Friday, April 25, 2014

A somewhat literal interpretation

Throughout the process of laying out and actually constructing this rather large breakfront library case I have tried to stay true to George Hepplewhites original design. This has required a bit of compromise. 
I chose to eliminate the overlaid condition in the base section, making doors and drawers both inset. Aligning the panel mould applied to the doors with the drawers above increased  the width of the satinwood border around the drawer fronts. Hopefully this compromise is worth making while trying to respect the sanctity of the architects design.
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Friday, October 18, 2013

Keeping up with the Jeffersons

Both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were probably influenced by George Hepplewhite in their tastes in home furnishings. Jefferson purchased two sets of shield-back chairs from two different unidentified makers. The designs for these chairs were influenced by Plate 5 and Plate 2 of George Hepplewhite's The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide. Jefferson probably acquired them in New York during the spring of 1790 for his house on Maiden Lane where he resided while serving as Secretary of State.

Washington purchased a set of chairs with a back of quite a different design. The heart shaped shield back design is more closely associated with the work of James Wyatt and Gillows of Lancaster and London. This chair is one of four in the Poore collection at Indian Hill. They formed a part of the set bought by Washington for Mount Vernon, and were in use there at the time of his death. 

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hepplewhite at Gillows?

It has been noted that George Hepplewhite served his apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker at Gillows of Lancaster prior to opening his own business in London but the facts surrounding this apprenticeship are somewhat inconclusive.

From Susan Stuarts' book on Gillows:  "A thorough search through the Lancaster Apprentice Rolls failed to find any evidence of any Hebblethwaite or Hepplewhite apprenticed to Gillows or to any other Lancaster cabinetmaker, nor is there any evidence that he ever worked as a journeyman for the Lancaster firm. However it is possible that he worked in the Oxford Street shop whose records have not survived. There (may have been) a Hebblethewaite family living in Church Street about fifty yards from Gillows wareroom and workshops. There is, nevertheless, a strong similarity between Gillows' and Hepplewhite's designs. Some of Gillows designs, especially Chair Patterns predate Hepplewhite & Co. designs by several years."

Bibliography: Gillows of Lancaster and London, Susan E. Stuart

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Examples and Conspiracy Theories

The common consensus is that there are no known examples of furniture that were definitively produced by the firm of George Hepplewhite. After leaving the apprentice of Robert Gillow of Lancaster, Lownde's London Directory of 1786 records his shop on Redcross Street, Cripplegate.The influence of the style of George Hepplewhite on English and American furniture beginning in the late eighteenth century cannot be disputed but finding and determining that a particular piece was made by him or his firm has become the search for the holy grail.

The company offering the sideboard pictured above, M.S.Rau Antiques of New Orleans claims that it was "almost certainly crafted by Heplewhite".The evidence of proof can possibly be the almost exact similarity of the urn in the center of the Rau piece and the urn in the center of the sideboard design plate #32 from the Guide. As of yet I have been unable to locate a Heplewhite lithograph that more closely resembles the sideboard in the above photo. Although there are examples of pieces copied from these designs verbatim it in no way determines or implies that they were made by Hepplewhite's firm.

Hepplewhite never put his signature on any of the plates in "The Cabinetmaker and Upholsterer's Guide" or its subsequent revisions, but he did sign ten plates found in Shearer's  "London Book of Prices", 1788. One conspiracy theory is that the designs in the Guide were actually by Alice Hepplewhite and question the existence of George Hepplewhite . Records show a "George Hepplewhite" was born in 1727 in  Ryton Parish, County Durham, England. 
Another and somewhat more plausible conspiracy theory is that many of the designs (especially the chairs) in the Guide were copied from designs by James Wyatt (1746- 1814) architect to George III. Wyatt supplied chair designs to the leading cabinet-making firm of Gillows of Lancaster where Hepplewhite apprenticed.  A set of chairs supplied by Wyatt to Appuldurcombe House are very similar to Plate # 5 of the Guide.

The going rate for first and second editions of the Guide are $14,500 and $7,500 respectively and both are extremely rare.

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hepplewhite #70

To execute a literal interpretation of one of George Hepplewhite's designs can be a somewhat difficult task. In some instances, especially when drawn in elevation, details are easily determined and sometimes the lithograph is accompanied by a scale reference. This process becomes problematic when attempting one of the designs Hepplewhite chose to portray in perspective, or showing the piece "perpendicular" to the picture. 

Hepplewhite's contemporary, Thomas Sheraton, was truly a master of perspective drawing. The second part of his book "The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book" of 1793 is devoted entirely to perspective drawing explaining complex geometric equations as they pertain to the depiction of furniture and architecture. To quote Mr. Sheraton: "Some of (Hepplewhite's) designs are not without merit,though it is evident that the perspective is, in some instances, erroneous.".

Both Hepplewhite and Sheraton were faced with the certainty and the inevitability that their designs, while attempting to be on the cutting edge of neoclassical design, could someday become obsolete. The phrase "timeless classic" comes to mind.

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

George Hepplewhite and his influence in America


In 1788 George Hepplewhites's widow Alice had  her late husband's furniture designs published by I. an J. Taylor, No. 56 High Holborn, Borough of Camden, London. I think it is doubtful that she or the publisher realized the importance  that this publication would find in English Society, but also the far reaching influence this book would have on American craftsmen and the Elite Society in the United States.
Two significant American cabinetmakers were obviously influenced by this publication: Samuel McIntyre of Salem and John Shaw of Annapolis. Heplewhites book represented the latest style in English furniture design and when McIntyre was to make a large set of chairs for the wealthy whaling merchant Elias Haskett Derby, of course he based his design on plate #2 from "The Cabinetmaker and Upholsterer's Guide"
John Shaw built an extremely historically significant piece of furniture for an extremely historic person, notably William Paca, Governor of the state of Maryland and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. His serpentine chest was heavily influenced by plate #76
Both cabinetmakers put their individual touches on George Hepplewhite's original design. McIntyre chose the addition of relief carving to parts of the back and the front legs while Shaw chose the addition of line inlay, diamond escutcheons, tulip wood line and an oval of marquetry in the apron.
I'm sure that there have been many craftsmen (including myself) that were equally influenced by Mr. Hepplewhite's book. I see it as the ultimate compliment to the architect to carefully bring their designs to life. 
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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Who was George Hepplewhite?

George Hepplewhite was one of the most influential furniture designers of the eighteenth century.  Along with Thomas Sheraton and Thomas Chippendale he helped shape the overall look of neoclassical home furnishings for centuries to come.

Having apprenticed for Gillow of Lancaster George Hepplewhite conducted business in the parish of Saint Giles, Cripplegate and although there are no known examples of furniture made by Hepplewhite or his firm, there is little doubt to the significance of his designs and their affect on the furniture industry of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many (including George Hepplewhite himself) would contend that his  prominence was somewhat  attributed to an inevitable natural progression in architectural styles. He was in the right place at the right time.  It is hard to argue that the designs found in his book "The Cabinetmaker and Upholsterer's Guide" of 1794  were not monumental in the shaping and influencing of the Georgian, Regency, Empire and (to some extent) the Victorian styles of the  late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

The most poignant description of George Hepplewhite's efforts can be found in the preface of his book:

"To unite elegance and utility, and blend the useful with the agreeable, has ever been considered a difficult , but an honourable task. How far we have succeeded in the following work it becomes us not to say, but rather to leave it,with all due defference, to the determination of the Public at large.

It may be allowable to say, we have exerted our utmost endeavours to produce a work which shall be useful to the mechanic, and serviceable to the gentleman. With this view, after having fixed upon such articles as were necessary to a complete suit of furniture, our judgement was called forth in selecting such patterns as were most likely to be of general use - in choosing such points of view as would show them distinctly - and in exhibiting such fashions as were necessary to answer the end proposed, and convey a just idea of English taste in furniture for houses.

English taste and workmanship have, of late years, been much sought for by surrounding nations; and the mutibility of all things, but more especially of fashions, has rendered the labours of our predecessors in this line of little use: nay, at this day, they can only tend to mislead those foreigners, who seek a knowledge of English taste in the various articles of household furniture.

The same reason, in favour of this work, will apply also to many of our own Countrymen and Artisans, whose distance from the metropolis makes even an imperfect knowledge of its improvements acquired with much trouble and expense. Our labours will, we hope, tend to remove this difficulty; and as our idea of the useful was such articles as are generally serviceable in genteel life, we flatter ourselves the labour and pains we have bestowed on this work will not be considered as time uselessly spent.

To Residents of London, though our drawings are all new, yet, as we designedly followed the latest or most prevailing fashion only, purposely omitting such articles, whose reccomendation was merely novelty, and perhaps a violation of all established rule, the production of whim at the instance of caprice, whose appetite must ever suffer disappointment if any familiar thing had been previously thought of; we say, having regularly avoided those fancies, and steadily adhered to such articles only as are of general use and service, one principal hope for favour and encouragement will be, in having combined near three hundred different patterns for furniture in so small a space, and at so small a price. In this instance we hope for reward; and though we lay no claims to extraordinary merit in our designs, we flatter ourselves they will be found serviceable to young workmen in general , and occasionally to more experienced ones."

 A modest and humble designer...How rare is that?

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