March 23rd, 2016

A Family of Ball Back Side Chairs

There must have been some collective name in Suffolk dialect for a large set of matching Ball Back chairs. One of the curiosities about the Spring Festival’s Suffolk Chair Collection is that there are no makers’ marks on any of the chairs. Another is that there seem to be very few surviving sets of matching chairs. Ball Backs appear at auctions and in antique shops in ones and twos; very occasionally a set of 3 or 4 matching chairs may appear; and once every few years locally a set of 5 or 6.

Were the ones and twos once part of larger sets of chairs ? If so, what has happened to all the others ? Have they been split off, to become single chairs elsewhere ? Or have many chairs been discarded or thrown away after a major breaks in legs or a cracked seats [a common condition in Ball Backs] ?

In the absence of large sets of matching original Ball Backs surviving from the 19th C, it has been very exciting to see a commission for 14 new Ball Back side chairs come to a close with all the chairs completed and delivered.

The aim of The Suffolk Chair Collection is to celebrate and promote the chair making heritage of East Suffolk. It does this in threes ways :

1. by offering a re-editioning service whereby clients can create their own unique design of Ball Back by blending design features from the archive collection of original 19th C chairs;

2. by promoting and selling contemporary chairs made by selected Suffolk chairmakers;]

3.  by commissioning new Festival Chairs each year when the company’s finances allow it.

The recent commission for 14 chairs used a design that integrated  details from three or four different 19th C original chairs. They were made by Jim Parsons using Suffolk elmwood. It may be the largest collection of matching Ball Backs to have been made in the county for several decades.


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