The Influences Governing Sheraton's Designs
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Sheraton's designs as set forth in " The Drawing Book " gave evidence of much careful study and preparation—his book was. the work of years. Although in his earlier days Sheraton was a practical worker, in his later days—the time when he was preparing his book—he had become a teacher and an author.. He wrote descriptively, and gave what he deemed to be helpful if not actually necessary directions for the making of the furniture he designed. In some cases he admitted consultation with men of small positions in the trade, but being somewhat narrow-minded, and afraid of giving publicity to competitors, was most careful to ignore any reference to the source of those designs which had undoubtedly been influenced by the work of the leading cabinetmakers of his day.
The success of Sheraton's book, numerically, and the names of the leading cabinet-makers who subscribed to it, show that it was eagerly anticipated, and it is probable that the inspirations he had received from other makers of repute were tacitly acknowledged by him personally, if not in his written accounts of their source. The designs he drew show traces of the influence of the teacher he was, and his technical explanations tell of his study of geometry. He outlined definite principles of geometry, on which he asserted all successful design was founded. First he gave attention to the constructive side. Then he began to show his preference for painting and decoration in low relief ; these characteristics he took from the surrounding influences of the times in which he lived. Classic Renaissance impressed him. The French school of artists influenced Sheraton's work, and many of his designs were specially drawn so that painted panels and ornament of the type Angelica Kaufmann and Bartolozzi had made popular might be used ; indeed, his painted furniture was a notable feature, and his plans were prepared for such schemes of decoration.
In Sheraton's day Hepplewhite & Co. and the Brothers Adam were doing all they could to make the furnishing of the home accord with architectural ornament, and their efforts must have influenced Sheraton, who was a clever draughtsman and promulgator of a style rather than an originator. It is important to remember that previous to the publication of " The Drawing Book " pattern books had been published by Thomas Chippendale, Johnson, Chambers, the Society of Upholsterers, Ince & Mayhew, R. & J. Adam, Shearer, and Hepplewhite & Co. ; all these books would be available, and must have influenced Sheraton, giving him a basis to work upon.
The French style favoured freak designs, and it is said Sheraton tried to outdo French artists on their own ground, for he planned chairs composed of a griffin's head, neck, and wing, united by a transverse tie of wood, over which was laid drapery. In his later chairs Sheraton introduced legs and bodies of dromedaries, camels, and lions. Yet, curiously enough, before these outside influences affected him he had other views, for at one time he wrote ; " The general style of furnishing a dining-parlour should be in substantial and ordinary things, avoiding all trifling ornaments and unnecessary decoration."
Possibly the materials Sheraton favoured had an important bearing upon his designs. He liked the hard East Indian variety of satinwood—or, as it was then sometimes spelled, sattin-wood—with its delightful figure and fine straw colour, producing a cool and pleasant effect. " Hare-wood " (chestnut or sycamore stained with water to which oxide of iron was added to produce the effect known as " eyre-wood " or "hare-wood ") and amboyna were used, but only as veneers, both materials being too costly to be used otherwise ; hence, again, another influence upon the designer, who was forced to some extent to be governed in his designs by the materials the craftsmen who had to execute them had to use.
It was at a time when Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and the Brothers Adam had exhausted the possibilities of mahogany that Sheraton came upon the scene. If he did not actually introduce inlays of a new form of ornament, the suggestions he had received from so many quarters influenced him to such an extent that he became the great exponent of the method, and his name was destined to be associated with that class of decoration in the future.
The inlaid decorations of Sheraton's style were often mechanical, and the making of shells and paterce became almost a trade of itself, so great was the demand for such forms of ornament. Thus it will be seen that popular taste and the original work of others who had preceded him had considerable influence on Sheraton as a designer.