Object Place: near Woodstock, New York
Overall: 184.8 x 138.7 x 63.2 cm (72 3/4 x 54 5/8 x 24 7/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oak with polychrome stained and carved panels, yellow poplar, original brass hardware
Lorraine and Alan Bressler Gallery (Gallery 222)
The large cabinet (or linen press) has a slightly projecting top above a cove molding. The upper section contains a wide horizontal cupboard door, hinged at the proper right and with a keyhole escutcheon at proper left, and with a central panel carved with tulip-poplar leaves and flowers, stained in various shades of brown and yellow. The lower section contains a pair of vertical cupboard doors, again hinged at the outside and each with a keyhole escutcheon at center, and each with a central vertical panel outlined with carved and stained ornament related to the door above. The lowest tier contains a wide drawer with a keyhole escutcheon at center and a pair of applied metal pulls. The cabinet is of framed construction, and the legs are formed by slightly flaring extensions of the stiles. The frame is covered wth a dark greenish-black stain.
In founding the Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts Colony in 1902, Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead and Jane Byrd McCall Whitehead sought to foster creative artistic collaboration and experimentation in an idyllic setting. They built rustic cabins in the Catskill Mountains of Woodstock, New York, and invited writers, painters, photographers, and craftspeople to use them as workshops and studios. The Whiteheads financed the start of the colony, hoping that craft sales would ultimately support the community.
Although some of the workshops profited, the furniture enterprise failed, closing in 1905. Fewer than fifty pieces were produced, including this massive dark-stained cabinet. The piece’s simple, rectilinear form and solid construction adhere to the Arts and Crafts principles promoted by the Whiteheads, and the naturalistic carved decoration on the doors lightens its visual weight. The flowering tulip poplar motif is accented with transparent stains that allow the grain of the wood to show through, adding organic rhythm and movement to the design. Two related drawings survive (also in the MFA): one illustrating the cabinet’s form and one outlining the tulip poplar panel design. Both are signed by Edna Walker, a trained artist who joined the Byrdcliffe community in the summer of 1903.
This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
Maker's mark branded inside cupboard door: "BYRDCLIFFE 1904" in an octagon
Mr. and Mrs. Mark Willcox; ca. 1976, Robert Edwards; consigned to "Important 20th Century Decorative Arts," Christie's, New York, sale 1162, Christie's, December 10, 2002, lot 16 (Accession Date: February 26, 2003).
Museum purchase with funds donated anonymously and Frank B. Bemis Fund