I’ve been reflecting lately on the phenomena of depression era furniture.
It’s one of my favorite time periods in American upholstery, actually – I love getting these pieces in my shop. You’re apt to find just about anything inside.
I’ve uncovered quilts stuffed into spring cavities (where did the springs go???) and road signs used as exterior support layers.
I’ve pulled entire curtain panels, hems included, off the seats where they’d been cleverly reassigned – these, in turn, over the repurposed upholstery from a family car.
There’s no end to the products used in place of burlap – pretty much any fabric on hand was put to work.
And my personal favorite – a tile sample from the local hardware store. It had since closed, but I was able to find it online and trace the reupholstery job to a small town in rural Minnesota.
I don’t know what other upholsterers see when they open these upholstered time capsules.
But I see hope.
I see ingenuity and resourcefulness and the enduring human spirt.
I see that people EVEN THEN felt called to give their families beauty – by whatever means were available.
Understand – this time in history was unrelentingly cruel – for YEARS, to so SO many.
This era is the reason our grandmothers hoard bread bags and refold Christmas wrap. It changed people forever.
I remember once my grandma telling a story about finishing the last potato in the house and wondering what they’d eat next. I thought, ‘wait – what?’ My comfortable child mind couldn’t even accept the idea of an ACTUALLY empty kitchen.
Think about the last time you casually said, “We’re out of food” or “the fridge is empty.”
Were you? Was it? Oh, we’ve been plenty broke, and annoyingly depleted, but I’ve never eaten the last potato in my life.
This beauty I see in depression era furniture – it is in fact, the long shadow of tragedy.
But all these decades later, what survives is hope. What sits on my horses, awaiting my hammer, is triumph.
Henri Matisse said:
There are always flowers
for those who want to see them.
and depression era furniture is a testament to just that.
Please do not mistake this for a lecture. It isn’t marching orders to buck up and make some lemonade with these here lemons.
Go on and feel ALL your feels.
But listen: even if you don’t see flowers today, never lose faith that they’re there.
We too will leave a chapter for future generations. What will our grandchildren read in the expression of our work?
Depression era furniture tells us one more important thing:
That we come from a long line of problem solvers.
Oh yes, we’re also artists and historians and craftspeople. But if you asked me what an upholsterer actually DOES? I’d say we solve problems. We figure out how to fix things, make them functional, make them comfortable, make them beautiful. No instruction manual? No pattern kit? Every chair is different? No problem. Just give me a minute – I think I can figure this out . . .
Not everyone can thrive outside the box, drawing beauty from chaos on a daily basis – but upholsterers can.
Depression era furniture holds a mirror up and shows us ourselves under very different circumstances.
So whatever unfolds – I know upholsterers will find a way.
Because it’s what we do.
And it’s who we are.
“If there was a problem, yo – I’ll solve it.
Check out the hook while my D.J. revolves it. Ice, ice baby. . .”