Have You Seen This?

Good ideas often come from unlikely places. My most recent inspiration came from a dusty old pile of books in an antique store where my wife uncovered a decades-old exhibition catalogue featuring the furniture of the Swisegood school of cabinetmaking. The exhibition opened in November 1973, at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and featured a growing collection of furniture made by a group of little-known craftsmen from the Yadkin River Valley in Rowan (now Davidson) County, North Carolina.

One of the chief forms of furniture produced by the Swisegood school was the corner cabinet, and in leafing through the catalogue, I became enamored with the way these particular craftsmen mixed rustic, country charm with simple neoclassical forms. There is, however, more to these cabinets than meets the eye, and when Bill Pavlak, a cabinetmaker in the Anthony Hay Cabinet Shop in Colonial Williamsburg, learned that I was interested in the school, he immediately sent me a picture of the underside of one of the corner cabinet drawers with a simple question: “Have you seen this?”

–Jim McConnell, excerpt from “An Open Question: Investing the Steam-bent Drawer Backs of the Swisegood School of Cabinetmaking,” in Issue Four


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