Samples of the emblematic “Butaque” chairs can be found in many regions of Mexico, the U.S., the Caribbean, and other countries that were on the galleon trade routes such as the Philippines, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). In American and European furniture and decorative arts literature the term “Campeche” (or the anglicized ‘campeachy’) is used to describe these exotic types of chairs. Most sources claim that these low chairs were named for the Bay of Campeche (Gulf of Mexico) and the port city of Campeche on the Yucatán Peninsula, where they were exported to American and European ports and other destinations in the Caribbean. Another version argues that the chair’s “Campeche” name derives from the mahogany known as blood wood or logwood (Haemotoxylon campechianum) used in its construction, which came from the Mexican state of Campeche.
Spanish colonists introduced the “Campeche” chair (also known as the “Butaca”) to Louisiana where they became extremely popular amongst the French Creole aristocracy who called them “Boutac chairs” and introduced them into their Plantation Houses in the Bayous and along the Mississippi River. This peculiar leather-seated chair made from ox-hide or mule-hide stretched on a mahogany wood frame, was ideal for lounging in a tropical climate and unlike upholstered furniture, it was free from insects. Early 19th-Century inward foreign cargo manifests in the collection of the National Archives and Records in Fort Worth, Texas, document the shipment of “Spanish chairs”, “Boutaque chairs”, and “arm-chairs” from coastal towns of the Yucatán—Campeche, Veracruz, Sisal and Tabasco—to the port of New Orleans from about 1800 to 1825. Thomas Jefferson appears to have popularized the chair when he served as President, and he continued to use it during his retirement at Monticello. Jefferson favored the “Campeachy” chair form for its classical associations and the comfortable posture it offered, referring to it as “that easy kind of chair.”
The chairs feature an X-form leg and stretcher, one leg of which extends up to form a curved stile for the back, the other forming the seat rail, between these extensions is attach a leather ‘sling’ – often goatskin – which forms the seat and back – the equivalent of a contemporary lounge chair.
Some historic documents indicate that the Mexican “Butaques” brought the form to Havana, Cuba, where it is also called a “Campeche”. Many examples found in the island are known as “Planter’s chairs”, “Havana chairs” or “Smoker’s chairs”. In Jamaica they are known as “Spanish chairs”, in the French colonies such as Martinique and Guadeloupe, they were called “Lazy Man’s chair” or simply “Lazy chairs” (later to be echoed in the Philippines with the term ‘Silla Perezosa’ or “Lazy chair”). Nowadays, these chairs can be found in many countries within Latin America, Spain, the Canary Islands, and in locations that were situated along 18th-Century Spanish trade routes in Asia.
to be continued in Part # 2
© Karin Goyer and Don S. Shoemaker Furniture, 2010-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karin Goyer and Don S. Shoemaker Furniture with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.