John Henry Belter
Born in south Germany, John Henry Belter spent his early years as an apprentice to cabinetmakers and woodworkers in Stuggart in the Württemberg province. He left Germany in 1833, at 29 years old, for New York City. He opened his own shop as a cabinet manufacturer in 1844, and later opened a factory as his company expanded. Belter was working during the Rococo Revival, a time of naturalistic designs and ornamental details. Rococo revival furniture is distinguished by cabriole front legs, undulating seat rails, and carved flowers and fruit. With the Rococo Revival making its way through America, skilled European-trained cabinetmakers were renowned for working in this style and Belter was no exception.
Belter was known for his wood lamination process, something he did not invent, but perfected and patented. Paper-thin sheets of wood were glued together then steam heated under pressure and bent and molded into three dimensional curves. This made the wood pieces incredibly strong and allowed them to be carved and decorated. He worked until his death in 1863 when his company passed to his brothers-in-law. However, mass produced furniture was on the rise while Belter was working during the mid-1800s, and shortly after his death, his company was forced into bankruptcy in 1867 at the hands of the industrial competition. Today Belter is considered one of the defining artisans of the Rococo Revival.