Monday, March 9, 2009
Early American Folk Art was "discovered" in the 1920's. It was around this time that Amish furniture, with its distinctive style, first started to gain attention with the folk art movement. Since then dealers and historians have placed great value on the beauty and quality of the pieces. The Amish, located primarily in Ohio and Shipshewana, Indiana, do not use electricity because of their beliefs. Therefore many of the woodworking tools in their shops use hydraulic and/or pneumatic power run by diesel engines. Amish craftsmen often do the detail and finish work by hand to ensure the finest quality - some craftsmen use old-fashioned hand tools.
Amish furniture comes in several different styles or schools. The Jonestown School began in the late 18th century in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania and is most widely known for its painted blanket chests decorated with hand-painted flowers on three panels.
These chests are quite beautiful and several are on display at the Smithsonian Museum and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Soap Hollow, Pennsylvania School specializes in furniture brightly painted in red, gold, and black.
Henry Lapp, a Lancaster County, Pennsylvania furniture maker and accomplished watercolorist, is responsible for the furniture designs that we think of today as being Amish. He was the first to abandon the painted German-style and opted for an undecorated, plain style similar to the Welsh furniture of the time. His order book (like a catalog) containing hand-painted watercolor representations of his pieces is a collector's dream, and is now on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Amish furniture making is often a skill passed down through many generations. Since most Amish children rarely attend school past eighth grade, they often help out in the wood shops and later become wood makers themselves.
No piece of furniture is ever identical because of the care taken to select the wood. Only 100% wood is used. There is usually no particle board or laminates used in the construction. Each piece of wood is hand selected to match the specific piece of furniture in mind. Craftsmen pay careful attention the grain when gluing the pieces together often trying to highlight the features of each individual piece.
The Amish, because of their beliefs, are prohibited from running websites (I guess it's the electricity thing) but Amish furniture can be found online through non-Amish retailers. This makes Amish furniture available to those that might not be near an Amish woodworking shop. Online ordering makes it possible select the upholstery, stain, and wood of your choice. The furniture is directly shipped from the Amish wood shop to your home.