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The decoration of this peasant furniture is always carried out simply, in that free-hand style found on all folk craft, and with the use of the primary colors and of green and white, so characteristic of primitive art. Chairs may be obtained so decorated that they may easily be fitted into a room scheme. In some of the peasant districts not only are the chairs and tables brightly decorated, but the woodwork of the houses and the country carts as well show the same type of ornamentation. The Sicilian carts, for example, with their polychrome ornamentation and spangled harness for the mule, look like toys to our northern eyes.
Some of the chairs follow distinctly country models. The heavy, square, chipped chairs, for instance, utilize the natural curve of a timber for the back pieces and legs. On the broad surfaces of this type of chair are painted trailing vines with flowers in red and orange. The pine wood is roughly shaped with hand tools and the chairs have woven seats of rushes.
Other peasant chairs show that they have been copied from furniture forms with which we are more familiar. Such is a Spanish chair in black and gold with a small pictorial panel at the back. The upright spindles or arches of the back recall the more ornate type in harder wood which graced the palaces of Granada or Seville. Then there is a three splat back chair from the north of Italy, in red with blue and yellow floral decorations; and there is a Sicilian armchair with the edges of the cross slats and square back supports chipped in a decorative manner. In this type of chair each chipped place is touched with color.
Very light weight chairs made of slender pieces of wood come from the valley of Valeombrosa near Florence.
Incorporated in their backs are several square upright slats. Another type from Northern Italy has the broad cross pieces of the back cut along one edge in curious curves. These slight attempts to break the straight lines of the wood are always done in a very crude manner, often with a hand knife.
On some chairs a simple type of turning is employed. Bulb forms, alternating with the square of the unturned wood and the long vase shape familiar in Colonial furni ture, are used with the sections touched in different colors.
For an effect of extreme simplicity, undecorated chairs are often used, the tone of the wood being allowed to mellow with time. These unpainted chairs are sometimes bought and painted in solid color to provide an exotic note for an interior.
Settees for two or three persons are found in all styles. Besides long backs of wooden slats and splats, there are the types in which the back is made up of two or three chair backs, as was the style of early American settees, the more elaborate having floral and shell decorations enclosed with incised lines. Another type of settee has the entire back in woven rush, like the seat. Generally the settees have arms, but some styles are made with curved backs and without arms.
Low stools with rush tops and simple wall brackets re call the gay interior of a peasant's home. They are ornamented in geometrical or bright flower designs. Rush topped tables of peculiar design suggest Oriental cabinet work in the two slender stretchers placed just below the top of the table. While Venice was in contact with the Orient during the Renaissance, this design may well have been copied from the East.
Most of this Italian peasant furniture is obtainable also in small sizes for children. These half size chairs and settees are sturdily constructed and able to stand a great deal of rough usage. Their cheerful air pleases children and gives a touch of gayety to a nursery. They are generally decorated in the same style as are the larger pieces, but a few have on the broad splats of the back pictures of rustic landscapes or romantic battle scenes with armored knights.
On the chairs and settees of Italian peasant work are found many interesting varieties of rush weaving, one of the oldest forms of early crafts. In time the light hue of the new rush takes on the brown tone of old wood. Sometimes decorators like to add a bright cushion.
This Italian peasant furniture is still made by hand in small country hamlets that have to be hunted out by energetic buyers. The recent demand in this country has re vived a slowly dying craft in more than one village; for the Italian country folk often prefer furniture made by machinery, in the modern style, to their own ancient hand products.