly enjoy visiting grand old Adirondack camps and sophisticated contemporary rustic abodes, the old, unadorned cabins at KLWC also have their charms.  In fact, thinking of these structures as primitive is relative to your point of reference – simply having four snug log walls, a roof, beds, and a wood stove are downright luxurious after a few nights of camping in tents or lean-tos.

Our cabin

Our cabin

Our porch had a view of the lake

Our porch had a view of the lake

The cabin interiors have simple quilts on the beds and miscellaneous old furniture around the woodstove.

Katahdin cabin interior

Katahdin cabin interior

There are lots of camps and cabins like this throughout Maine (and undoubtedly throughout the country), whether hunting and fishing cabins or family camps.  A number of years ago at a Maine camp where we spent a week, Jeff was surprised that almost everything, especially the things that would be easy and inexpensive to replace, was broken or downright shabby – an ornery crank can opener with the rubber coating peeled off the handles, dated lamp shades sporting old light bulb scorch marks, a footstool with electrical tape repairing a tear in its naugahyde upholstery.  But it all seemed quite normal to Kass who grew up in northern Maine where most folks had some kind of a camp on the water or in the woods.  When something in your town house had seen better days, it went into reserve to take “up to camp,” “over to camp,” or “out to camp” depending on the compass direction from home to camp.

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