It turns out that this little chair has quite a history, as told to me by Catherine Arthur, Director and Curator of Homewood House at the Johns Hopkins University. She was kind enough to send over a clipping from an article she wrote for American Period Furniture Magazine in 2000. There is a strong connection between this chair and America’s first female interior decorator, Elsie De Wolfe, author of “The House in Good Taste”.
Chairs similar to the “shadow chair” were made here in Baltimore by the Potthast Company in the early 1900’s. Letters and books from the Potthast Company indicate that Miss De Wolfe was a regular and steady client of the firm.There is a pen and ink sketch from the Potthast copybook – Elsie de Wolfe appears in reverse because it is actually written on the other side of that leaf which is onion skin paper.
Catherine continues, “ They are a pretty rare form, mostly appearing in England. I’ve usually heard them referred to as “spider-back” because the splat treatment resembles a spiderweb design”. The detailing on the splats is just gorgeous and it’s so detailed. The set is mahogany, with inlaid lightwood and oak.
Incredibly, there are some of these chairs remaining in the family for whom they were originally designed – nearly 100 years ago. The set included a dining table with five leaves, a large sideboard with two matching knife urns, a huntboard, two breakfront silver cabinets, 22 side chairs, two armchairs and one oversize “huntmaster’s” chair. This is the house that the chairs and other furniture was made for. It’s just north of Baltimore City. Wow! It makes you want to have lived in that time… and place!