In a song entitled A House is not a Home, Luther Vandross croons “A chair is just a chair, until someone is sitting there,” a lyric made more meaningful when the empty chair is a symbol for someone who is never to return. Even though there is a woman in the forefront, the center of Thomas Hicks’ 1865 painting entitled Kitchen Interior is an empty chair.
Sarah Anne Carter is the Executive Director of the Center for Design and Material Culture at The School of Human Ecology at UW-Madison. Carter says, it’s no coincidence that Kitchen Interior was painted in the end of 1865, the end of the American civil war. In this edition of Radio Chipstone, she tells contributor gianofer fields that this chair is likely referring to a whole range of poems and songs, in the cultural trope of the empty chair. Like a chair set out for someone who is not coming back, someone who was lost in the war. That could be her son, husband, friend. The empty chair is not just empty, it’s vacant. Someone has vacated that chair, and it’s a reminder of that loss.
About the Host:
gianofer (JON nah fer) fields is an Art Historian and Material Culture contributor and curates the Radio Chipstone series. The project is hosted by the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and funded by the Chipstone Foundation; a decorative arts foundation whose mission is preserving and interpreting their collection, as well as stimulating research and education in the decorative arts.
About the Guest:
Sarah Anne Carter is the newly appointed Executive Director of the Center for Design and Material Culture and visiting Assistant Professor in Design Studies at The School of Human Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World.
Image: Thomas Hicks’ painting Kitchen Interior, on display in The Chipstone Foundation Galleries in the Constance and Dudley Godfrey American Art Wing at the Milwaukee Art Museum Cosmos. Photograph courtesy of the Chipstone Foundation.
This segment comes from the Radio Chipstone Archives on WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio. See here.