Issue 11 T.O.C. – Elia Bizzarri – “For Speed: Fancy Windsor Chair Production in Early America”

This post is part of a blog series revealing the table of contents of upcoming Issue Eleven. As is our custom, we’ll be discussing one article per weekday in order to give you a taste of what is come. 

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Elia Bizzarri – “For Speed: Fancy Windsor Chair Production in Early America”

By the early 19th century in America, the popular Windsor chair was evolving into a new style adaptation – the “Fancy chair.” Fanciful in design, these featured a variety of elements drawn from Windsors as well as many novel decorative accents. They incorporated intentional flat surfaces to showcase whimsical paint jobs, and unique joinery solutions to meet the needs of the exploding chair market. And they were made fast.

Author and chairmaker Elia Bizzarri reveals some of the secrets of these chairs, and how it was possible for period artisans to build them so quickly – a chairmaker making a batch of two dozen side chairs, starting from a log, could have a chair ready for finish in about four hours. This exceptional degree of speed was only possible through polished workflow, batch production, and a number of design innovations that streamlined the process of assembly. 

Bizzarri walks us through several specific elements of these chairs in detail, reproducing them on his spring-pole lathe or at the shaving horse. From arrow spindles to joinery, he seeks to reverse-engineer the process to put himself into the shoes of the period maker. Throughout his research, Bizzarri shares his profound admiration for the skill of those early chairmakers, who demonstrated not only a mastery of tools and materials, but of the vital elements of comfort and style. 


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