Carved Maple and Paint Decorated “Durham” Swift. American, Mid 19th Century

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Maple, paint decoration and wax inlay. 31 x 16 inches diameter (open)

With a carved and incise-decorated spire, colored wax-inlaid decoration and inscribed “DURHAM” on the vertical support.

Swifts, or yarn winders, are complex and difficult to make and were made from wood, whalebone or ivory.
Embellished with rare colored-wax inlay on the ribs, vertical support and clamp base, this succeeds in all aspects and is a masterpiece of carving. It is the finest wooden swift known and is an extremely rare and desirable piece of nautical folk art.

The finial of this swift relates closely to that of St. Nicholas’ Church in the marketplace in Durham, England, which was built in 1858. It was designed by architect J. Pritchett and at the time was described as “the most beautiful specimen of church architecture in the north of England”. The carver of this swift used maple, a hardwood that is virtually indigenous to America; with the increased Atlantic trade during the mid-nineteenth century, it is likely that the carver had been to England and was inspired by the Durham church.

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