Chairman Cabinetmaker Jonathan Gostelowe

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Jonathan Gostelowe was the eldest of four in a farming family of both English and Swedish origins, and though a Philadelphia native it is not known who he was apprenticed to. Better accounted for are his contributions to Philadelphia’s cabinetmaking and religious communities, in addition to his service in the American revolution where he served as a Major. Gostelowe is known for his excellent execution of the Chippendale style and was active in the cabinetmaking trade before and after the War. In 1788 he was a chairman of the Gentlemen Cabinet and Chair Makers and in 1789 after his second marriage to a wealthy bride, Jonathan Gostelowe became a fixture in Philadelphia society.

One of the few marked examples of the furniture Gostelowe crafted exists at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. The serpentine shaped walnut chest of drawers (referred to then as a clothespress) is notable first for its craftsmanship and the maker’s intact label, but also for being a Gostelowe family heirloom. The prerevolutionary chest of drawers bears distinctly Gostelowe elements of ornate brass hardware and fluted quarter columns on the corners.

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Two other pieces that can be attributed to Gostelowe with absolute certainty are preserved at the historic Christ Church of Philadelphia, not far from the original location of the craftsman’s Church Alley workshop. Jonathan Gostelowe was a vestryman of the congregation and donated two pieces, a baptismal font and communion table which are still in use today. Gostelowe’s Episcopal roots no doubt instilled in him the freedom to explore his interpretations of Chippendale and Rococo style; this creative liberty might explain the odd proportions of the otherwise elegant font, which exhibits a variety of carved moldings and fluted edges. The same fluted edges are found on the mahogany communion table’s legs which end in spade feet. Gostelowe’s gift to the Christ Church is signed and dated on its underside unlike similar tables found at St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Churches of Philadelphia; considering the paralleled of design elements of these unsigned tables to the Christ Church example and Gostelowe’s commitment to spiritual and cabinetmaking circles, these tables could easily be attributed to the patriotic craftsman.

(Image Credit: Mahogany Communion Table, May 24, 1788. Photo Courtesy Christ Church Philadelphia Archives.)

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