I got some photos back from my photographer of a reproduction chair I made for a collector in Kentucky, who owns the original of this chair. It is the only signed Windsor chair from KY known to exist, made near Lexington KY between about 1810 and 1830. The old chair has faded to dark brown, so he wanted a copy that looks new.
Pretty bright! The base color was vermilion made from mercury; I used a modern version of the color which closely approximates it.
Windsor chairs were painted in oil paints, showing brush strokes and uneven pigment grinding (there is little or no evidence that milk paint was painted on anything in pre-industrial America, chairs or otherwise).
This chair got a high-end paint job, complete with gold leaf.
The striping was done in chrome yellow, a bright new pigment in the early 19th century.
I roughed the parts with a hatchet then turned them on a pole lathe. Tool marks like this hatchet mark are common on old chairs – the original of this chair has an enormous drawknife-torn gully down the front of one of the posts. Such large “mistakes” are incredibly hard for us moderns to duplicate; having spent the last 20 years learning how to avoid these tool marks, it’s really hard to force my mind to embrace them.
This was a really fun job, an opportunity to learn more about period paints and chairmaking techniques.
I have a very old and bit beat up chair similar to this basic type that I suspect dates back to about the first quarter of the 1800s. The thing that has almost always amazed about these old chairs is the height of the seat. Mine measures 14-1/2” high. Do you recall if the original you measured was somewhere around those dimensions?
I believe the seat height was around 17″. A lot of period chairs that I have measured have similar heights. Sometimes short chairs like the one you mention were made (or modified) for use at the cooking hearth, or so I’ve heard.
Love the chair, Elia. Was all of the turning on the pole lathe done while the parts were green, or did you return them to the lathe to finish up when dry? And the paint: Did you grind pigments in oil, or did you use a pre-prepared oil paint, or artist oils…?
Thanks! Only the tenons were turned dry. I used artists oils from tubes: I would have ground my own to get a coarser texture, but the closest pigment to vermilion was cadmium red, which is somewhat toxic in powder form, so I didn’t want to mess with grinding it. I added bits of ground up chalk to get a little texture.
Very interesting and helpful info on early Windsor work in this country. I am pleased you are following your interest that all “Cher” makers
can enjoy and increase accurate knowledge about our American Windsor past. Thanks.
I’m glad you find it interesting – I sure do.
Fascinating to learn that milk based paint was not used, but rather oil. Glad you didn’t go ‘full authentic’ and incorporate mercury!
I always learn from your posts; thanks to your past instruction and your posts, I have become a low volume novice Windsor collector. I am grateful for both: Thanks.
Glad to hear it! Really nice old chairs can be had for pennies these days. Someone needs to collect them or they’ll end up in a rubbish tip somewhere.
Oh my! That will wake you up in the morning. Beautiful work.
Thanks! I love getting to paint chairs the colors that they were originally – the colors are so much brighter than you’d think.
Can you tell more about the oil paint v. milk paint? I’m wondering why I thought it was all milk paint in the past? Any insights would be much appreciated. Beautiful chair!
Milk paint has become the “traditional finish” for Windsor chairs, but that only started in to mid 20th century. Milk paint looks similar to 200 year old oil paint, so maybe that’s where the idea came from – milk paint has been used for thousands of years, but not in pre-industrial America to any significant extent. I use milk paint because it is very thin and shows the wood structure through it, but that’s a modern conceit.
And I discovered via the Shelburne Museum that the Shakers used oil paint for their furniture and boxes etc. They must have been very bright when first made.