Thomas Day, a free man of color who owned and operated one of North Carolina’s largest cabinetmaking shops prior to the Civil War, created a remarkable output of American furniture. Just opened at the North Carolina Museum of History, an exhibition of Day's work---from simple carvings to ornate Rococo Revival pieces---illustrates the wide range of 19th-century styles made by this master craftsman.
“Thomas Day can rightfully be called one of the fathers of the North Carolina furniture industry,” says Patricia Phillips Marshall, the museum’s curator of decorative arts and co-author of the book Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color, was released May 22 by UNC Press.
Highly sought-after by collectors of antebellum furniture and African American material culture, Day's pieces reflect his skillful mastery of a vast array of styles and aesthetics. Pieces on exhibit in "Behind the Veneer" range from a rosewood center table to a faux-painted wardrobe, many featuring exuberant motifs.
“Day was unique because he was one of a few cabinet makers who could design the architectural elements for a room and then create the furniture to complement it,” notes Marshall.
As an African-American in the pre-Civil War South, Day thrived despite hardships presented by prejudice. His workshop employed artisans of all races.
The exhibition shows how Day became an intregral part of the area's economic community as an artisan, entrepreneur, early industrialist, and family man.