'Solid and Permanent Grandeur:' The Design Roots of American Classical Furniture

Carley Berlin, Carswell Rush Berlin, Inc

Sunday, May 10, 2015Mini-exhibit: 10:30amLecture: 11:00amGould Theatre, Palace of the Legion of Honor
Legion of Honor
Cast-iron and rosewood marble-top gueridon, attributed to Duncan Phyfe & Sons

Cast-iron and rosewood marble-top gueridon, attributed to Duncan Phyfe & Sons (active 1837-1847), New York, ca. 1840, inscribed “Phife & Sons” on the underside of the marble

Are you feeling the need for a refresher course, or even an introduction, to American classical furniture? Carswell Rush Berlin will provide us with a comprehensive primer, focusing on the ancient roots of classical design. Eighteenth-century archaeologists, scholars and artists transmitted the design elements of ancient Rome and Greece to a generation of furniture designers whose publications influenced cabinetmakers throughout the western world.

In 1754, Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) published the first of many editions of The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker’s Director, which included detailed plates of classical designs. Lord William Hamilton (1731-1803), England’s envoy to Naples, was also an early archaeologist and omnivorous collector. He published the influential four volumes of the *Collection of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman antiquities from the cabinet of the Honble. Wm. Hamilton, His Brittanick Majesty’s envoy extraordinary at the Court of Naples *(1766-1767, 1769-1776). Lord Hamilton also sold a sophisticated Roman glass vase to the Duchess of Portland, whose loan of the vase to Josiah Wedgwood resulted in popularization of the Portland vase in jasperware. Mr. Berlin will link American classical furniture to precepts that date from antiquity, more than 2,500 years ago, and to furniture that gained popularity in 18th century Europe.

Mr. Berlin will explain how the same classical designs were interpreted in different American cities. As classical furniture design evolved over time, different cities emphasized different design elements. Of course, in the new United States that had symbolically modeled its government and architecture on models from the ancient world, classical design elements were laden with symbolism from the intersection of fashion and political philosophy.

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'A Shadow of a Magnitude' Cook and Parkin: Philadelphia Cabinetmakers of the Classical Period

Carley Berlin, Carswell Rush Berlin, Inc

Sunday, May 10, 2015Mini-exhibit: 10:30amLecture: 2:00pmGould Theatre, Palace of the Legion of Honor
Legion of Honor
Pair of walnut and mahogany dining chairs, attributed to Richard Parkin

Pair of walnut and mahogany dining chairs, attributed to Richard Parkin (ca. 1787-1860), Philadelphia, ca. 1835

In a period that seems to have been dominated by a few “name” cabinetmakers, accompanied by a multitude of distinguished, but unidentified, craftspeople who furnished the early United States with elegant, classical furniture, Carswell Rush Berlin has reestablished Cook & Parkin in the firmament of important and successful classical period cabinetmakers. Mr. Berlin’s multi-tiered research delved into Philadelphia historical archives, as well as period French and English pattern books. He also intensively searched for furniture among private and museum collections that could be definitively attributed to the partnership of Thomas Cook (1786-1868) and Richard Parkin (1787-1861) from 1819-1833 and, later, to Richard Parkin working independently (1833-1860).

Mr. Berlin will trace the cabinetmakers’ English origins and training, refined sources of inspiration and their marketing initiatives. The breadth of Carswell Rush Berlin’s knowledge of decorative arts enables him to place Cook & Parkin in the historical context of Philadelphia’s early 19th century furniture trade. The firm’s marketing efforts resulted in distribution of their wares as far south as Savannah and as far west as New Orleans.

The firm’s veneered and painted pieces were executed according to the highest standards of craftsmanship. Mr. Berlin will also demonstrate, by the progression of styles that the firm produced, how individual creativity inspired the firm’s *avant garde *ethos. Although their designs reflect a thorough knowledge of the most fashionable English and French pattern books, their furniture often transcended pattern book orthodoxy to achieve original designs of rare distinction and beauty.

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