The names evoke classic style, rich colors and distant realms: amarillo, brazilletto, calamander, ebony, mahogany, rosewood, sabicu, satinwood and snakewood. Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library explores such hardwoods in “Exotic Woods, Masterful Makers: Tropical Hardwoods and the Luxury Furniture Trade, 1600-1850,” the Sewell C. Biggs Winterthur Furniture Forum. The April 7–9 conference features 16 talks, with speakers from six states and two countries, and an on-stage object demonstration by a master furnituremaker, assisted by Winterthur staff. Saturday’s optional events include four workshops and a field trip to one of the world’s largest specialty lumberyards. The experts are mostly from museums and universities, and they also include a decorative arts researcher, an antiques and decorative arts consultant, a historical society president, a furniture historian, a historic upholsterer, and a cabinet maker. Tropical woods were used as dyestuffs, pharmaceuticals, and flavorants, and in shipbuilding, architecture, and luxury furniture. When England’s parliament ended import duties on lumber in 1721, merchants rushed to use tropical hardwoods, especially woods marketed as mahogany. Consumers relished the rich colors and eye-catching figures of tropical woods, in solid work and veneers. Cabinetmakers valued their dimensional stability and workability. In their best furniture, cabinetmakers aligned design and materials, merging art and nature to create powerful aesthetic statements. At the same time, the unregulated harvest of exotic hardwoods depended on slave labor and contributed to changes in tropical forests, a legacy that continues today.
The forum is $435 for persons who are not Winterthur members and $375 for Winterthur members and nonprofit professionals. Students and graduates of the past five years receive the discounted registration fee of $200. The fee includes Thursday and Friday lectures, lunches, and breaks; and Thursday evening reception. Four optional workshops and a field trip on Saturday are $75 each. All lectures will be in Winterthur’s Visitor Center.
To register, call 800-448-3883, or visit winterthur.org/furnitureforum.