John Townsend, Cesar Chelor, Jonathan Fisher, Robert Walker and John Hemings—five diverse pre-industrial woodworkers, each with significant bodies of extant work—are the formidable subjects of this year’s conference. Leading experts in the field will share their unique perspectives through a variety of demonstrations drawn from extensive research at the bench and in museum collections. Along with showcasing the “how-to” of these period shops, our speakers will also explore the ways in which historic shop practices both changed and remained consistent over time. Remarkably, each of these makers balanced regional traditions with personal innovations to craft some of early America’s most distinctive woodwork.
One of the century’s most noteworthy cabinetmaking dynasties was centered in Newport, Rhode Island among members of the inter-related Goddard and Townsend families. Celebrated period furnituremaker Allan Breed will demonstrate elements drawn from the iconic work of John Townsend. Working in a similar late-Baroque vein and also drawing upon familial and regional influence, the Scottish immigrant cabinetmaker Robert Walker was fashioning distinctive furnishings for many of colonial Virginia’s most prominent families. Bill Pavlak and Brian Weldy of Colonial Williamsburg’s cabinet shop will highlight Walker’s aesthetic through the re-creation of an elaborate “piecrust” tea table. For a look at more rural work, Joshua Klein—author, editor, conservator and woodworker—will explore the substantial body of surviving furniture, tools and documents pertaining to Maine craftsman Jonathan Fisher. Klein, founder and editor of the independently published Mortise & Tenon Magazine, will also give our post-banquet presentation on pre-industrial woodworking in the 21st century.
Acclaimed plane maker Steve Voigt will examine the manufacture of hand planes in the 18th-century Massachusetts shop of Cesar Chelor, an African American artisan who began his career in bondage but ended it as a successful—and free—plane maker. Ted Boscana and Colonial Williamsburg’s crew of joiners will explore furniture built at the Monticello joinery. Rather than focus on the furniture’s famous owner, they will explore the world of its enslaved maker, John Hemings. Both presentations will allow us to highlight the often-overlooked work of enslaved and free black craftspeople in observation of the 400th anniversary of the first Africans in British North America.
Joshua Lane, furniture curator of the Winterthur Museum, will open the program with a keynote address on shop traditions and, in particular, the multi-generation shop of the Dominy family of Long Island.
As in previous years, a tool swap will occur prior to the banquet and special pre-conference activities.