This rocking chair was made in Indiana, where Amish first settled in the 1840s, and boasts hickory twigs bent to form its symmetrical sides and oak slats evenly arranged to form its seat. The dramatic contours of this chair ensure that it is at once attractive and comfortable. This graceful form is achieved by bending and nailing long, straight, fresh branches around a frame. Since the nineteenth century, furniture-making has been a strong Amish tradition in Indiana where rocking chairs can still be purchased in addition to other Amish crafts. Dry goods stores, welding shops, and traditional leather trades operate alongside furniture-making workshops. This persistent craftsmanship is indicative of the Amish people’s interest in maintaining the customs of their rural life.

Wood-related enterprise has long provided employment opportunities for local people as furniture craftsmen in Indiana. Furniture made from abundant local hickory cost little in materials and was easily marketed to Amish and non-Amish clients. At the turn of the twentieth century when tourists passed through pockets of Amish settlement they were likely drawn to rockers such as this one that offered rugged appeal, comfort, and durability. In addition to being representative of a local craft tradition, these bent-twig chairs aligned well with the fashionable taste for “rustic” furniture as a part of the “back to nature movement” that took hold in this period. Bent-twig chairs were made in great number by the Amish in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana and most recognizable of these designs are rockers such as this example.

Emily Orr is Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary American Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

2 thoughts on “Rustic Rocker

I have the same exact chair and I think it’s from the 1920s, it’s very old and I’m interested in knowing more. I’ve had it for 20 years and now I’m just learning about it.

Rachelle

I am in possession of a very similar rocker with a footrest that belongs to an 89-year women (“Betsy”) who said she got it from her grandmother. Under the footrest it has “D.D.B. W.R.F 11-23-99”. Under the rocker it states, “W.R.F. 2/9/00 N.B.M #439”. I am unable to confirm when the rocker was passed to 89 year old granddaughter. Assuming the 11-23-99 is year of manufacture, if it is 1999 then grandma would have to be about 99 years old, which is possible.

I am finding it hard to believe the chair was manufactured in 1899. It has copper round nails with a flat head that look modern, but I am uncertain this helps, as round nails, especially copper, where machined starting int the mid 19th century.

Why do you believe yours was manufactured in the 1920’s?

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