Born into a free black family in Virginia, Thomas Day learned the cabinetmaker’s trade as his father’s apprentice. He pursued most of his career in Milton, North Carolina, where he rose to prominence as a furniture craftsman, running one of the largest and most successful establishments in the state. His clients included wealthy families throughout the region in such states as South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. This handsome mahogany sofa was made for a client in Yanceyville, a small city near Milton, and the Brooks family kept it for five generations. With its severe classical lines, “s”-scroll arms, and absence of applied ornamentation, the sofa exemplifies the restrained elegance of the American Restoration Style that marked a return to the austere neoclassicism of the earlier Federalist era. Day’s impeccable interpretation incorporates elements featured in John Hall’s manual A Cabinet Makers’ Assistant (1840), which is credited with popularizing the style.

From Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 89 (2015)
Maker Thomas Day, American, ca. 1801 - 1861
  • Sofa
Date ca. 1840
Medium wood and black horsehair
Dimensions Overall: 36 1/4 × 87 1/2 × 29 1/2 inches (92.1 × 222.3 × 74.9 cm)
Credit Line Museum purchase, Gibbs-Williams Fund
Accession Number 2006.149
Department African American Art
On View African American W274, Level 2 (see map)
1840, purchased from the artist by a member of the Brooks family;
by inheritance to Alton Brooks (Yanceeville, North Carolina);
2006-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts from Alton Brooks' estate (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Buick, Kirsten Pai. Bulletin of the DIA 86, no. 1/4 (2012): 13.