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Étagère

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Étagère

Attributed to: Elijah Galusha (1804-1871; active Troy, New York, c. 1828-1870)

Date: 1850-1855
Medium: Rosewood, bird's-eye maple, curly maple, yellow-poplar, easter white pine, black walnut, mahogany, cucumbertree (Magnolia acuminata), marble, glass, metal
Dimensions:
Overall: 72 3/4 x 44 1/2 x 22 5/8in. (184.8 x 113 x 57.5cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 60.34
Label Text
Although Elijah Galusha utilized many of the decorative elements common to the Rococo Revival style, his use of distant floral ornamentation differentiates his work. Whereas most other cabinetmakers favored a combination of fruit, flowers, and other naturalistic motifs, Galusha relied on horticulturally accurate floral ornamentation as the central element in his designs. Roses are prevalent on Galusha’s work, but they are also used in combination with honeysuckle and other garden flowers of the period. A close examination of these motifs shows that they were executed with great attention to detail—discrete flowers are recognizable. A source for Galusha’s representations has not been determined.
Text Entries

Elijah Galusha (1804-71) was born in Shaftsbury, Vermont, and probably had some training as a cabinet- maker before moving, in about 1825, to Troy, New York.(1) By 1828 Galusha opened a shop at 307 River Street where he produced a variety of furniture in the Empire style. His 1828 Troy Sentinel advertisements feature a line drawing of an Empire-style worktable with a pillar base and carved legs; the ads also note that Galusha had Pembroke and “Pillar and Claw” tables on hand in his shop. From the late 1830s through the 1850s Galusha’s business grew steadily—he had eight workers in 1840 and fifteen by 1848. As his operation expanded, so did the range of objects and services his firm offered. By the 1840s, in addition to parlor and case furniture and frames, Galusha’s comprehensive shop included interior decorating materials and services.(2)

Galusha, working in a conventional production mode, used traditional joinery techniques, carved embellishments from solid pieces of wood, and applied hand- and machine-carved components to flat surfaces to achieve greater depth.(3) Although he used many of the decorative elements common to the rococo revival style, the distinctive floral ornamentation in combination with machine-produced decorative detail differentiates his work from that of his contemporaries. While most other cabinetmakers favored a combination of fruit, flowers, and other naturalistic motifs, Galusha relied on carved, horticulturally accurate floral elements. Roses appear frequently on Galusha’s work; sometimes they are in combination with honeysuckle (as on the pediment of this étagere) and other garden flowers of the period. Although these motifs are executed with great attention to detail (discrete flowers are recognizable), a source for Galusha’s representations has not been determined.

Galusha’s forms—including parlor suites, fireplace screens, armoires, bureaus, desks, and mirrors—were typical of the period.(4) Comparisons of Galusha furniture to illustrations from French furniture design publications, especially Désiré Guilmard’s Le Garde-Meuble, indicate that Galusha may have received one or more of these periodicals or was acutely familiar with their illustrations, or he may have been influenced by the works of makers who used these publications as resources.(5) Documented Galusha furniture and the patronage he received from prosperous local customers confirm that he emulated the work of his New York City counterparts and added embellishments that distinguish his furniture from that of other manufacturers.(6)

Galusha’s most stylistically energetic furniture is in the rococo revival mode.(7) The combination of decorative techniques on the MWPI étagere makes it an encyclopedic representation of his rococo revival vocabulary. Several motifs predominate—flowers such as daisies and primroses, gadrooning, and applied ripple molding. The architectural proportions of the base are enhanced by colonettes (spindles) that angle outward from the front corners, mirrored surfaces, a plethora of naturalistic ornament, and applied stock trim. The top half of the étagere, featuring two shelves supported by C-shaped brackets, culminates in an ornately carved, pierced crest. The added feature of piercing appears on only a few pieces of known Galusha furniture.

Judging from the amount of furniture in the rococo revival style attributed to Galusha, the 1850s were the most prosperous years for his cabinet shop. His 1857 credit rating notes that he was “good as gold for all you can sell him.”(8) His business declined during the Civil War era but regained some of its strength in the late 1860s perhaps because of his ability to modify designs according to popular taste (see cat. no. 32). Galusha’s business waned from 1866 until his retirement in 1870; he died the following year.(9)

1. For further information on Galusha, see Anna T. D’Ambrosio with Stacy Pomeroy Draper, Artistry in Rosewood: Furniture by Elijah Galusha (Utica, N.Y.: Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, 1995).

Although it is not clear that Galusha trained in Shaftsbury, his age and the presence in the community of established cabinetmakers such as Daniel and Asa Loomis make it probable that Galusha had some training before he moved to Troy. According to Galusha's obituary, he apprenticed with H. M. Smith in Troy (Troy Daily Times, July 27, 1871). Smiths cabinetmaking career is not documented.

2. Related services included repairing a “lath bottom of bedstead,” hanging pictures, repairing and polishing furniture, gilding objects, and installing floor matting. See invoices in the collection of the Rensselaer County Historical Society (hereafter cited as RCHS), Troy, N.Y. In 1856-57 Henry Galusha, Elijah’s son who later opened a grocery store, worked with Elijah.

3. Rosewood was the primary wood used for parlor furniture. Woods used for other furniture forms included cherry, mahogany, maple, and walnut.

4. The RCHS collection includes a signed example of a Galusha frame. Galusha also sold more elaborate gilt items and minor household furnishings such as towel stands, window shades, and footstools that may have been made by other firms.

5. For a discussion of French furniture design sources, especially Le Garde-Meuble, see Kenneth L. Ames, “Designed in France: Notes on the Transmission of French Style to America,“ Winterthur Portfolio 12 (1977): 103-14.

6. Surviving furniture and bills of sale demonstrate that Galusha’s work was held in high regard. He provided work for the Richard Hart and John Paine Nazro families of Troy, N.Y., and for the Col. Robert Milligan family of nearby Saratoga Springs, who could afford furniture made by prominent New York City cabinetmakers. Numerous pieces made for the Hart family are now in the collection of RCHS. Bills of sale indicate that the Hart family also patronized the New York City firms of Alexander Roux and Léon Marcotte. The Milligan’s 1856 parlor is preserved in its entirety at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

7. An outstanding body of well-documented Galusha furniture from this period survives at MWPI, RCHS, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Museum of Art, the New York State Museum in Albany, and in private collections.

8. New York Vol. 538, p. 80 (1857), R. G. Dun & Co. Collection, Baker Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, Boston, Mass.

9. In 1870 the R. G. Dun 8c Co. credit report observes that Galusha “has only done a small business this year and has a large stock on hand. . . . He is too slow and old fashioned and has owl smart, active competitors.” New York Vol. 539, p. 242, R. G. Dun & Co. Collection. The wareroom remained open under Hosea Leach. In 1872]. Crawford Green and Marcus Waterman took over the firm, and it continued in operation through the turn of the century.

 

Elijah’s Galusha’s high-style furniture distinguishes him as the preeminent cabinetmaker of Troy, New York, from the late 1820s through 1870. Documented furniture, family history, credit reports, city directories, and newspaper advertisements provide evidence of Galusha’s work and illustrate how a successful regional cabinetmaker produced quality furniture that rivaled the work of his colleagues in larger urban centers.

Born in Shaftsbury, Vermont, Galusha (1804-1871) moved to Troy by 1825 and reportedly apprenticed with H. M. Smith.(1) Although it is not clear that Galusha trained in Shaftsbury, his age and the presence in the community of established cabinetmakers such as Daniel and Asa Loomis make it probable that Galusha had some training before he moved to Troy.(2)

By 1828 Galusha opened his own shop at 307 River Street.(3) While no documented pieces from this period are extant, attributed pieces indicate that he followed the architectural outlines and classical inspiration of traditional Empire-style furniture. Galusha’s 1828 Troy Sentinel advertisement, which featured a line drawing of an Empire-style furniture work table with a pillar base and carved legs, and the inclusion of Pembroke and “Pillar & Claw” tables in his inventory document his stylistic predilections.

Galusha’s reputation spread rapidly, and within two years his success enabled him to expand his inventory. His 1830 advertisement is lengthier than the one from 1828 and lists greater diversity of stock:

An extensive assortment of FASHIONABLE FURNITURE, Consisting of Sofas, Sideboards, Secretaries, Book Cases, Bureaus, PIER TABLES, Center Tables, Card Tables, Work Tables, Dressing, Dining, Pillar, and Claw Tea Tables, Cherry Tables of all kinds. Mahogany high post, field, and French bedsteads…Mahogany Chairs…fancy and Windsor Chairs, &c. together with Plain Furniture of every description.(4)

The growth and decline of Galusha’s business are chronicled in the ledgers of R. G. Dun and Co., which, in the nineteenth century, established business credit ratings, and in the Troy city directories that provide information on the number of men employed by Galusha.(5) From the late 1830s through the early 1850s, there is a steady growth in Galusha’s business. He had eight workers by 1840 and fifteen by 1846. His 1857 credit rating noted, “Good as gold for all you can sell him.”

When Galusha arrived in Troy, the city was positioned for rapid industrial and commercial growth. A late eighteenth- and an early nineteenth-century economy based on agriculture had provided the money for investment in transportation systems and iron and textile industries. In addition, the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers and the Erie Canal provided easy passage to and from other markets. By the mid-nineteenth century--Galusha’s most prolific period--Troy’s economy was booming.

Rococo Revival furniture was at the height of fashion from the 1840s to 1860s. Galusha would have been exposed to prevailing styles through travel, published sources, and examples of New York City cabinet work in Troy. He made Gothic style pieces, but his Rococo Revival furniture is his most stylistically energetic form.(6) An outstanding body of well-documented Galusha furniture from this period survives at the Rensselaer County Historical Society, Troy, New York; The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York; the New York State Museum, Albany, New York; and in private collections. These collections provide the bases for attribution and attest to the aesthetic standards and outstanding craftsmanship of Galusha’s work. Using these objects, other pieces, such as those at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, New York, can be firmly attributed to Galusha on a stylistic basis.

Galusha had competition from a number of smaller Troy cabinetmakers including Robert Green (active c. 1840 to c. 1868), and from John Meads, Jr., of Albany (active 1838 to 1852), but among wealthier clientele, his main competition came from New York City firms such as Alexander Roux, John Henry Belter, E. W. Hutchings, and J. and J. W. Meeks. Documented Galusha furniture from the 1840s and 1850s confirms that he emulated the work of his New York City counterparts. His forms were typical of the period and his motifs were derived from popular stylistic ornamentation. Galusha, however, added embellishments that distinguish his work from other manufacturers.

The patronage that Galusha received from prosperous local customers, such as Richard P. Hart and John Paine Nazro families of Troy and the Col. Robert Milligan family of Saratoga, New York, who could afford furniture by prominent New York City cabinetmakers, testifies to the quality of Galusha’s workmanship.(7) For all three families, Galusha produced Rococo parlor sets consisting of sofas, side and arm chairs, and center tables, in keeping with the nineteenth century trend of purchasing furniture en suite. Galusha ornamented his furniture, which was made primarily of rosewood, with floral motifs- each chair in a suite, however, was slightly different.(8) Several motifs predominate in Galusha’s work- flowers, such as daisies and primroses with the stems held together in a ribbon, scallop shells, gadrooning, and applied wavy trim.

Galusha did not adopt the advanced production techniques of some of his contemporaries, such as Belter’s lamination process. Instead, he continued to work in a more conventional mode using traditional joinery techniques, carving embellishments from solid pieces of wood, and applying carved elements to flat surfaces in order to achieve greater depth in the ornamentation. Many of his more elaborate pieces combine decorative techniques. The etagere, for instance, was certainly among the more expensive forms offered by the shop. The main section of the crest is carved from a single piece of wood and features the added sophistication of piercing, which appears in only a few instances on Galusha’s seating furniture. The wavy trim details were machine produced; the spindle columns along the side of the base were turned on a lathe, but finished by hand. Finally, the floral ornamentation was hand-carved and then applied to the etagere. All of these flourishes, along with the door mirrors and bird’s eye maple interior, added tot eh cost of the object.

Many of Galusha’s parlor suites are characteristic of the period, but he also created individual pieces to complement Rococo interiors. Fireplace screens, armoires, dining tables, bureaus, mirrors, frames, and all types of chairs were produced by the shop. Among his more innovative pieces was a multi-form desk. The top of this piece could be opened half way for use as a writing surface, or the drawer and gallery section could be removed and the table surface opened to form a card table.

During the mid- to late-nineteenth century there was an influx of German immigrants to the United States. This pool of laborers provided Galusha with a trained, or partially trained, workforce, Troy city directories show that as the number of his workers increased, their titles became more specific- gilders, carvers, finishers, and upholsterers are listed as well as cabinetmakers. The addition of these workers indicates that Galusha’s expanding business was offering a broader range of objects and services to meet his clients’ demands. In the 1840s and 1850s his operation became even more comprehensive with the inclusion of interior decorating materials and services in addition to furniture and frames.(9) Bills of sale, for example, list “10 yds. Turkey Red; 3 cornices, 1 pr. Put up;… 3½ yds, cord, 2 tassels.”(10) An 1851 invoice for furnishing the Troy home of recently married Caroline Hart Shields- including furniture and decorative cornices for the parlor, dining room, hallway, and bedrooms- provides further evidence of the wide range of forms from Galusha’s shop.(11) An 1855 Galusha advertisement emphasizes his interior decorating supplies:

Cabinet; Upholstery and Looking Glass Warehouse & manufactory… Portrait and Picture Framing Done in the very best manner…Every description of Upholstery Materials, Cloth, Hair Cloth, Curled Hair, Gimp, Cords, and & Tassels, & c.(12)

Related services included “lath bottom of bedstead,” hanging pictures, repairing and polishing furniture gilding, and putting down floor matting.(13) Towel stands, window shades, footstools and other small items were sold, but they may have been purchased wholesale by Galusha to carry in his shop.

R. J. Dun and Co. records from 1853 note that Galusha was a “prudent, attentive business man, honest & industrious… Keeps the best store in his line and obtains good prices.” However, by the late 1850s and early 1860s, Galusha’s business had suffered a severe decline. The 1850 federal census lists the value of Galusha’s real estate as $75,000, whereas the 1860 census values it at $25,000. From 1855 through 1860 only one to two workers listed Galusha’s shop as their place of employment. Galusha’s business may have been affected by the economic situation that arose from the Civil War.(14) In 1863 he was reported to be worth only $5,000 to $6,000, whereas he was worth $20,000 ten years earlier, and his credit report stated “Do[esn’t] make much money. Never made money rapidly, but goes along in a steady… & quiet way.” In 1868 the Dun and Co. ledger notes, “During the war was hard up.”

His business regained some of its strength in the late 1860s. The 1867 credit summary records, “Is a firm old man… very much respected… doing very good trade.” By 1870, twelve workers listed Galusha’s shop as their place of employment. Galusha’s rebounding fortune may have been due to his ability to modify designs according to popular taste, as seen in recently discovered chairs from this period, including on in the collection of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute. The attribution of these pieces is based on two chairs: one descended in a Troy family who patronized Galusha, the other from the family of a Galusha relative. As the desirability of Rococo furniture waned, Galusha adopted the increasingly popular lines of Elizabethan furniture. Other than the aforementioned chairs, no documented Galusha furniture from the 1860s and 1870s has been found.

Galusha’s business continued to employ between five and ten men from 1866 to 1870, but his business acumen may not have been what it once was. In 1870 Dun and Co. observes, “Has done a small business this year and has a large stock on hand…He is too slow and old and has owl smart, active competitors.” Galusha retired from business in 1870 and died in 1871. The wareroom remained open under Hosea Leach. In 1872 the firm was taken over by J. Crawford Green and Marcus Waterman, and it continued in operation through the turn of the century.

Much remains to be discovered about Galusha. Conclusions regarding his early and late career are speculative until more documentation is uncovered and more objects are located. His surviving works, for example, were produced for a wealthy clientele, yet to sustain a lucrative operation, Galusha retailed affordable items for the middle class. While solid evidence remains elusive, bills of sale and the change in his listing in city directories from “cabinet maker” to “Furniture, etc.” imply that Galusha kept abreast of the market by expanding his offerings and services. Galusha’s furniture compares favorable with some of the pieces produced by distinguished New York City cabinetmakers such as Meeks and Hutchings, but his body of known work never achieved the stylistic heights of the best pieces of his better-known, urban colleagues. In the spectrum of upstate New York craftsmen, however, Galusha stands out as a strong and industrious manufacturer. His ability to adapt the style of his products and his general stock earned for him the reputation for “the best work in the city.”(15)

Anna Tobin D’Ambrosio        

 

Notes:

1. Obituary, Troy Daily Times, July 27, 1871. At present, nothing is known about H. M. Smith. A cabinetmaker named W. T. Smith, however, advertised in the Troy Sentinel in 1824.

2. See Kenneth Zogry, “Vermont Furniture in the Bennington Museum, 1765-1840,” The Magazine Antiques (August 1993): 191.

3. “During his career, Galusha’s shop is listed in Troy directories at a number of locations on River Street.

4. Troy Sentinel, November 2, 1830.

5. R. G. Dun and Co. records are in the collection of Baker Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, Cambridge, Mass. Troy city directories were first printed in 1829. The number of Galusha Workers has been determined by researching the cabinetmakers who listed the location of Galusha’s shop as their place of employment. This research was conducted by Stacy Pomeroy Draper, Rensselaer County Historical Society. I would like to acknowledge Breffny Walsh, who initiated research on Galusha in the late 1960s.

6. Only a small body of Gothic Revival chairs attributed to Galusha have surfaced.

7. Numerous pieces made for the Hart family are now in the collection of the Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS), Troy, New York. Bills of sale indicate that the Hart family also patronized New York City firms such as those of Alexander Roux and Leon Marcotte. The Milligan’s 1856 parlor is preserved in its entirety at The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York.

8. Rosewood was the primary wood used for parlor furniture. Woods used for other furniture forms included cherry, mahogany, maple, and walnut.

9. At the beginning of his career, Galusha‘s occupation was listed as “Cabinet” or “Furniture wareroorn” (1832-38), indicating that he may not have made all the wares he sold. From 1839 to 1857 he is listed as “Cabinet maker,” and from 1858-1871 as “furniture, etc.” These terms indicated a higher quality furniture producer. For a discussion of furniture industry terminology, see Catherine Hoover Voorsanger, “From the Bowery to Broadway: The Herter Brothers and the New York Furniture Trade,” Herter Brothers: Furniture und Interiors for a Gilded Age (New York: Harry N. Abrams, inc., 1994), 57.

10. Invoice dating February 20, 1850. Hart papers, RCHS.

11. Hart papers, RCHS.

12. Troy Times, March 9, 1855.

13. Hart papers, invoices from 1840-1870, RCHS.

14. Many workers abandoned their positions to join the ranks of companies that manufactured war-related items, such as the Burden Iron Co. that produced horse and mule shoes, railroad tracks, and iron plates for the Monitor.

15. R. G. Dun and Co., 1869.