Tramp art bureau
This unique handcrafted bureau is an example of
tramp art, which flourished in the United States from 1860 to 1930 and is easily recognized by its chip-carved
decoration. The technique of chip carving was first introduced to America in the early nineteenth century by
German and Middle European immigrants. Wood is cut at an angle, usually in a "U" or "V" pattern, and
the resulting chip is pried out. Tramp artists borrowed this technique and made it their own by using chip-carved
decoration in conjunction with other materials, such as paint, discarded bits of cloth or leather, and
shards of glass, to decorate all types of furnishings and household objects, from dining room sets to plant stands
Making tramp art pieces became a popular pastime in the second half of the nineteenth century. Examples of
these objects can be found in almost every region of the United States and also in Canada. Constructing a piece
of tramp art did not require superior carving skills, elaborate tools, or costly materials. Patience, imagination, and a
penknife were all that was needed. Discarded cigar boxes and fruit crates, made of soft, thin sheets of cedar,
mahogany, and maple, usually provided the raw materials for the carved decoration. This decoration was then glued
or nailed to the object or piece of furniture to be embellished. The use of discarded and recycled materials, the commonness
of both maker and the types of objects made, and the quirky and sometimes bizarre nature of the finished pieces may have
contributed to the designation of this folk-art form as "tramp art" in the 1940s. Tramp art was also called the
"landlubber's scrimshaw" because of the painstaking and time-consuming nature of its creation.
About 1880, the maker of this Lynchburg bureau first fashioned the case for the chest of drawers out of pieces of
pine, oak, and poplar perhaps found in the barn or on the woodpile. The artist then decorated the chest in the
crown-of-thorns style. Crown-of-thorns-style tramp art had its own unique method of construction. It was
made by layering chips of wood in a lattice-like fashion--in much the same way that children build forts out
of Popsicle sticks or lincoln logs. Hundreds of individually carved thorns carefully glued together decorate the
front of the chest between the three graduated drawers and enclose the sides of the case piece. These thorns
also frame the mirror and crown the top of the bureau with an intricate circle and two graceful arches,
reminiscent of designs on Victorian rattan and wicker furniture. Tramp artists used any type of
material available. The maker of this bureau took shell-carved pulls from a factory-made piece
of furniture and gilded them before placing them on his new assemblage. Finally, six goat
horns and more paint completed the piece. The inclusion of horns may have been an attempt to
imitate the popular long-horn furniture of the period or simply a practical addition on which to
hang hats or clothing.
The Lynchburg bureau was functional as well as decorative. The mirror rotates on its vertical
axis to reveal a handy sewing center. Seven spindles have been mounted on springs so that thread could be unwound easily
from any spool and neatly cut on a small piece of metal anchored at the bottom. Holders for seven thimbles of varying sizes and
four pairs of scissors were also installed on the back of the mirror. Needles rested in two metal clamps, and three pincushions
have been fashioned out of pieces of chamois cloth and discarded shoe molding.
The bureau descended in the family of Fred Lander, a physician, and his wife, Georgia, a public school teacher.
As with most tramp art pieces, the maker of the bureau is unknown.
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