Reviews / Comptes rendus - "Father and Son, Two Halifax Cabinetmakers." Nova Scotia Museum, December 1975 - March 1976

Reviews / Comptes rendus

"Father and Son, Two Halifax Cabinetmakers." Nova Scotia Museum, December 1975 - March 1976

Mary Sparling
Mount St. Vincent University

1 You have until March 4, 1976 to see this exhibit at the Nova Scotia Museum. It's a gem. If you want to see a museum performing at its finest then don't miss this display of the furniture, tools and papers of Thomas C. Holder (1821-1894) and Henry Arthur Holder (1853-1935). With a minimum of design support — walls to create a Victorian parlour and a workshop, cases to house documents and stands to display the furniture — history curator Marie Elwood has rescued these two Halifax cabinetmakers from oblivion and spread out a whole era and aura before the visitor's fascinated gaze.

2 Documents include an 1813 Privateer's License issued to the father of Thomas, indentures of apprenticeship for Thomas, tintypes and photographs, and letters, drawings and poems by Henry until the year of his death in 1935. Have you ever heard of a "Tide Surveyor's Appointment"? Neither had anyone else in this maritime city until one turned up among the family papers.

3 The furniture, beginning with Thomas Holder's 1837 apprentice piece, exemplifies the finest examples of the cabinetmaker's art as well as some of typical Victorian taste. Chairs, tables, chests, picture frames, hall trees, mantels — all are there and all reveal their careful craftmanship. And the tools. I'll let Henry breathe life into those well-worn extensions of hand and heart and mind. One day in 1934, when he was 81, he spent a last afternoon in the attic where his tools were stored, then went downstairs and wrote a poem:

An Old Cabinetmaker's Panegyric to his tools
With you, I've wrought for many years;
And learned, in life's stern school;
There's naught man's puny hand can form;
Until it grasps a tool.
By one, in varied tedious tasks,
In goodly stead you've stood:
To you, my precious pals, I pay
This meed of gratitude,
Each implement, your practical
And keen assistance gave;
Has demonstrated usefulness,
At workbench, vise, or lathe.
In unison we've gouged, and bored,
Carved, chiseled, filed, and shaped;
Have tenon, rip and cross-cut sawed,
Spoke-shaved, smooth-planed, and scraped.
By dove-tail, mortise, groove and tongue,
And cunning tricks of trade;
Has bureau, cradle, sofa, chair,
Or cabinet been made.
What things of beauty, or of worth,
Utility or art;
The brain conceived, mind's eye discerned,
To make: you played your part!
Your competence is not impaired,
As idly we abide;
But only lacks an undimmed eye,
And dextrous hand to guide;
Efficient as in days of yore,
You still remain.' I ween
Some zealot's will may be obeyed;
As mine by you has been.
From you, with fond regret I part,
And place you in the chest:
Another's hand, perchance, you'll serve
As well, at his behest:
So fare you well! since failing sight,
Enfeebled frame, forbid
That we can longer chum; I now
Reluctant, close the lid.
Henry A. Holder
December 1934

4 One final note. None of the furniture, tools or documents (with the exception of a few letters) came from the Nova Scotia Museum's own collection. A chance visit to Henry Holder's son sparked the exhibit idea. Within two months the hoard poured forth from Holder descendants and we are all enriched.

Mary Sparling
Director, Art Gallery,
Mount St. Vincent University