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Migration and Craftmanship


Generously funded by the Decorative Arts Trust, this project traces and documents British and Irish furniture makers who migrated to port cities along the Early American eastern seaboard throughout the long eighteenth century. Thousands of craftspeople from a broad range of trades took this journey across the sea in the hopes of building prosperous businesses and lives for themselves and their families. Here we focus on furniture makers.

Our research is developing comprehensive histories about several hundred furniture makers. Where did these craftspeople set up their homes, workshops and retail shops, and why? Did they establish manufacturing and retailing networks with fellow immigrants from their places of origin or assimilate into established furniture-making communities? Who were their patrons and clientele? What were the innovative contributions they made to the construction, designs and styles of American-made furniture? Have some of their objects been identified? 

Three postgraduate scholars, now employed in the related museum and educational sectors, are also working as BIFMO interns on this project. Their primary responsibility is researching the primary and secondary sources below:

  • Contemporary newspaper advertisements 
  • The MESDA Craftsman database
  • City trade directories 
  • Passenger and immigration lists
  • Genealogical data
  • Colonial prerogative court records
  • The MESDA Craftsman database:
  • Kirtley, American Furniture, 1650-1840: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2020).
  • Inventories generously donated by Kirtley (Philadelphia Museum of Art).
  • Lists of New York upholsterers and piano-forte case makers generously donated by Alyce Englund (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC). This research traces and documents British and Irish furniture makers who made their way to Early America throughout the long eighteenth century. 

Our interns are also publishing their research in the Furniture History Society quarterly newsletters and BIFMO blogs.

Throughout 2024 new biographies will be published for each immigrant American furniture maker that has been discovered. Watch this space.

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