Martha’s Chair

Here he is again!

‘The man with the mournful look on his face’, peering out from the centre of the chair seat which appeared in the Nymph’s Chair. You can read about the Nymph’s Chair in my blog from 27 August 2019.

There were originally eight chairs: six without armrests and two with. Geographically their home was far away from the chair that, in one of my earlier blogs, I called the Nymphs’ chair. The Nymphs’ chair does have an identical seat, but that’s where the similarities end. With its straight lines and a splat that resembles some kind of baluster, this chair looks more like a mix of Neo-Renaissance and Baroque Revival.

Kristina and Johan invested in an elegant new suite of dining furniture when they married in 1904. The chairs, of course, were part of their purchase and the decorative seats became quite a hot topic of conversation at the time.

Many years later, when the couple’s little granddaughter used to amuse herself running around in the dining room, she would always refer to the nymphs on the seats as ‘angels’. The seats were at eye level with the youngster and so, unlike all the grown-ups, she could see her angels at much closer quarters.

It’s wonderful to think that the chairs are still around, that they’re still being looked after and used, and so are still able to share stories of their century-old history. Just think how many festive occasions they have been part of over the years. They must have witnessed at least 500 gatherings of different kinds – birthday celebrations, Christmas dinners, children’s parties, funeral receptions, good old-fashioned feasts and family get-togethers, and in more recent years, all manner of shindigs and social events.

The trees outside all nod their agreement in the breeze. It gives meaning to their lives to see other members of their big, wide wooden family still serving a purpose in the dining room. No trees unnecessarily felled to satisfy fleeting fads or fashion, no throwaway furniture in this lovely old house.

Not that time has stood still throughout all of these years; every conceivable mod con has been installed here to make life out in the country as easy – or as challenging – as life in the city.

Such things can’t be measured in money, or as the Swedish author Torsten Fogelqvist (1880–1941) so aptly expressed it, ‘past, present and future are all part of the unbroken chain of life’. Wise words.

Sometimes all that is needed to sense the wingbeat of history or measure the passage of time in one’s own life are a few chairs from grandfather’s and grandmother’s home.

Included in the collections of Kalmar County Museum in Sweden are two chairs with seats of compressed plywood nailed to the frame. In contrast to the fine chairs in Martha’s dining room, these are more in the style of stick-back chairs and were more likely for everyday use.

But here, too, the melancholy man and the nymphs crop up yet again – a popular motif, it seems, if ever there was one. A mark on the underside of the seat reads ‘A.B. Broholm’s Chair & Furniture Factory, Ålem’. According to the available information, the chairs must have been made around 1900.

What is the origin of this man with his apparently mournful expression? Who decided to put his face on so many plywood chair seats? And is that a handlebar moustache that he’s sporting? Did the idea originally come from some ancient classical gargoyle, from the façade of an old house, or from a church, maybe? Is he simply a reincarnation of the figure on a German Bartmann jug? A bearded mascaron? Or perhaps merely a wooden seat into which has been stamped a much discussed and debated grotesque, embellished with nymphs and floral festoons, made in Estonia in the early twentieth century and exported to countries throughout the length and breadth of Europe, ready to be incorporated into whatever kinds of chair the local fashion of the day dictated?

By Gun Bjerkander Handberg

Notes from the Editor:

Summer time is still very much with us in Sweden, with long hot days of sunshine… possibly a good opportunity to sit in the shade and enjoy a charming book perhaps?

The Please Be Seated – Historic Chairs and the Tales They Tell book series is available online at Waterstones and all good book outlets and is filled to the brim with interesting chairs and historic tales.

Enjoy ☀️


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