Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Chair Fit for a Pot

By John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections
Have you ever seen a roundabout or corner chair? Seems a little odd when you think about the name doesn’t it? Why would anyone willingly want to sit in a corner? Well, it’s not really for a punishment, at least not this one. In fact, this chair, while not the most comfortable thing in the world, was used for a slightly different purpose. Okay, so try this one; have you ever heard of a “close stool?” No? Don’t worry, that was a period term in the 18th century to describe this chair.
Want a hint? Think chamber pot. Still confused? Well this chair is actually a potty chair, or close stool. The large decorative elements hanging down from the chair are used to conceal a hanging chamber pot. Though the framing to hold the chamber pot is long gone, the heavy corner blocks and concealment elements tell us what we need to know about the chair’s purpose. On the arm there is a plaque too that reads in part: “1738/Brought from England by/Sir Wm. Johnson.” That’s right; this was the potty chair for Sir William Johnson.
The chair is in the Rococo, also referred to sometimes as the Chippendale style and includes the typical motifs; ball and claw feet and in this case, two pierced back splats. Like most Rococo designs, if you look at this chair, it almost seems alive, think Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” The legs appear as if they’re ready to walk away, the arms almost embrace you when you sit. This is my favorite style of furniture, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because the craftsmanship that went into making the furniture during this time period was astonishing. I can’t imagine making furniture like this, though I have to admit, I thoroughly intend on trying.

“Corner Chair,” ca. 1760, Unidentified Maker, Mahogany, Cherry, and Russian Leather, H 31” x W 29 7/8” x 28 ½”, N0002.1996, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY.

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