Reviews / Comptes rendus

Reviews / Comptes rendus

Heritage Furniture / Le mobilier traditionel

Elizabeth Ingolfsrud
Heritage Furniture/Le mobilier traditionel. Edited with an introduction by A. Gregg Finley. Saint John, N.B.: The New Brunswick Museum, 1976. 63 p., illus. (NBM Collection Catalogue Two/Deux) $4.95

1 Heritage Furniture is the second in a series of catalogues to be published on the collections of the New Brunswick Museum. The title, Heritage Furniture, reflects the same precision that marks the excellent introduction by A. Gregg Finley, Curator and Head of the museum's Canadian History Department. As Finley explains, the catalogue embodies the many kinds of furniture that are part of New Brunswick's heritage: plain, fancy, locally made and imported furniture.

2 The introduction goes on to describe briefly the settlers who used the furniture, to name some of the craftsmen who made it and to indicate the styles in which it was made. The Museum's acquisition policy is stated and also its approach to heritage furniture.

3 The distinction that is made between artifact and antique is one of the most important parts of the catalogue. I agree heartily with Finley that "all friends of history should approach a given piece of furniture as both antique and artifact." An antique is enjoyed for its age, form and character. It is better understood and appreciated when it is looked at also as an artifact which has an historical and cultural context.

4 Finally, the limits of the catalogue arte defined: it is merely "intended to provide a perspective on representative pieces of New Brunswick furniture" and the furniture is dated within the nearest quarter century of its construction. Finley further states that the catalogue is intended to "raise a few questions" and so it has with this reader.

5 Enthused by such a well-organized and informative introduction, I turned to the body of the catalogue with eager anticipation. The furniture illustrations are excellent. Closeups of decorative details, cabinetmakers' advertisements, several coloured pictures, artistic layout and glossy paper add to one's enjoyment. Then I started to look closely at the pictures. Obviously the selection was made with great care as it includes furniture of so many types, styles, qualities and origins. Acadian, Georgian, Empire, Victorian, hand-crafted, factory-made — all are there, but arranged in a manner that I still cannot understand. So far I have ruled out grouping by style or style progression, age, type or origin. Possibly because this catalogue is simply a selection of "representative pieces of New Brunswick furniture" and does not pretend to be definitive, it was decided to position the pictures only with a view to eye appeal. Whatever the reason it is confusing even to those who have some knowledge of antique furniture.

6 Fortunately the captions are helpful. Style, woods, date and provenance are given for every piece of furniture illustrated. It is exciting to learn from documented evidence that New Brunswick was prosperous enough as early as 1813 to support the fine cabinetwork of Thomas Nisbet. It is also satisfying to be able to recognize the distinctive lines of the Acadian-type chair by comparing the three examples used in the catalogue.

7 I came to the end of the illustrations wishing there was more material available about such pieces. Then on page 60, where there are suggestions for further reading, I was delighted to find that a larger study of New Brunswick craftsmen and their work is in progress. In the meantime the catalogue serves and will continue to serve as a good introduction to the heritage furniture of New Brunswick.

Elizabeth Ingolfsrud
Toronto, Ont.