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Briefly, "Colonial" is both a period in American history and a furniture style. As the noted writer of woodworking manuals, John Gerald Shea says in the Preface to the 1964 edition of Colonial Furniture Making for Everybodypage v, much confusion exists about the meaning of "Colonial".


"Colonial furniture" is in itself a misnomer. For there are at least three separate categories of colonial furniture, and two of these have little in common.

First, there is the rudimentary, solid-wood furniture which the original settlers produced in this country during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Second, there are the ornate and sophisticated mahogany designs developed here during the post-settlement era of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These two types of "colonial" have about as much affinity to each other as a primitive peg-leg stool has to a polished Chippendale chair. Yet, they are grouped together, willy-nilly, in books and catalogs and both are called "colonial furniture."

In this book we are dealing primarily with the first category. (Some try to separate this by calling it "early American." But this, too, is a misnomer. Because in common usage, "early American" also embraces furniture of the post-settlement periods.) So, to establish some distinction, text reference is modified to read "early colonial." This signifies that the basic furniture designs shown here were first made by the American settlers during the early colonial period. There is, however, a third category of colonial furniture presented in this book. We call this "contemporary colonial." It includes the attractive new designs and adaptations which are based on, and inspired by, the 'early colonial style. Colonial furniture as it is produced and popularized in America today is largely of this third category.

Sometimes there is only a remote relationship between these new designs of "contemporary colonial" and the antiques which inspired their development. Nevertheless, the honest appeal of solid-wood construction and details of fine craftsmanship still prevail. The beautiful old scrolls and authentic shapes of wood turning also have been retained to distinguish today's colonial. Most modifications of the original designs have been made with -reason and good taste. For as much as we may love this traditional furniture style as it was originally made, antiques do not meet all the needs of our homes of today.

Colonial Revival: A restoration of interest in the material culture of America's foundation era. (I am not going to engage myself in battles associated with America's "culture wars". Instead, delicately, I will try to tread carefully through the minefields and merely try try describe and explain the "who, when, where, how, and why".) The Winterthur Museum website claims that the Colonial Revival began in the mid-19th century:

Thousands of Europeans were immigrating to the United States. Between 1800 and 1930 the foreign-born population of the United States more than doubled; the immigrants brought their own speech, culture, and politics. Americans whose ancestors had arrived earlier were often fearful that their traditions would be swept away by the flood of foreign ideas and practices (Taylor 14)

Source: Ideological Origins of Williamsburg from opd William B. Rhoads, "The Colonial Revival and the Americanization of Immigrants," in The Colonial Revival in America, ed by Alan Axelrod; New York: W. W. Norton, 1985:

Between 1880 and 1930 the foreign-born population of the United States more than doubled from 6.7 to 14.2 million, the immigrants bringing their own speech, culture, and politics. Americans whose ancestors had arrived earlier were often fearful that their traditions would be swept away by the flood of foreign ideas and practices. From the 1890s until strict limitations were imposed on further immigration in 1924, many native-born Americans reacted to the threatened destruction of the American way of life by actively engaging in Americanization, the instilling of traditional WASP "American" values in the minds of the foreign-born.

Most often Americanization simply took the form of English-language classes and instruction in American government and history. The great events of the nation's past might, it was felt, also be made more vivid if portrayed in murals within public buildings. Edwin Howland Blashfield, one of the best-known muralists of the early 1900s, testified that art in public buildings was "good ... for the uneducated Irishman, German, Swede, Italian, who may stroll into some new city hall in our … ?

Sources: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970, pt. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1975), p. 117; Edward George Hartmann,The Movement to Americanize the Immigrant(New York: Columbia University Press, 1948); John Higham,Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860—1925 (New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1969), pp. 234—63; William B. Rhoads,The Colonial Revival (New York: Garland Publishing, 1977), chap. 28...; Jonathon Prown and Katherine Hemple Prown, "The Quiet Canon: Tradition and Exclusion in American Furniture Scholarship", American Furniture 2002, pages 207-227.

More development needed, with these sources:

Williams, A.D. Spanish Colonial Furniture. Gibbs Smith, 1944.

Katz, Sali Barnett. Hispanic furniture: an American collection from the Southwest. Stamford, Conn.: Architectural Book Pub. Co., 1986.

Taylor, Lonn, New Mexican furniture, 1600-1940 : the origins, survival, and revival of furniture making in the Hispanic Southwest. Lonn Taylor, Dessa Bokides ; photographs by Mary Peck, additional photography by Jim Bones. Santa Fe, N.M.: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1987.

Kingsley H. Hammett. Early New Mexican Furniture: A Handbook of Plans and Building Techniques. Santa Fe, NM: Fleetwood, 1999. 96 pages.

Colonial Style: [much more needed here] Colonial furniture, designed in a style reminiscent of primitive English Tudor furniture, is very straight lined, with simple curves and angles. Because its simple lines present less difficulty to "newbie" woodworkers -- in this sense very similar to Shaker and Arts and Crafts (Mission) furniture design -- the Colonial style remains popular for woodworking projects.