A Fancy Chair

by | Dec 11, 2022 | 14 comments

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.

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Michel Couture
1 year ago

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?

1 year ago

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…?

1 year ago
Reply to  Elia Bizzarri


1 year ago

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.

Michael L
1 year ago

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.

Randy Hock
1 year ago

Oh my! That will wake you up in the morning. Beautiful work.

mike fifer
1 year ago

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!

Richard Francis
1 year ago
Reply to  Elia Bizzarri

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.

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