WASHINGTON, D.C. From Queen Anne chairs to Joe Six-Pack's recliner, upholstered furniture plays a central role in American homes.
"The Art of Upholstery," an exhibit at the Daughters of American Revolution Museum through April 30, looks at the origins of the decorative art in Europe and extends to methods used in a present-day shop.
Nancy Gibson, curator of textiles for the museum, says the exhibit is a survey of upholstered pieces from 1650 to 1850, including sofas, chairs and a bed, as well as fragments of valances, draperies, trimmings and bed hangings.
Authentic upholstery tools on loan from Williamsburg also are shown, as is a blown-up, floor-to-ceiling image of an 18th-century upholsterer's shop taken from a Denis Diderot engraving.
"We wanted to try and show as many original pieces as possible," Gibson said, including one 1817 chair by French cabinetmaker Pierre-Antoine Bellange from the Monroe White House that, with reproduction silk upholstery, also features its original gilt unlike the White House's own seven Bellange pieces, which Gibson notes have each been refinished.
She thinks visitors may be surprised to find that, despite technological advances of the past 350 years, "the process is really the same beyond the sewing, most of it's done by hand and the tools are pretty much the same. The fabrics are different; we don't use horsehair and wool like they did in the 18th century, but the types of trimmings are the same."
And although upholstered pieces are widely available to the middle class today, Gibson says, having custom work done by an upholsterer "remains a privilege of the wealthy, since it can be cheaper to replace the furniture than have it reupholstered."