The Complicated Lives of Inanimate Objects: A Case (Furniture) Study

This post is the second in a series featuring student papers from “Material Life in America,” a course taught by WPAMC director Dr. J. Ritchie Garrison. The papers address objects with connections to New York in the collection of the Winterthur Museum. Each student began by closely examining his or her object, and over the course of the semester situated the object in increasingly broad contexts of production and use. For many of the students, these projects were a first foray into the world of material culture and Winterthur’s collections, and yielded surprising and challenging results.

HOOPER_FIG-1Chest-on-frame. New York. Red Gumwood, Tulip Poplar, Brass drawer pulls and escutcheons. 41.625″ (H), 27.75″ (W), 13.625″ (D). Courtesy Winterthur Museum, Gift of Henry Francis du Pont, 1958.560.

This paper uses the case study of a chest-on-frame in the collection of the Winterthur Museum to critically examine scholarly notions of authenticity. It argues that accepting a broad definition of creation, which includes both the making of an object as well as subsequent changes and alterations, allows for a richer understanding of the changing roles played by objects throughout their lives. Closely examining the chest-on-frame’s form, as well as modifications made to its lock system, brasswork, and finish, brings to light the physical manifestations of the shifting needs of its owners. This paper also traces the symbolic history and use of spiral turned features on furniture and in architecture to address how both the whole of the chest-on-frame and its individual parts might have been reinterpreted and repurposed over time. This chest-on-frame reveals the many ways in which the lives of humans and objects intertwine and challenges narrow conceptions of authenticity.

Read it here!: The Complicated Lives of Inanimate Objects: A Case (Furniture) Study by Rosalie Hooper, WPAMC class of 2016

Comments are closed.