A Regional Narrative in Wood - The Winter Quarterly Auction, December 2016

Regional Southern furniture is an integral part of the foundation of our business. We take great pride in having the South’s great artisan and cabinetmaking tradition right in our own backyard. Over the years we have sold many stellar examples of furniture from the South, by direct family descent; the most exemplary of which have been identified in books and publications.

We are proud to offer another one of those in The Winter Auction: a beautiful double chest of drawers that dates to 1765-1775. This chest, from the Estate of the late Charles and Wilmont Gibbs of Charleston, South Carolina, is both a family heirloom and an historic example of Charleston cabinetmaking. Documented in Rauschenberg and Bivins’ definitive The Furniture of Charleston 1680-1820 and catalogued by the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Old Salem, North Carolina, this is a truly eminent and valuable piece of furniture whose construction and lineage are intimately known and thoroughly published.

Pre-Revolutionary War examples are scarce. This double chest is a tangible connection to our country as it was in its Colonial Era, before independence was declared in 1776. Its very form contains grains of the story of material culture in the Colonial South: representing the exhilaration and possibility of the New Republic, the natural landscape, and the craftsmen who labored to create a masterpiece in wood.

Leland Little recalls: “Growing up in Virginia, I found myself drawn to early American Southern furniture. There was a warmth to the wood, a feeling of history in each piece. It gave me an admiration for the people who lived during that time and how in touch they were with the natural world. Cabinetmaking was truly living off the land.”

“In time,” he continues, “I developed a professional understanding and appreciation of the craftsmanship of regional pieces like this double chest: the types of regional woods used and why; the details of design and construction. Along with that came an appreciation for how hard our predecessors worked. And you had to be good, or you didn’t survive.”
A passion for the craft and tradition of cabinetmaking creates another sense of place: the one formed and joined in conversations among enthusiastic collectors and dealers as they study and share in the heritage of the South’s early furniture. This double chest form is definitively associated with the Charleston area. This is evidenced by the well-proportioned ogee feet, the stop fluting detail on the canted corners of the upper case, and combination of mahogany, mahogany veneer, and bald cypress woods used in its construction. What makes this double chest so visually arresting is the craftsmen’s use of carefully matched Santo Domingo Mahogany flame veneer.

The more than two-hundred-year survival of a piece like this double chest is a testament to its quality of material and construction as well as importance to the family who passed it down generation to generation. Little states, “This double chest is a physical connection to our regional narrative, to both time and place, to the cabinetmakers who labored over it, the families who treasured it, and the many scholars who have preserved its story.”