Author: Christian Roden

Recent Discoveries in American Ceramics

An “Antiques Roadshow” moment has turned into one of the most exciting discoveries in the field of American ceramics in recent years.

Teapot, attr. John Bartlam, soft-paste porcelain, c. 1770, Cain Hoy, SC, USA. Photo courtesy of Woolley and Wallis.
Teapot, attr. John Bartlam, soft-paste porcelain, c. 1770, Cain Hoy, SC, USA. Photo courtesy of Woolley and Wallis.

Last year, an antiques collector spotted an intriguing blue and white teapot at an antiques fair. Intrigued by the form and pattern, he snapped it up for £15 (about $21.50), despite the fact that it was missing its lid and had a significant repair to the handle. The transfer-printed decoration is different on the two sides, but the most significant is one depicting two cranes under a palmetto, with two small watercraft in the background. Some research by the collector matched the pattern to a set of blue and white tea bowls and saucers attributed to John Bartlam, an English Potter who immigrated to South Carolina. His suspicions were confirmed by the English auction house Woolley and Wallis, out of Salisbury, who will be selling the teapot on February 20. The conservative sale estimate is £10,000-£20,000.

The European quest to discover the manufacturing secrets behind true hard-paste porcelain has been a seminal point in the history of western decorative arts for as long as people have collected. Not to be left behind, a small number 18th-century American potters began to produce fine cream-colored earthenware and investigate sources for soft-paste porcelain of sufficient quality that Josiah Wedgewood worried they might begin to compete. Fortunately for him, the North American manufacturers did not truly take off until later in the 19th century.

Long regarded as a minor figure on the ceramics scene, the Staffordshire immigrant John Bartlam settled in South Carolina at Cain Hoy, near Charleston, and produced slipware, creamware, and pearlware between 1763 and 1772. Intriguingly, in 1770 he advertised his workshop “a China Manufactory and Pottery.” This differentiation puzzled scholars, who had thus far only identified “Carolina Creamware,” a fine earthenware that, while not as pale as its English counterparts, often rivaled the British goods in terms of execution and decoration.

Archaeological excavations around Cain Hoy began in the 1960s, but significant excavations in 1991 and 1992 revealed large quantities of blue and white sherds which was cautiously labeled “proto pearlware.” It was not until 2006-07, when further analysis was performed by Lisa Hudgins, that examples were scientifically confirmed Bartlam pottery examples as true soft-paste porcelain. This astonishing finding made Bartlam the earliest known producer of porcelain in North America, beating the Philadelphia firm of Bonnin and Morris by several years. The blue and white sherds matched the pattern on a set of tea bowls and saucers that came to auction in 2011, previously attributed to Joseph Shore’s Isleworth Pottery in England. In addition to being an important addition to Bartlam’s known oeuvre, this teapot is now the earliest extant American porcelain example of its form.

Clare Durham, the ceramics specialist of Woolley and Wallis, said the final price of the teapot “could make six figures… In theory this teapot should be more valuable as it is a major part of the Bartlam tea service. Most of the six other Bartlam pieces are in museums in America now.”

We look forward to following this auction! For those interested in learning more about the material culture of early South Carolina, please stay tuned for registration information for our upcoming one-day symposium at Drayton Hall,  “An Agreeable Prospect: Rediscovering Drayton Hall in the 18th-century Atlantic World,” which will be held on September 15, 2018!

New Members for the Trust’s Board of Governors

The Board of Governors of the Decorative Arts Trust has played a leading role in the development of this organization over the past 40 years, and their leadership ensures its continued success. We have enjoyed the privilege of welcoming five new members over the past year.

Mary Raines
Mary Raines

 

Mary E. Raines: Mary is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and Emory University Law School. She practiced law in Atlanta as an in-house attorney for Delta Air Lines for 25 years prior to her retirement in 2005. While in Atlanta, she served as President of the Friends of Decorative Arts at the High Museum. She currently resides in Savannah, GA, where she is Vice President of the Friends of the Owens Thomas House of the Telfair Museum and serves on the Telfair’s Collections Committee. She also served a term on the City of Savannah’s Cultural Affairs Commission. Mary has attended Trust symposia and international tours for many years and also participated in the Winterthur Institute program in 2015.

 

Tara Cederholm
Tara Cederholm

 

 

Tara Cederholm: Tara is a graduate of Middlebury College and Boston University, where she received her MA in Art History with an emphasis on American furniture and decorative arts. Tara worked at Skinner Auctions and the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities before becoming the steward of a private collection focused on American furniture and decorative arts as well and Chinese furniture, ceramics, and related decorative arts. She is also the Curator and Vice President of the Brookfield Arts Foundation, a private operating foundation which acquires and lends art works to various museums. Tara is a noted scholar, author, and speaker on topics of American, English, and Chinese furniture history and is currently leading an ongoing investigation of the art of japanning in 18th-century Boston. She joined the Decorative Arts Trust in 2000 and currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Concord Museum.

James "Hornor" Davis
James “Hornor” Davis

 

James Hornor Davis, IV: Hornor is the Chairman of Dingess-Rum Properties, Inc., a landholding and investment company in West Virginia. He previously served as the executive director of Sunrise Museums in Charleston, WV, and also practiced property and corporate law. He holds a BA in architectural history from the University of Virginia and a JD from the West Virginia University College of Law. A native of West Virginia with strong ties to Rhode Island and South Carolina, Hornor recently relocated to Mt. Desert, ME. He is involved with numerous boards and advisory committees focused on the humanities, arts, and philanthropy, and is an active and long-term member of the Decorative Arts Trust.

 

 

Nicholas Vincent
Nicholas Vincent

 

 

Nicholas C. Vincent: Nick is the Manager of Collection Planning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where, on behalf of the Deputy Director, he provides strategic direction and general oversight for collections management, art storage, and gallery projects across the institution. From 2007 to 2014, Nick served as a Research Associate in the Met’s American Wing, assisting with the comprehensive renovation of the Met’s American art galleries, supervising the installation of the ca. 1882 Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room, and co-curating the special exhibition “Artistic Furniture of the Gilded Age.” Nick is a graduate of the Attingham Summer School program and holds a BA from Wesleyan University (CT), a MA in the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in Early American Culture, and MA in arts administration from NYU. Nick received a Dewey Lee Curtis scholarship to attend the Trust’s 2007 symposium in Pittsburgh.

 

Carolyn McNamara
Carolyn McNamara

Carolyn McNamara is a strong advocate for the decorative arts and experiential learning for the next generation of scholars. She and her husband Mike are avid collectors of Southern furniture and 18th-century Virginia and North Carolina maps. Members of the Trust since 2012, they recently endowed the Trust’s Young Scholar Lecture program during Colonial Williamsburg’s Antiques Forum. Carolyn and Mike have participated in several Study Trips Abroad. A retired Administrator for the Heart Center of the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals at Virginia Commonwealth University, Carolyn now enjoys volunteering her time for Colonial Williamsburg and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. She is a member of Williamsburg’s Art Museums Advisory Board, the Friends of Collections, and the Raleigh Tavern Society. Carolyn has served two terms on the MESDA Advisory Board and is an enthusiastic supporter of their Summer Institute Scholarship Program. Carolyn and Mike, along with their dog Ziva, live in Williamsburg, and enjoy introducing their three grandchildren to history and the decorative arts.

Summer Research Report: Emily Anderson

Emily Anderson
Emily Anderson

Many scholars of the decorative arts turn to books, manuscripts and drawings as source material for their studies. Emily Anderson, a 2017 Trust Summer Research Grant recipient, studies the printed material itself as an artistic endeavor. An alumna of Tufts University and Southern Methodist University, Emily is a doctoral candidate in Art History at the University of Southern California, and has worked at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the J. Paul Getty Museum. Her dissertation looks at early modern printed materials, particularly from Italy. Despite using early mass-production technology, the printers used unconventional materials to produce bespoke luxury volumes.

“This summer I traveled to museums and libraries in London, Oxford, and Cambridge to examine books and prints made between 1450 and 1600 on the Italian peninsula. While the objects that I consulted are often considered black and white media, during my research trip – made possible by the Decorative Arts Trust – I concluded that this assumption obscures the experimental use of pigments, gold, colored papers, and vellum in books and prints during this time. Printers used the printing press to produce unique or bespoke books using material and visual cues from fine art and manuscripts as well as the decorative arts. Therefore, my project looks at these myriad connections in order to present a new category of object in the early modern period – the bespoke book – and writes a new history of the printing press as a highly experimental instrument.

“The funding from the Decorative Arts Trust allowed me to travel to these locations to see many rare objects that are integral to my project like a copy of Erhard Ratdolt’s first edition of Euclid’s Elements – an ancient Greek text on geometry. Ratdolt, a prominent German printer in Venice, issued the book in 1482, and the British Library holds a copy that was printed on vellum and has a preface printed in gold. Ratdolt used the printing press to imitate the look of manuscripts hand-written on vellum and embellished with gold through mechanical means. He attached gold leaf to the typeset of the preface and prepared the vellum with a resin. The great pressure of the press imprinted the gold leaf onto the vellum in perfect type – the indentations are clearly visible when examining the book first-hand.

“A similar technique is found in northern European prints. At the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, I viewed a print by Hans Burgkmair of Emperor Maximilian I on Horseback printed with two woodblocks in black and gold from 1508. The raised lines on the woodblock for the gold were brushed with glue, and then gold powder was brushed into the sticky imprint. Additionally, this particular print was made on paper washed in red thereby adding further dimension and distinction to the woodcuts. The colored support ties into yet another aspect of the bespoke book – the practice of printing on blue paper. At Cambridge University Library, I consulted one of two surviving copies of an edition of Euclid’s Elements printed on blue paper issued in 1572 by Camillo Francischini in Pisaro. Like Ratdolt’s copy at the British Library, this blue book tapped into a tradition in prints and manuscripts that used colored supports to enhance the visual impact and economical value of the object. Blue paper and other colored materials changes the way that we perceive the lines, shadows, and modeling of images so it was imperative that I view these objects in person. The Decorative Arts Trust allowed me to do just that and I was able to make more in-depth observations regarding these and many other objects during my trip.”

The Summer research grants such as the one Emily received are awarded each year to graduate students working on a Master’s thesis of PhD dissertation in a field related to the decorative arts. Applications can be downloaded from the Trust’s website, and submitted via e-mail or on-line, and are due by April 30 each year. Questions may be directed to the Trust by phone or e-mail.

Summer Research Report: Alisa Chiles

1.Alisa examining planning documents for the 1925 Art Deco exhibition in Paris at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.
1. Alisa examining planning documents for the 1925 Art Deco exhibition in Paris at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.

Alisa Chiles, a PhD candidate in Art History at the University of Pennsylvania, studies the artistic competition between France and Germany in the early 20th century, specifically in the decorative arts and architecture presented at several major international exhibitions in the run up to the 1930 salon of the Société des artistes décorateurs. This was the first time German and French modern decorative arts were exhibited in the same location in almost two decades. A Decorative Arts Trust Summer Research Grant helped Alisa consult archives at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Bibliothèque Nationale, and the Bibliothèque Kandinsky in Paris.

“Thanks to the generous support of the Decorative Arts Trust, I had the opportunity to conduct necessary archival work in Paris this summer for my dissertation, ‘On Duels and Designs: French and German Modernism at the Deutscher Werkbund Exhibition, Paris 1930.’ My dissertation examines the Deutscher Werkbund’s 1930 exhibition in Paris as a lens to understand how national identity and the intense commercial, political, and artistic rivalry between France and Germany stimulated the invention of new artistic forms in the first decades of the 20th century. This Franco-German rivalry produced a variety of modernisms rather than the singular international language that was often heralded.

3.Pierre Chareau’s bureau-bibliothèque de l’Ambassade française from the 1925 Art Deco exhibition, on display at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. Photo courtesy of Alisa Chiles.
3. Pierre Chareau’s bureau-bibliothèque de l’Ambassade française from the 1925 Art Deco exhibition, on display at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. Photo courtesy of Alisa Chiles.

“My summer research centered on my second dissertation chapter, which contextualizes the 1930 exhibition that was held at the 20th-annual Parisian salon of the Société des artistes décorateurs. This was the culmination of a series of exhibitions in which France attempted to prevent Germany from usurping their international leadership in the decorative arts, including the 1900 Exposition Universelle and the 1925 Art Deco exhibition, both of which were held in Paris. My goal was to study the previous salons of the Société des artistes décorateurs and examine the wealth of planning documents and objects pertaining to the critically important 1925 Art Deco exhibition. The 1925 exhibition played a significant role in the planning and execution of the 1930 show and unveiled the French’s strategy to strongly promote luxury production as the best answer to German superiority in mass production.

“The most valuable archives I visited were at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which contains photographs, planning documents, and articles written by designers and decorators who participated in the 1925 Art Deco exhibition. Of particular interest were the detailed files on each country’s pavilion at the 1925 show. The records on the Austrian pavilion, including the objects displayed and drawings of the building designed by Josef Hoffmann, offered insight into the shared design sensibility pervasive in the German-speaking countries at the time. Additionally, it was invaluable to view many of the French decorative art objects and architectural elements displayed in 1925. I was especially interested to see the Musée des Arts Décoratif’s installation of Pierre Chareau’s office-library for a French embassy, which was meant to exude luxurious modernity.

2.A graphic advertisement for the 1925 Art Deco exhibition in Paris in the archives of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. Photo courtesy of Alisa Chiles.
2. A graphic advertisement for the 1925 Art Deco exhibition in Paris in the archives of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. Photo courtesy of Alisa Chiles.

“The Musée des Arts Décoratifs also contained records on the previous salons of the Société des artistes décorateurs, which revealed the conservative tendencies of the society and helped illuminate the causes of the split with more avant-garde members like Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, and René Herbst, who formed their own group in 1929, the Union des artistes modernes (UAM). Individual artist files on UAM members and the archives of their organization at both the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Bibliothèque Kandinsky further clarified the differing design philosophies on mechanization, industrial materials, and decoration held by members of this group. It was also beneficial to tour the building that houses the library of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Pavillon de Marsan, as this was the location of the UAM’s inaugural exhibition in 1930. It was held nearly simultaneously with the Deutscher Werkbund’s 1930 exhibition across town and shared many of the same design strategies.

“I am grateful to the Decorative Arts Trust for facilitating my research this summer, which allowed me to better understand the French decorative arts and design scenes in the years leading up to the Deutscher Werkbund 1930 show. This would not have been possible without your generous support.”

The support of members of the Trust’s Emerging Scholars Program enables important research like Alisa’s, and we look forward to following her progress! Participants in past programs have encountered the work of many of these seminal designers and architects (particularly during our summer tour of “The Jazz Age” exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt, and our visit to Germany’s Bauhaus in 2015), and we look forward to seeing more of these masterpieces during upcoming travels in Prague and Vienna.

Summer Research Report: Courtney Wilder

Courtney examining textile samples at the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Courtney examining textile samples at the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh.

While many Decorative Arts Trust Summer Research Grants focus on American topics or US-based collections, recipients occasionally venture further afield. Courtney Wilder, a PhD Candidate at the University of Michigan, is exploring why an increasingly novel array of designs appeared in printed textiles and wallpaper in France and Britain between 1750 and 1850. She is particularly interested in the correlations between technology, science, printmaking, and the decorative arts. Her research took her to Scotland to scour archival and museum collections in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“My dissertation considers the increasingly bold, abstract and colorful designs that emerged for printed dress fabrics in France and Britain from the early 1820s through the 1840s. I aim to take more seriously designs that have hitherto been dismissed as wildly eccentric, aesthetically unappealing, and ‘merely novel.’ This summer I investigated a question posed by the Journal of Design and Manufactures in July 1849, in response to a printed textile design submitted for review by the Glasgow printer James Black & Co. It did not suit the tastes of the anonymous editor (probably the design reformer Henry Cole), who describes it as showing, ‘An essentially ‘Scotch’ taste.’ He then asks, ‘Wherever do they get their designs from?’

Textile design samples in the archives of the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh. Photo courtesy Courtney Wilder.
Scottish textile design samples in the archives of the National Archives at Kew, London. Photo courtesy of Courtney Wilder.

“The Decorative Arts Trust provided me with funding to study Scottish designs from this period, and I spent two weeks in Glasgow and Edinburgh during June. The literature on Scottish textiles has been dominated by studies of plaids, paisley shawls, and turkey red printed fabrics. I found fewer extant pattern books and garments showing the more eccentric styles than I expected, but did see some fascinating examples of relevant designs in the special collections of the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. The examples reaffirmed my sense that the products of top Scottish firms like James Black & Co. seemed to be aesthetically in-line with those of cutting edge British and especially French producers.

“In the special collections of Strathclyde University I learned more about how the industrial culture of Glasgow during this period was linked to a thriving intellectual culture. Educational establishments like Anderson’s Institute stocked wide-ranging lending libraries; industrial exhibitions introduced the public to the newest textile technologies; and campaigns sought to give designers free access to the city’s botanical gardens. Moreover, the men heading the city’s textile printing firms were far from parochial. This factor became especially apparent in the Crum Family papers at the Mitchell Library, which offer a fascinating window into the career of the textile printer Walter Crum of Thornliebank. Beginning with his apprenticeship in Manchester, Crum’s journals and letters reveal a man who read widely, studied arduously, and subsequently published his own theories on optics and chemistry. He traveled abroad for extended periods of time, and in 1855 became a Chevalier de la Legion D’honneur.

A daguerrotype portrait of textile printer Walter Crum, Strathclyde University.
A daguerrotype portrait of textile printer Walter Crum, Mitchell Library, Glasgow.

“If there is an ‘essentially Scotch taste,’ I now think it is reflective of a widespread understanding in Glasgow and Edinburgh that science and industry were not separate from or antithetical to culture. This sensibility manifested in a pronounced openness to embracing novel forms of design, fashion, and visual art. My visit coincided with an exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait gallery called Hill & Adamson: A Perfect Chemistry. The pair’s photographic portraits reveal, unusually, female sitters wearing dresses made from a variety of the types of technologically cutting-edge printed materials in which producers like James Black and Walter Crum specialized. I was able to study further examples in the Gallery’s research library. The exhibition title sums up nicely the impression that this summer’s research fostered: the industrial and scientific cultures of Glasgow and Edinburgh represent a ‘perfect chemistry’ in which the international style of chemically and graphically experimental textile design found creative adaptations by enthusiastic producers and consumers.”

The enthusiastic support of Decorative Arts Trust members in 2017 supported Courtney and more than 50 additional students, emerging professionals, and institutions in the decorative arts field. We look forward to providing as many important opportunities in 2018 and beyond!

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Recent Discoveries for Scottish Furniture

One of the enjoyable perks of our line of work is that reminders of past events crop up from time to time. Recent discoveries in the auction and museum world have tied in quite neatly to two sites from the Trust’s spring excursions to Scotland.

Two weeks ago in London, Christie’s auctioned a looking glass as part of their sale The Collector: English Furniture, Clocks & Works of Art. The carved and gilt frame may strike our Scotland tour participants as familiar, for we encountered its mate on our tour of Gosford House in East Lothian. Robert Copley, Christie’s International Head of Furniture, and Peter Horwood, Director of English Furniture, came to the Gosford connection after discovering an old Christie’s stock number on the mirror’s reverse, linking it to a 1947 consignment from The Earl of Wemyss and March. Sold to a London dealer, the looking glass remained in private hands until consigned to Christie’s a second time nearly 70 years later.

The present Earl of Wemyss permitted Dr. Sebastian Pryke, a Scottish furniture expert, to analyze the family archives for evidence of the original maker. He located a ledger that records the purchase of looking glasses and frames for £100 on December 26, 1760, from the Edinburgh carver William Mathie. The frames are magnificent examples of Chinoiserie ornamentation popularized by Thomas Chippendale and his contemporaries, featuring an incongruous mix of Ho-Ho birds, monkeys, and quintessential rococo scrolls. Mr. Horwood suggests that the mirrors were likely displayed in a room with other Chinese-inspired furnishings and decoration. Befitting an object in excellent condition with a known maker and intact provenance to boot, the mirror achieved double its high estimate of £50,000.

California members stumbled across another Scottish connection last week during a member tour at J. Paul Getty Museum. A late 17th-century cabinet by André-Charles Boulle in the Getty’s collection has a twin that presently resides at the Duke of Buccleguh’s Drumlanrig Castle. The pair is thought to have been commissioned by Louis XIV following the Treaty of Nijmegen (1678-79) to commemorate his wartime victories against the Spanish. Although the exact provenance of each furnishing is not clear, they were likely separated during the French Revolution. However, the most perplexing aspect of the works is not how they were divorced from one another, but rather the difference in color of the two supporting figures depicting Hercules and Hippolyta at the front of each cabinet. While the Drumlanrig piece showcases two bronze-toned figures, the Getty characters are ivory white.

When the Getty acquired their cabinet in 1974, the figures had dark-bronze to black skin tones, much like the Drumlanrig cabinet does today. After a lengthy evaluation, the conservation team concluded that the dark tones were due to a buildup of repaint over the centuries. They then decided to paint the figures white with gesso to imitate marble. Subsequent research has led the Getty to believe that white may not have been the original color. The cabinet seen by Trust members at Drumlanrig serves as an invaluable resource for present-day Getty conservators to determine if the bronze-like finish was applied by the craftsmen or done after it left the French royal collection.

These are just two examples of recent developments in the decorative arts field that bring to mind our own symposia and Study Trips Abroad. With upcoming programs in the Upper Hudson River Valley, Yorkshire, Scandinavia, Vienna and Prague, and New Orleans, we fully many of these happy coincidences in 2018. We also encourage members to send us updates on past destinations that they find, as well as stories of interest for all decorative arts lovers!

 

 

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Exploring Venice and the Veneto

The Decorative Arts Trust’s fall 2018 Study Trip Abroad provided a superb exploration of the Veneto and Venice. Centered in Asolo, Verona, and Venice, the 8-day program highlighted renowned figures of Italian cultural history, including Palladio, Canova, and Casanova. A handful of locations are highlighted below to offer a sense of the splendor and variety we encountered on tour. As with all of our international expeditions, visits to sites of architectural and artistic significance were paired with opportunities to appreciate local cuisine and viniculture!

The villas and churches designed by the great 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio will be described in greater depth in our year-end issue of the The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, but our participants were fortunate to encounter a half-dozen structures linked to this supremely talented classicist. Anyone who has toured 18th-century country houses in Britain will be readily familiar with the eponymous Palladian style that was the rage among segments of the aristocracy. The chance to see Palladio’s work in the flesh, however, was truly enlightening.

Our highlight on the Palladio front, and perhaps the tour at large, was a visit to Villa Cornaro in Piombino Dese. We were the last group to be welcomed by the house’s outgoing owners, Sally and Carl Gable of Atlanta, GA, who recently sold Villa Cornaro after decades of dedicated stewardship. If you are curious about the trials and rewards of owning a 16th-century Italian country house, we highly recommend Mrs. Gable’s Palladian Days: Finding a New Life in a Venetian Country House (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005).

The design of this house’s façade is considered the antecedent for colonial American projects, from Thomas Jefferson’s initial version of Monticello to Drayton Hall in Charleston, SC. Trish Smith, Drayton Hall’s Curator of Historic Architectural Resources, accompanied the group as a scholarship recipient, and we were delighted to stage her introduction to Palladio’s work at Villa Cornaro. We discovered that many Palladian interior architectural principles were lost in translation in America. John Drayton, for instance, copied Villa Cornaro’s double portico on the facade of his plantation house and left it at that.

A visit to the nearby Cà Marcello provided an important 18th-century comparison to Palladio’s oeuvre. Hosted by the debonair Count Jacopo Marcello, who balances his time overseeing the villa and estate with a second career as a sailboat captain, the house illustrates the manipulation of a Venetian-style palazzo for a rural setting. Displaying the utilitarian purposes of storage, commerce, and work spaces blended with domestic uses, Italian villas functioned as a consolidated center of operations, unlike the English and American preference to isolate farm and husbandry tasks in more distant outbuildings.

Cà Marcello retains a superb collection of 18th- and early-19th-century decorative arts to contextualize the family quarters and entertaining spaces, particularly the grand two-story ballroom. Count Jacopo demonstrated the engineering of the broad, historic terrazzo floor by jumping up and down at its center, thereby permitting us to feel the vibrations of this floating, malleable surface of marble chips set in clay. The handsome and extensive suite of Venetian seating furniture on display suggest the fetes hosted in this impressive salon. Providing a sense of the estate’s former grandeur, remnants of the extensive gardens replete with ornamental ponds can still be found immediately behind the house.

Possagno is the hometown of Antonio Canova, perhaps the most influential Italian sculptor of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At the Canova Museum, we encountered the familiar visage of George Washington, an unlikely meeting in the foothills of the Dolomites! The Canova connection comes through a commission from the North Carolina General Assembly, who ordered a monumental statue of a toga-clad Washington at Jefferson’s suggestion for the rotunda of the to-be-renovated State House. Arriving to great fanfare in 1821, Canova’s carving met a tragic end only ten years later when the State House was gutted by fire. Thankfully, the sculptor’s plaster model survives in the Veneto.

In Padua, we were treated to a 30-minute “double visit” to the extraordinary Scrovegni Chapel. Completed in 1303, this diminutive structure contains a glorious cycle of frescoes by the renowned Florentine artist Giotto, regarded as the father of Western art. The chapel’s patron, Enrico Scrovegni, was eager to offer an important tribute to the Virgin Mary after Dante cast Scrovegni’s father to a life of eternal damnation as a usurer in the Divine Comdedy.

Enrico’s efforts were rewarded through Giotto’s illustrations of the lives of Mary and Christ as well as the Last Judgment, which were executed with his revolutionary artistic approach to the sense of space, naturalism, and drama that influenced the development of European art. Liz Simmons, a PhD student in art history at the University of Delaware and our second scholarship recipient, was ecstatic to see this iconic site in person.

Shifting from the sacred to the profane, another important monument in Padua is the Caffé Pedrocchi. Opened in 1831, this establishment has served as fixture of the city’s university and intellectual communities for nearly 200 years, and was hosting numerous graduation celebrations on the day of our visit. The café’s rooms represent an encyclopedia of the revivalist aesthetic that defines the 19th century, ranging from Moorish to Egyptian to Greek to Pompeian. With the original light fixtures, wall decoration, and many furnishings extant, the complexity and playfulness of the interior design are a sight to behold, all encased behind a handsome Greek temple façade.

Cà Rezzonico is a must-see in Venice for the lover of decorative arts. Begun in the 1660s, the impressive palace was sold unfinished in 1712 to the Rezzonicos, a wealthy banking family, and finally fit for an inaugural banquet in 1758. Referred to as the museum of 18th-century Venice, the setting evokes the aristocratic circles Casanova idolized.  The entire site is splendid, from the beautiful marble exterior to the richly ornamented interior bedecked in frescoes.

The true show stopper, however, is an astounding selection of furniture by the Venetian master carver Andrea Brustolon. His highly charged and exoticized works depict illustrations of Moors, some in chains, and are worthy of a lengthy discourse in their own right. A suite of armchairs in this vein are covered in beautifully preserved embroidery, representing a powerful contrast to the carved frame. For the purposes of this brief recap, however, you will simply need plan a lengthy visit to the museum during your next sojourn in Venice!

 

Summer Research Report: Catherine Acosta

We rely and many individuals and foundations to support our multi-faceted Emerging Scholars Program, among them the Marie and John Zimmermann Fund. Catherine Acosta received one of our 2017 Zimmermann Research Grant recipient to assist with her study of the history of the pottery industry in Ohio. Catherine’s project is connected to her master’s thesis on American industrial designer and artist Viktor Schreckengost, a prominent designer for mid-20th-century dinnerware. Born in Sebring, OH, Schreckengost created designs for the local potteries. During Catherine’s travels in eastern Ohio, she visited sites in Sebring, Salem, East Liverpool, and Cleveland.

Catherine Acosta
Catherine Acosta

Catherine is a graduate student in her final year at the in the Master’s degree of the History of Design and Curatorial Studies at the Parsons School of Design and the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. A native of Los Angeles, she received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After college, she worked at the Glessner and Clarke House Museums before moving to New York City to pursue graduate work. As a hobby, she started selling mid-century dinnerware and home décor on Etsy, which fostered a love for the design history of that era and led to her research project. The Zimmermann Fund’s generous support through the Decorative Arts Trust allowed Catherine to spend a week exploring eastern Ohio’s ceramic history.

Catherine reports: “I traveled to Sebring and Salem, where Schreckengost designed for American Limoges and the Salem China Co. I also visited East Liverpool, the largest center for American pottery production in the 19th and 20th centuries, and Cleveland, where Schreckengost lived and worked most of his life. I poured over rich archives, and in some cases, catalogued never-before-seen materials.

“The Sebring Historical Society is housed in the Art Deco Strand Theatre near where most of the local potteries were located. Sebring was Schreckengost’s hometown. Founded as a pottery town in 1900, the community helped define his artistic identity. His father was a potter, a career both of his brothers followed as well. The Historical Society is crammed with Schreckengost-designed objects, ranging from dinnerware to pedal cars and bicycles. I spent a day exploring objects and the Sebring pottery archive. By its nature, the pottery industry can be elusive for historians: many potteries, along with all their equipment and records, have succumbed to fire. That is not to say evidence of these enterprises does not survive. The weedy grounds outside the theatre were covered in glinting shards as far as you could see. While gathering some of these treasures, I also stumbled on large red brick rings in the ground, the foundations of the enormous beehive kilns that produced Schreckengost dinnerware.

 

“In Salem, I had the distinct honor to be the first researcher to climb the rickety stairs to the attic of the Salem Historical Society, where I discovered several unopened boxes of Salem China Co. corporate archives. Containing Depression-era marketing materials, internal newsletters, and original photographs of pottery workers, this collection helped me build a case study of the pottery industry in the 1930s, detailing executive decision making, design objectives, and Schreckengost’s activities as a contracted designer.

“The East Liverpool Museum of Ceramics, located on the Ohio River near the juncture of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, helped further contextualize the broader tri-state pottery industry, which began in the 1830s. East Liverpool was known as the pottery capital of the U.S. for over a century. Through this visit I gained a more nuanced sense of the variety of commercial ceramics made in the region and of the industrial pottery process and explored one of the few remaining beehive kilns.

“I would like to extend my thanks to the Zimmermann Fund and Decorative Arts Trust for this invaluable opportunity to help tell this overlooked but important chapter in American design and industrial history.”

We are most grateful for the Zimmermann Fund’s continuing support of the Trust’s Emerging Scholars Program through Catherine’s research grant. We are pleased to announce that Catherine will present her findings during our Emerging Scholars Colloquium on January 21, 2018, following our annual Antiques Weekend program. Registration opens soon, and we encourage all decorative arts aficionados and scholars to join us for a series of presentations highlighting the noteworthy results of the Trust’s research grant program!

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Connecticut: All Museums Great and Small

Hartford boasts impressive historic statistics: founded in 1635, it is one of the oldest cities in the country; the local Wadsworth Atheneum is the nation’s oldest public art museum; and the city is home to the nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper, the oldest publicly funded park, and the second-oldest secondary school. Compared to these, the Decorative Arts Trust is still a spring chicken at 40!

While our primary focus for the weekend was all things Connecticut, we took the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate this significant anniversary during our Thursday lectures and reception at the Wadsworth Atheneum. We were honored to have Jonathan Fairbanks and John and Penny Hunt emerge from well-deserved retirements to reflect on the past four decades of decorative arts scholarship and the growth of the Trust. As an organization, we have undergone tremendous transformation during our four decades while remaining true to our passion and mission of engagement with the decorative arts field. The Emerging Scholars Program has long been an essential component of the Trust’s mission and is a particular point of pride as a significant philanthropic force within the museum field. After the lectures, which brought back many fond memories and a few misty eyes, we adjourned to the recently reinstalled Morgan Great Hall for a celebration of this milestone.

Friday may have brought us back down to earth, but thankfully Connecticut is a wonderful place for a landing. We began the day at the Connecticut Historical Society, where a trio of lectures introduced participants to the craft traditions of the state. Speakers included renowned antique dealers Arthur Liverant and Kevin Tulimieri, former CHS curator Susan Schoelwer, and Kevin Ferrigno and Christina Keyser Vida, who have long maintained a scholarly interest in Connecticut furniture. Susan, Kevin, and Christina kindly led workshops on Connecticut needlework and furniture at the CHS during the afternoon.

Participants also visited two local icons, the Mark Twain House and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. These two literary icons of 19th-century America were friends and neighbors, and today the decorative arts take center stage to tell their story and celebrate their contributions. The fashionable furnishings throughout the Mark Twain House speak to the financial success brought about by the enormous popularity of his writings, while also interpreting his affectionate family life and gregarious entertaining of both local society and international celebrities in the house. By contrast, a humble dining table at the Stowe Center, likely made in Boston, takes pride of place as the surface on which Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a great deal of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The table is the focus of an entire gallery, where a short media presentation pays homage to the role of Stowe’s writing on the course of our nation’s history. The evening concluded with a special tour and reception at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum, an unusual institution that features three adjacent 18th-century houses. Although their owners, a merchant, a leatherworker, and a diplomat, were somewhat unlikely neighbors, the houses remain to interpret the rich history of the town of Wethersfield.

Saturday’s schedule introduced participants to museums and collections both great and small across Connecticut, which were superbly introduced by the morning’s lectures: Brandy Culp on new directions for the decorative arts at the Wadsworth, Jeannine Falino on the museum’s extraordinary Hammerslough Collection of silver, and Bill Hosley on the culture and craft of the Connecticut River Valley. All three lectures were a wonderful prelude to a series of tours of the Wadsworth’s extensive collection, which include everything from the Morgan Collection of European decorative arts to the homegrown Wallace Nutting collection of American furniture. Participants had the opportunity to glimpse behind-the-scenes areas at the Wadsworth rarely open to public access.

Because Connecticut offers something for everyone, participants could choose one of three options for the afternoon’s site visits. One group stayed local to Hartford, learning about the city’s 18th-and 19th-century history and architecture at the Butler-McCook and Isham-Terry Houses. Another group enjoyed an excursion to 20th-century sites, including the theatrical Chick Austin House, where Bauhaus design met Baroque furniture in a heady combination, before venturing to the Arts and Crafts style campus of Avon Old Farms School, designed by Theodate Pope Riddle, one of the first registered female architects in America.  For those who still had not had their fill of antique furniture or sought an opportunity to make an acquisition, a third group enjoyed an excursion to Colchester for a workshop at the gallery of Nathan Liverant & Son, one of the premiere dealers in American antiques.

All good things must come to an end, but thanks to our Sunday lecturers ensured we ended on a high note. Two emerging scholars, Ben Colman and Willie Granston, presented their original research of the decorative arts of Connecticut, from locally made furniture to the legacy of building undertaken by Elizabeth Colt to memorialize her family. New discoveries of local history were highlighted by Catherine Fields, the director of the Litchfield Historical Society, whose presentation on Litchfield merchant Elijah Boardman’s ledgers delighted the audience. Our time in Hartford was closed by Bill Hosley, who gave a rousing introduction to the many small museums around Connecticut, each worthy of celebration and support.

The Trust’s 40-year milestone has brought our members to, by our count, 80 Symposia in 58 different locations. We have enjoyed a wonderful and memorable journey, characterized by deep friendships and a shared passion for the decorative arts. We are incredibly grateful for friends both old and new who made the journey to Hartford this September, and look forward to many exciting and adventurous years ahead!

Summer Research Report: Candice Candeto

Candice Candeto reading Robert Stewart's business ledger at LSU's Hill Memorial Library.
Candice Candeto reading Robert Stewart’s business ledger at LSU’s Hill Memorial Library.

The summer of 2017 has been a particularly exciting one for the Trust. We welcomed new full-time staff member Kristina Gray as Membership Coordinator while Programming and Communications Coordinator Christian overdosed on historic houses during the Attingham Summer School. Matt kept the home fires burning with every appearance of serenity. On top of these developments, we awarded a bumper crop of Summer Research Grants, and the reports detailing our scholar’s exciting discoveries are starting to come in!

Candice Roland Candeto, a second-year fellow with the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, enjoyed a particularly fruitful summer in Louisiana and Mississippi. An alumna of the University of Mary Washington, where she studied Historic Preservation and Museum Studies, Candice has worked at the James Monroe Museum, the George Washington Foundation, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and, most recently, the research library of the Virginia Historical Society. She has always been interested in the complex history of the American south, and during her time at Winterthur has come to value the ability of decorative arts and material culture to honestly speak to the worldview of their owners and makers in ways that may not be reflected in the written records.

With assistance from the Decorative Arts Trust, Candice was able to conduct field work on the cabinet maker Robert Stewart, the focus of her master’s thesis. Stewart was a Northern-born craftsman who worked in Natchez, MS, the wealthiest city in America in 1850, and one where a third of the population was enslaved, a quarter foreign-born, and hundreds more lived as free people of color. Stewart’s clientele encompassed all these social, economic, and racial categories. Examples of his work survives in public and private collections, and some of the latter have stayed in place since the mid-19th century.

“I began my summer research at the Louisiana State University and Tulane University, where I spent a week examining Stewart’s account books. This provided a strong documentary foundation for interpreting the furniture I saw in Natchez. Once in Mississippi, I worked closely with Mimi Miller, Executive Director of the Historic Natchez Foundation, whose decades of research and outreach literally opened doors for me to closely study Stewart pieces in public and private collections.

“Among my more exciting finds was a chest of drawers in a private Stewart family collection which is signed ‘R. & M. Stewart, Natchez.’ The reference to Stewart’s partnership with his brother Miller allowed me to date this piece to before 1835. The chest’s ornately carved columns raise interesting questions of the level of work Stewart was producing in his shop, rather than importing and retailing, and the influences from urban centers that appear in his Mississippi-made furniture.

“Taking entries from the Stewart account books, I attempted to match archival evidence to extant furniture in some of the many Natchez houses with original furnishings. This rare and exciting opportunity led me to a dining table, today in the private collection, with a likely history of ownership by Stewart’s client William Harris. The table’s cherry top is consistent with Mississippi manufacture, but the two distinct styles of turnings on the legs speak to the complex nature of much of Stewart’s furniture. Did the Stewart use a combination of locally made, plainly turned legs and imported twist-turned legs, creating a custom piece to fit a large double parlor? Further research into this fascinating piece will shed light on the nature of furniture production in antebellum Mississippi and connections between this region and the rest of the Atlantic world.

“As I continue to analyze the archival and material evidence gathered this summer, I hope to better understand the ways in which Stewart’s furniture speaks to the evolving social and economic systems of a widely connected and wealthy Southern town on the eve of the Civil War. My time in the Gulf South was incredibly profitable, and I am deeply grateful for the Trust’s contribution making it possible.”

We are excited by Candice’s discoveries and look forward to hearing about future conclusions. We also wish to thank the many generous donors who support the Summer Research Grant program.