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Painted Furniture in Americana at Stair

The story of American painted furniture follows the same path the early settlers took, from esthetic purity as they established their colonies in the late 17th century, to the addition of decorative folk elements in the 18th and 19thcenturies. Many early pieces of American furniture had little more than an oil finish as paint was rare and Puritan settlers felt decoration was frivolous and sinful. By the mid- 18th century, the Colonists felt established in their new home and began to decorate with painted elements on walls and furniture. These folk designs were taken from their immigrant backgrounds, incorporating Dutch and French motifs, German fractur and English crewelwork patterns. Hearts, tulips, vines and birds were the most common motifs and remain iconic in the Americana design canon. Examples of early American painted furniture are rare, and those in good condition are rarer still, the vagaries of time and the quality of the materials used contributing to their scarcity. The paint was often made with poor-quality pigments that were ground in glue size and thinned with beer or whiskey, causing the paint to disintegrate over time. Other pieces of early folk furniture were stripped by their owners during the Victorian period when bare wood was appreciated over color decoration.

Pigments were a rare and precious commodity during the Colonial era. Spanish red, Indian red, vermillion, red-brown and umber and were the most available and most often seen on early painted furniture. A blue-grey pigment called smalt was the only blue available to furniture painters prior to 1800 and was used judiciously. After 1800, Prussian blue and ultramarine became available allowing for more variety in 19th century designs. Clocks, tables, chests and beds were painted in the Colonial palette in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

As Americans’ wealth grew in th e 19t century, so did their interest in decorating their homes to fit the part of landed gentry in the New World. English furniture was the high-water mark,  copied by American craftsman who had access to furniture designs for wealthy homeowners in New York and Boston. For those without great means, similar pieces were crafted and painted to look like their expensive predecessors. Paint was used to replicate what would have originally been inlaid brass on chair backs and around the edges of tea tables and settees. Faux-bois painting was used to recrecreate the look of ebonized wood on chests of drawers, headboards and wood trunks.

Time & Location

Painted Furniture in Americana at Stair on September 8 at 11am

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