Made by Robert Wellford, American (born England), active c. 1798 - 1839
In the refined woodwork schemes of fashionable Neoclassical and Federal-style interiors of post-Revolutionary Philadelphia, elegantly ornamented mantels such as the one served as the central element. Decorations consisted of carved motifs and applied "composition," a plasterlike material popularized by Scottish architect Robert Adam (1728-1792) as the best material for conveying the fine, delicate lines of the neoclassical style. The popularity of neoclassical ornaments and furnishings was inspired by the art of ancient Greece and Rome, found in the 1760s at the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy.
Robert Wellford was born south of London and apprenticed in composition-making with John Jacques, the famous Paris-trained composition maker who brought the craft to London in the mid-eighteenth century. In about 1796 Wellford immigrated to Philadelphia, where he established the finest and most prominent ornamental composition manufactory in the United States. The crisply defined details characteristic of Wellford's work were achieved through the use of brass molds rather than wooden molds. Wellford supplied carpenters and house builders in Philadelphia and as far away as Charleston, South Carolina, with a wide range of composition ornaments and instructions for properly "tempering and fixing" them to interior woodwork. This mantel--one of thirteen in the Museum's extensive collection of architectural woodwork--is signed by Wellford on the central sarcophagus.