The Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera
Henry Francis du Pont
5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, Delaware 19735
Telephone: 302-888-4600 or 800-448-3883
OVERVIEW OF THE COLLECTION
Creator: Alexander, Jennie, 1930-2018.
Title: Research papers
Dates: circa 1973-2009
Call No.: Col. 991
Acc. No.: 2018x39, 2019x37
Quantity: 10 boxes
Location: 16 J 2-4
Jennie Alexander (1930-July 12, 2018) was a well-regarded woodworker, teacher, and author. She was known for her ladderback chairs and for her books Make a Chair from a Tree and Make a Joint Stool from a Tree (co-authored with Peter Follasbee). She was most interested in the art of green woodworking (using unseasoned wood), and inspired others to do so as well.
Ms. Alexander was born John Davis Alexander, Jr. in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1930. She changed her name to Jennie in 2007. Her father was a lawyer; her mother Dorothy, a secretary, had attended a Sloyd school during her childhood in Quincy, Massachusetts. Mrs. Alexander encouraged the young Jennie in her interest in woodworking. After high school, Jennie briefly attended Johns Hopkins University and then transferred to St. John’s College, where she began to spend more time playing jazz music. For several years after college, she worked as a jazz musician, making a living, but she knew she was “never going to be a great musician.”
She then attended University of Maryland Law School, established a practice in Baltimore, and became one of the best-regarded divorce lawyers in Maryland. She married Emily Joyce Leach (who died in 1996), and they had three daughters and a son (who died in 2015). While working as a lawyer, Ms. Alexander developed her interest in woodworking, bought tools, and made a Shaker-style chair. She joined the Early American Industries Association, where she met Winterthur curator Charles Hummel, well-known for his study of the Dominy family’s woodworking shop. Mr. Hummel would take Ms. Alexander with him to see the collections at other museums, and during these visits, Ms. Alexander was able to closely study the construction of the furniture.
One day, Ms. Alexander was devastated to learn that a planned chair-making demonstration using a lathe had to be cancelled because of insurance concerns. Her wife Joyce suggested that Jennie instead demonstrate making chair pieces by hand, using the shaving technique. Jennie embraced the idea and began teaching chair-making using hand-tools. She was also interested in 17th century joinery techniques. Charles Hummel, Benno Forman, Robert St. George, and Robert Trent assisted her in her studies. She taught classes at Country Workshops in North Carolina, where she met Peter Follansbee. The two of them corresponded about joinery for a number of years and collaborated on the writing of at least one journal article. Eventually, health issues made it impossible for Ms. Alexander to continue teaching workshops, although she continued to encourage individuals in their quests for woodworking abilities.
Additional information about Jennie Alexander is filed with the collection of her papers. A profile of her by Christopher Schwartz appeared in April 2015 issue of the magazine Popular Woodworking.
A quotation from Jennie Alexander: “People change, times change, wood continues to be wonderful!”
SCOPE AND CONTENT
Correspondence, circa 1980-2000s; notebooks, 1973-circa 1987; articles and manuscripts; and some photographs pertaining to the woodworking career of woodworker, teacher, and author Jennie Alexander. Much of the correspondence was stored in three-ring binders labeled “Stools,” but the correspondence concerns more than just stools, as other pieces of furniture, including chests and cupboards, were also discussed. Filed with the correspondence from the “Stools” notebooks are diagrams, some photographs, copies of articles, bibliographies, brochures from furniture makers, and other information. Additional correspondence was not in notebooks and not found in much order. Correspondents included Peter Follansbee, Robert Trent, Nancy Goyne Evans, Drew Langster (who organized Country Workshops in Marshall, N.C.), and others. Fortunately, Ms. Alexander often kept photocopies of her outgoing letters.
Jennie Alexander and Peter Follansbee together studied the output of a particular shop in 17th century New England. They dubbed the master of the shop the “Master Over Builder” (MOB), and they attributed the work to William Savell and his sons John and William. Their article about these workers and their furniture is found in this collection in draft form (it was published in American Furniture in 1996). Ms. Alexander’s notebooks are filled with drawings, diagrams, notes about furniture, drafts or copies of letters, names and addresses, “to-do” lists, and other items of interest. Loose notes, not found in notebooks and now roughly organized by topic, are also in the collection. Copies of articles about Alexander, as well as articles by her are included, as are drafts and texts of lectures, articles, and chapters in books.
The papers came in two groups, and for the most part, materials from accession 2018x39 are in Boxes 1-11; while materials from accession 2019x37 are in Boxes 12-17.
The folders marked “Stools,” in boxes 1-5, came in three-ring binders, and the papers were kept in the same order as they were in in those binders. Folder headings were taken from labels on the binders.
LANGUAGE OF MATERIALS
The materials are in English.
RESTRICTIONS ON ACCESS
Collection is open to the public. Copyright restrictions may apply.
Accession 2018x39: Gift of Jennie Alexander.
Accession 2019x37: received from Robert Trent, who transferred these materials from the home of Jennie Alexander after her death.
Books written by Jennie Alexander are in the Printed Books and Periodicals section of the Winterthur Library.
Savell, John, 1642-1687.
Savell, William, 1605-1669
Savell, William, 1652-1700.
Chair-makers – Maryland – Baltimore.
Designs and plans.
Joiners – Maryland – Baltimore.
Chairs – 20th century.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE COLLECTION
Location: 16 J 2-4
[Folders are from acc. 2018x39 unless noted as being from acc. 2019x37]
Box 1: notebooks
Folders 1-2: Stools, # 1, circa 1989-1990
Folders 3-5: Stools, #2, 1990
Folders 6-7: Stools, #3, 1990-1991
Box 2: notebooks
Folder 1: Stools, #3, 1990
Folders 2-4: Stools, #4, 1991
Folders 5-6: Stools, #5, 1991-1992
Box 3: notebooks
Folder 1: Stools, #5, 1991
Folders 2-4: Stools, #6, 1990-1991
Folders 5-6: Stools, #7, 1991-1992
Box 4: notebooks
Folder 1: Stools, #7, 1991
Folders 2-4: Stools, #8, 1992
Folders 5-7: Stools, #9, 1992-1993
Box 5: notebooks
Folders 1-3: Stools, #10, 1993-1994
Folders 4-6: Miscellaneous A, 1994-1995
Box 6: notebooks
Folders 1-2: Miscellaneous A, 1994-1995
Folders 3-4: Design notebooks, 1973, 1974-1975
Folders 5-6: Notebooks, #1-2, 1975-1976
Box 7: notebooks
Folders 1-5: Notebooks, #3-7, 1977-1979
Box 8: notebooks
Folders 1-4: Notebooks, #8-11, 1980 and undated (but circa 1980-circa 1983)
Folder 5: Notebook #12, 1983-1984 (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 6: Notebook, 1980-1982 [not numbered] (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 7: Notebook, 1987 [not numbered] (acc. 2019x37)
Box 9: workshops
Folders 1-3: Craftsman Author and Country Workshops, circa 1987-1990
Folders 4-7: Craftsman Author 2, circa 1987-circa 1989
Folders 1-2: Craftsman Author 2, circa 1984-circa 1990
Box 10: workshops
Folders 1-2: Craftsman Author and Country Workshops 3, circa 1985-circa 1993
Folder 3: Country Workshop, circa 1998 (acc. 2019x37)
Folders 4-5: workshops, 2003, 2004-2005 (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 6: notes on a joint stool workshop, 1995 (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 1: notes on chair making course, 2001 (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 2: Class notes: “Make a Chair from a Tree,” 2000
Folder 3: “Make a Chair from a Tree”: DVD from greenwoodworking, copyright 1999, 2006, 2009
Folder 4: “Owen Rein’s Peeling & Weaving Hickory Bark Chair Seats” and “Brian Bogg’s Bark Processing Rough-Cut, 7/98”: CD or DVD
[note: Jennie Alexander used peeled inner bark for the seats of many of her chairs. This item documents the same process.]
Folders 5-7: MOB [Master Over-Builder], circa 1991-circa 1994
[believed to be William Savell and his sons John and William]
Folder 8: Savell article, written with Peter Follansbee, 1994-1995 (acc. 2019x37)
[this is an article about the Master Over-Builder]
Folder 1: Articles about Jennie Alexander, and workshop notices (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 2: Articles by Jennie Alexander (acc. 2019x37)
[see also folder 5: Woodwork]
Folder 3: Article (draft): Board-seated chairs (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 4: manuscript: “American Board-seated Turned Chairs, 1640-1740,” by J. Alexander and Robert Trent (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 5: manuscript on board-seated turned chairs, by J. Alexander and Robert Trent (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 6: manuscript: “Boston Mannerist Case Furniture at Chipstone,” by Trent, Follansbee, and Alexander (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 7: Stick chairs: manuscript for chapter in a book (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 1: Manuscripts about stick chairs, several versions (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 2: Woodwork: articles and correspondence (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 3: Make a Stool from a Tree (MACFAT): notes and outline (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 4: MACFAT/MASFAT: 2d edition (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 5: MACFAT/MASFAT: 3d edition (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 6: MACFAT: 3d edition: photos (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 7: Langsner, Drew: “The Chairmaker’s Workshop: Plans” (acc. 2019x37)
Box 14: chiefly notes
Folder 1: Millar, Luke: “Chest Construction: A Guide for Regional Studies” (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 2: Notes: Bench clamp (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 3: Notes: Carving (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 4: Notes: End vise lathe (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 5: Notes and correspondence: Honduras chair project, 1995, 2001-2006 (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 6: Notes: Joinery and joinery terms, and bibliography (early joinery notes, circa 1980?) (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 7: Notes: Joinery, tools, inventories, etc. (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 8: Notes: miscellaneous, 2002 (acc. 2019x37)
Box 15: notes
Folder 1: Notes: Pole lathes, 1993-1994 (acc. 2019x37)
Folders 2-3: Notes and correspondence: St. Mary’s City, Maryland (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 4: Notes: Tools (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 5: Notes: Tools, with lecture (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 6: Notes: Tools found on ship Mary Rose (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 7: Notes: chiefly about a wood-drying kiln (acc. 2019x37)
Box 16: notes; photographs; correspondence
Folder 1: Notes: from Metropolitan Museum, about a joint stool (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 2: Photographs: Jennie Alexander (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 3: Photographs: MASFAT at Country Workshops (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 4: Photographs: woodworking [some have notes on the back] (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 5: Photographs and notes: woodworking workshops, no dates (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 6: Photographs: Master Over-Builder (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 7: Photographs: negatives, contact sheets, and miscellaneous photos (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 8: Correspondence with various people (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 9: Correspondence with Nancy Goyne Evans (acc. 2019x37)
Folders 10-12: Correspondence, chiefly with Peter Follansbee, 1990s-2000s (acc. 2019x37)
Box 17: correspondence
Folder 1: Correspondence about MacArthur fellowships (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 2: Correspondence with Robert M. Schoch, and draft of an article (acc. 2019x37)
Folders 3-5: Correspondence with Robert F. Trent, 1980s-circa 2000s (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 6: Correspondence about turned chairs (includes a sample from Harvard’s President’s Chair) (acc. 2019x37)
Folder 7: biographical material added to the collection, found on world wide web; obituary; and OCLC records for books written by Jennie Alexander (includes some law material) [this material did not come from Jennie Alexander, but was added by the cataloger and others]