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.