I bought this piece about 20 years ago, at my favorite antiques mall here in Greenville, Brown Street Antiques, which closed many years ago.
I bought this piece in the days before Google. I loved it, and thought it was really interesting, and hung it on the wall. I just figured it was a homeschool device of some kind, but didn’t think more of it. Fast forward 20 years, and I decided to see what it was. This is the top of the scroll located in the desk…
The Chautauqua Industrial Art Desk was invented in the 1800’s in the New York county of Chautauqua. Chautauqua was not only a county and a lake, it was the location of an original and unique school and learning center, called “Mother Chatauqua,” Founded by inventor Lewis Miller and Methodist bishop John Heyl Vincent, it was first used as a school for educating Sunday school teachers
The center evolved into a gathering place where people could join together and discuss many topics, including important events, the news of the day, and to learn new things. A summer school for cultural events was soon added and public lectures were held outdoors. It boldly grew to host general education and, mostly attracted popular speakers of the day.
The strong U.S. movement towards education and culture began in 1874. The art desk was used in homes by parents to prepare children for their future vocations. Eventually, it was used for the children’s self-expressions, then for a child’s play, which was realized to be crucial to their imagination and growth.
The hunger for knowledge and culture peaked in 1924, yet the “Mother Chautauqua,” persevered,and set the prototype for community colleges and continued education. It couldn’t sustain through the Depression and was forced to the brink of bankruptcy in 1933. John D. Rockerfeller was the white knight and helped the center to reopen in 1936. In 1989, it was declared a National Historic Landmark. It’s safe to say that every major event in the 20th century found the path to “Mother Chautauqua,”
The original art desks were scattered around, and some can still be found, either in homes or antique furniture stores. An example of a child’s art table, circa 1913, measured 16″x22″, and has a green chalkboard on one side of the lift-top table, and a folded map of the USA on the other. Inside, rolls of drawing and lesson instructions were found.