Wonders in Wood
Cabinetmakers contributed to the artistic and cultural life of early New Jersey
Their canvases were planks of cherry, walnut, poplar and pine; their brushes tools with odd names like jack plane, bow saw, twist gimlet, and old woman’s tooth. As evidenced by these two statuesque examples of woodworking, New Jersey cabinetmakers distinguished themselves as artists in every sense of the word. Introduced to the colonies by the English or Dutch, the chest-on-chest proved a stately and handsome, but somewhat impractical, piece of bedroom furniture. Its immense size meant that the top drawers often went unused.
Mahlon Thomas and Richardson Gray had to endure a long and arduous training process to learn the skills needed to become cabinetmakers. After seven-year-long apprenticeships with established artisans, they underwent trial periods as journeyman carpenters. It typically took as many as ten years to finally open up a business of one’s own. However, many New Jersey cabinetmakers only built furniture on the side, augmenting their income as farmers, home builders, and even coffin makers.