Find of the the Week: An old chair with a sophisticated story

News with a Twist
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NEW ORLEANS — News with a Twist has teamed up with the Historic New Orleans Collection to bring you a unique find each week form the museum’s vaults.

At the Louisiana History Galleries at the Historic New Orleans Collection on Royal Street, the the French Quarter of New Orleans there is over 300 years of history represented.

“We’re here in the second room of the galleries which covers the transition from the French to the Spanish era of colonial Louisiana in the mid 18th century,” said Lydia Blackmore, the Decorative Arts Curator.

Lydia Blackmore is one of the few who knows a great deal about antique furniture and the unique stories behind many of the pieces.  On this particular day, she talks about the earliest known Louisiana chair that dates back to about 1770.

“We know that it is a Louisiana chair because of the wood that it is made of. It is made of red bay wood, which is a local tree,” said Blackmore, “local to the southeastern United States… It is used to be a lot more prevalent than it is today.”

There aren’t many new pieces of furniture being made with red bay wood today because in 2002, an infestation of beetles from east Asia  decimated many of the trees with a fungal infection, to the point of near extinction.

Despite it’s rarity, the chair is a representation of two styles.  Blackmore says, “it has a combination of these scrolled baroque arms with later rococo cabriole legs. Its combining two different french from the earlier 18th century into this one chair.”

Two years ago, the wood frame was reupholstered to match depictions of what the chair might have looked like originally.

“I went through colonial inventories of people’s homes,” said Blackmore, “I found one inventory of Sir Jon Batiste Prevost, who lived on the other side of the river from New Orleans.”

Prevost’s catalog inventory, along with portraits  in the historic collection’s inventory, shows people in the 18th century sitting in red chairs.

Blackmore says, “It’s a huge chair… It’s obviously made for somebody quite important. It’s an armchair and its where they can sit and be important… This is not a chair you can find in every person’s house. This is really a high class piece of furniture.”



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