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A MOMENT IN TIME

Craftsmanship Was King Before the Railroads Spread Through Texas
By Susie Tommaney

Here in Houston we like to think that Miss Ima Hogg belonged to us, with her former home on Memorial preserved by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in the 14-acre Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens. But “The First Lady of Texas,” who was known for her philanthropy and patronage of the arts, also was active in Fayette County and donated the 225-acre Winedale Historical Complex with its collection of 19th-century structures and period furnishings to UT-Austin’s Briscoe Center.

Texas Governor Allan Shivers probably described her best: “Some persons create history. Some record it. Others restore and conserve it. She has done all three.”

While Hogg did collect Native American and Modern European art and objects, it was her fascination with American furnishings that led to the book, Texas Furniture: The Cabinetmakers and Their Work, 1840-1880, written by Lonn Taylor and David B. Warren and published by University of Texas Press.

Hogg came to know Warren in 1965 when she hired him as the curator for Bayou Bend just months before the house museum was opened to the public; he later wrote the biography, Ima Hogg: The Extraordinary Cultural Patron Behind the Unusual Name.

Taylor, who was Winedale’s first curator and later served for 18 years at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, died in June 2019.

Research for Texas Furniture included a look at census lists from every county in Texas to find the cabinetmakers, wheelwrights, carpenters and builders who crafted furniture in our region. While that first book relied heavily on the furnishings at Winedale, the 2012 release of Volume Two added images and provenance for more than 150 additional pieces of furniture not included in Volume One. This updated version also contains biographical information for about 900 men who made furniture in Texas, that is until the 1880s when railroads began to bring in the less expensive factory-made furnishings.

The second release also compares and contrasts the sometimes primitive Anglo-American style with the more sophisticated German traditions of cabinetmaking. “The Anglos were nailing things together like orange crates,” says Warren. “The German furniture is much more finely crafted; they brought the traditions from Germany.

“They brought with them also the classic Biedermeier style which the Anglos weren’t using at all,” says Warren, of the more streamlined and less opulent evolutions from the Neoclassical.

Warren tells us that most furnishings weren’t signed, but that there are things to look for when attributing a piece to a particular maker. In their research Taylor and Warren checked with the descendants of craftsmen and used identifying features from those pieces as a sort of Rosetta stone to identify similar objects and styles.

For those wishing to collect the wardrobes, chairs, stools, tables, desks, cupboards and safes documented in Texas Furniture, Warren cautions that, “it’s a very dodgy thing nowaways to collect Texas furniture.
“I think it’s very difficult unless you have the documentation to make sure pieces were made in Texas,” cautions Warren, though his advice is to turn to reputable antique dealers.

 

RESOURCES

The Winedale Historical Complex
979-278-3530 • 3738 FM 2714 • Winedale, near Round Top
www.cah.utexas.edu/museums/winedale.php

Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens
713-639-7750 • 6003 Memorial
www.mfah.org/visit/bayou-bend-collection-and-gardens

Texas Furniture: The Cabinetmakers and Their Work, 1840-1880
utpress.utexas.edu/books/tayfr2
indiebound.org/book/9780292739420
www.cah.utexas.edu/projects/texas_furniture.php

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