GROUP and MAKER: Wythe County was home to the most extensive school of paint-decorated furniture in the southwestern part of Virginia. A tight-knit community of Germans and Swiss settled in the western half of the county and by 1800 had established four Lutheran and Reformed churches, all within a ten-mile radius. Four distinct groups of Wythe County painted chests have been identified, most of them with three arched-head panels containing pots of tulips and other lacy, tulip-like flowers. Later chests from this school have the lunetted square panels seen on this example. More than thirty chests in this group survive, and two of them bear the painted signature of Johannes Huddle (1772-1839). The elaborate locks and strap hinges seen on many of the chests bear the initials “JH” and “JD,” and some were probably made by Johannes’s brother Henry Huddle (1768-1841), who was a carpenter and a blacksmith.
Johannes Huddle was born on June 1, 1772 in Shenandoah County, Virginia, to Elizabeth Pfeifferin and Johannes Huddle, Sr.. His father died shortly after his birth, and Elizabeth was later remarried to Peter Spangler. The family moved to present-day Wythe County around 1781. According to family tradition, Johannes Huddle and his brothers Henry and Gideon were apprenticed to learn carpentry from their step-uncle, Jacob Spangler (1756-1827). The number of woodworking tools listed in Huddle and Spangler family probate inventories suggest they may have been responsible for making as well as painting many of these chests.
See J. Roderick Moore, “Painted Chests frm Wythe County,” The Magazine Antiques, September 1982.
A three-drawer chest painted with three arched-head panels, now in the Colonial Williamsburg Collection, descended in the family of George Umberger’s sister, Catherine (Umberger) Kegley (1805-1864). Its paint decoration can be attributed to Johannes Huddle, but the interior of the chest is signed by another Wythe County carpenter named William Brunner (1794-1870).