The Eastern Shore of Virginia, which is separated from the V irginia mainland by the Chesapeake Bay, shows an independent development of furniture styles. Since the peninsula is shared w ith Maryland and Delaware, it might initially appear that a stronger influence would be felt from Pennsylvania and the Delaware Valley than Tidewater Virginia. But certain forms appear to be indigenous, suggesting an independence from outside influences, and a high level of creativity on the part of the native artisans.
That an academic urban style developed on the Eastern Shore during the colonial period seems highly improbable. Sophisticated furniture from Philadelphia and New England has been passed down through generations of Eastern Shore families, suggesting an active coastal trade. Williamsburg pieces have also been in the area since the eighteenth century (fig. 45), and presumably Norfolk, the closest major city on the mainland, will also be represented once its products are better understood. On Virginia’s Eastern Shore, the largest centers were courthouse tow ns—Eastville in Northumberland County and Drummondtow n (now Accomac) in Accomac County. These appear to have been incapable of supporting a highly specialized cabinet trade, although style-conscious furniture may be discovered, once more is known of the craft there.
The largest group of furniture currently attributable to the Eastern Shore shows an affinity to the area’s architectural woodwork, particularly the many houses that incorporate complex networks of panel designs. The connection is w ell illustrated bv a paneled blanket chest (fig. 124), one of the finest surviving examples from that area. Originally found in Westmoreland County, it w as long attributed to that area, though it has also been associated w ith Goochland County, where doors at Tuckahoe Plantation incorporate the same motifs.1 The only link between the doors and this chest, however, seems to be a common design source—William Salmon’s Palladio Londinensis. Published in London in 1734, it underwent nine editions before 1774 and was the most w idely used design book among the joiners of eighteenth-century Virginia. The chest’s central design comes from plate XXIII, and those Hanking it from plate XXVI, suggesting that those who engaged in building were often employed in the cabinet trade as w ell.
Blanket chests of this form are common on the Eastern Shore—though other examples seldom exhibit the pleasing combination seen here—and this piece is representative in a number of ways. It has large, single panels on cither end and a back composed of horizontal boards. The corner stiles con-
tinue all the w ay to the floor and have bracket feet nailed over them. The feet flare noticeably inw ard at the base and have an exaggerated beak-like point. The top has thumbnail molding, overlapping ends, and battens nailed to them from beneath. The original hinges were simple wrought staples, which suggest an early date.
Much time was expended on the decorative aspects of this chest, and the techniques of its construction approximate those found on architectural paneling. Each side w as conceived as a separate entity, and was joined with carefully fitted through – tenons. The front and back edges have been rabbet – ted to receive the sides, and the final product is simply nailed together like finished paneling is nailed to the w alls of a house. The bottom is also nailed in.
The painted decoration on this chest follows the scheme on most pine pieces in this group; it serves as an effective technique for highlighting the shaped panels. Although the decoration now gives an impression of blue, it was originally green—the color that seems to have been favored. Blue is occasionally
found, how ever, and other colors w ere presumably used as well.
The clothespress (fig. 125) is made of walnut, a wood currently unknown in blanket chests but represented in other forms. Although this piece lacks the complex panels seen in the preceding example, closely related presses have doors that incorporate one of the designs found on the chest.
This clothespress first appears to be a two-part cupboard, a feature that heightens its architectural qualities—but it is actually a single unit. The corner stiles of the lower section run all the way to the floor, as they do in the blanket chest, and the brackets are nailed to them. The corner stiles of the upper portion also extend downward—all the way to the top of the feet—and form additional support behind the stiles of the lower section. With the exception of the drawers, the piece has no dovetails. The case lacks a bottom and a dust partition between the drawers.
Individuality is characteristic of the pieces in this group. Many of them do not give the two-piece impression seen in this walnut example. Some are
fitted with drawers, others are not. All have panels Hanking their doors, but not all have pilasters. One piece has two doors in an area slightly larger than that covered by this one. Needless to say, there is also tremendous variety in the scheme of paneling from piece to piece.
Joiners’ furniture representative of the Kastern Shore also includes a large number of architectural – style corner cupboards (fig. 126). These were made in w alnut or yellow pine and are characterized by pleasing proportions w ith a height that is approximately tw ice the width. They invariably have canted corners w ith pilasters, often subdivided by molding to give definition to their slender proportions. The pilasters are always fluted, but it is unusual to find a paneled plinth at the base, as on this example. The pronounced waist molding, which accentuates the architectural quality of this piece, is also representative of cupboards in the group.
The low er portion of these cupboards usually has tw o doors, occasionally w ith arched panels. The upper section most often has a single one, invariably glazed, and usually w ith arches along the top row. The interior shelves, which are often scalloped, fall directly behind the horizontal (millions of the doors.
I’he large quantities of closely related joined furniture found on the Kastern Shore indicates a w ell developed regional style differing significantly from that of the Virginia mainland. Standardized form, construction, and proportion reveal an acute awareness of design formulas that were repeated again and again, although there is sufficient individuality to determine that these objects were made by a large number of artisans from a wide geographic area.