Published: March 26, 2002
Furniture of the American South 1680-1830:
ATLANTA, GA. – More than 50 pieces of Colonial Williamsburg’s finest examples of early Southern Furniture are on display in “Furniture of the American South: 1680-1830,” part of the 2002 schedule of traveling exhibitions at the Atlanta History Center. The first major exhibition of Southern Furniture in 50 years, the collection highlights the taste, technology and cultural diversity of furniture from the South’s three principal regions – the Chesapeake, the Low Country and the Backcountry. The exhibition will be housed in the Atlanta History Center’s Nicholson Gallery, the premiere venue for the entire exhibition, until August 11.
For years, antiques collectors believed that furniture original to the early South simply did not exist. Contrary to popular belief, artisans working in the early South produced a remarkable range of furniture forms from the late Seventeenth Century through the antebellum period. The exhibition at the Atlanta History Center will feature an array of chairs, chests, tables and case furniture made by Southern joiners, turners and cabinetmakers.
Over the past few decades, a revival of interest in Southern Furniture and antiques has been seen, with the collection at Colonial Williamsburg showcasing the nation’s largest assemblage. The Southern culture of the period was influenced by Welsh, Irish, Swiss, German, French and Caribbean immigrants and their diverse cultures.
Two centuries later, it is still evident that the furniture made by this varied population mirrors the original influence of British Isle and European culture. Now, for the first time, the exhibition will be available for viewing in parts of the “new South.”
Rebecca Moore, curator of decorative arts at the Atlanta History Center, believes that the revival of antiques and collectibles makes the exhibition’s educational and historical importance all the more appealing.
“The Atlanta History Center’s display of ‘Furniture of the American South’ brings the unique pieces in this collection to one of the more centrally located Southern cities. It is an opportunity to see Southern pieces in a Southern metropolis and an exhibition many people will find appealing – from dedicated antiques collectors to creative homemakers,” she said.
Varying in taste, technology and cultural influence, the furniture in this exhibition stems primarily from the Chesapeake, The Low County, and the Backcountry regions.
The Chesapeake region includes eastern Maryland and Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Wealth and craftsmanship found a home in the region when English, Scottish and Irish craftsmen settled in growing agricultural marketplace cities such as Annapolis, Md., and Williamsburg and Norfolk, Va. Artifacts from this Southern region reflect a “neat and plain” style seen in Britain, but later influenced by Northern American counterparts.
Known today as coastal North and South Carolina, the Low Country region attracted various immigrants – Dutch, French Huguenots, Swiss, Germans, Welsh, Scots, Scot-Irish and Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal all settled in the area and shared new cultural ideas. Cities like Charleston, S.C., benefited from direct trade with the West Indies, where tropical hardwoods such as mahogany were found. Strong, structured Neo-classical furniture forms define this region.
Western Maryland and Virginia, typical Backcountry regions, benefited from the influx of settlers from Germany, Switzerland, France, England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, as well as Northerners from states such as Pennsylvania. In the Backcountry, many furniture forms illustrate the “Old World” conservatism of social traditions, while others demonstrate the creativity and fashions of the “New World.”
Founded 75 years ago as the Atlanta Historical Society, The Atlanta History Center includes the Atlanta History Museum featuring permanent and traveling exhibitions, the 1845 Tullie Smith Farm, the 1928 Swan House mansion, a research library/archives and 33 acres of gardens.
The Atlanta History Center is open Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 5:30 pm, and Sunday, noon to 5:30 pm. Nestled in the heart of the Buckhead district, the Atlanta History Center is at 130 West Paces Ferry Road, NW. For information, 404-814-4000 or www.AtlantaHistoryCenter.com.
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