Lot 111
  • 111

The Byrdcliffe Arts & Crafts Colony

25,000 - 35,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • The Byrdcliffe Arts & Crafts Colony
  • "Lily" Chair
  • branded BYRDCLIFFE 1904 and with the colony's cypher
  • cherry with remnants of the original leather seat and the original brass tacks
  • 37  3/4  x 18 x 16  in. (95.9 x 45.7 x 40.6 cm)
the carved polychrome panel designed by Zulma Steele


White Pines, Byrdcliffe Arts & Crafts Colony, Woodstock, NY

Thence by descent to Mark Wilcox, Jr., heir of Peter Whitehead, son of colony founders Jane and Ralph Radcliffe-Whitehead
Sotheby's New York, June 17, 2004, lot 9

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Arcady to Byrdcliffe:  The Whiteheads' Circle of Artists, James R. Bakker Gallery, Boston, MA, November 19-December 10, 1999


Robert Edwards ed., Life By Design:  The Byrdcliffe Arts & Crafts Colony, Wilmington, DE, 1984, p. 9 (for a period photograph showing a "Lily" chair in a showroom at the Byrdcliffe Colony, circa 1904)
Robert Edwards, ''The Utopias of Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead,'' The Magazine Antiques, January 1985, p. 271
Robert Edwards, “Furniture Designed at the Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts Colony,” The Magazine Antiques, May 2003, pp 106-115 (for a discussion of Steele’s role in the design of Byrdcliffe furniture)
Nancy E. Green, ed., Byrdcliffe: An American Arts and Crafts Colony, Cornell, 2004, “Byrdcliffe Furniture: Imagination Versus Reality,” Robert Edwards, pp. 74-91, p. 169, cat. no. 24 (for the "Lily" chair in the collection of The Milwaukee Museum of Art) and p. 172, cat. no. 33 (for Steele’s drawing of a "Lily" chair)

Catalogue Note

Zulma Steele (1881-1979) and Edna Walker (born 1880) studied design with Arthur Wesley Dow at the Pratt Institute, New York. They arrived at the Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts Colony in 1903, during the first summer of operations. By 1904 they were sharing a house on the Byrdcliffe campus called the Angelus, where they designed most of the decorations that were later carved on furniture made in the Byrdcliffe woodworking shop.  It is difficult to distinguish Steele’s designs from Walker’s because working drawings for the furniture retained by Ralph Radcliffe-Whitehead are often signed by Steele even though, she didn’t design the actual pieces of furniture on which the women’s floral designs were superimposed.  Determining an exact date of manufacture is also difficult because the 1904 brand was used on all signed Byrdcliffe furniture.  The most active period of production—during which fewer than a hundred pieces were made—started in 1903 and ended by 1905.

The lily was a symbol of the colony and was to be found not only in the Byrdcliffe cypher, but also on chests, sideboards, lamp stands, footstools, tables and chairs. Steele’s lily design was also used on some of the furnishings in Bolton Brown’s house called Carniola.  Brown was one of the colony’s founders and, for a very brief time, director of the art school.  After Brown was dismissed and built another house in nearby Woodstock, Carniola burned; the charred remains of a large lily dining table together with four lily chairs were removed to White Pines where they remained until 1984.  One of these lily chairs is in the Milwaukee Museum of Art, another is in the Munson-Wilson-Proctor-Arts Institute, and a third is in the Winterthur Museum, Gardens, and Library.  The chair on offer is the only known example remaining in private hands.

— Robert Edwards