williamsburg, va

I’ve now been to Virginia. More accuratetly, the one-square mile of Virginia around the center of Colonial Williamsburg, where the Working Wood in the 18th Century conference happened January 16-19. Most of my time was spent in or near the American colonial village with “Working Wood” held in a conference center beside the working village.

The focus of this year’s conference was Backcountry Furniture with the historians and makers focused on pieces of furniture from outside of urban centers – furniture that was discovered and attributed to makers in places considered frontier country. A typical example was a maker moving westward, bring skills and design knowledge to the a new place. Early Kentucky furniture is a great example of this, with influences from the continental east and influences of New Orleans (coming up the Mississippi River) mixing to create a new and distinct region style. Bandy-legged, Federal style furnitre fits this new, distinct design catagory.

I am grateful for having attended. I infrequently consider the intersection of history, conservation and making. Dr. Daniel Ackermann, curator of collections at MESDA opened the conference with a discussion on early immigration and settlement patterns, and the material objects found in those early communities. Tara Chicirda, curator of furniture at Colonial Williamsburg, presented on a Rhode Island cabinetmaker who moved to Kentucky mid-career. A great group of makers presented – including Steve Latta on veneer work, Bill Pavlak and Brian Weldy on a Shenandoah Valley High Chest, and chairmaker Elia Bizzarri – who examined and built a fancy writing-desk chair orgininating from Lexington, KY and residing at the Colonial Williamsburg Muesum. These are just a few of the presenters and topics touched upon.

I gravitated towards anything chair-related. Elia’s presentations focused on fancy chairs and what goes into making them. Bright, bold, and colorful chairs were the style. There’s an impressive difference between the Elia’s freshly painted chair (paint work done by furniture conservator Chris Swan) and the dark and reserved original found at the Muesum. Chris Swan recreated the colors (minus the lead) to match the orinial finish. I’m guessing the difference is from fading, a little grime, and usage through the centuries.

There’s a small universe of people who enjoy looking and talking about chairs and it’s nice to gather in one place.