Delightfully Designed: The Furniture and Life of Nathan Lombard

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

New Exhibit at Old Sturbridge Village Debuts October 19

(STURBRIDGE, MA) – September 27, 2013: This fall Old Sturbridge Village celebrates the life of acclaimed Massachusetts cabinetmaker Nathan Lombard (1777-1847) with a new exhibit, Delightfully Designed—The Furniture and Life of Nathan Lombard, on display October 19, 2013 through May 4, 2014. The OSV exhibit represents the largest reunion of Nathan Lombard's furniture since it left his workshop in the early 1800s.

Many of the 15 Lombard pieces in the new exhibit are from private collections and are rarely on public view. Others are on loan from museums and will travel great distances to be part of the exhibit. Old Sturbridge Village is one of 11 institutions taking part in Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture, a year-long collaborative project to celebrate the Bay State's legacy of furniture-making through exhibitions, demonstrations, lectures and publications. Visit www.fourcenturies.org.

Lombard’s story is an important one for Old Sturbridge Village to tell; the talented cabinetmaker spent his life in Central Massachusetts towns surrounding Sturbridge. He was born in Brimfield in 1777, married in Sturbridge in 1802, and settled in Sutton in 1805.

Born a farmer’s son, Lombard was in some ways, a very “ordinary” man—but his furniture is anything but ordinary. Lombard’s mastery of intricate inlay—the embedding of thin wood veneers into a solid surface—makes him stand out among his peers.  Charismatic eagles, elaborate vines, and floral motifs decorate his pieces. Veins on leaves and petals on flowers are executed with exquisite detail. Carved, curving details seem effortlessly sculpted.

"Lombard also had a refined eye for proportion and balance," noted Christie Jackson, Old Sturbridge Village curator of decorative arts. "One only need look at the seven-foot-tall desk-with-bookcase owned by the Winterthur Museum with its carved top pediment and imposing presence to realize that Lombard's level of craftsmanship was unlike most of his contemporaries in rural Massachusetts. This stunning piece, on loan to OSV from Winterthur, will be a highlight of OSV’s exhibit."

Old Sturbridge Village recently acquired two important pieces of furniture crafted by Nathan Lombard—a chest of drawers and a rare drop-leaf table—and will display them in new exhibit.

"The drop-leaf table is an exciting new form for Lombard – no other examples are known," Jackson said. "This table has the characteristics of cherry wood and light and dark string inlay that we have come to expect in Lombard pieces.  And on the underside of the table’s top, one can see round indents left from sewing-birds. These useful ‘third hand’ clamps held a piece of cloth, leaving the sewer’s hands free to work. "

Lombard produced many chests of drawers, often with a slight variation in inlay and shape. Some, like the bow-front chest acquired by OSV, had simplified inlay designs and simple-curve case construction.  This made them less costly to produce and less expensive to purchase, making it possible for less affluent families to afford finely crafted, but more humbly decorated, furniture.

OSV will include in the exhibit artifacts from its collection that relate to Lombard and the intermingling of his business and family life. One example is the 1826 friendship album of Brimfield resident Harriot Janes, which contains entries from many of Lombard’s nieces and cousins, including Mary Allen, daughter of Ezra Allen.

Ezra Allen commissioned several pieces of Nathan Lombard furniture, including a magnificently carved and inlaid fire screen that will be on display in the exhibit, along with many of Mary Allen’s possessions -- a dress, tortoiseshell comb, and delicate shoes.

"It is personal objects like these that help tell a richer, intimate story of Nathan Lombard and his furniture," Jackson said. "Stories found in newly discovered family narratives, cherished objects, family images—all these artifacts help to uncover the man behind such beautiful furniture."

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