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Paint-decorated Federal Chairs
[Paint-decorated Federal chairs]

[Peacock Chair]

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[Paint-decorated Federal chairs]

A client was intent upon having a most exceptional dining room to support extensive entertaining at home. After much research into chair design, a single chair captured their imagination. This chair exists as the sole remainder of chairs constructed in the early 1800s for the daughter of a merchant of the China Trade, which at the time was centered in Salem, Massachusetts. The Salem sea captains consistently risked their lives and fortunes by sailing to Asia around the southern tip of South America, long before the Panama Canal was ever envisioned.

These successful captains enjoyed a wealth and privilege known only to oilmen and heads of financial enterprises today, yet their lives were infinitely more dangerous. Challenged by weather and pirates, their hard earned experience provided entry into Asia and the Pacific Islands before any other traders. Therefore, they gained a wealth achieved by few of that era, and were able to endow their heirs in a manner that remains uncommon to this day. Ms. Eliza Hasket Derby enjoyed the benefits of privilege, and upon her marriage a set of furniture was commissioned and built for her as part of a legacy to be brought forward through the continuing generations.

Indeed, this sole chair remains in the collection of the esteemed Winterthur Museum in Delaware, Maryland, as an example of the high level of achievement in American Furniture of the day. It is one of the most romantic pieces of furniture ever created in America.

I was asked to replicate and construct twenty of these chairs for this client. I enlisted the aide of an old and dear friend and craftsman Arthur Swanson of York, Maine to assist with the painting. With the help of his exceptional abilities and effort, these chairs represent the high achievement of this period, and a high point of American Federal Furniture.