Antique American Wainscot Chairs
Prior to the late 17th century sitting on chairs was a priviledge reserved for important people at public gatherings. Ordinary folks had to content themselves with resting on stools, stools kept the back strong and straight, focused attention on the dignity of said VIP's, and consequently, reminded the sitter of his lower status. Such chairs as were used, like the Wainscot chair in the picture, were imposing things, made of oak, with carved, Tudor ornamentation in geometric patterns.
Wainscot chairs had flat and plain board seats. These seats, to a modern, pampered backside, are remarkably hard and uncomfortable. Comfort of course was no consideration, sitting in wainscot chairs was a mark of distinction, but, ours is a Christian world, and even the highest in society must be reminded that they are only men.
In construction and decoration they all had a strong underframe, with legs, what are really posts, turned, and very large cross stretchers at top and bottom. The mentioned plain board seat was flanked by regal looking arms that curved slightly downwards. Wainscot chair backs were paneled, in the fashion of the day that was used on interior walls, the panelwork being framed by stiles and rails. These wainscot paneled backs were carved from the centre panel flowing outwards to the frame, and additional carving patterns were to be found on the top of the back, the crest, carving that was often replicated at the stretcher.
In the American colonies such chairs were usually brought from England and formed some basis for the colonists first excursions into chair design such as Spindle Back chairs.
Real live antiques can be seen at Pilgrim Hall which still has Governor Winslow's chair, made of red oak in the Marshfield area of Massachusetts.