Humphrey Sommers was both patron and builder of this house. A brick mason, by the 1750s he was supervising all aspects of construction. At St. Michael’s Church he and his workmen—free and enslaved—were recorded doing masonry, plaster, and roofing work. Sommers is well represented in the MESDA Craftsman Database: http://mesda.org/item/craftsman/sommers-humphrey/36517/ According to his obituary published in the State Gazette of South Carolina on Christmas day 1788, Sommers was “ born in the west of England, and came to the country upwards of 50 years ago. He was a remarkable instance of the good effects of temperance with exercise, and of industry with economy.”
The Sommers house is an example of a Charleston single house. The Charleston single house is long and thin, only one room wide, with usually just two rooms on each floor and a long hallway running its entire length. In many cases, such as at the Sommers house, the principal ground floor rooms sit well above the street level atop a raised basement. The single house was popular in Charleston because it made the most of the city’s long and narrow urban lots. In Charleston the single house almost always had a multi-story piazza running along one side. The piazza served as a kind of indoor-outdoor space that mitigated the effects of Charleston’s hot and humid weather.
The carving found in the house’s parlor represents the pinnacle of rococo carving in Charleston. Research by John Bivins in 1981 found work by the same carver in at least eight other Charleston buildings. Bivins and the MESDA Research Center identified two British emigre carvers whom might have been responsible for the work at the Sommers house: Thomas Woodin, and John Lord. This research was published in the November 1986 edition of The Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts: https://archive.org/details/journalofearlyso1221986muse
This room was reproduced at MESDA between 1980 and 1984 by John Bivins (1940-2001) based on site visits and detailed drawings by Bivins and the architect Charles N. Bayless (b.1914). Bayless also documented the house for the Historic American Buildings Survey: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hh/item/sc0987/ The width of the parlor was extended by about three-feet to accommodate MESDA’s Charleston-made Library Bookcase (MESDA acc. 949) The house from which this room was reproduced still stands at 128 Tradd Street in Charleston, South Carolina. It is privately owned.
The wall color in this room is based on microscopic paint analysis done at the Miles Brewton House at 27 King Street. The Brewton House is contemporary with the Sommers House and has carving done by the same hand. The museum worked with Erika Sanchez-Goodwillie to made handmade linseed oil paint based on this analysis. The closest commercial color match is Farrow and Ball #68, “Dorset Cream.”
RELATED OBJECTS: MESDA has a second room reproduced from the Sommers House, a bedchamber (MESDA acc. 0000.8).
MESDA owns Humphrey Sommer’s portrait by Jeremiah Theus (1716-1774) (MESDA acc. 3974). The companion portrait by Theus of Sommer’s wife, Marcy (Olney) Sommers is in the collection of the Minneapolis Museum of Art: https://collections.artsmia.org/art/302/portrait-of-marcy-olney-jeremiah-theus
A portrait by Theus of Henrietta Isabella Sommers (1750-1783), a daughter from his first marriage, is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/12794