Last week we had the pleasure of hosting a group of members of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association (M-WTCA). This knowledgeable group had agreed to help us with the furnishing and installation of our work shop and were very eager to get the job done. Using research collected regarding the skilled craftsmen who worked at Stratford in the 18th and early 19th centuries, a wish list of tools typical of an 18th-century work shop, and images of period work benches, the group was able to gather a donation of period tools appropriate for the shop as well as construct a reproduction work bench from native poplar.
Phil Baker and Jack Sciara of the group came armed with a plan for a reproduction work bench based on one in the shop of the Dominy family of East Hampton, New York (now at Winterthur Museum), as well as period paintings and illustrations. With help from our own Phil Mark and Doris Sciara, the team constructed a 14-foot work bench with back boards to hold tools. Although they used modern saws and nailers for efficiency, they made sure to finish the wood with hand planes to take away any indication of modernity.
Meanwhile, Neil Bohnert, Henry Caudle, Herb Caudle, and Jim DePoy worked with our Collections staff to identify and assess the group of tools donated by M-WTCA members. The men examined each tool, noting any maker or owner marks, recording time period, woods, and other important factors. Through the members of the M-WTCA, Stratford Hall now possesses a group of 18th- and 19th-century woodworking tools of great quality – perfect for our plantation work shop.
With the exhibit set to open to the public on April 22nd, we still have some way to go: Collections and Preservation staff still need to finalize tool donations, reinforce the bench top with reproduction rose-headed nails, and arrange the tools in the shop to mimic period images of working shops. A big thank you goes to the M-WTCA and their contributions to this exhibit. The progress made last week was invaluable to the display and what we hope to teach our visitors about skilled crafts at Stratford.