Folk Crafts - Furniture

Turpin Chairs:
Henry Glassie, Warren’s friend and colleague at Indiana University, has said that Warren’s exploration of the chairmaking tradition in the Turpin family of Monroe and Green Counties is “one of the finest papers ever written on material culture.” The heart and center of the work, like a patriarch’s favorite armchair before the fireplace, is the traditional straight, slat-back chair. The paper explores as much contextual information about the chair and the making of the chair as Warren could uncover. Using written and oral sources, he explores two generations of the Turpin family in which chairmaking was passed from father to son. Talking with sons of the chairmakers, he deconstructs the chairmaking process. Tracking down chairs owned by now-scattered members of the community and buying others at auctions, he unravels the evolution of the family’s chairmaking and discovers stylistic details he identifies as signatures of their makers. Finally, he considers the cultural context of the craft and changes in the milieu that affected the chair designs, the craftsmen, and their consumers.

Thomas Lincoln:
Warren’s research for the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial on what cabinetmaking tools the famous president’s father, Thomas Lincoln, would have required in his wood shop led to the article “Early Tool Inventories: Opportunities and Challenges.” His examination of 66 probate inventories of carpenters at work in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kentucky around 1825 showed that hundreds of tools—plans, adzes, chisels, clamps, grindstones, hammer, lathes, squares—would have been required for even the least skilled cabinetmaker. Research such as this led Warren to joke about the fallacy of the popular image of the lone pioneer setting out to tame the wilderness with only an ax slung over his shoulder, his trusty dog his sole companion.

“Tool Inventories” also addresses another of Warren’s bailiwicks: the degree of reliability of written records in doing research. He argues that folklife research, including the collection of oral histories, is an essential supplement.

Folk Crafts

"A case in point is Thomas Lincoln, father of Abraham. Because of the great interest in the son, some attention has been paid the father and many people, relatives and neighbors, have been interviewed and their reminiscences recorded. We know, therefore, that Thomas Lincoln was a cabinetmaker and joiner and quite a number of his pieces of furniture have survived. Yet he did not advertise in any newspapers or the like nor is he listed in records as a cabinetmaker. He does not appear at all in the 1820 Census of Manufacturers, for instance, even though many other cabinetmakers do."

Warren Roberts,
“Early Tool Inventories: Opportunities and Challenges,” in Viewpoints, 192.