Rare Frank N. Otremba Koa Chair Appears
Some of you may recall a blog post here on Rare Victorian regarding Frank N. Otremba, a Hawaiian woodcarver that produced a mantel and chair for Mark Twain around 1908. Twain purportedly had a choice between the two items and chose the mantel to be installed in his home, Stormfield. The chair stayed in Hawaii with the Otremba family and I wouldn’t doubt that the chair photo taken for the book, “Hawaiian Furniture“, was of the refused chair made for Twain since the Otremba family provided a chair for the photo session.
One of the best side-effects of doing this blog is all the fantastic furniture photos and stories that get sent my way from people looking for information on their treasures. The above chair is one such treasure – a near twin of the Twain Otremba chair.
A Rare Victorian reader recently shared their images with me and shared a story that their grandmother bought this chair at auction in the 1930s. It is most assuredly another Frank Otremba chair of the design executed in 1908. If you compare the graining of the seat and the light stain of the chair back center with the book image, you will ascertain that they are two different chairs of the same design.
In speaking with the book author, Irving Jenkins, he recalled that there were at least two of these chairs and that Otremba worked from patterns, so it is very likely that he would have produced multiple chairs of the same design.
The above photo does not do justice to the mastery of Otremba’s carving (see other photo link above for a large, crisp image of the book chair). I feel that Otremba’s near anonymity in the antiques world is unfortunate as he was as capable as any of the mainland’s finest cabinetmakers.
One parting tip that I will share that was conveyed by Jenkins – be on the lookout for carved koa fruit plaques: guavas, breadfruit, coffee, grapes, and mango. Otremba made many, many of these and “nobody knows what they are” (e.g. that they were made by the expert carver, Otremba). The backings are in various shapes: circles, diamonds, and ovals. Otremba would sign the back of the plaque and some of the applied fruit carvings in pencil. One example is seen below: