What does a name convey? For collectors of early American furniture, names such as John Townsend, Samuel McIntire, and Duncan Phyfe connote fine craftsmanship. Decades of scholarship have linked these talented individuals to extraordinary objects. The connection of maker and product is a powerful one that has long driven curatorial research and the marketplace. Yet of the thousands of American furniture makers working before 1840, only a tiny fraction signed their output. When a name does surface, especially one associated with eye-catching furniture, it attracts attention. Such was the case in 1998, when an article cast a spotlight on a hitherto unknown figure, Nathan Lumbard (1777−1847). Relying on a documented chest of drawers, authors Brock Jobe and Clark Pearce linked nearly forty pieces to Lumbard.  Now, new research has sparked a reappraisal of this craftsman, resulting in the groundbreaking work Crafting Excellence: The Furniture of Nathan Lumbard and His Circle.

Desk-and-bookcase, attributed to Nathan Lumbard, Sturbridge, Mass., 1798–1802. Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library; Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont (1957.885).

Leading the way in the reexamination has been Christie Jackson, senior curator at The Trustees of Reservations. Together she, Jobe, and Pearce have crafted a deeper, more nuanced story of Lumbard’s career, which emphasizes the importance of his early years in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, and his relationship with Oliver Wight (1765–1837), a local cabinetmaker who probably trained and later employed Lumbard. Three introductory essays trace Lumbard’s life, identify his methods of construction, and place his achievements within the broader context of New England furniture of the Federal era. The book concludes with a catalog of furniture by Lumbard, Wight, and others within their circle. Richly illustrated with more than 300 color images, the volume highlights the delicate carvings and flamboyantly inlaid vines, urns, and flowers that define the best of Lumbard’s work and demonstrate why he ranks among the most creative artisans from rural America.

— Brock Jobe

A forthcoming article on Lumbard will be published in Antiques & Fine Art magazine.

Crafting Excellence, by Christie Jackson, Brock Jobe, and Clark Pearce became available February 17, 2018. Published by Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. Specs: 288 pp.; 321 color illus; hardcover; $65.00.
Click here to order your copy.

This Highlight was originally published in the 18th Anniversary issue of Antiques & Fine Art magazine, a fully digitized version of which is available at www.afamag.com. AFA is affiliated with Incollect.