Leather great chair
Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts
Overall: 96.5 x 60 x 41.6 cm (38 x 23 5/8 x 16 3/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oak; maple; original upholstery foundation of linen webbing, linen sackcloth, and grass; leather cover; brass nails
Brown-Pearl Hall (Gallery LG35)
In seventeenth-century New England, the upholsterer’s craft was a luxury trade that, like silversmithing, was principally confined to Boston and, to a lesser extent, Salem. Miraculously, this “great chair” (a period term for armchair) retains both its original Russia leather upholstery secured with brass tacks and its original upholstery foundation of linen webbing, linen sackcloth, and stuffing of spike grass (Distichlis spicata) harvested from the tidal salt marshes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. (Early photographs show the chair upholstered with a nineteenth-century black oilcloth, which probably inadvertently enabled the preservation of the original materials.) The design of the chair calls for a large down-filled squab, or cushion (a modern reproduction is shown here), both to provide comfort for the sitter and to visually fill the large void between the seat and the high back.
In keeping with its status as a luxury product, the chair was owned originally by Dr. Zerubbabel Endicott of Salem, Massachusetts, a well-known surgeon and son of John Endicott, who served as deputy governor and governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at various times in the 1640s, 1650s, and 1660s. It is probably one of a set of two great chairs and six side chairs listed in Zerubbabel’s estate inventory. Although the chair has been attributed to a Boston shop for many years, recent research suggests that it was probably made in Salem.
This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
Probably Dr. Zerubabbel Endicott I (1635?-1683) to his daughter Sarah Endicott (b. 1673?), married Samuel Hart (1656-1730) to their son, Jonathan Hart (1710-1768?), to Abigail Hart (1743-1828), married Amos Smith (1724-1798), to their daughter, Nabby Smith (1765-1849), married Ebenezer Parsons I (1762-1843), to their son, Ebenezer Parsons II, married Mary Hart (1792-1864), to their son, Ebenezer Parsons III, to Starr Parsons (1869-1948), to Eben Parsons (1896-1969). Sold to Helen W. Jacques in the 1940's. Museum purchase, Sale, Chester Twiss Auctioneer, Estate of Helen W. Jaques, Wenham, Massachusetts, 26-28 July, 1977.
Seth K. Sweetser Fund