Special Collections & Archives Blog

During August 2014...

The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (1754), by Thomas Chippendale

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 5:30 pm

chippendale plate xvi ribband back chairs detail

By the end of the 18th century, Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) was the most famous furniture designer in England and North America. The term “Chippendale” had come to refer to a style of furniture prevalent throughout Europe and the United States. What started Thomas Chippendale on the road to this renown was the publication of a book.

In 1754 Chippendale was an up-and-coming young furniture designer, recently moved to London. Raised in a family of woodworkers, he presumably received extensive hands-on training in his early life, which no doubt served him well once he began to design his own furniture based on the popular styles of his day. But fashionable London was a competitive market, and Chippendale needed a way to distinguish himself from the crowd.

He hit upon the idea of publishing what was essentially a deluxe catalog of his designs. It was titled The Gentleman and Cabinetmakers Director. A few English furniture makers had published their designs before, but nothing had come close to the scale of Chippendale’s large folio volume.

chippendale title page

Title page from the 1754 first edition of Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director.

The book was, its subtitle announced, “A Large Collection of the most Elegant and Useful Designs of Houshold [sic.] furniture in the Gothic, Chinese and Modern [i.e., English Rococo] Taste.”

The Rococo style, a French import, was the prevailing fashion in the mid-18th century. It was characterized by elaborate carving and sinuous forms, often featuring decorative elements taken from the natural world—leaves, shells, animals.

chippendale chairs plate xii

“A variety of new-pattern Chairs, which, if executed according to their Designs, and by a skillful workman, will have a very good effect. The fore feet are all different for your better choice. If you think they are too much ornamented, that can be omitted at pleasure.”

The Gothic style of furniture was part of the medieval revival in art and architecture, which began in the 18th century and became even more prevalent in the Victorian era. Gothic furniture tended to feature elements found in medieval architecture, such as arches and openwork patterns.

chippendale chairs plate xxi gothic

“[N]ew designs of Gothic Chairs; their feet are almost all different, and may be of use to those that are unacquainted with this sort of work. Most of the ornaments may be left out if required. The sizes … may be lessened or enlarged, according to the fancy of the skillful artist.

And finally the Chinese style of furniture was part of the 18th century’s fascination with Chinoiserie—decorative objects imported from Asia. The European version of Asian decoration stressed its exotic and fanciful elements, such as dragons, birds, and elaborate pagodas.

chippendale chairs plate xxv chinese

“Chairs in the present Chinese manner, which I hope will improve that taste, or manner of work; it having yet never arrived to any perfection…”

Chippendale self-published the Director, financing his venture by recruiting subscribers—buyers who pre-paid for their copies of the finished book. This was a fairly common practice in the 18th century.

The list of over 300 subscribers in the 1754 first edition of the Director includes both categories of reader mentioned in the book’s title: Gentlemen—members of the aristocracy who would purchase Chippendale’s furniture; and Cabinetmakers—Chippendale’s fellow craftsmen who could adapt his designs for their own use.

chippendale subscribers

Subscribers to the first edition of Chippendale’s Director.

Chippendale’s friend Matthew Darly engraved most of the illustrations, based on Chippendale’s own drawings. The 160 plates show the wide variety of furniture and decorative objects that his workshop could produce. Chippendale also included at the beginning of the book a brief discussion of five orders of architecture and instructions on drawing furniture in perspective.

chippendale chairs in perspective text

Chippendale’s instructions for drawing chairs in perspective. He included similar instructions for other types of furniture.

chippendale chairs in perspective plate

Chippendale’s diagram for drawing chairs in perspective.

The more elaborate pieces featured in the Director obviously required a very high level of woodworking skill to execute.

chippendale plate xxxi doom bed

Chippendale’s alarmingly named “Doom [i.e. Dome] Bed” illustrates the elaborate lengths to which “Chinese” style could go in the 18th century. It is also a reminder that English orthography was still somewhat in flux in 1754.

Even before the book was published, Chippendale apparently encountered some skeptics who suggested that the finished furniture could not live up to his drawings. Never lacking in self-confidence, Chippendale addressed his detractors in the Preface to the first edition:

Upon the whole, I have here given no design but what may be executed with advantage by the hands of a skillful workman, tho’ some of the profession have been diligent enough to represent them (especially those after the Gothic and Chinese manner) as so many specious drawings, impossible to be work’d off by any mechanic whatsoever. I will not scruple to attribute this to malice, ignorance and inability: And I am confident I can convince all Noblemen, Gentlemen, or others, who will honour me with their commands, that every design in the book can be improved, both as to beauty and enrichment, in the execution of it…

In fact, many of the designs include instructions for the less experienced cabinetmaker and options for making pieces more or less elaborate, as the craftsman’s skill level and purchaser’s income demanded.

chippendale plate xlix writing table

“A Writing Table, the front feet to draw out, with a double rising top, as in in profile D; ee is the Table top, h is a horse that turns up; G is part of the front rail morticed into the foot, which draws out with the front, and parts at C; G is the end rail morticed into the foot, as you see by the prick’d line; a is the end of the drawer, with its grooves for the slider and bottom as at A in the plan; F is the turn’d column glued into the corner of the foot.”

Chippendale’s catalog offered designs for many other household items besides furniture. Candle holders, clock cases, fire screens, shelves, mirror frames, and many other elaborately carved items were available from his workshop.

chippendale plate cxxxi brackets for busts detail

One of Chippendale’s bracket shelves for decorative busts.

Chippendale’s Director was not an inexpensive book. It sold for £1.17s in unbound sheets, slightly more for a pre-bound copy. But it apparently sold well enough to warrant a second edition less than a year after its appearance. And in 1762 Chippendale published an updated third edition.

chippendale binding

Chippendale’s Director is a very large folio volume. ZSR’s copy has been rebound in early 20th century brown morocco with gold tooling.

As a marketing tool, the Director was a great success. Chippendale’s business took off, and he was soon overseeing a large workshop of skilled craftsmen. With the publication and wide distribution of his book, Chippendale also –unintentionally—insured his legacy as the 18th century’s best known designer of furniture. Copies of the Director circulated across Europe and North America. Chippendale’s influence was particularly strong in the English colonies, later the United States, as woodworkers adapted his designs to American materials and tastes.

chippendale plate xxxviii sideboard table

“Plate xxxviii has two different feet, which are both cut through, as likewise the rail; the dimensions are also to the design.”

Many copies of the Director made their way to North America, and many examples of Chippendale-inspired furniture from 18th century America have survived. The collection of Winston-Salem’s Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts includes a sideboard based on Chippendale’s design pictured above. By publishing his designs in text and illustrations, Chippendale spread his influence far beyond the reaches of his London workshop.

Interested in learning more about American furniture design? Be sure to visit Reynolda House Museum of American Art’s special exhibit The Art of Seating: Two Hundred Years of American Design.

Author Event: Najla Said

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 3:54 pm

said-looking-for-palestine-200x300

Winston-Salem book lovers look forward every fall to the annual Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors. This event, the largest annual book festival in North Carolina, brings nationally known authors to downtown Winston-Salem on the second weekend in September. This year Bookmarks will celebrate its 10th festival on Saturday, September 6. Wake Forest University and ZSR Library have been Bookmarks supporters since its beginnings.

This year the Wake Forest community will also have the opportunity to interact with Najla Said at ZSR Library on Friday, September 5.

At 10:00 a.m. Najla Said will give a presentation in the Library Auditorium (ZSR 404). Said’s book, Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family, is a memoir of her childhood and young adulthood as the daughter of renowned scholar Edward Said and his accomplished Lebanese wife. Her story is a very personal take on issues of racism, family dynamics, and ethnic identity, told with honesty and humor.

This event is cosponsored by the ZSR Library Lecture Series and the BookmarksAuthors in Schools program. This event is free and open to the public.

Najla Said  will also appear at the Bookmarks festival on September 6, along with Lev Grossman (The Magician’s Land), James McBride (The Good Lord Bird), Sam Kean (The Disappearing SpoonThe Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons), A. Scott Berg (Wilson: A Life), Rita Mae Brown, Robert Morgan, and many others. For more information, visit the Bookmarks website at http://www.bookmarksnc.org .

Exhibit Grand Opening and Reception with Ken Bennett

Thursday, August 21, 2014 2:49 pm

Ken Bennett Exhibit POster

Mark you calendars for two upcoming events.

Exhibit Grand Opening, Thursday, August 28th 4:30-5:30

Stop by for cookies and punch, and see the new exhibit in Special Collections & Archives: Worth a Thousand Words: Ken Bennett’s Photographs of Z. Smith Reynolds Library

Reception with Ken Bennett, Wednesday, October 15th 4:30-6:00

Special Collections & Archives will be hosting the event with the photographer and curator, Ken Bennett. Light refreshments will be served.

Both events will take place in the Special Collections & Archives Research Room (ZSR625).

Author Event: Lev Grossman

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 4:06 pm

We are very pleased to announce that on Friday, September 5 at 3:00 p.m., Special Collections & Archives will host a talk, Q&A, and book signing event with acclaimed fantasy novelist Lev Grossman.

Mr. Grossman will also be a featured author at the 10th annual Bookmarks Festival of Books, a free event happening in downtown Winston-Salem on Saturday, September 6. His Wake Forest appearance is co-sponsored by Bookmarks and ZSR Library as part of the Bookmarks Authors in Schools program. It is free and open to the public.

Mr. Grossman will discuss his new book The Magician’s Land, the third and final installment of his New York Times bestselling Magicians trilogy.

grossman magicians land

The Magicians trilogy is already being hailed as a modern classic of fantasy literature. And a recent review in the New York Times opined that

The Magician’s Land is the strongest book in Grossman’s series. It not only offers a satisfying conclusion to Quentin Coldwater’s quests, earthly and otherwise, but also considers complex questions about identity and selfhood as profound as they are entertaining.

Mr. Grossman is also the book critic and lead technology writer for Time magazine and has written for the Village Voice, the Wall Street Journal, the New York TimesSalon, Wired, and numerous other publications.

A book signing will follow the talk in Special Collections & Archives. Books will not be for  sale at the library but can be pre-ordered from Bookmarks and picked up at the event. All proceeds from these sales go to support Bookmarks and the Authors in Schools program. For more information, or to place an order, call 336-747-1471 or email info@bookmarks.org .

Devoted fans may also enjoy a special exhibit in the Special Collections and Archives reading room that showcases ZSR Library’s copies of several books featured in Mr. Grossman’s 2004 novel Codex!

The Special Collections & Archives reading room (ZSR 625) is located on the 6th floor of the ZSR Library Reynolds Wing.

For more information about this event, contact Megan Mulder.

Worth a Thousand Words: Ken Bennett’s Photographs of ZSR

Friday, August 1, 2014 11:20 am

Ken Bennett Exhibit POster

Special Collections & Archives is honored to host a selection of photography from University Photographer Ken Bennett. The exhibit will be up in the Special Collections & Archives Research Room (ZSR 625) through December 31st.

Artist’s Statement:

The photographs in this exhibit all have a common theme: they include the Z. Smith Reynolds library in some way, either as the subject, the location, or the background.

On one level, I make these photographs simply as part of my job as the university staff photographer. But it goes beyond that on a personal level: the ZSR library inspires me in the way that few other places do. Rising above the campus, the cupola is a recognizable symbol of Wake Forest, visible from many locations in Winston-Salem, and it makes an excellent subject as well as a background for portraits. The interior spaces of the library, bustling with student activity, are a wonderful place to find those small, intimate moments that make candid people photography so compelling. The ZSR library is a primary center of academic and student life on campus, and as such is the first place I go looking for new photographs, or when I want inspiration.

I’m now in my eighteenth year of documenting life at Wake Forest, which provides a unique long-term perspective and the opportunity to go back to the same places many times for new photographs. One of my first successful images here was of the cupola at dusk, shot in 1997, and over the years I have been fortunate to explore changes in the library itself, as well as the students and other members of the community who inhabit it.

Please drop in Monday-Friday, 9-5 to take a look at this stunning exhibit.  Please read more about the two events planned for the exhibit.


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