Master Craftsman -Thomas Day

Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color (The Richard Hampton Jenrette Series in Architecture and the Decorative Arts)

Thomas Day (1801-61), a free man of color from Milton, North Carolina, became the most successful cabinetmaker in North Carolina--white or black--during a time when most blacks were enslaved and free blacks were restricted in their movements and activities. His surviving furniture and architectural woodwork still represent the best of nineteenth-century craftsmanship and aesthetics.

In this lavishly illustrated book, Patricia Phillips Marshall and Jo Ramsay Leimenstoll show how Day plotted a carefully charted course for success in antebellum southern society. Beginning in the 1820s, he produced fine furniture for leading white citizens and in the 1840s and '50s diversified his offerings to produce newel posts, stair brackets, and distinctive mantels for many of the same clients. As demand for his services increased, the technological improvements Day incorporated into his shop contributed to the complexity of his designs.

Day's style, characterized by undulating shapes, fluid lines, and spiraling forms, melded his own unique motifs with popular design forms, resulting in a distinctive interpretation readily identified to his shop. The photographs in the book document furniture in public and private collections and architectural woodwork from private homes not previously associated with Day. The book provides information on more than 160 pieces of furniture and architectural woodwork that Day produced for 80 structures between 1835 and 1861.

Through in-depth analysis and generous illustrations, including over 240 photographs (20 in full color) and architectural photography by Tim Buchman, Marshall and Leimenstoll provide a comprehensive perspective on and a new understanding of the powerful sense of aesthetics and design that mark Day's legacy.

About the Author

Patricia Phillips Marshall (1958–2010) was curator of decorative arts for the North Carolina Executive Mansion and the North Carolina Museum of History. Jo Ramsay Leimenstoll is professor of interior architecture at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Picture Credit- Pinterest Thomas Day (1801-1861)

Sofa with cushions by free black cabinetmaker Thomas Day of North
Carolina (1801-1861). Read more about him in this month's Smithsonian.

Milton Presbyterian Church   Milton, Caswell County, North Carolina. Pews by Thomas Day

Milton Presbyterian Church (Thomas Day Pews) by CCHA on Flickr

Thomas Day, Crib, 1848, walnut, yellow pine, and poplar, Windsor style,
Collection of the North Carolina Museum of History, Purchase, funds
donated by Mrs. Sarah Branch.


"Exhaustively researched . . . with . . . gorgeous full-color photographs of more than 160 pieces of furniture and architectural woodwork that Day produced between 1835 and 1861."
--Raleigh News & Observer

"Give[s] hints of the artisan's hidden inner life. [Day] came across as subservient in his newspaper ads, promising that commissions 'will be thankfully received and punctually attended to.' But he sent his children to an abolitionist boarding school in Massachusetts and wrote them that he longed to leave 'the Oppressive South.'"
--The New York Times

"Day's incredible story is exhaustively researched and deftly illustrated. . . . A fascinating study of both the entrepreneur and his craft. . . . [With] eye-catching photographs and engrossing text. Highly recommended."
--Library Journal

"An excellent book about the craftsman's remarkable life. Building upon decades of research, the authors have produced the most comprehensive publication on this figure to date. . . . The photographs . . . are abundant and of high quality."
--American Craft

"This beautifully-illustrated book offers exceptionally skillful and sensitive readings of the artifactual and textual evidence. It is recommended for academic libraries, museums and large public libraries, and for all collections that support programs in African American studies and American cultural history more generally."
--Art Libraries Society of North America

"Comprehensively researched and delightfully written. . . . The authors successfully advance the body of knowledge of free African American craftsmen in the antebellum period, while painting a vibrant image of the world in which Thomas Day operated. . . . Will be indispensable for all collections that focus on art history and the decorative arts, African American history, the antebellum era, and regional collections. . . . Essential."


The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg

For more than thirty years, the architectural research department at Colonial Williamsburg has engaged in comprehensive study of early buildings, landscapes, and social history in the Chesapeake region. Its painstaking work has transformed our understanding of building practices in the colonial and early national periods and thereby greatly enriched the experience of visiting historic sites. In this beautifully illustrated volume, a team of historians, curators, and conservators draw on their far-reaching knowledge of historic structures in Virginia and Maryland to illuminate the formation, development, and spread of one of the hallmark building traditions in American architecture.

The essays describe how building design, hardware, wall coverings, furniture, and even paint colors telegraphed social signals about the status of builders and owners and choreographed social interactions among everyone who lived or worked in gentry houses, modest farmsteads, and slave quarters. The analyses of materials, finishes, and carpentry work will fascinate old-house buffs, preservationists, and historians alike. The lavish color photography is a delight to behold, and the detailed catalogues of architectural elements provide a reliable guide to the form, style, and chronology of the region’s distinctive historic architecture.

About the Author

Cary Carson is retired vice president of the research division at Colonial Williamsburg.

Carl R. Lounsbury is senior architectural historian at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and teaches history at the College of William and Mary.


"[This] book transforms our understanding of Chesapeake region buildings . . . [It] should become an essential reference for anyone interested in early American architecture."
--Colonial Williamsburg

"A remarkable book. Cary Carson and his colleagues have transformed the way architectural history fieldwork is performed and in the process have also changed our understanding of the early architecture of the Chesapeake."
--Carter L. Hudgins, Clemson University

"The Chesapeake House is the fruit of a generation's labors and captures a revolution in the study of early American architecture. The authors adroitly combine field documentation with the most recent research as they explore the region's architecture--from the smallest details of construction and decoration to the broadest issues of social ritual and social prestige. This is the great work we have been waiting for."
--Dell Upton, University of California, Los Angeles

"As someone who is intoxicated with 18th century southern and tidewater architecture and building practices, I can't praise this highly enough. Most "old house" (to use a slang term) books focus on exteriors - surfaces - decor, with occasionally a cross section of a door jamb or window sash thrown in. Much good work has of course been done on classical design, the orders, and how this has come down to us as the common interior and exterior mouldings seen in the "polite house" of this period. But as far as a real anatomical dissection, down to the gristle, of the building practices of the men who built these houses, you had to go begging with your hat in your hand. There are scraps here and there, as much as the intended readership would bear but no more, in books by housewright and woodworker Roy Underhill and timber framer Jack Sobon; "Get Your House Right" is the best there is on architecture and tasteful design of these houses without going into construction details, and the White Pine Series can be assembled if you want to put on your 5 power magnification goggles and squint at the beautiful tiny scale architectural drawings. So much emphasis has been placed on New England one would think there were no great houses anywhere else. (Yankees!) But here in massive, heavy glory is almost anything one could hope to know about the domestic buildings that we commonly associate with Colonial Williamsburg but in fact typified an entire culture, not just the miracle mile there in "the 'burg".  Indepth work on not only the what and the how but also the WHY is what sets this apart. They don't just show one cross section of sash muntin to show that in the 18th century they were thicker and deeper than in the 19th, the authors give us cross sections of 10 or more muntins, from different houses and different periods. I've never seen so many bannisters before. Paint in all its shades and meanings. How they put the brass rim locks in a house so that you would see them as you moved through it. Also how people lived in the houses - the way they laid out their posessions - the rhythm of their lives.

Worth twice the price. "Grab it and growl", as we say. It'll probably go out of print and the price will achieve fair market value. 5 STARS -By Ryan McNabb

"Imagine, for a minute, in your mind's eye, a house that comes to mind when someone shifts your attention to Annapolis or Williamsburg. If you're like me, you'll think of William Paca's grand Annapolis townhouse, or perhaps George Wythe's equally grand Williamsburg townhouse. Or perhaps you'll be reminded of Shirley Plantation or more modest but equally beautiful Smith's Fort.If this sounds like you, you have a fondness for houses of the Chesapeake region, a vast area with a wealth of historic architecture tied together by a common historic, economic and cultural identity.This book is dedicated to capturing the building art of the region. By using the term "art," I mean exactly that. The book is not an architectural catalog, but is a descriptive guide to the arts and crafts employed by architects and artisans in the design and construction of these magnificent and beautiful structures.The houses featured herein were designed and built when a house served a profoundly different function than it does today. They were not only places of domicile, but also expression of a common culture and agricultural ideal. These houses, regardless of size or age, were meant to make a statement. They were also meant to make money, from the cash crops of the day. These very characteristics allow the authors to group what may otherwise be considered different styles into a common whole - the Chesapeake House.The houses featured in the book were all built before 1850 because the authors note that regional distinction in style had essentially disappeared by then. Houses built in the 1850s in Virginia looked a lot like houses built in the 1850s in Wisconsin, or California, etc...So here we have a book divided into chapters, roughly, by cultural theme (in the first half of the book) and trade (in the second half). The Design Process, Plantation Housing, Outbuildings, Woodwork, windows, doors, hardware, paint, etc... Each chapter is written by the outstanding practicing expert in his or her respective field. The book, while beautifully illustrated, is intended to be a research tool and a serious work of scholarship. It's intended to inform further architectural investigation and history into the styles we associate with the Chesapeake. As such, it's a pleasure to read for what it reveals about historical form, and it's informative in what it can offer as a manual for accurate reproduction of that historical form. Here's a book that reveals all the secrets as to why so few people can actually tell the original buildings in Williamsburg from the reconstructions, and why it's important to reconstruct certain structures to begin with.The illustrations are outstanding. As the book is a study of style and its cultural contexts, the photographs and illustrations support that specific purpose. While it's often beautiful, this book should not be mistaken for a volume of artistic color photographs. The graphics, cutaways, elevations, floorplans, details, etc... are numerous and superb.If you have an interest in this style, or you are a practicing architect or craftsman working in this style, this book is a must. If your interests are more casual (i.e. less technical), this book will still keep your interest. Just be aware that the text may be difficult at times.This book will quickly become the standard of its type. The editor, Carl Lounsbury, is the absolute authority in this subject of architectural history. You're not going to find a better book.--By Jon L. Albee

Thomas Day Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color

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