Purchase Story

Collecting Facts

Jim Gergat has been collecting for decades. His passion is American woodworkers. He does not collect furniture or carvings; he collects facts about the lives of 1500 woodworkers active in Philadelphia before 1800.

One of the intriguing mysteries about Philadelphia furniture carvers that has bugged Gergat for years is the life story of the talented Martin Jugiez, who carved in Philadelphia when Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet-maker Director being a large collection of the most Elegant and Useful Designs of Shousehold Furniture in the Gothic, Chinese and Modern Taste determined the latest fashion.

“I went to Winterthur to see the exhibition that celebrates the 300th anniversary of Thomas Chippendale’s birth,” said Gergat during a long phone conversation. Some objects from Winterthur’s collection have been put on view in the center gallery on the first floor, highlighting Chippendale’s influence on Philadelphia furniture. The well-known side chair based on plate XII (first edition, 1754) and plate XIV in the third edition (1762) of Chippendale’s Director, with carving attributed to Martin Jugiez, has a gallery label that tells nothing of Jugiez’s life or training other than stating that he arrived with a fully developed carving style. “Nothing is known of his original name or even the correct spelling and pronunciation of his name,” said Gergat.

This chair, one of two at Winterthur, may have been part of a larger set that wealthy ironworks magnate John Potts (c. 1710-1768) ordered for Pottsgrove Manor, the house he built in 1752 in present-day Pottstown, Pennsylvania. A chair that Chippendale illustrated in plate XII (first edition, 1754) and plate XIV (third edition, 1762) of the The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director served as the design template for not only the back but also the scroll feet—a rare example in American furniture. Carver Martin Jugiez expressed his own ebullient carving style, adding ruffles or gadrooning to the bottom of the seat rails, and piercing and undercutting the leaves encircling the scrolled feet, raising Chippendale’s design to a new level. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1765-75, mahogany, northern white cedar. Gift of Henry Francis du Pont, 1960. James Schneck photo.

“We don’t know much about Jugiez except that he advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette on November 25, 1762, that he and his partner Nicholas Bernard had imported goods on the Carolina with Captain Friend at the helm sailing from London,” Gergat said. The advertisement listed “A Compleat assortment of Looking-Glasses, framed in the newest Taste, Picture Frames, Sconces, Chimneypieces, Ornaments for Ceilings, Pictures Framed and Glazed, a neat Harpsichord, N.B. All Sort of Carving in Wood or Stone and Gilding done in the neatest Manner.”

Gergat said that “surviving bills and receipts have furnished some more information, and we know Jugiez carved for many years longer than his partner and friend Nicholas Bernard, whose full name was Claude Nicholas Bernard, but no one told us when or where Jugiez was born or trained.”

Thanks to a 2004 American Furniture journal article by Alan Miller and Luke Beckerdite, we do know that Jugiez was a busy carver for many years and that Bernard soon became the business-getter in the partnership, traveling to Boston, New York, and Charleston, and placing advertisements in newspapers. Miller and Beckerdite believe the business arrangement had distinct advantages. Bernard profited from Jugiez’s abilities as a designer and his enormous skill and productivity, while Jugiez benefited from the local and distant connections Bernard made. Miller and Beckerdite wrote about the lion sideboard table Jugiez made for the Pennsylvania Hospital, calling it a masterpiece, and they also illustrated clocks, high chests, and chest-on-chests.

Gergat, who spends his days at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania reading letters and account books and many nights searching the Internet, recently hit pay dirt. In the French National Archives online he discovered what he believes to be Martin Jugiez’s apprenticeship agreement, dated June 1741: “MC/ET/XXXVIII/31930 juin 1741 Contrat de mise en apprentissage pour 5 ans, entre Jacques Jugiez, marchand de vins, et François Germain Suppligeaux, maître sculpteur, au profit de Martin Jugiez, âgé de 11 ans, fils de Jacques, logé, nourri, blanchi et entretenu par son père, sauf l’hiver, où le maître le logera, sans deniers déboursés (approuvé par les jurés en charge, droits perçus).” Translated it reads: “Apprenticeship contract for 5 years, between Jacques Jugiez, wine merchant, and François Germain Suppligeaux, master sculptor, in favor of Martin Jugiez, 11 years old, son of Jacques, lodged, fed, blanched [laundry done] and maintained by his father, except in winter, where the master will house him, without disbursements (approved by the jury in charge, fees collected).”

“Now we know Jugiez’s father was a wine merchant, and Martin, at age 11, began his apprenticeship with a sculptor and that he was born in 1730, making him two years older than his partner Bernard, who was born in 1732, and how to spell his name,” claims Gergat.

“Alexandra Kirtley [American furniture curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art] thinks his father was Portuguese. Perhaps he was living in Paris, selling Portuguese wines to the French, or he could be French, but now we know Jugiez was trained in Paris,” said Gergat. “I believe the influence of France on American carving has to be reconsidered.”

We know that Jugiez carved woodwork for every major cabinetmaking shop in Philadelphia. He carved at Mount Pleasant, the grand Georgian House in Fairmount Park, and he carved the lion table for the Pennsylvania Hospital and the Fox and Grapes high chest and dressing table that are at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In an article about the Fox and Grapes high chest and dressing table in the spring 2008 Antiques and Fine Art, conservator Christopher Storb quotes an 1803 letter to Samuel Mifflin written by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe concerning the construction of a stove for the U.S. Senate chamber in Washington, D.C., that reads, “and old Martin Jugiez renowned as the ugliest man in Philadelphia will do the carving, exactly in the stile [sic] of the stove of the Bank of Philadelphia.”

Noting Jugiez’s abundant production in a 50-year career in Philadelphia, Storb pointed out that there is scarcely a city block in that city that didn’t house chests, chairs, tables, clock, cases, or architectural elements “embellished with his remarkable sculptural carving.”

Gergat said, “By a quick count, more than eight million dollars’ worth of goods from the shop of Bernard and Jugiez has passed though auctions in the 20th century.” He thinks Jugiez also may have done carving for ships, and probably carved some figureheads. Beckerdite and Miller have attributed to Martin Jugiez a bust of Benjamin Franklin, 1785-95, that was purchased by the Chipstone Foundation at Sotheby’s in January 2016.

We now know that Martin Jugiez was apprenticed to a French sculptor when he was 11 years old. Gergat said he soon will have a lot more information to present and asks for any information on Philadelphia woodworkers that will help his endeavor.

Readers with information can contact Gergat via M.A.D.


Originally published in the October 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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