CONSTRUCTION: The earliest pieces from the Swisegood School, like this cupboard, have wrought nailing and beveled drawer edges. This example has side panels applied over a veneered surface. By tapping the background wood, one can hear the hollow sound of a separate panel. A technique consistent in the group is the method of drawer construction: the drawer sides and back are of one piece of wood that is kerfed and bent at four angles. A thick bottom was inserted and then dadoed out to slide over drawer guides applied in the bottom of the drawer cavity. This techique is unique to the group, as far as we know, and made for a heavy, sturdy drawer.
STYLE: Construction and stylistic characteristics suggest that this is the earliest extant corner cupboard from the Swisegood School of Cabinetmaking. It exhibits stylistic details that define many corner cupboards in the group. Those characteristics include applied pilasters with panels and bases and capitals, an arched pediment, rope carving, carved finials, pediment rosettes, the simple shape of the foot, and lunetted cabinet door panels.
MAKER: Traditionally, early pieces from the group have been attributed to Mordecai Collins, but new research suggests that the earliest maker was Jacob Clodfelter (1770-1837); later, probably his son Joseph (1801-1872) was involved in the business. Jacob was part of a family of Swiss immigrants who came to York County, Pennsylvania, in 1743. Jacob’s father, Felix Clodfelter (1727-1814), brought his family to Davidson County in 1763 to settle on the Brushy Fork of Abbotts Creek. When Felix’s son Jacob died in 1837, his estate inventory was full of woodworking tools, including a turning lathe, chisels, planes, a set of tongue and groove planes, and a tool chest, as well as over 700 feet of walnut plank and over 10,000 feet of other plank.
Jacob’s son Joseph Clodfelter was a known gravestone carver who signed one of the well known Davidson County stones (See MESDA Object Database G-132) with characteristics related to MESDA’s corner cupboard, including the scrolled pediment and various molding patterns. Joseph probably carved his stones based on the style of corner cupboards he saw being made in his father’s shop. Joseph’s father Jacob may have carved stones also, as well as made coffins and furniture.
Jacob died a wealthy man with 14 slaves, enough land to leave all of his sons sizeable tracts, and over $1500. Although he was a woodworker, probably in his later years Jacob Clodfelter was primarily a farmer. So, Jacob Clodfelter, instead of Mordecai Collins, was most likely the originator of the basic style of corner cupboard we today associate with the Swisegood School. However, Mordecai Collins probably worked in the Clodfelter shop early in his career, at which time he learned many of the stylistic characteristics that help define the Swisegood School corner cupboards made by Collins and later by John Swisegood, Jonathan Long, and Jesse Clodfelter. For other MESDA pieces that are part of the Swisegood School, see Acc. 5887 and Acc. 2127.