Issue Six: At Work in the Cabinetmaking Shop - Brock Jobe

We’ve been announcing one Issue Six article each weekday until pre-orders open tomorrow, February 1st at 8:00 a.m. Eastern time. If you don’t already have a subscription and just wanted to order a copy of Issue Six by itself, you may do so tomorrow.

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Cabinet Maker, from Edward Hazen, The Panorama of Professions and Trades (Philadelphia, 1837), p. 221, Winterthur Library.

Plans are afoot to build a woodworker’s shop at Old Sturbridge Village.  A commitment to craft has long been central to the museum’s mission to recreate a New England community of the early 1800s. Today visitors can see a potter, printer, tinsmith, blacksmith, shoemaker, and cooper in action, and during the early years of the Village, which opened in 1946, cabinet- and chairmakers demonstrated there as well.  However, in the mid-1980s, financial pressures and retirements of key craftsmen brought an end to the interpretation of the furniture trades.  Now thirty years later, new research on the prominence of cabinetmaking in the Sturbridge area has revived interest in representing the craft to the public.  


Model of Proposed Cabinet Shop, made by Bob Roemer, 2018, Old Sturbridge Village.

As an OSV trustee obsessed with early furniture, Brock Jobe has plunged headfirst into the research and planning for the shop.  Over time, his focus has narrowed to three topics: the size and appearance of furniture-making shops in America between 1760 and 1830, the outfitting of these shops, and the daily routine of craftsmen.  Many scholars have considered these subjects.  Charles Hummel’s groundbreaking investigation of the Dominy family, published a half century ago (and updated in 2017), remains an essential starting point.  Scott Landis’s article “In Search of the Colonial Woodworking Shop,” draws several useful comparisons between the Dominy experience and the reconstructed Anthony Hay shop at Colonial Williamsburg.  In 1999 Mack Headley explored the cabinet shops of Newport, and more recently Joshua Klein described the working spaces of Jonathan Fisher, who served the rural village of Blue Hill, Maine, as both minister and woodworker. Articles in earlier issues of Mortise and Tenon offer further insights into the shop scene, especially in New England.  In this article, Jobe further ponders what it was like to step inside a cabinet shop in the eighteenth or early nineteenth century; how large a room it was, how it was lit and heated, how it was furnished, and how a master, often joined by journeymen and apprentices, worked within the space.


House and Chairmaking Shop of George Bradley, Newtown, CT, 1828, Old Sturbridge Village.  Fancy chairs appear on the second-floor porch of the shop.

Stay tuned… Tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. (Eastern time), we will be open pre-orders for Issue Six!


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