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On view

Worktable

Designer: George A. Schastey (American, 1839-1894)

Maker: George A. Schastey & Co. (active New York, New York, 1873-1897)

Date: 1875-1885
Medium: Amaranth, satinwood, walnut, mahogany, poplar, brass, pewter or lead, mother-of-pearl, glass, colored resin, original and reproduction silk velvet
Dimensions:
Overall: 29 3/4 × 40 3/8 × 24 1/4in. (75.6 × 102.6 × 61.6cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase by exchange with gifts from Jane B. Sayre Bryant and David E. Bryant in memory of the Sayre Family; and from the H. Randolph Lever Bequest.
Object number: 96.2
Label Text
The rich assortment of colors, textures, and materials employed on this worktable coalesce in a visually intoxicating, yet fundamentally utilitarian, object. The form of the worktable is straightforward. The top has two hinged lids that open to reveal mirrored backs and satinwood interiors. The body of the table incorporates three drawers (two opening on one side and one on the other) that are fitted to hold spools of thread. A barrel-shaped drawer offers ample space for the storage of fabrics or works in progress.

The table is designed to be viewed in the round; therefore, no surface is left unadorned. The variety of expensive materials and the level of workmanship required to execute the inlay and parquetry indicate that this table was produced for a wealthy client. Perhaps the most luxuriant feature of the table is the barrel-shaped drawer. The interior and exterior of the drawer were originally enveloped in brocaded blue silk velvet (surviving in perfect condition in the interior and recreated on the exterior).

Anna T. D'Ambrosio
Text Entries
The rich assortment of colors, textures, and materials employed on this worktable coalesce in a visually intoxicating, yet fundamentally utilitarian, object. The form of the worktable is straightforward. The top has two hinged lids that open to reveal mirrored backs and satinwood interiors. The body of the table incorporates three drawers (two opening on one side and one on the other) that are fitted to hold spools of thread. A barrel-shaped drawer offers ample space for the storage of fabrics or works in progress.

The table is designed to be viewed in the round; therefore no surface is left unadorned. The puissant surf ace is enriched by alternating, sinuous bands of parquetry composed of small shell-shaped brass and slate-colored pieces accented by drops of reddish hued resin. The pattern is repeated on the inside and outside of the arched legs and along the top edge of the barrel-shaped rawer. Inlaid wood forms intricate ribbons, shields, and abstracted flower shapes. Mother of-pearl and metal inlays enhance some of the forms.

Other costly materials project opulence. Brass trim and turned spindles contrast with the warm purplish red of the amaranth tabletop, which is circumscribed by a carved en tablature. Perhaps the most luxuriant feature of the table is the barrel-shaped drawer. The interior and exterior of the drawer were originally enveloped in brocaded blue silk velvet (surviving in perfect condition in the interior).(1) The semicircular drawer sides drop slightly below the arches of the legs. Even this small surface is ornamented with an abstract ed floral motif executed in brass and mother- of pearl inlay.

The form of the MWPI table and the motifs applied to it were inspired by British designs of the period. The worktable, or lady’s sewing table, appears in a variety of styles in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century published sources. The utilization of flat surf aces with two-dimensional ornamentation follows some of the dicta established by British design reformers such as Charles Locke Eastlake. The use of opulent materials, however, contradicts Eastlake's opposition to superfluous ornament. The mosaic of motifs incorporated into the presentation is inspired by several artistic trends. The shield form and paw feet are de rived from classical vocabulary, the floral elements recall Anglo­ Japanesque patterns, and the polychrome parquetry is an exotic feature.

The level of workmanship required to execute this table places it on a par with examples from the shops of Herter Brothers, Pottier & Stymus , Hens Brothers, and George Schastey and indicates that it was produced for a wealthy client.(2) Although the maker of the MWPI worktable remains unknown, the drawer pulls are identical with those on several pieces from the original furnishings of a house at 4 West 54th Street, New York , Ne w York, decorated between 1881 and 1884 for Arabella Worsham Huntington  and purchased by John D. Rockefeller Sr. in 1884. In addition to the identical pull s, the use of costly material s on the MWPI worktable parallels a similar use of choice materials for the furniture produced  for  the  Huntington-Rockefeller house.(3) Scholars have debated the significance of two letters sent to John D. Rockefeller Sr. that mention the furnishings and interior decoration of the house. In the first letter, dated January 21, 1884, the New York City cabinetmaker George A. Schastey (active 1869-97) stated, "I have furnished the house 4 West 54th St. and ca n give you all the information you m ay desire , should you contemplate buying." Later that year, Schastey wrote, "l'e desire to state that the interior woodwork and decoration of your new residence (#4 W.  54th St.) was designed and executed by us."(4) However, some of the interior work has also been attributed to Pottier & Stymus, the firm that employed Schastey before he opened his own enterprise by 1873.(5) An August 18, 1885, New York Times article describes Schastey & Company' s building on 53rd Street. The article al so cites the striking furniture made by the firm from amaranth inlaid with mothe of-pearl, silver, and brass. The only other indications of Schastey 's cabinetwares are an illustration of his submission to the Centennial Exhibition  (1876)  in Philadelphia and an early twentieth- century sales catalogue from the Schastey firm that pictures furniture in arts-and-crafts-influenced designs.(6)

Essay by Anna Tobin D'Ambrosio

 

1. The surviving fabric has been replicated on the exterior of the drawer.

 

 

2. See cat. no. 28 in Katherine S. Howe , Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Catherine Hoover Voorsanger et. al., Herter Brothers: Furniture and Interiors for a Gilded Age (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1994).

 

 

3. Two rooms from this residence are installed at the Museum of the City of New York. I am grateful to Deborah Dependahl Waters for allowing me to examine and photograph this furniture. A dressing table believed to be from this home is now in the collection of the High: Museum of Art, Atlanta, Ga., and the smoking parlor is installed at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, N.Y. For additional information on the dressing table at the High Museum, see David Hank’s "George A. Schastey & Co.," Art and Antiques 6, no. 5 (September-October 1983): 54-57.

 

 

4. George A.  Schastey to John D. Rockefeller Sr., Jan. 21 and Oct. 29, 1884. Copies of these letters are in the research files of the Museum of the City of New York and were generously made available to me by Deborah Dependahl Waters. Schastey is also listed in the Springfield, Mass., directory from 1891 to 1902. See Caroline Mortimer, "The George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, Springfield, MA, I: The Building and Its Decoration," The International Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship 6 (1987): 353-72, and "George Walter Vincent Smith: The Man and His Museum" (M.A. thesis, Program in the History of Decorative Arts, Parsons School of Design and Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, 1984).

 

 

5. New York Vol. 438, p. 582 (Oct. 13, 1873), R.G. Dun & Co. Collection, Baker Library, Harvard University Graduate School of  Business Administration, Boston, Mass.  This report also notes that Schastey worked for "Her[?]te & C." Perhaps this should read either "Herter" or "Hens." For a full discussion of the attribution of the interior work at 4 West 54th Street, see Catherine Hoover Voorsanger, "From the Bowery to Broadway: The Herter Brothers and the New York Furniture Trade," in Howe et al., Herter Brothers, p. 75 and n. 89 on p. 246.

 

 

6. See George A.  Schastey Company, Occasional Pieces of Choice and Useful  Furniture (Springfield, Mass.: George A. Schastey Company, n.d.), Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian  Institution, Washington,  D.C.