In Print : A scholarly look close to home
"Harbor & Home, Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts, 1710-1850" by Brock Jobe, Gary R. Sullivan, and Jack O'Brien. University Press of New England, 2009, 435 pages, $75.
"Harbor & Home, Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts, 1710-1850," is an impressively large and glossy book with more than 100 color plates of the furniture and clocks of the region and period. It is not, however, to be confused with similar looking "coffee table books," books displayed for their decorative appeal.
This is a scholarly volume of meticulously researched examples of furniture as indicators of regionalism and the influences that shaped it, style as a cultural expression, and the evolution of craft shops, most specifically the rural handcraft tradition of Samuel Wing of Sandwich and the mechanized process of furniture factories in the New Bedford area. It is a history lesson told in tables and chairs.
The period covered in the book, a catalogue of the current exhibit at Winterthur Museum and Country Estate in Delaware's Brandywine Valley, is noted for the changes that occurred in the population and economy of an area that stretches from just south of Boston to Providence, east to the tip of Cape Cod, including Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Imported exotic woods brought in on local ships were used by area craftsmen to make furniture and clocks that were then shipped to various markets.
The chapters are written with the enthusiasm and drama of a treasure hunt, discoveries made by peering into the nooks and crannies of private and institutional collections, word-of-mouth clues followed up with scholarly zeal.
Possibly the finest example of an 18th-century Boston Queen Anne dressing table was being stored in a Martha's Vineyard barn until a postmistress hinted at its existence.
A cane-bottom chair remained boarded up behind a wall in a Norwell house, before it was discovered during renovations in 1999.
The history of a particular banister-back armchair is linked to John Allen (1682-1767), "one of the leading power brokers on Martha's Vineyard." The chapter continues: "As a prominent merchant, major landholder, and justice and high sheriff for Dukes County, he influenced almost every aspect of island life."
Another chapter features a scrimshaw dressing box, attributed to the Vineyard's Captain Richard G. Luce: