The Sheldon Relic Chair 1884-2018
On view in the Local History Gallery through July 2020
In the 1880s, Middlebury resident Henry Luther Sheldon was hatching plans to build a museum, collecting objects and papers related to local and national history. He also began constructing an eclectic “Memorial Chair,” with each of the spindles in the top two rows carved from “relics”— fragments from sites of historical significance, from the Middlebury Congregational Church to the ship Old Ironsides. In this way, the chair is a material object that embodies local and national history.
In January 2018, students in Middlebury College’s American Studies course “Material Culture in Focus” researched this chair, examining the Sheldon Museum archives for materials related to the building of the chair and the objects within it. Contemplating nineteenth-century collecting practices, they also considered what the relics of 2018 would be and procured them. Vermont furniture maker Timothy Clark constructed a copy of Sheldon’s chair, instructing students in the craft of making chairs, while Middlebury College Art Studio Technician Colin Boyd taught students to turn wood on a lathe and worked with them to transform their collected fragments (College President Laurie Patton’s earbuds, bike handlebars, a piece of marble from Marble Works) into spindles.
The two chairs now offer a dialogue about practices of craft and memory-making in 1884 and 2018… and encourage visitors to consider what would represent them in 2020 and in the future. Learn more about the project on their website.