Photo by Gavin Ashworth
Hosea Hayden stands at the nexus of self-taught genius as a practical tool of American individuality and self-praise, and its turn toward singular, idiosyncratic creativity. He descended from a family of farmers and shipbuilders who fought in the Revolutionary War and migrated from Massachusetts to Ohio and Indiana in the early 1800s. Hayden starting making unusual chairs in 1883; the first is marked in memory of the one-hundredth year of the “burth” of his father, Stephen. Hayden made more than one dozen tripod folding chairs of his own construction and design, each distinctive, each a veritable journal of his beliefs and observations related through drawings and words scratched into every surface like an errant schoolboy. He signs himself “H. H. Ingraver” in some examples. One family member in the 1930s remembered Hayden as “a versatile genius” and “a cherished neighbor and a loyal citizen.”
Hayden’s markings in wood express fringe, liberal, and mainstream beliefs, from calling John, author of the book of Revelation, a mentally imbalanced “crank” to supporting women’s rights. This example observes, “Mythology the rule, science the exception.”
Stacy C. Hollander, “Folding Chair,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.