Yale Peabody Museum Summer Internships

Plant Material in Early American Furniture

Advisor: Patrick Sweeney


Length: 6 weeks in the summer


Project Description:

This internship represents a collaborative effort between the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Peabody Museum Herbarium. The Yale Art Gallery has one of the foremost collections of early American furniture in the country and the Yale Herbarium has more than 350,000 samples of plants and is particularly strong in plants from the northeastern United States. In the Art Gallery’s collection there are relatively inexpensive and popular turned chairs of maple and other local woods, on which the seats are typically woven of plant material generally identified as rush. On more expensive framed chairs made of walnut or imported mahogany, the stuffing of the upholstery is usually a combination of plant material and hair. That plant material is often identified as marsh hay, straw, or grass. The purpose of the internship is to study the plant materials used in the upholstery of early American furniture. The more specific identification of the materials in the chairs could help verify geographic origins of the chairs, or uncover evidence of regional preferences in the choice of plant materials. It might also determine that the plant material chosen for structural aspects of upholstery, such as edge rolls, was different than the plant material chosen for stuffing cushions.


The objective of the internship is to provide more accurate identification of the plant materials used in chairs in the Art Gallery collection, including four chairs with original (or very old) woven seats and six chairs with original upholstery foundations. The results of this study could enlarge our understanding of the chair making and upholstery trades in different areas of colonial America.


This would be a collections- and laboratory-based internship. Comparative study of samples of plant material from the chairs in the Art Gallery’s collection with samples in the Yale Herbarium would be performed to provide initial identifications. Further identification would occur via laboratory-based studies using DNA extracted from the plant materials.



Stipend for lodging, food, etc.





CLICK HERE to apply!