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[AC] Mead Art Museum at Amherst College; [HC] Hampshire College Art Gallery;
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Culture:American
Title:great chair
Date Made:ca. 1680
Type:Furniture
Materials:wood: ash; paint, rush
Place Made:United States; Massachusetts; Springfield (possibly)
Measurements:overall: 45 1/2 in x 22 1/2 in x 18 in; 115.57 cm x 57.15 cm x 45.72 cm
Accession Number:  HD 2006.4.2
Credit Line:Museum Collections Fund
2006-4-1+2_v3t.jpg

Description:
One of a pair of great chairs that came from the descendents of the Bliss family of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, in the 1960s. This matched set is the only known pair of great chairs to have survived together since the seventeenth century. Reserved for the use of male heads of the household and guests of equal or higher standing, great chairs served two purposes - as seating and as a symbol of the sitter’s status. A turner probably made them as part of a larger set that may have included ten or twelve side chairs, all of which were supplied with plump, down-filled cushions. Stylistically, these chairs related to turned chairs produced in the Connecticut River Valley towns of western Massachusetts, including Suffield (a Massachusetts town until annexed by Connecticut in 1749), Springfield, Westfield, Hadley, Northampton and Hatfield. This group is characterized by composite-turned crest rails, bilaterally symmetrical back spindles, and simplified turnings on the stiles above the seat rails, which incorporated either squat barrel-shaped elements (as in these examples) or vase-shaped elements with ogee-profile or straight-profile sides. The abstracted urn-and-flame finials derive from those on turned chairs produced in eastern Massachusetts. Both chairs retain early coats of red paint beneath later layers of green and black paint.

Label Text:
Purportedly acquired from descendants of the Bliss family of Longmeadow in the 1960s, this matched set of great chairs is the only known pair to have survived together since the seventeenth century.

Originally, these great chairs may have been commissioned with 8-10 side chairs to furnish a best parlor or chamber. Both chairs retain early coats of red paint beneath later layers of green and black paint. Originally fitted with cushions trimmed with fringe and tassels, they conferred status on both their owner and those invited to sit in them. The design of the turned decoration on the crest rail, arm rests, back spindles and rear leg posts above the seat relate to turned chairs made in Springfield or nearby towns of West Springfield and Longmeadow. The abstracted urn-and-flame finials derive from turned chairs produced in eastern Massachusetts.

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