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Unraveling the Peacock Chairs’ Mysteries

This exotic straw and wicker seat shows its plumage.

Once the chairs hit stateside, their fame took off. The  chairs became the photographer’s chair. Everyone—from politicians such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman to Marilyn Monroe to everyday people—were snapped in these chairs constructed from dead plants such as bamboo and palm leaves.

While John F. Kennedy and the first family posed in white wicker peacock chairs in Hyannisport, Maine, one political figure in a wicker chair topped them all. After Huey Newton, the founder of the Black Panthers, sat in the chair, holding a spear and rifle, surrounded by African shields with a fierce and intent gaze, it became a symbol for the movement and party. At subsequent Black Panther events that Newton was unable to attend, a peacock chair was placed near the podium.

While politics can prove notorious, so can erotic literature. Across the Atlantic in France, the chair took  on another meaning thanks to a steamy paperback book turned sexy film, Emmanuelle. Since the book was written in French in 1967 and explicitly chronicled the ‘sexploits’ of the main character from a bird’s eye view, it was considered scandalous. But not so much that it wasn’t translated into English and more languages with films to follow in the 1970s. Peacock chairs were always a part of the imaging on those book covers, movie posters, and, of course, in the movie itself.

Recording artists of the day also used the chairs in their imagery, notably album art. Superstars like Dolly Parton, Cher, and Donna Summer were captured seated in the wicker thrones. Male superstars Al Green, Julio Iglesias, and Larry Gatlin each chose the chair for album covers. Parliament Funkadelic’s George Clinton even recreated Newton’s pose for the band’s 1979 album “Uncle Jam Wants You.”

Modern designers have continued to evolve the peacock chair concept in its original wicker and rattan material. Parisian designer Anthony Guerrée is making quite a stir with his new chair collection, Les Assises du Temps Perdu or The Seated of Lost Time, playing upon the concept of chairs and Proust’s famous mega novel, In Search of Lost Time. Guerrée created an eight-piece chair collection comparing each style to a character from the book. His ‘Albertine’ chair recalls the famous Emmanuelle chair, and the idea of a bicycle wheel as Albertine is the narrator’s young lover, and the two met while she was riding a bike near the sea. Hence, sea straw from Orkney Island is also used in the chair.

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