Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color

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Univ of North Carolina Press, May 22, 2010 - Design - 320 pages
Thomas Day (1801-61), a free man of color from Milton, North Carolina, became the most successful cabinetmaker in North Carolina--white or black--during a time when most blacks were enslaved and free blacks were restricted in their movements and activities. His surviving furniture and architectural woodwork still represent the best of nineteenth-century craftsmanship and aesthetics.

In this lavishly illustrated book, Patricia Phillips Marshall and Jo Ramsay Leimenstoll show how Day plotted a carefully charted course for success in antebellum southern society. Beginning in the 1820s, he produced fine furniture for leading white citizens and in the 1840s and '50s diversified his offerings to produce newel posts, stair brackets, and distinctive mantels for many of the same clients. As demand for his services increased, the technological improvements Day incorporated into his shop contributed to the complexity of his designs.

Day's style, characterized by undulating shapes, fluid lines, and spiraling forms, melded his own unique motifs with popular design forms, resulting in a distinctive interpretation readily identified to his shop. The photographs in the book document furniture in public and private collections and architectural woodwork from private homes not previously associated with Day. The book provides information on more than 160 pieces of furniture and architectural woodwork that Day produced for 80 structures between 1835 and 1861.

Through in-depth analysis and generous illustrations, including over 240 photographs (20 in full color) and architectural photography by Tim Buchman, Marshall and Leimenstoll provide a comprehensive perspective on and a new understanding of the powerful sense of aesthetics and design that mark Day's legacy.


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This is a fascinating book about an amazing individual. It is of interest to historians and to lovers of fine furniture and millwork. In my opinion Day's work on house interiors far exceeds his furniture, not to say the furniture is not outstanding. Changing times have slightly reduced the appeal of the furniture but the millwork he produced is timeless. Thomas Day and his family should be remembered for their contribution.
Present day owners of Thomas Day furniture should be commended for caring for and preserving it. The authors of the book should be lauded for producing a work of this quality.
Donnie B. Stowe
Greensboro, N.C.


A Cabinetmaker
A Good and Valuable Citizen
Opportunities for an Industrious Man
Unavoidable Encumbrances Gratifying Accomplishments
An Assortment of Fine and Fashionable Furniture
Bold and Expressive Architectural Woodwork
An Enduring Legacy
John Day Sr Estate Papers
Petition from the citizens of Milton on behalf of Thomas Day 1830

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About the author (2010)

Patricia Phillips Marshall is curator of decorative arts for the North Carolina Executive Mansion and the North Carolina Museum of History.

Jo Ramsay Leimenstoll is professor of interior architecture at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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