Published: May 14, 2019
SACO, MAINE – On view at the Dyer Library / Saco Museum through September 1, “Craft and Comfort: Furniture for the Saco Home” features highlights of the museum’s collection of late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century furniture. In the early Republic, the elite of coastal towns in Maine like Saco strived to fill their new homes with the most fashionable furniture available. The savvy shopper could purchase stylish veneered and inlaid furniture from talented local cabinetmakers such as Joshua Cumston and David Buckminster or go farther afield and import items from larger cabinet shops in distant urban ports like Boston, Salem, Mass., and Portsmouth, N.H. Whether produced close to home or far away, the furniture that graced early Saco homes is proof of both the taste and sophistication of local consumers as well as the skill of New England craftsmen.
“Craft and Comfort” included examples from the Cumston and Buckminster shop, locally owned pieces made by émigré craftsmen John and Thomas Seymour, as well as other furniture produced by cabinetmakers in both York County and Massachusetts, some of which relate directly to printed design sources. It will also feature several pieces of seating furniture that retain their original under-upholstery, which will provide visitors with the rare opportunity to view the underpinnings of early Nineteenth Century furniture.
Joshua Cumston was born in Saco in 1784. Around 1795 he entered into an apprenticeship with his older cousin, Joseph Clark (1767-1857), who was a cabinetmaker with a shop in Portsmouth, N.H. In 1808, Cumston returned to Saco after his uncle gave him two prime lots of land, on which he then built a house and cabinet shop. Tax records for 1808 indicate that he had at least one apprentice of voting age. The next year, he hired a young journeyman named David Buckminster, a native of Worcester, Mass., who trained in cabinet making in western Worcester County. It was not long before they formed a partnership. During the pair’s most active years – from 1815 to 1817 – they had at least seven men working for them, which was a large shop for the time. For unknown reasons, in 1816 Cumston had money problems. He sold the shop to Buckminster in June for $1,800 and a month later forfeited his house. Cumston moved to Biddeford, then Scarborough, and then to Limerick, where he died in 1835.
A native of Sweden, Abraham Forsskol came to America around 1803 and apprenticed in the cabinetmaking trade in Portland. Around 1814, Forsskol moved to Saco where he joined the Cumston and Buckminster shop as a journeyman. In 1816, Buckminster created a new partnership with Forsskol, one that lasted until Buckminster died in 1849, and then continued with Buckminster’s son Thomas. Most of the furniture in the exhibition attributed to this shop was produced between 1809 and 1816, when Cumston was still working
After the American Revolution, southwestern Maine experienced a period of great economic and cultural development. Between 1790 and 1820, shipping, shipbuilding, and trade boomed in the region. The population increased almost three-fold, with many new settlers arriving, among them merchants, lawyers, artisans and laborers. The lumber business and coastal trading helped build large fortunes in towns like Saco. The economic base of the town was further diversified by the establishment of early industrial endeavors, like the Saco Iron Works, founded by Thomas Cutts in 1811.
The increasing wealth in the area attracted professional people like merchants, lawyers and politicians. These ambitious newcomers wanted to live in grand houses filled with suitably fashionable furnishings. Fortunately for them, the expanding economy also attracted a large number of artisans, including cabinetmakers, chairmakers, looking glass makers, silversmiths, and painters – all lured to the region because of increasing consumer demand.
The Dyer Library/Saco Museum is at 371 Main Street (Route 1). For additional information, www.dyerlibrarysacomuseum.org or 207-283-3861.
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