Behind the Scenes at the DAM

Neo-Classical Work Table Now on View

Despite its size, this clever little table seems to defy logic with its moving parts and what it can do. Acquired by the museum in 2005, it is now on view for the first time in the David W. and Ellen N. Moore Decorative Arts Gallery on level six of the North Building. The table was made in England of mahogany, brass, and gilded metal trimmings around 1820. It has a silk compartment and elaborately carved legs and feet.

Neo-Classical Work Table. English, about 1820. Mahogany, leather, brass, silk, and gilded metal. The 2005 Louis Comfort Tiffany Gala Fund, 2005.97.
 

The table is an example of mechanical furniture and is one of the most versatile designs of its time. Work tables were introduced in England after 1750 and they served multiple functions with adjustable surfaces for reading, writing, sewing, and games. This table includes storage areas for each of these pursuits. The silk compartment beneath was intended for ladies to keep their needlework. There are inkwell recesses and drawers with lidded compartments for items such as pens, paper, and eyeglasses. The center-top is removable to access a chess board beneath. Work tables encouraged family and friends to gather at home for a variety of activities but were also practical for solitary reading and writing. The casters, or small wheels beneath the paw-shaped feet, are also original to the table allowing it to be easily moved about.

The museum’s work table is truly extraordinary with its variety of compartments and mechanical surfaces that can be extended high enough to read or write while standing. The table was almost entirely in its original condition when the museum acquired it. You can see some evidence that the desk was actually used by its previous owners, but it has been well-cared for over the years. The leather writing surface on the center-top has some scratches and the silk basket underneath had some small tears and damage that has since been stabilized by a conservator.

Donna Kerwin is the curatorial assistant in the department of architecture, design and graphics.  Donna has been with DAM since 2005, and when visiting the museum, she also recommends that visitors don’t miss the Davis W. and Ellen N. Moore Pre-1900 Design Gallery on level six of the North Building.