The widespread use of similar basic features confirms the ancient pedigree of these styles, and the enormous diversity that is found within these apparently simple structures - which defy precise regional classification - indicates that a large number of makers were responsible. Many were produced by those craftsmen who made implements and utensils using similar timbers and techniques and who were present in every community, particularly coopers and wheelwrights who relied on tight joints and habitually looked for naturally-shaped pieces for their work.
Welsh comb-back stick chair.
Although one example has been recorded with the incised date of 1697, most surviving stick chairs are probably no earlier than the mid or late 18th century, by which date the variation was enormous. Many had short legs implying their use around the hearth rather than at a dining table, with many being in effect stools with a simple back support.
The majority had arms, for strength as well as comfort, sometimes formed of a single piece, but more usually of a curved section which had been halved and joined, often with an additional section inserted. The arm supports at the front were normally either bent backwards for strength, or of larger size than the other uprights. The rounded sections, including legs, were usually shaped with a drawknife rather than turned. The style often thought of as the most typical had tall back spokes with either a 'comb' top rail or a hoop. A few had the arms attached to the outside uprights, the design that was the norm in Ireland. Many were three-legged, which gave stability on uneven floors, although by itselfthis is not an indicator of either region or date.
(This Dresser is in Stock - Click Picture for Details)
These deceptively simple chairs were a feat of engineering with small-section timber used to produce pieces that were both comfortable and long-lasting. Although a number of timbers were used, surviving examples are normally of ash, which was the favoured material for many rural products, with the seats (which needed to take a number of holes) being less prone to split than if made in oak, and the cleft legs and spokes being more pliable. They were found in areas, such as the Towy and Swansea valleys, which produced fine joined pieces but their construction was not necessarily a cheap alternative and they may simply have been more readily available in some districts because of the particular skills of certain craftsmen; they might have been better suited to some uses, and it is arguable that they were more comfortable. Family histories from the early 20th century suggest that there was sometimes one alongside the hearth for the head of the household, with a settle and stools for the rest of the family.
They were perhaps not seen as appropriate for either the parlour or dining room, and by the time more chairs were deemed necessary in the cegin, the joined chair had become the established vernacular form. Interior pictures of the 19th century showed both joined and stick chairs in the same setting, but whether in the 18thcentury they were used for different social levels or parts of the house is less certain. Many show not only great care in the selection of the timber, but decorative features including turning, outline shaping and fretwork, with similar patterns to those found on other furniture forms. They often had proportions that show them to have been made for a particular person, with some owned by important nonconformist leaders indicating the types of homes for which they were intended, as such individuals were typically drawn from the ranks of small farmers and craftsmen.
(This Stick Chair is in Stock - Click Picture for Details)
Some were apparently left unfinished, although subsequent additions and removals of paint and varnish make it difficult to judge if this was the norm. By the late 18th century painted and grained finishes had become more common on many other types of furniture partly because of the greater use of deal, and since it was the practice to paint wheels and wagons (usually in either red, blue or yellow), it is certain that some chairs were originally coloured; this is confirmed on many examples as well as on stools and comparable pieces of treenware.
© 2010 Richard Bebb
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