George, You’re a Long Way from Philadelphia…

A table at the Old Jail Arts Center in Albany, Texas caught my eye. It’s always nice when museums feature decorative arts, but it’s especially nice when museums of this size include furniture.

The round inlaid center table with a classical form features prominently our first president. I assumed being in this small town Texas museum the George Washington table could be Texas-made. A docent confirmed it probably was, but there remains a chance we could find out it isn’t.

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With that in mind, I found it curious George Washington would be featured on a table made in Texas. Of course, Texas is as much a part of America as anywhere else, but if the table was made circa 1876 as the label suggests, it wasn’t so long ago that the Lone Star State was a Republic. It became the Republic of Texas in 1836 and was admitted to the Union in 1845.

Reading a little about Texas history (and admittedly a little can be dangerous), it doesn’t seem the state had the independent spirit like it had today (thinking of the petition for succession that followed Barack Obama’s election). It looks like Texas entered the Union by request.

Then there was the matter of the Civil War. After Confederate defeat, Texas was readmitted to the Union in 1870.

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So here just a half dozen years later we arrive at 1876, the United States Centennial. There was a big exhibition in Philadelphia, but I imagine wounds from the hard-fought war would have been pretty deep. The Texas State Capitol, completed in 1888, includes the words “Republic of Texas” ingrained into the floor of the rotunda.

It’s fair to ask just how much reverence there would have been in Texas, circa 1876, for George Washington.¬†With a little history in mind, did someone in Texas create this table with the image of George Washington positioned prominently in the center?

One thing I recall is learning at a furniture forum at Winterthur that much early furniture featuring American eagles was made outside of Philadelphia. The eagles were most often placed on the furniture by craftsmen and their customers wanting to show allegiance to the new nation. They are rarely found on Philadelphia pieces.

Perhaps George Washington’s prominence on the table was to show Texas’s allegiance to the U.S., or they could have just gotten caught up in the Centennial celebrations.

But it doesn’t appear Texas was represented at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, which makes this well-crafted table all the more puzzling. Maybe it’s one skilled craftsman’s wish that the Lone Star State had been there.

There are still more questions than answers here. I look forward to finding out more.

Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views. / United States. / States / Pennsylvania. / Stereoscopic views of the Centennial Exhibition, 1876, Philadelphia.
Torso of Washington Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views. Centennial Exhibition, 1876, Philadelphia.

About Eric Miller

Eric Miller is co-founder and contributor to Urban Art & Antiques. His website is ericmiller.me

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