The Mott Family Shell-carved Slab Table

Mott Family Mixing or Serving Table, New York, 1745-1760.

Mott Family Mixing or Serving Table, New York, 1745-1760. (FR2016044)
Mahogany and marble, with poplar secondary. Height (frame) 28”, Width (overall) 26”,Depth (overall) 19 ½”.

This diminutive table embodies the bold design and rich carving found on New York City’s finest colonial furniture. The three principal features—carved claw feet, understated leaves-and-flowers on the knees; and three-dimensional shell with leafy scrolls of the skirt— appear periodically in a circle of artisans who practised their trade in colonial Manhattan in the mid-eighteenth century. They produced some of the most ambitiously ornamented furniture of the Baroque era, including a significant group of chairs for the Van Renssaelaer and Van Cordtlandt families of Albany and New York City.

vase-splat back arm chair with shell carving and cabriole legs

Figure 2: Van Cordtland family Armchair, New York, 1740-1755. Walnut, red gum, white pine. Height 39 ¼”, width 26 ¼”, depth 23”. Details from the chair will be compared to the table below. Courtesy, Winterthur
Museum, accession 1963.0164.001

The table’s design and detail suggest it originates as early as the 1740s. The small scale is typical of tea tables from the 1730s and 1740s, and reflects the scale of tea pots and tea cups, which remained small in an era when tea remained extremely expensive. Furthermore, the bold character of the baroque shell and the meandering leafage, and the strength of the molding surrounding the marble, bespeak the confident Baroque taste embraced by the Dutch well before mid- century. The table has another feature that bespeaks the early date: In contrast to later furniture on which carved details and moldings are created separately, and then applied to the frame, here, the maker carved the molded edge around the top, and the naturalistic details of the front rail, from a solid piece of mahogany stock measuring fully 2” thick. In short, he carved and molded the aesthetic features as an integral part of not just the design, but also as an essential part of the structure needed to support the substantial piece on marble on top.

THE CARVED SHELL: In style, the shell brings to mind the substantial shells that appear in fine New York chairs and architectural interiors, yet has no precise parallel in the city.

Despite the seemingly unique character of the ornament, it reflects detailed techinques and compositional arrangements that were popular among New York carvers of the era. Whether in the heavy undercutting of the shell, the layout of the skirt design, the weight of the moldings, or the floral carved knees, the piece relates in varied ways to other New York furniture of the era.

detail of shell carving on center front of table skirt

Figure 3: The front rail of the slab table shows the carved shell,
elongated s-scrolls, acanthus leafage, and bold cap molding of the front rail. These
are all carved from the solid front rail, which is cut from 2” mahogany stock.


Figure 4: This detail of the crest rail of the Van Cortlandt armchair shown in Figure 2 depicts the projecting shell, with the undercut and elongated leafage.
As on the slab table, the details are all carved from the solid wood stock.

Figure 3 The Mott table (top) and Van Renssaeler armchair Figure 4 (bottom) differ significantly in design, though in each case the maker incorporated a distinctive lozenge-and-roundel feature into the larger design.

Figure 5: The Mott table (left) and Van Renssaeler armchair (right) each feature a distinctive lozenge-and-roundel feature into the larger design.

On the table, it appears in the center of the shell (left), while on the chair, it commands the upper center of the splat. The detail periodically appears in other colonial New York furniture.


Figure 6a, 6b and 6c: Details show a carved foot from three perspectives—front, side and rear. The design is squared in format and has undulating talons with sharp claws.

As on most New York furniture, the carver laid out the feet so they would be nearly square in format, and fit neatly within a cube, so that the talons descend more or less from each upper corner, with a slight bow to accommodate the apple-shaped ball that it grasps. There is significant webbing between the sinews of the upper tendons. Each of the outward talons has joints that diminish in scale—then transition to a claw that tapers to a sharp point just above the floor.

FLORAL KNEE CARVING:  The carved knees on many New York pieces consist of an open flower set against radiating leaves. Those on Mott table (left) express the design with a four-petal flower against five radiating leaves, and offer a compelling contrast to another local piece—a 1750s New York tea table (center), where each knee (right) has a five-petal flower set against four radiating leaves. “Pie-Crust” tea table courtesy, Philip Bradley American Antiques.



The table’s legs and frame survive in a fine structural state, with all of the principal features intact. The marble is replaced. The only loss to the original carving was a tiny piece measuring 1” wide by ⅜” high that, the carver added to the upper tip as essential to projecting the design into a deeper third dimension in front of the upper molding—and now restored. The carving survives with fine detail, and the tips of all the claws are sharp and pointed. When acquired, the table retained two knee returns of considerable age. Although they are probably early replacements, they perfectly matched the impressions on the frame, and served as prototypes for the replacements. The only other replacements are the corner blocks inside the frame, which perfectly match the impressions left by the now-missing originals. Finish specialist Heather Dunphy of Cochranville, Pennsylvania, cleaned the surface of later accretions, removed an unsightly modern finish, and applied the shellac surface seen here. Replacement of the knee returns and blocking were done by Rob McCullough and Fred Hoover, Carvers and Conservators, of Paradise, Pennsylvania.

PRICE: Upon request