Air apparent: Wicker’s lure continues


When you think of wicker furniture, you often think of quite ornate designs, light and open construction. The vision might even include romance, a moonlit porch or patio rendezvous, and large wrap-around porches on a Victorian home.

Willow or wicker furniture had a much earlier history, possibly as early as 4000 B.C.E.

The Egyptians produced willow, rush, palm leaf and rush mats and containers of many sizes and for several purposes. The Bible records the story of Moses and the basket he was placed in quite thoroughly.

History often records the development of manmade utilitarian articles and wicker use has been traced in Egypt, Asia Minor, mideastern countries to Greece and Rome. As Roman occupations continued through Europe, the invaders introduced many of their ways and products.

‘Bendable’ furniture. The name wicker is possibly derived from the Swedish name for bend – “wika” – combined with their word for willow – “vikker.”

Many other natural materials, other than willow, have been employed in wicker or similar furniture: cane, raffia, rattan, rush and various other plant material that could be adapted.

With expertly chosen raw materials and a lively imagination, craft persons created furniture uniquely theirs alone.

Wicker furniture was an item that our forefathers made from memories of the Old World. By accident or the imagination of a craftsman, a grocer, Cyrus Wakefield, learned of quantities of rattan lying on a Boston dock. This material was super cargo employed to serve as a buffer on ship board to avoid package damage on the long trip from the Orient.

Through trial and error, he successfully placed it on a standard rocker and discovered the rattan’s flexibility.

Further experimenting revealed that by splitting rattan, cane type material resulted. An inner pith (center of a plant) contained a more usable reedlike substance. This inner substance also was adaptable to be painted or stained, where rattan could only be varnished.

When Wakefield began to produce this new widely accepted wicker furniture, many copycats joined the parade.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, wicker furniture was much lower in price than solid wooden counter parts.

Wicker furniture began to wane sharply in the 1920s as Art Deco and Mission period furniture became the “in” thing.

Popularity continues. Wicker is still found in old and new forms. Many still admire this furniture because it is light, comfortable and easily managed. Due to the open weaved construction, carriages, children’s beds, wheelchairs, invalid furniture and similar pieces provide air circulation, coolness and comfort.

Prices are quite reasonable for more common wicker forms i.e. tables, settees and chairs. More elaborate items such as cradles, rockers, baby buggies, quite fancy chairs with scroll type weavings and wrapped arms, settees and bird cages cost quite a bit more.

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