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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

 
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Essex County, Massachusetts
Great Chair
1640–85
White oak

37 5/8 x 23 1/2 x 20 3/4 inches

 
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Bayou Bend Collection
Gift of Miss Ima Hogg

Arts of North America
 
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In the 17th-century American home, an armchair was hardly a commonplace object. Its presence signified the prominence of the chair's occupant: everyone else was relegated to more-modest seating forms, such as turned stools or benches. The joined chair, as its name implies, was constructed with mortise-and-tenon joints, resulting in a sturdier, more labor intensive, and therefore more expensive object. The cost became even dearer with the addition of a plump feather cushion on top of the board seat.

The design of this chair cannot be associated with a specific craftsman. However, like much early furniture, it is firmly rooted in British and Continental precedents. The square, tapering columnar legs and arm supports are derived from Mannerist vocabulary of 16th- and 17th-century northern Europe, whereas the flat, overhanging crest rail and carved ornament suggests a first-generation woodworker near Devon, England, where comparable carving practices date to the 1500s. A number of these chairs have histories that place them in Essex County, Massachusetts.