operate among all classes and races in Natchez and expanded his prominence in the community. Coffins were a significant product of the business in its earliest days, when Stewart, rather than an apprentice or journeyman, most likely produced the pieces himself. As a result, some of the clearest evidence of his hand as a craftsman can only be found underground. Fortunately, not all examples of his work are lost. A chest of drawers featuring elaborately carved columns with scrolled capitals (fig. 1) is one of two known pieces signed by Stewart or his firm. The exuberant classicism of the chest as well as the signature “R. & M. Stewart/Natchez” (fig. 2) date this piece to before 1835, when Robert stopped using his late brother’s initial. 5 Although the finish today is the product of a modern restoration, Stewart did have access to imported mahogany veneer, evidence that throughout the antebellum period, local craftsmen were making and embellishing furniture, not just retailing imports.
Fig. 1. Chest of drawers, Robert Stewart, 1828−35. Mahogany, unidentified secondary woods. Courtesy of Historic Natchez Foundation Fig. 2. Signature on chest of drawers.
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