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Mission Style Furniture

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In the early years of the twentieth century a style developed in the United States called Mission, suggested by work found in the old Spanish Missions in California and the southwest. It runs almost entirely to straight lines. At first it was perhaps rather heavy and clumsy, but developed into a lightened and greatly improved form. It is a simple straightforward style easily recognized and is very popular still in more modern times.

Solid Oak Mission Style Plant Stand
Solid Oak Mission Style Plant Stand.

Origins & History

Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in 1512; in 1513 Balboa discovered the Pacific; in 1519 Cortez set forth to conquer the countries of Mexico.

The colonization of Mexico by Spain naturally meant the introduction of Catholic missions. In the early part of the sixteenth century Mexico proper and all the newly-established central American provinces were flooded with missionaries from Spain; churches by the hundred were built and missions established on every hand, in what are now the Mexican provinces.

It is doubtful if any Spanish furniture was brought over by the early missionaries for the furnishing of their pioneer structures. Their work was attended with great hardships, long marches and struggles for a living and a foothold in the interior of a new country. And it is unreasonable to suppose that they added to the hardships of their progress any unnecessary burdens. The famous missions of today are the missions of California, and in their construction the builders utilized black oak, laurel, juniper, live oak, red wood, scrub oak, sycamore and walnut.

On arriving in Mexico the Spaniards encountered the ancient Aztec civilisation, that dominating people who possessed a civilization in Mexico before the Spanish invasion under Cortez, and who had their own tradition of furnishing. The missionaries adapted some of the Aztec traditions in line with their own native, primitive Gothic heritage.

However in the main mission ornament was necessarily ecclesiastical and to present the old Mexican or Aztec decoration as a background to the Mission furnishings is wrong, for whatever the charm of Aztec decoration, it is doubtful if the representatives of the Christian Church in the New World adopted heathen elements to any great extent.

In the early times the furnishings of these mission chapels were crude in the extreme, but in the eighteenth century the missions gathered strength and prosperity.

Early antique mission furniture craftsmen made some pretense to reflect the character of the furniture found in the missions of old Mexico and the countries now New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California; but there was never any serious effort to conscientiously follow the style which, after all, was simply primitive Gothic - the simplest style of carpenter work made for or by the missionaries under conditions which neither invited nor permitted the exercise of an artistic touch. It was simple, crude furniture bearing naturally the influences of the Spanish architecture which constituted the environment. The woods used were those most easily manipulated and obtained.

Solid Wood

Oak is the pre-dominant wood used however it is illogical to assume that Mission furniture was ever only made of one wood.

In southern California early makers of antique furniture would have known the many Pacific coast forest yields such as Douglas fir, spruce, larch, western red cedar (arbor vitae), hemlock, redwood and big-tree, yellow and white pine, incense, port Oxford and yellow cedar, fir (balsam), juniper, yew, cottonwood, maple, alder, birch, madorna and laurel.

Mission Computer Desk
Mission Computer Desk.

In Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Northern Mexico, what is known as the Rocky Mountain forest yields are yellow pine, Douglas fir, fir (balsam), spruce, juniper, pinon pine, aspen, cotton wood and oak.

In other parts of Lower Mexico we find all of the sub-tropical and tropical woods, mahogany, pine, prima-vera, santa maria, logwood, Mexican rosewood, zebrawood, mesquite, aliso (alder), ash, elm, mulberry, cottonwood, silk cotton tree or ceiba, linden, china, pimienta, John Crow wood, buttonwood, black maba and salm-wood.

In Central America and West Indies, mahogany, lignum vitae, logwood, sabicu, rosewood, fustic, quiebra hacha, zebrawood, calabash, cocobola, corkwood, panama, jaqua, amarillo, laurel, sarsaparilla and cocoa-wood.

Mission Style

In contemporary mission style furniture oak is the principal wood used, and fuming or dark stains the most suitable finish. Similar work was produced in England, where it is called Arts & Crafts furniture, in Austria and Germany, and in America it is sometimes referred to as Craftsman furniture in the style of Gustav Stickley.

Mission Platform Bed
Mission Platform Bed.

Primarily today most interest in mission style furniture revolves around its use in bedroom and dining room furniture, and office furniture, and there are a great number of online stores offering it for sale at discount prices, etc. Some of them may be found in our mission furnishings page. Also plans for making mission furniture are ever popular with amateur woodworkers.

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