Chairs from the shop tradition display considerable variation in detail and in major compositional choices like slat-backs versus spindle-backs. The Fairbanks chair is a major monument of the middle or mature phase of the tradition's development. The finials, with an upper ball, long-necked reel, and simplified lower ball, are not typical of the earliest chairs from the tradition but reflect Baroque influence. Quite typical of most chairs in the tradition are the indented turning of the front posts above the seat rail; ball turnings flanked by cove moldings on the posts; the vasiform spindles with relatively straight bodies; and the strong trapezoidal splay of the chair's plan.
A number of armchairs from this tradition have mis-drilled joints in their frames. Three such mis-drilled joints are visible on this chair’s rear post. A possible explanation maybe that turners made armchairs infrequently and were more likely to make errors. Further, as Robert Trent has noted, the master and his apprentices in this tradition did not employ a uniform pattern stick. Therefore, it appears that the chairmakers may have improvised a pattern virtually every time they made an armchair.
The line of descent in the Fairbanks family is fairly clear. The nineteenth and twentieth century family members who owned the chair in Maine all descended from Joseph Fairbanks (1717-1794), who moved from Dedham to Wrentham, Massachusetts, on the Rhode Island border, and then to Winthrop, Maine, near Augusta, just before the Revolution. Beginning with the patriarch Jonathan Fairbanks (died 1668) of Dedham, Massachusetts, a turner and the builder of the extant 1637 Fairbanks house, the paternal line leading to Joseph runs through Jonathan's son John Fairbanks (died 1684) of Dedham (also a turner and wheelwright), to his son Joseph Fairbanks (1656-1734) of Dedham, to Joseph Fairbanks, Jr. (1717-1794).
On stylistic grounds, the probable first owner of the chair was Joseph of the third generation, although why he chose to acquire a chair from a turner outside of Dedham rather than from one of his immediate relatives is unclear. Because Joseph lived on part of the original Fairbanks property, this chair may have been used in the family house which still stands in Dedham, Massachusetts.
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