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Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
mahogany, cypress, yellow pine, ash
HOA: 39 3/4; WOA: 22 5/8; DOA: 17 1/2
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Shield back arm chair (one of a pair): Drapery swags and plume/leaf carved back splat; fan carved in relief at bottom of shield; upholstered seat frames; molded and leaf carved short arms resting on molded and incurving shaped arm supports; square tapered front legs terminating in spade feet.

STYLE: The shield back carved with drapery swags and plumes is a form usually associated with late-eighteenth century New York, but we now know that this style of back was also popular in Charleston about the same time. These armchairs differ from their New York counterparts in the construction of their seats–diagonal seat braces at each corner set with dovetail joints at the top of ash rails–and in having shortened upper arms with leaf carving.(RAES)

WOODS: mahogany primary; cypress braces; yellow pine and ash rails.

This chair is part of a set that descended in the Ball family of Charleston and Limerick Plantation. Unravelling its early history is complicated by the relationships that existed betwen the Ball, Poyas, and Gibbs families. Isaac Ball (1785-1825) of Limerick Plantation married Eliza Catherine Poyas (1794-1867), whose sister Maria Louisa Poyas married Mathurin G. Gibbs. In the next generation, three Gibbs sisters married three of their Ball cousins, creating a complex nexus of family relationships. The known survivors of this set of chairs are all found among the descendants of these intermarriages. As a set of mahogany chairs is not found in the 1825 probate inventory of Isaac Ball – listing only cane-seated, painted, windsor and common chairs – a more likely scenario is that these chairs were originally made for his in-laws, Dr. John Ernest Poyas (1756-1824) and his wife, Catherine (1769-1836). In fact, their elegant, three-story brick townhouse at 69 Meeting Street was completed between 1796 and 1800, at approximately the time when this set of chairs would have been made. Catherine Poyas’s 1836 inventory lists “2 Sofas /mahogany/ 15 chairs” valued at $30. In the early 20th century, MESDA’s chairs belonged to the daughters of William James Ball (1821-1891) and his wife, Mary Huger Gibbs (1837-1936), which was one of these intermarriages.

MESDA’s second armchair from this set is on long-term loan to the Dallas Museum of Art. Related objects in the MESDA Collection include a plat by Charleston surveyor Joseph Purcell of the Ball family plantations Kensington and Hyde Park (Acc. 4490.1), a ladle marked by Charleston silversmiths John and Peter Mood (Acc. 4490.3), a two-volume set of The History of America by William Robertson (Philadelphia, 1812) inscribed “John Ball” and “Mathurin G. Gibbs” (Acc. 4490.6), the portrait of Elias Ball II by Jeremiah Theus (Acc. 2739), and a mahogany tea board he purchased in 1775 from the cabinetmaker Thomas Elfe (Acc. 5709).

Credit Line:
Purchase Fund