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New book concludes P.E.I. cabinetmakers were some of the best

Produced by the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation, the 352-page hard cover book is the first comprehensive survey of P.E.I. historic furniture


Published on September 8, 2017

Historic furniture is shown in the principal parlour of Yeo House in Port Hill.

©MAURICE ROY/SUBMITTED PHOTO

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - When author James W. Macnutt began researching and identifying Island heritage furniture for a new book, he didn’t know how his findings would stack up against chairs, tables and desks made in other places.

Four years later, he’s pleasantly surprised.

What is absolutely astonishing to me, as we look back now at what we’ve discovered, is the extraordinary skill of 19th century cabinetmakers in this province

Author James Macnutt

“What is absolutely astonishing to me, as we look back now at what we’ve discovered, is the extraordinary skill of 19th century cabinetmakers in this province,” says Macnutt.

“It’s of the highest order. So the depth and quality of the material produced here can hold its own to virtually any pieces made elsewhere.”

It’s one of the conclusions reached in “Historic Furniture of Prince Edward Island”, a new book authored by Macnutt with photography by Maurice Roy and additional research and images by Dr. Don Stewart. The book will be launched Sept. 14 at Beaconsfield Carriage House, 2 Kent St., Charlottetown at 7 p.m.

Take for instance the late Georgian Gothic Revival pine bookcase (circa 1840) at the top of page 153. It was purchased in Charlottetown from a family with deep roots who came originally came from Ireland.

Author James W. Macnutt stands next to an early Victorian desk made by Charlottetown cabinetmaker Mark Butcher. At right are images shown on the back cover of the book. Clockwise are Georgian style corner cabinet, 1845, Victorian desk and bookcase, 1845, vernacular ladder-back rocking chair, 1840, Regency style sofa, 1840, Sheraton arm chair by George Tanton and a Mi'kmaq sewing stand, 1920.

©SALLY COLE/THE GUARDIAN/MAURICE ROY/SUBMITTED

“It can easily be contrasted with Island crafted pieces,” says McNutt, pointing to the 1860 Victorian Gothic Revival bookcase at the bottom of the page that came from Eastern Kings County.

Produced by the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation, the 352-page hard cover book is the first comprehensive survey of P.E.I. historic furniture. Containing 750 colour photos and field note sketches, the rich volume describes and analyzes a wide range of Island-made and imported furniture, covering 200 years of Island history.

“What makes this book special is it covers a cross section of the higher-end formal furniture made by trained cabinet makers, country furniture made by competent joiners and primitive furniture, which was made by the early settlers, just to get by,” explains Maurice Roy.

Reflecting on the time, effort and the work that has gone into the book, a wave of appreciation comes over him.

“I feel grateful to the province for having investing public funds into this. I’m grateful for the associated staff and the private collectors who prized these wonderful treasures over the years,” says the team member whose idea inspired the project.

 “There is a need for a book like this, in terms of generating an interest and inspiring people to start collecting what they both have the need for as well as the greater contributions to the history of Prince Edward Island.”

Dr. David Keenlyside, the executive director of the foundation, is in awe of the new book.

One of the bedrooms is shown at Beaconsfield. It is one of the images shown in the book, “Historic Furniture of Prince Edward Island” that is being launched Sept. 14. The book concludes that historic furniture made on P.E.I. stacks up to pieces that come from other places.

©MAURICE ROY/SUBMITTED PHOTO

 “There’s been a lot of effort by a lot of people, with Jim and Maurice bringing their expertise to it. As an archeologist, the great thing about this book is that it has a lot to do with material history collections, something that we just don’t have the facilities for. So it’s a real point of access.”

1 - Bolster: An elongated, round cushion forming part of the upholstery of a sofa, either built in or loose, usually lying longitudinally with the arms.

2 - Cornice: Either the upper projection portion of the classical entablature or a decorative moulding where ceiling and wall meet.

3 - Dove tail: A form of construction that ties together two boards, each having a cut-out series of V-shaped projected carvings that link with similar hollow  carvings in the adjacent board for which unity and strength are required.

4 - Escutcheon: A shield, a contrasting wood inlay, a metal surround or an ivory inlay around a keyhole.

5 - French doors: A pair of glazed windows or doors reaching the floor and are hinged at the outer edges to be opened in the middle.

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