Although Massachusetts led the way in rebelling against the British in the American Revolution, the state's patrons and craftsmen remained wedded to English taste after the revolution. more

In the World

  • 1793Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin
  • 1815Battle of Waterloo
  • 1851Publication of Moby Dick

In Massachusetts

  • 1796Bulfinch’s State House completed
  • 1831William Lloyd Garrison begins publishing The Liberator
  • 1841Brook Farm Transcendental Movement experiment

Neoclassicism in the New Nation

Eagles, Columns, and Urns, 1790-1820

In 1793, the English-trained father and son John and Thomas Seymour arrived in Boston and became the leading cabinetmakers in its thriving woodworking community.

Craft specialization characterized the urban trade. Cabinetmakers often relied on carvers, decorative painters, turners, inlay makers, and upholsterers for specific details. Among the best-known workmen were the carver Thomas Wightman and ornamental painter John Ritto Penniman playing significant roles in the craft.

Mahogany and mahogany veneer were the preferred primary woods for high-style objects, which featured clean lines, geometric shapes, and two-dimensional patterned and pictorial inlaid ornament. These fine objects were often based at least in part on designs taken from English furniture pattern books.

In nearby Salem, Samuel McIntire, the noted architect and carver, stamped his personal style upon the buildings and furniture of that burgeoning seaport town. Salem cabinetmakers, such as the Sandersons, not only filled domestic commissions but achieved success in the town’s extensive international export trade in venture cargo, sending desks and other forms to far-flung markets.

In Roxbury, Simon Willard and his brother Aaron led a concentrated community of clock-making specialists who created innovative wall (often called banjo clocks), shelf, and tall-case clocks. The Willards streamlined clock production by turning to specialists to supply particular parts. These efficiencies resulted in far greater output. Between 1802 and 1820, Simon Willard’s shop sold more than 4,000 banjo clocks.

Selected Bibliography

  • Foley, Paul J. Willard’s Patent Time Pieces: A History of the Weight-Driven Banjo Clock, 1800-1900. Nowell, Mass.: Roxbury Village Publishing, 2002.
  • Lahikainen, Dean T. Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style. Salem: Peabody Essex Museum, 2008.
  • Lahvis, Sylvia Leistyna. “Icons of American Trade: The Skillin Workshop and the Language of Spectacle.” Winterthur Portfolio 27, no. 4 (winter 1992):213-34.
  • Lahvis, Sylvia Leistyna. “The Skillin Workshop.” Antiques 155, no. 3 (March 1999): 442-51.
  • Montgomery, Charles F. American Furniture, the Federal Period. New York: Viking, 1966.
  • Mussey, Robert D., Jr. The Furniture Masterworks of John and Thomas Seymour. Salem: Peabody Essex Museum, 2004.
  • Mussey, Robert D., Jr., and Christopher Shelton. “John Penniman and the Ornamental Painting Tradition in Federal-Era Boston.” AF 2010, 2-27.
  • Stoneman, Vernon C. John and Thomas Seymour, Cabinetmakers in Boston, 1794-1816. Boston: Special Publications, 1959.
  • Stoneman, Vernon C. A Supplement to John and Thomas Seymour, Cabinetmakers in Boston, 1794-1816. Boston: Special Publications, 1965.
  • Swan, Mabel M. Samuel McIntire, Carver, and the Sandersons, Early Salem Cabinet Makers. Salem, Mass.: Essex Institute, 1934.

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