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Hall seat

Hall seat

Dora Isobel Wade (nee Walch) (1878–1922), carver; CH Johnson (n.d.), cabinet maker
Wood (Tasmanian blackwood); metal (steel and brass fittings)
Presented by Dora Elizabeth Wade, 2005
112 h x 157 w x 53 d cm



Miss Dora Elizabeth Wade was the only daughter of Dora Wade (nee Walch) and inherited the hall seat from her. It remained in Miss Wade’s possession until she bequeathed it to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in 2005.


Woodcarving was an important craft medium in the early Tasmanian crafts movement; it attracted skilled artists, many of whom were women. Among the better-known carvers are Ellen Nora Payne (1865–1962), Vera Whitesides (1886–1941) and Sarah Squire Todd (1861–1959). Dora Wade was an accomplished carver and won first prize in her section (‘Best carved small single specimen’ amateur category) for woodcarving at the International Exhibition of Australian Women’s Work, held in Melbourne in 1907.

This hall seat is part of a collection of furniture donated to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery by Dora Wade’s daughter; these are her only known works. While some of the pieces include Australian native plant motifs, the hall seat is designed in the then fashionable English Renaissance Revival style. This style, also known as ‘Jacobeathan’ (Jacobean plus Elizabethan), was a transitional period between the medieval and later classical styles. It is characterised by the free use of classical elements combined with exuberant decoration incorporating eclectic elements such as the gryphons carved into the panels of this chest. The carved armorial, also characteristic of the style, indicates its intended location as the hall of the house, signalling the identity of the family.

The design of the hall seat and, most probably, the carved decoration would have been derived from one of the pattern books that were popular at the time. The seat itself has been made by a professional cabinetmaker, CH Johnson, who would have worked to Dora Wade’s instructions, incorporating her carved panels and other components. The carving of the chest is confident and skilful. True to arts and crafts’ principles the carver has not sought to disguise the marks of the chisel but rather used them in such a way as to enrich the work.


A carved Tasmanian blackwood combined hall seat and chest with arms and a high, panelled back; decorated in an English Renaissance manner. The chest is of frame and panel construction to the front and sides, the back and base are of solid wood construction. The framing is undecorated while the front panel is carved in low relief with two opposed gryphons, each depicted with curled tails and turning back to bite their own bodies. The side panels are also carved in low relief with gryphon heads.

The seat back is of frame and panel construction with three panels of equal size, each with a border of carved low relief strapwork forming an arch to the top. The central panel is carved with a coat of arms comprised of a shield containing an arm holding a short sword above a scroll. The date ‘1902’ is carved above the shield and the motto ‘ENSE ET LABORE’ below it. The flanking panels are carved with opposed lions rampant.

The arms of the seat are shaped and carved; they are supported to the front by carved lion claws. A cornice with thumbnail moulding to the front and sides runs full length along the top of the seat back. The seat is framed on three sides and has a hinged central panel. The chest is trimmed at the base with a carved moulding and rests on four recessed block feet.

Statement of Significance

The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery seeks to build a comprehensive representation of Tasmanian colonial decorative arts. This includes items made in Tasmania from 1803 through until 1945. Tasmania had a vibrant arts and crafts movement in the early decades of the twentieth century, within which woodcarving by women artists was a significant phenomenon. The Renaissance Revival style of this chest reflects a growing interest during the later phase of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and amongst architects and designers more broadly, in minor and obscure historical styles. Dora Wade was a highly accomplished woodcarver and this chest is an excellent example of her skill.


Blue in maker’s stamp twice under hinged seat and three times on seat back: ‘O. H. JOHNSON / CABINET MAKER / 29. HILL STREET, / HOBART.’

Inscribed in white chalk on the seat back: ‘Miss Wade / 268’ and ‘268’. Motto and date incorporated into carving on seat back: ‘ENSE ET LABORE’ / ‘1902’.

This website was made possible through the generous support of the Gordon Darling Foundation, which provided funds for research, equipment and website design.

© 2009 Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
This page was last modified on : 26 August, 2010