Author: Kristina Gray

Loving the Loire Valley: Notes from the Study Trip Abroad to France

Châteaux, cathedrals, museums, vineyards, and more—the Decorative Arts Trust’s exploration of over 40 sites in the Loire Valley definitely wowed the members who participated in the two sold-out programs.

The Loire is the longest river in France at 633 miles and demonstrates a stunning variability along its course to the Atlantic. The river’s voyage begins in the Vivarais mountains only 85 miles from the Mediterranean and is fed by innumerable tributaries, such as the Indre, Vienne, and Char. The novelist Gustave Flaubert described the “fertile, gentle” territory we will explore on this Study Trip Abroad as “the land of bon petit vin blanc and beautiful old Châteaux, watered by the Loire, the most French of French rivers.” He acknowledged the river’s “sung prose” with “the sort of beauty which caresses without captivating, charms without seducing and, in a word, has more good sense than grandeur, and more wit than poetry: it is France.” For sculptor Auguste Rodin, the Loire, not the Seine or the Rhône, was “the aorta of our France.” 

This Study Trip Abroad in western France featured two tours: one from October 13 to October 22 and one from October 24 to November 2. The first tour commenced in Montbazon and concluded in Nantes, whereas the second started in Nantes and ended in Montbazon. The unique itinerary highlighted less-visited Lower Loire Valley hidden gems and iconic sites, with a special concentration on exclusive private visits that highlight the region’s superlative architecture, collections, gardens, and wine. The Trust also offered an optional extension focusing on Brittany’s Loire Atlantique Region from October 22 to 25, allowing some Tour 1 attendees to extend their travels and some Tour 2 attendees to begin their adventure early. 

In this post, we’ll share insights into three standout sites: the châteaux of Serrant, Villandry, and Chenonceau.

Château de Serrant

Although built over three centuries, the Château de Serrant shows an amazing unity of style. Building began in 1547 on behalf of Charles de Brie to the plans of Philibert Delorme. De Brie found he lacked sufficient funds for the project and sold the property to the Duc de Montbazon with only the north tower completed. Construction resumed in the 1630s under Guillaume de Bautru, a state councilor. He continued the façade of pale white tuffeau and dark russet schist. The massive corner towers topped by cupolas lend an air of dignity, and the central pavilion contains one of the most beautiful Renaissance staircases in the region. Subsequent owners included the Marquis de Vaubrun, who added the west wing. After the Marquis’s death at the Battle of Altenheim in 1675 during the Franco-Dutch War, his widow ordered a memorial sculpture by Antoine Coysevox, which is now in the Chapel. In 1747, the estate was sold to Anthony Walsh, an exiled English shipbuilder in Nantes and friend of the Stewarts. Walsh supplied Prince Charles Edward with a fleet for his ill-fated effort to rally Scotland to his cause. The Château contains a painting that commemorates Bonnie Prince Charlie’s departure for Scotland. In 1830, the house passed by marriage into the hands of the Ducs de Trémoille, whose descendants still own it. The house contains some magnificent furnishings, notably of the Empire period, including a table by Jacob and candelabra by Thomire in the dining room. Serrant also features an important collection of Flemish tapestries and an impressive library. We were shown and incredible 17th-century ebony cabinet. Ordered in 1654 from the celebrated cabinetmaker Pierre Gole as a wedding present, the cabinet is one of a few examples known and the only one remaining in a private collection. The theater-like central reserve is stunning and contains a dozen hidden compartments. The colorful grotto is carved and painted cork.

Villandry

Villandry is the last of the great Renaissance châteaux in the Loire. It stands on the site of a feudal castle and was built in 1552 by Jean le Breton, Secretary of State to François I. It was bought in 1906 by Dr. Carvalho, founder of “La Demeure Historique,” who transformed the gardens, replacing a 19th-century English landscaped park. It is famous for the formal design of the potager, with beds of ornamental cultivars (and ordinary vegetables) outlined with vine arbours, hedges, clipped yew trees, and fountains. There is also a water garden, herb garden, and labyrinth.

Chenonceau

We approached Chenonceau via a grand avenue of plane trees and symmetrical gardens that stretches across the River Cher. The château was built over the course of the 16th century and inhabited by a succession of powerful women, each of whom left a distinctive mark. The square mansion with turreted corners was constructed 1513-17 for Thomas Bohier, Treasury Superintendent under Francois I, but in practice, Bohier’s wife, Catherine Briconnet, took charge and was the creative spirit behind the project. Notable Italian features include the dormers (early examples of the type to be found in all the Loire châteaux, still medieval in form but decorated with dolphins and candelabra in the new Renaissance manner), and the single straight staircase, doubling back on itself, which replaces the usual French spiral. In 1547, Henri II gave Chenonceau to his mistress Diane de Poitiers, who added formal gardens and built a long arched bridge (1556-1559), linking the Château with the south bank of the River Cher. After Henri’s death in 1559, Queen Catherine de Medici claimed the property and added a two-story Italian-style gallery to the bridge (1570-1576). She also expanded the park and constructed numerous outbuildings. In the 18th century, Louise Dupin hosted a literary salon at Chenonceau, attracting famous Enlightenment writers including Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rosseau. In the 1870s, heiress Marguerite Pelouze exhausted her considerable fortune restoring Chenonceau, and, since 1913, it has belonged in the Menier family, esteemed chocolatiers, who have undertaken numerous renovations. The interiors are sumptuously furnished with period tapestries, sculptures, and paintings.

Un Grand Succès!

Albeit a bit cold and wet, the two tours and extension of the Loire Valley trip were great successes.

Study Trips Abroad are designed to engage and enlighten Decorative Arts Trust members, although non-members are welcome to join when they register. Members at the Ambassador level and above receive early registration benefits. Upcoming Study Trips Abroad include Amsterdam in March 2020, Ireland in May 2020, and Italy in October 2020. See the Decorative Arts Trust’s full calendar of events for more information about upcoming programs.

Women’s Textile Crafts and their Construction of Political Identities

by Mariah Gruner

Sitting in the Dewitt Wallace Collection and Conservation Building at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, I confronted the stitched, mostly woolen image of a kneeling, enslaved man, his wrists and ankles bound in chains. Here was a historically feminine, domestic craft being used to depict an iteration of the Josiah Wedgwood antislavery seal, asserting a clearly political message.

While records of textiles produced for sale at antislavery fairs in the 1820s-50s are relatively abundant, samplers that overtly participate in the antislavery movement rarely emerge in the archive. With the generous support of the Decorative Arts Trust, I was able to use a Summer Research Grant to engage in close study of a few extant pieces and to mine the associated museum files. Close examination of these objects is key to gaining insights into their significance and relationships to other textile crafts made by women in the first half of the nineteenth century.

For example, the wool piece described above was discovered in Pennsylvania and materially and stylistically resonates with Berlin woolwork, but the verses are from an 1804 British ballad and the needlework features surprising silk highlights in the figure’s chains. Pairing fashion with politics, it reminds us of the transatlantic nature of the antislavery movement and its relationship to popular culture, the force of combining historically feminized crafts with political messages, and the complex meanings behind (almost exclusively white) women’s repetition of images of enslaved suffering and dehumanization.

I researched the complex relationship between women’s textile crafts and their construction of political identities, analyzing the ways in which women used textile crafts (associated with normative femininity) to construct increasingly public and political identities. Abolitionist textiles provide a particularly salient example of women using their alignment with morality and sentiment to create political platforms, revealing the long history of strategic essentialism.

A cradle quilt in Historic New England’s archives practically crackles with the charge of bringing together maternal identity with fiercely antislavery sentiments. I traveled to Historic New England’s collections in Haverhill, MA, to examine this piece, sold at the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society’s 1836 Anti-Slavery Fair and likely stitched by Lydia Maria Child (figure 1). The central panel is inked with a poem that asks women, as they wrap their own children in the quilt before bed, to “Think of the negro mother, when/Her child is torn away,/Sold for a little slave-oh then/For that poor mother pray!” These verses reveal the political nature of the domestic, familial scene, bringing maternal relationships into public debate.

These are just two examples of the antislavery textiles I studied, thanks to this summer research grant. In my travels to Colonial Williamsburg, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and Historic New England, I also examined workbags produced by women’s antislavery societies (figure 2), similar iconography on sugar bowls and tobacco boxes, and written records from The Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society. Actual encounter with these objects was key to my methodology. While records are illuminating, they cannot capture the textures, details, and ineffable charges that made and still make these textiles politically and emotionally resonant.

Watch a recording of Gruner’s The Tethering Stitch, The Liberating Stitch: The Frictions of Abolitionist Women’s Needlework lecture from the 2019 Emerging Scholars Colloquium on our YouTube channel.

Mariah Gruner is a PhD Candidate at Boston University. She was a recipient of a 2018 Summer Research Grant and presented at several Emerging Scholars Colloquia.

Watch Symposium Videos About Harriet Joor and Françoise Petit de Coulange

Thanks to the generosity of Anne and Wheeler Bryan of Atlanta, GA, the Decorative Arts Trust is pleased to bring you two informative presentations from our Fall 2018 Symposium in New Orleans, LA. 

Creole Comforts and French Connections: The Material World of Françoise Petit de Coulange, 1732–1812

Philippe L.B. Halbert is a PhD Candidate in the Department of the History of Art at Yale University and an independent museum consultant. This presentation was a John A.H. Sweeney Emerging Scholar Lecture.

“A Lover of the Beautiful”: Harriet Joor, The Newcomb Enterprise, and the American Arts and Crafts Movement

Maggie Dimock is the Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, Alva de Mars Megan Chapel Art Center at Saint Anselm College, Manchester, New Hampshire. This presentation was a Marie Zimmermann Emerging Scholar Lecture.

Read more about this topic in Dimock’s article, “Harriet Joor: Artist of Newcomb Pottery and Designer of the Arts and Crafts Movement.”

If these decorative arts subjects interested you, we encourage you to learn more about our Emerging Scholars Program, upcoming Symposia, and the benefits of Trust membership.

Touring Yale’s Hume Furniture Study Center and the Wurtele Study Center in Connecticut

On Friday, October 4, Decorative Arts Trust members experienced an exceptional collection of colonial and Federal furniture at the new Leslie P. and George H. Hume Yale American Furniture Study Center in Connecticut. The Furniture Study reopened at Yale West Campus after nearly 60 years in downtown New Haven, and it contains over 1,000 examples of wooden objects dating from the 17th through the 21st century. 

Patricia E. Kane, Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Yale Art Gallery, and John Stuart Gordon, Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts, hosted Trust members as they toured a broad range of displays focused on topics tied to the study of furniture, from joinery and surface to hardware and upholstery. These hands-on installations allow visitors the opportunity to delve into important components of furniture history along with an up-close analysis of Yale’s extraordinary collection.

Trust members were especially pleased to be a part of this tour because the Trust’s Dean F. Failey Grant supported development of these didactics. This annual grant of up to $10,000 supports noteworthy research, exhibition, publication, and object-based conservation projects. The application deadline for the next grant cycle is October 31, 2019. 

The day continued with a visit to the nearby Margaret and Angus Wurtele Study Center, which houses more than 30,000 three-dimensional objects, including Chinese porcelain and ancient Greek vases. John Stuart Gordong pulled two dozen selections from the American decorative art collection, from 18th-century tiles to late-20th-century plates designed by Robert Venturi.

The Trust has many more special programs and events scheduled for 2019, 2020, and 2021. Sign up for our e-newsletter or follow us on social media for updates.

(Fall)ing in Love with the Berkshires: My Symposium Adventures

by Elizabeth Fox

Elizabeth Fox in the Naumkeag dining room
Elizabeth Fox in the Naumkeag dining room

I embraced the majestic fall beauty of the Berkshires during the Decorative Arts Trust’s Fall 2019 Symposium. As a Georgia native who just moved to Massachusetts for my curatorial assistantship with the Worcester Art Museum, I had a limited understanding of New England culture beyond colonial American art and history. Thus, I welcomed the opportunity to experience the diversity of western Massachusetts’s architectural landmarks for the first time. The weekend was jam-packed with tours of historic properties, which ranged from colonial residences (e.g. Mission House); to Shingle Style and “Newporty” mansions (e.g. Naumkeag and the Mount); and to modern Bauhaus-style interiors (e.g. Frelinghuysen-Morris House & Studio). Although very different in appearance and era, each house was in some way influenced by notions of collecting and design of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Additionally, we learned more about American sculpture at Chesterwood and early 20th-century illustration at the Norman Rockwell Museum. During the symposium’s lectures, speakers demonstrated their decorative arts expertise by showcasing groundbreaking projects. For instance, Cindy Brockway, Program Director for Cultural Resources at the Trustees of Reservations, presented the results of a six-year restoration of Naumkeag’s gardens, completed based on the original plans of landscape architect Fletcher Steele. This project served to not only recapture former owner Mabel Choate’s vision of Naumkeag but also to rethink its role as a public site, something that most historic house museums are working to improve. Throughout these presentations, I observed each scholar’s enthusiasm over new discoveries. Christie Jackson, Senior Curator at the Trustees, detailed her extraordinary finds at the Old Manse in Concord, MA, including a ghosting of repeating stripe wallpaper (c. 1860) that was unearthed in the parlor. These discoveries informed her conservation work on the property. During his furniture workshop at Mission House, Brock Jobe, Winterthur’s Emeritus Professor of Decorative Arts, expressed his excitement over a rare 1736 Philadelphia high back chair, which had a slat back with Germanic characteristics. Witnessing the passion and accomplishments of these scholars encouraged me tremendously and impacted my overall experience as a scholarship recipient. Thank you Decorative Arts Trust and its members for helping me further my education in New England decorative arts and allowing me to learn from noted specialists in the field!

 

Elizabeth Fox, Curatorial Assistant at Worcester Art Museum, was a recipient of a Dewey Lee Curtis Symposium Scholarship. She attended the Decorative Arts Trust’s Fall 2019 Symposium in the Berkshires

A Wondrous Experience: Exploring the Berkshires

by Drew Walton

Drew Walton in Naukeag's Chinese Garden
Drew Walton in Naukeag’s Chinese Garden

The Decorative Arts Trust’s Fall Symposium in the Berkshires was a truly wondrous experience on so many different fronts. On a personal level, this was my first time visiting New England, and my journey to and from Stockbridge, MA, was quite an adventure. I not only expanded my horizons geographically but also intellectually with engaging tours around the various historic houses, museums, and artist studios that we had the privilege of visiting during our long weekend together. The Mount, Mission House, and Naumkeag were fascinating homes to explore while learning about their occupants. However, I found the Hancock Shaker Village to be especially enlightening. In walking amongst the living quarters and workspaces of the Shakers, I glimpsed how this unique sect of people lived their pious lives. Freely roaming around the open-air museum put their material culture into perspective beyond the outside world’s tendency to view their works as decorative arts. My appreciation for the fine arts was further expanded by our visit to Chesterwood. Standing inside Daniel Chester French’s studio was simply breathtaking and awe-inspiring, not only in viewing his sculptures up close but also in reveling in the sheer scale of the projects that were brought in and out of the wooden gates. The Norman Rockwell Museum was also quite the treat to experience. Professionally, it was intriguing to learn about the digital analysis undertaken to restore the wallpapers in one of Naumkeag’s bedrooms. That is exactly the kind of work I aspire to conduct in my career in the digital humanities. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet the lovely and varied members that make up the Decorative Arts Trust. Everyone was so nice and welcoming, and I deeply appreciate your kindness. Your generosity made both my internship at the William King Museum of Art in Abingdon, VA, and my symposium scholarship possible. It was truly an honor to meet and interact with everyone over the weekend.

Drew Walton, Decorative Arts Trust Digital Humanities Fellow at the William King Museum of Art, was a recipient of a Dewey Lee Curtis Symposium Scholarship. He attended the Decorative Arts Trust’s Fall 2019 Symposium in the Berkshires

Inspired by the Berkshires: Notes from the Fall 2019 Symposium in Western Massachusetts

With the autumn leaves changing colors, members of the Decorative Arts Trust reveled in the cultural history of Western Massachusetts during the Decorative Arts Trust’s Fall Symposium from September 19-22, 2019.

Pre-Symposium Tour and Symposium Kick-Off

The event began with a pre-symposium optional tour of Williamstown, Massachusetts, on Thursday, September 19, with visits to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (the Clark), and the Arrowhead Museum.

The day began with private, behind-the-scenes tours of painting, paper, sculpture, and furniture conservation labs at Williamstown Art Conservation Center, a state-of-the-art facility on the Clark’s campus. At the Clark, Kathleen Morris, Director of Exhibitions and Collections and Curator of Decorative Arts, led a presentation of some of the museum’s decorative arts treasures. She and Alexis Goodin led members through tours of European and American galleries with objects spanning the 14th to the early 20th centuries.

After lunch at the Clark, members continued to Arrowhead Museum in Pittsfield, the former home of author Herman Melville (Moby-Dick, Pierre, The Confidence-Man, Israel Potter). Melville named The Piazza Tales and “I and My Chimney” stories for Arrowhead’s porch and chimney, respectively. Berkshire County Historical Society members guided participants through the house, even showing them where he had the idea for his famous white whale, based on his view of a show-covered Mount Greylock from his study window.

Back at the Red Lion Inn, the Fall Symposium kicked off with opening remarks on Thursday evening, featuring a presentation by Richard Jackson’s on Country Houses of the Berkshires, 1870-1930.

 

 

Naumkeag and Mission House

On Friday, September 20, members enjoyed lectures about Mabel Choate Goes Shopping: Furnishing the Mission House, 1928-1930 with Brock Jobe, Professor Emeritus, Winterthur Program in American Material Culture; Polishing the Masterpieces: Garden Conservation as Fine Art with Cindy Brockway, Program Director for Cultural Resources, The Trustees of Reservations; and A Comparison of Two Great American Houses: Naumkeag and the Mount with Pauline Metcalf.

The afternoon featured a tour of Naumkeag House and Gardens, the 1886 Choate family estate, and the Mission House, a mid-1700s house that Mabel Choate restored to a Colonial-era house and museum in the 1930s. Naumkeag stand-outs included the Blue Steps, the Chinese Garden, and Choate’s collection of porcelain dishes displayed on a golden-yellow drapery in her dining room. Brock Jobe shared his expertise of Colonial-era furniture during a furniture study at the Mission House.

The evening concluded with a reception to celebrate Trust’s Emerging Scholars Program, which includes Continuing Education Scholarships, Summer Research Grants, Curatorial Internship Grants, Emerging Scholar Lectures, and Exhibition and Publication Grants. This program is the heart of the Trust’s mission to provide opportunities for scholars to share their passion for the decorative arts, and support is always welcome.

 

Lenox, Pittsfield, and Stockbridge

Saturday, September 21 began with a tour of Mount Estate and Gardens and the Frelinghuysen-Morris House and Studio in Lenox, followed by visits to the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, the Rockwell Museum, and Chesterwood.

The Mount Estate and Gardens is the former home of Edith Wharton, author of The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. The beauty of the house and its furnishings was as inspiring as the anecdotes about Edith’s wit and cleverness.

The Frelinghuysen-Morris House and Studio was the home and art studio of American abstract artists George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen. The house features their artwork alongside Modern Masters such as Picasso, Braque, Gris, Miro, and Matisse and furniture by Frankl, Deskey, and Aalto. Not only did members have the opportunity to view an exceptional collection of Mid-Century Modern architecture and abstract art, they also were invited to participate in a sketching exercise lead by Frelinghuysen’s nephew.

The weather was perfect for lunch and a stroll around Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield. Now a living-history museum with over 20 buildings and 22,000 artifacts, the village presents rich collections of Shaker furniture, rotating exhibits, and a working farm with extensive gardens and heritage-breed livestock.

Members continued the afternoon at Chesterwood (sculptor Daniel Chester French’s estate) and the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Daniel Chester French is most famous for his monumental statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Chesterwood not only featured a lovely summer home and an inspiring studio, but it also included a gorgeous garden that French designed.

Norman Rockwell—most famous for his Saturday Evening Post magazine covers, illustration for over 40 books, and presidential portraits—is celebrated at the Norman Rockwell Museum and studio. Docents showed members which models he used most often (his neighbors!) and encouraged participants to look deeper into his style and artistry.

Final Day: A Wealth of Learning

On the last day of the Symposium, Sunday, September 22, Matt Thurlow led the Decorative Arts Trust Annual Meeting; Amber Wingerson (Curatorial Assistant at the Cape Ann Museum) presented the John A.H. Sweeney Emerging Scholar Lecture, “Glass That Decorates”: the History, Designers, and Stained-Glass of the Church Glass and Decorating Company of New York; Christie Jackson (Senior Curator, Trustees of Reservations) shared Curating Color: A Fascinating Journey of Color in Three Conservation Projects; and Mark Wilson (Curator, Trustees of Reservations) spoke on Avoiding the Obvious: Lawrence Bloedel & Collecting Modern. The symposium concluded with Rebecca Migdal giving the Marie Zimmermann Emerging Scholar Lecture on Modern in the Mountains: Mid-Century Design in the Berkshires.

Before departing, members thanked retiring Board of Governors members Helen Scott Reed (after 39 years of service) and Cindy Brockway and congratulated Matt Thurlow on his fifth year as Executive Director of the Trust.

Post-Symposium Tour with Bunny Williams, the Snyders, the Demoses, and the Bidwell House

On September 22, members had the option to continue their Berkshires adventure with visits to the Falls Village Inn; the home, studio, and gardens of Bunny Williams; the private residences of Grace and Elliott Snyder and Virginia and John Demos; and the Bidwell House Museum.

Participants enjoyed lunch at the Falls Village Inn, built in 1834 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Following lunch, renowned decorator Bunny Williams greeted members and showed them her lovely home, studio, and garden in Falls Village. Robert, her master gardener (whom Bunny calls a “plant-whisperer”), shared insights into landscape architecture and design.

Members were delighted to meet Grace and Elliott Snyder of Snyder Antiques. The team deals in a wide variety of 17th- through early-19th-century material and specialize in American vernacular furniture from the 18th century, textiles, and lighting.

Virginia and John Putnam Demos’s c. 1800 country house blends late-Georgian and early Federal style. One of the home’s most remarkable features is the large, original fireplace with hand-painted Delft tiles that dates to 1763. Their collection includes: a c. 1700 six-board chest, a painting by Hudson River School painter Edmund Coates, and a letterbox featuring 18th- and 19th-century documents from the Williams family, the subject of John’s book The Unredeemed Captive.

As the day ended, members savored sunset over the gardens of the Bidwell House Museum. Built in the 1760s, the house is a classic Georgian Saltbox built around a central chimney with two additions: a rear Ell and a Greek Revival carriage barn. Using the inventory of the Rev. Bidwell’s estate, which listed all his possessions at the time of his death, caretakers proceeded to fill the restored house with an appropriate collection, including many objects owned by the Reverend.

Future Symposia and Tours

As we cherish our memories of the Berkshires, we also prepare for the Trust’s upcoming events. The Spring Symposium is scheduled for April 15–19, 2020 in Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky. And don’t miss us at the New York Antiques Weekend, January 24-25, 2020. Study Trips Abroad include From Château to Vineyard: The Lower Loire Valley (October 13–22 and October 24–November 2, 2019, extension October 22–25), An Embarrassment of Riches: Tracing the Dutch Golden Age in Amsterdam & Maastricht’s TEFAF (March 8–15, 2020), The Great Houses of Upper Ireland: The North & Border Counties (May 5–13 and May 14–22, 2020), and La Dolce Vita in Northern Italy: Genoa, Turin & Milan (October 5–20 & October 19–28, 2020, extension October 15–18).

Sign up for our email list or visit our events page for updates on upcoming trips to New Bern, East Anglia, China, and more. Ambassador-level members get pre-registration benefits!

Note: Dates and locations subject to change. 

Meet Sara Long

Sara LongThe Decorative Arts Trust welcomes Sara Long, the new Communications and Marketing Coordinator. Sara focuses on informing members of new programs and initiatives as well as expanding knowledge of the Trust throughout the world. She works on the magazine, website, and blog as well as social media, press, advertising, and other promotional projects to support Executive Director Matthew A. Thurlow, Director of Educational Programs Kristina Gray, and Membership Coordinator Kathy Drake.

Sara has experience working on print publication, digital marketing, and content strategy in the nonprofit, arts, education, and corporate fields. She is a graduate of McDaniel College and has held roles at the International Literacy Association, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, the Delaware County Library System, Campbell’s Soup Company, and The Chemours Company.

Members will meet Sara at the Trust’s 2019 Fall Symposium, Inspired by the Berkshires: Autumn in Western Massachusetts, this week.

“I’m excited to spread the word about such a fantastic organization. The passion of the staff and members is inspiring—and I know I’ll have a lot of great stories to share!”

Introducing Kathy Drake

KathleenProfilePicKathy Drake recently joined the Trust as the new Membership Coordinator bringing over five
years of experience working in the arts. A Philly native, Kathy returns to the area after having
worked in New York City for the last two and a half years. During her time in NYC, Kathy was
a Post Sale Manager at Sotheby’s where she oversaw internal logistics to ensure an
exceptional client experience for a variety of sales. The most notable – and most memorable –
auction she worked on was the record-setting wine sale: “Wines from the Cellar of William I.
Koch” in May 2016. Before moving to Manhattan, she gained valuable experience in the auction world while working with a variety of art objects at William Bunch Auctions & Appraisals in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a minor in Art History from West Chester University. In her studies, she focused her studio practice on figurative painting and drawing, and took a particular interest in the history of modern graphic design. Kathy worked as the curatorial assistant intern for the Brandywine River Museum of Art while studying for her undergraduate degree. In this role she assisted with exhibition research on antique weathervanes and compiled extensive information and documentation for an ongoing catalogue raisonné project on the Wyeth family. Outside of work, Kathy enjoys exploring her favorite city of Philadelphia, spending time with her family, and creating art.

“After working in the art world for several years now, I am thrilled to contribute to this impressive
community and learn more about development in the non-profit arts sector. I am particularly excited for
our upcoming New Orleans symposium and I look forward to meeting all of our members!” 

The Paxton Style: Neat and Substantially Good

When Trust participants encountered the furnishings for Paxton House in Berwickshire, Scotland, during this year’s “Celebrating Chippendale’s Tercentenary” excursion, the chaste neoclassical pieces seemed a far cry from the gilt, japanned, and inlaid splendor we associated with Thomas Chippendale’s style during our explorations in Yorkshire. In fact, a handful of Chippendale’s most important patrons hailed from Scotland, where tastes often ran to a simpler, more substantial style.

As part of the tercentenary observances of Chippendale’s birth around the British Isles, Paxton House mounted the exhibition The Paxton Style: Neat and Substantially Good to explore the master craftsmen’s Scottish commissions. Furniture historian David Jones produced the accompanying catalog, an effort that was supported, in part, through a contribution from the Decorative Arts Trust. The exhibition focused on objects in the collection of the Paxton Trust, supplemented by loans from institutions and private collections around the U.K. Objects varied from intricately carved dining room sideboards to the basic pine dressers purchased for the servants quarters in the attic. Additionally, pieces no longer extant at Paxton House were represented by loans similar in type and description to the invoices supplied by Chippendale Sr. and Jr.

Jones’ introductory essay explores the correlations between Chippendale’s overall oeuvre and what was produced specifically for the Home family of Paxton House. Scholars have come to call this vernacular “The Paxton Style,” which influenced elite Scottish patrons as well as the cabinetmakers who furnished their houses throughout the last quarter of the 18th century. Although based in London, Thomas Chippendale’s initial business partners were two Scots, James Rannie and Thomas Haig, and a significant number of subscribers to the first edition of the Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director were Scots.

The neat and plain style spread across the Atlantic to Virginia through the influence of patrons and craftsmen familiar with the taste. By coincidence, Ninian Home, Chippendale’s primary patron at Paxton House, had a direct connection with Virginia. As a young man, he moved to North America to begin his career as the estate manager for his uncle George, a prosperous surveyor in Culpepper Country. Home immersed himself in the daily life and culture of the British colonies, arriving in Virginia in 1749 before relocating to the family’s plantations on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts in 1756 and Grenada in 1764, where he remained for 29 years.

There are distinct and interesting parallels between the language that Ninian selected in ordering furniture from Chippendale’s workshop and the terminology used by the Virginia gentry, including George Washington, a student of George Home. Adam Erby, Associate Curator at Mount Vernon and one of the scholarship recipients on the Chippendale Tercentenary trip, views the parallels as indicative of the common coded language of social standing rather than Home’s Virginia connections. “Britons of every social station” Adam shared, “used coded language to indicate their aesthetic sensibilities to craftsmen and purchasing agents. There was more to furnishing a home than simply picking out the right furniture for a room; each item needed to be appropriate to a person’s station in a hierarchical society and the setting in which it would sit.” According to Erby, two of the terms most frequently used to convey this message were “neat” and “plain.”  In an 18th-century context, neat was defined as “elegant, but without dignity” (i.e. rank). Plain meant “simple and void of ornament.” Furniture scholars have often commented on the prevalence of “neat and plain” style furnishings in Virginia, a colony closely tied to Britain through the trade in tobacco, but the style was certainly not unique to the colony.  Those terms had broader resonance in the Atlantic World.

Just why Ninian Home chose to install “neat and plain” furniture in his high style house by John and James Adam is unclear. “David Jones’s suggestion [in the catalog] that this has something to do with his connection to Virginia is an intriguing possibility,” Adam says, “but these attributes also seem to have also been key hallmarks of furnishings purchased by the middle classes in London, a woefully understudied topic.” When men like George Washington wrote to their London agents requesting “neat” furniture of a “plain” sort, they were not ordering anything out of the ordinary.  Rather, they were purchasing standard items mostly from stock. “What makes Ninian Home’s commission unique is that he applied the ‘neat and plain’ aesthetic of the middle classes to a much higher grade of furniture,” Adam points out. “The result is a beautiful, unique moment in Thomas Chippendale’s oeuvre.”

Paxton House, and its marvelous treasures, was one of 14 British historic sites and institutions commemorating the life and legacy of Thomas Chippendale in 2018. We feel fortunate to have seen so many of his treasures during our in-depth tours this spring! For those who still can’t get enough of Chippendale’s iconic furniture, the website commemorating the 300th anniversary can be found here. Trust members will have an opportunity to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’s Chippendale exhibition in January as part our New York Antiques Weekend program. Stay tuned for more details!