MAKER: John Shaw was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1745 and was working in Annapolis by 1768. The first recorded reference to Shaw as a cabinetmaker appears in the records of a 1770 court case. By 1772 he was in partnership with Archibald Chisholm (d.1810). According to advertisements, the Shaw and Chisholm firm not only sold furniture made by the two cabinetmakers, but also sold imported goods. In 1773, Joshua Collins, a musical instrument maker, advertised that he was working at their shop. They advertised later that year as cabinetmakers and chairmakers. The Shaw-Chisholm partnership dissolved in November 1776. During the Revolution Shaw was appointed the Armorer of the State of Maryland.
In 1777, Shaw married Elizabeth Wellstead Pratt. The couple had five sons and two daughters. Their youngest son, George, was also a cabinetmaker (but died just a few months after John Shaw). After the death of his first wife in 1793, Shaw married Margaret Steuart in 1798 and had one additional daughter.
Much of Shaw’s work was commissioned by the Maryland government including furniture for the State House, the Chancery Office, the Land Office, and the Orphans’ Court. There are numerous pieces of furniture bearing the label of John Shaw. These examples tell the story of a versatile craftsman who developed a style all his own from his earliest Marlboro legged tables to a neoclassical taste tempered with shades of rococo. He died in Annapolis 1829.
REFERENCES: William Voss Elder, “John Shaw: Cabinetmaker of Annapolis” (Baltimore, Maryland: The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1983)
DESCRIPTION: Arm chair with arched crest rail and pierced “gothic” or “tulip” splat; upholstered seat with nail head trim; four legs are chamfered on the inner corners; box stretchers; chair back is formed of two pieces: the splat and the shoe in which the splat rests.