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Catalog Data

Cast iron, wood, paint
32 × 23 × 71 in. (81.3 × 58.4 × 180.3 cm)
Victorian (1837-1901)
Cast-iron and wood bench in the “Central Park” pattern. There are two wooden slats forming the back and four that form the seat of the bench. This bench was designed for Central Park in the 1860’s and was used in the park for four decades. It was the first mass-produced bench used in Central Park since it was established in 1858. Originally, the park’s designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, had furnished the park with rustic benches; however, the Central Park settee was more cost and labor efficient. This was an economical option for the park because the simple cast-iron ends could be mass produced, and the boards could be easily replaced. In addition to offering a respite to the hurrying crowds of New York City, these benches were intended to define the spaces without interfering with the views. Benches for public spaces were usually less ornamented than those made for private gardens in the nineteenth century. The primary concern was creating a sturdy and practical design, rather than its decorative potential. The Central Park bench was designed to withstand the demands of usage and weather that it would encounter. The Central Park bench was so effective that it was imitated by multiple foundries and used on railway platforms and in parks across the United States. The benches in Central Park were replaced in later years, but they were the inspiration for the 1994 Central Park Settee.
Label Text:
Garden furnishings, also called outdoor or patio furnishings, are specifically designed for outdoor use. They are typically made of weather-resistant materials such as metal, stone, wood, wicker, and artificial stone. Cast-iron was the most popular material for garden furnishings and accessories from the mid-nineteenth to the early-twentieth century. This was in part due to systems of mass production developed in the Industrial Revolution that allowed outdoor furniture to be readily available and affordable to the public. Throughout the nineteenth century, as leisure activities increased, materials diversified, and technology was embraced, garden furnishings came to be regarded as domestic amenities and reflected changing styles. Outdoor furnishings, such as settees, chairs, fountains, urns, and tables were essential to fashionably appointed lawns, conservatories, parks, cemeteries, and gardens in America.
The garden in the nineteenth century, typical of Victorian style, tended to be excessively ornamental and complex, combining colors, textures, and materials through plants and garden ornaments. Garden furnishings, such as urns, plant stands, tables, and seating, became essential to the overall design. As an extension of the house, the garden required furniture, and outdoor seating found its way onto balconies, verandahs, and porches as well as across lawns and parks. Benches, which are seats for several people with or without a backrest and arms, were a popular feature of the Victorian garden. Most garden benches were designed to be suitable for use with a table and were frequently sold with matching suites of chairs, settees, and tables. Designs for garden benches followed the Victorian taste for eclectic styles and borrowed Classical, Gothic, Rococo, Renaissance, and Oriental motifs; or they were chosen to blend with their natural surroundings in Rustic, animal, or botanical forms. Benches and other garden furnishings were strategically placed as the focal point or an accessory to create a specific feeling for a setting. Garden furnishings were used on porches and verandahs, as well as throughout the garden, to extend the architecture of the house to the grounds, providing a link between art and nature, manmade and organic. Public benches for a person resting in the park or on the side of the streets also became popular in the nineteenth century, though they were usually less ornate than those found in private estates.
benches  Search this
cast iron  Search this
outdoor furniture  Search this
Garden ornaments and furniture  Search this
garden seats  Search this
parks (recreation areas)  Search this
seating furniture  Search this
Credit Line:
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection.
Accession number:
Restrictions & Rights:
Usage conditions apply
See more items in:
Horticultural Artifacts Collection
Data Source:
Smithsonian Gardens