Author: Christian Roden

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.

Introducing Elisabeth Mallin

Earlier this year, Elisabeth Mallin became the 2017-2019 Decorative Arts Trust Associate Curator at the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS).

Elisabeth Mallin
Elisabeth Mallin examining a Baltimore-made painted table that recently arrived at the Maryland Historical Society as a long-term loan.

Elisabeth comes to MdHS with an impressive list of accomplishments. An alumna of Yale University, she worked as a Warnock Fellow at the Yale Editions of the Private Papers of James Boswell before obtaining a Master’s Degree from the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in American Material Culture. Her research interests brought her to a thesis topic on the construction of tall-case clocks in 18th-century Germantown, located outside of Philadelphia. After her studies at Winterthur, she gained further experience with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, first as an Andrew W. Mellon Intern in the curatorial department, and then as a Marshall Steel, Sr. Fellow in conservation, where she specialized in historic and reproduction upholstery under conservator Leroy Graves.  

In her first months at the MdHS, Elisabeth has commenced a survey of the furniture collection to identify its strengths and weaknesses. The major project during her tenure will be the revitalization of the museum’s furniture gallery. She will identify important pieces in storage that should go back out on display and develop connections between furniture and other decorative arts and family stories through installations within the gallery.  

In June, Elisabeth participated in her first Museum Committee meeting alongside her supervisor and mentor, Alexandra Deutsch, Director of Collections and Interpretation at the MdHS. They presented a strong group of potential acquisitions for the committee’s consideration and acceptance. In addition to her work on the furniture gallery, Alexandra has tasked Elisabeth with the initial evaluation of gift offers, and the two have already visited several collectors and new donors. She is also assisting in the final run-up to the October opening of the exhibit “Structure and Perspective: David Brewster and Maryland’s Social Landscape,” which highlights the work of a living artist.

 

The MdHS is Maryland’s oldest continuously operating cultural institution and includes a museum and the H. Furlong Baldwin Library. The organization occupies a complex centered around the historic façade at 201 West Monument Street, which has housed the society since 1919. The facility was expanded in 1953 and 1968 and completely renovated in 2003. In addition to maintaining the museum and library, the society has published the quarterly Maryland Historical Magazine since 1906.

With a collection of more than 350,000 objects, encompassing everything from decorative arts to the largest collection of works by the Peale family, to maritime objects, the institution has been at the forefront of outreach and educational programming since the early 20th century. Following the Civil War, the museum has also focused on collecting artifacts of the recent past, a process  explored in the recent exhibition “The What & The Why: Collecting at the Maryland Historical Society.”

We are thrilled to follow Elisabeth’s career for the next two years and will run an article detailing her work at the MdHS in our winter magazine. “Elisabeth is already contributing important work each and every day,” says Alexandra Deutsch. “She jumped into our preparations for an offsite costume exhibition, tackled an inquiry about Lannuier chairs, examined a fine Baltimore painted table (a wonderful soon-to-be acquisition!) and oriented herself with impressive speed to various projects we are tackling simultaneously, including a total revision of the Collections Policy. She is truly a perfect fit and is making such a difference to our everyday work in the department.

The Trust is grateful for the generous support of our members and the Marie and John Zimmermann Fund for making this opportunity possible through the Emerging Scholars Program. Trust members will have the opportunity to attend a special program organized by Elisabeth in the coming year.

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Scotland: A Legacy of Cultural Achievement

After two years of planning, the Decorative Arts Trust launched our most ambitious Study Trip Abroad to date. All told nearly eighty members filled three back-to-back excursions to Scotland, a tour appropriately titled “A Legacy of Cultural Achievement.” The itinerary touched on the numerous highlights of Scotland’s rich history as well as the craftsmen and artistic influences that made their way to America.

Beginning in Edinburgh, participants enjoyed a walking tour designed to explore the contrasts between the city’s medieval Old Town and the Enlightenment-era New Town. Laid out in 1767 by a 28-year-old James Craig, the New Town also introduced the group to the architectural sensibilities of Robert Adam, who established the neoclassical idiom there with the construction of the Register Building. City regulations mandated highly finished facades intended to draw fashion-conscious residents across to the more spacious and sanitary portion of the city. These exteriors were a stark contrast to the irregular appearance of the low-cost free stone used throughout the Old Town.

Outside the Edinburgh city limits, we toured numerous country houses connected to the Adam family of architects, including the patriarch William and his sons John, James, and Robert. William was an entrepreneur extraordinaire and supplied building materials for his projects from his own quarries. His exuberant Baroque and Palladian houses and interiors were de rigeur, often featuring plasterwork by master stuccador Thomas Clayton and woodwork from carver and gilder William Strachan. Participants were treated to excellent examples of William’s oeuvre at Arniston and The Drum, both private houses. It was not unusual for one of William’s sons to later complete his father’s designs or modify them to suit later fashions, as in the case of Arniston.

The participation of Scottish decorative arts scholars enhanced our study of the material on view. Stephen Jackson and Godfrey Evans shared the exceptional collection of the Scottish National Museum. Our members gained immensely from the guidance of furniture historian David Jones, who provided in-depth connoisseurship lessons on Scottish cabinetmakers, ensuring that we could distinguish the work of Edinburgh wrights Alexander Peter and William Trotter. David’s gracious instruction enhanced the visits to many of the public and private collections visited, including Dumfries House, Mellerstain, Hopetoun House, Culzean Castle, and Traquair.

Trust members also received a good dose of Scottish history, learning about the clans and their strife that dominated the country’s struggles between the 13th and 16th centuries. Despite generations of political turmoil, Scottish intelligentsia became profoundly influential in Western thought and civilization through the Scottish Reformation and Enlightenment. Edinburgh was known as the Athens of the North and served as a leading center for economic, political, and medical discourse and education.

The connections with America abounded. Participants on our third tour visited Paxton House, furnished by Thomas Chippendale in the “neat and plain” style of furniture preferred by George Washington and his Chesapeake contemporaries. The groups also saw the parallels between the work of Edinburgh cabinetmakers and the furniture of craftsmen such as Robert Walker and Thomas Affleck who emigrated from Scotland to Virginia and Pennsylvania, respectively.  Scotland’s central role in the transmission of style to the American colonies was clear, with both countries establishing a cultural and aesthetic identity distinct from English patterns.

The preservation of historic sites and objects defines Scotland’s strong sense of national pride. At Traquair, Scotland’s oldest continuously occupied house, the family now proudly displays items relating to their support of Mary, Queen of Scots, the Jacobite Cause, and their Catholic faith, which was outlawed under sanctions from the government until emancipation in 1829. At Abbotsford, historic curiosities collected by Sir Walter Scott were tied to major figures and events from Scottish history, including William Wallace and the Battle of Culloden. At Bowhill, a house greatly expanded throughout the 19th century, we encountered the Duke of Buccleuch’s new initiatives in the conservation of original wall treatments, not to mention the world-class painting collection of this important Scottish country house. Today, the quest to preserve Scottish heritage in a sustainable manner is resulting in diverse approaches to public sites, such as the Scottish National Trust’s efforts at Newhailes, private charities that preserve family homes such as Hopetoun, and many homes and collections that remain in private hands, such as Balcarres House.

Thanks to the hard and diligent work of our staff, representatives of the Board of Governors, and our colleagues at Specialtours, the three back-to-back study trips (separated by two Highland extensions nonetheless) were our most popular trips to date. Not wishing to rest on our laurels, however, preparations are in full swing for subsequent adventures in Venice and the Veneto in October 2017, Sweden and Denmark in May and June 2018, and Prague and Vienna in October 2018. We are most grateful for the continued enthusiasm and support of the members who attend these wonderful Study Trips Abroad!

On the hillside above Harper’s Ferry: The original sketch for Junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah was likely taken from a vantage point further downhill.

On the Great Wagon Road with Katie McKinney

Katie McKinney. (002)Katie McKinney is our most recent Continuing Education Scholarship recipient in the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) Summer Institute. A graduate of the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, Katie has held numerous internships, fellowships, and professional positions related to American decorative arts. Presently, she is the Americana Foundation Intern at Colonial Williamsburg where she is responsible for conducting research on objects in the graphics collection.  Without the scholarship from the Trust, she would not have been able to attend.

We asked Katie a few questions about her experience at MESDA’s Summer Institute and the benefits of traveling in the footsteps of artist William Roberts on the Great Wagon Road, which spans from Philadelphia to North Carolina. Here is what she had to say:



Q&A

DAT: What were your expectations entering Summer Institute? Has the experience met or exceeded those expectations?

KM: I was excited and honored to be selected to participate in the 2017 MESDA Summer Institute and grateful to be awarded the Decorative Arts Trust Scholarship. In terms of expectations, I’d have to say they were pretty high. Last summer, I was able to attend the students’ final presentations and saw the caliber of work that was produced in just four weeks. They were all very impressive. For my own experience, I expected to work hard, learn about the material culture of a region with which I was not very familiar and to be challenged by the staff.

As we finish up this final week, my experiences in the program have definitely exceeded those expectations. The MESDA staff and Dr. Carroll Van West are inspiring educators. They are so giving to the students, and it is evident that they want to see us do well, both during our time in the program and as we move forward in our careers.

DAT: What was the overall impact of traversing the Great Wagon Road during the field study? Any highlights?

KM: Our field study was incredible. The Great Wagon Road was a real blind spot in my education and professional career. Each of the locations we visited contributed to my understanding of the history of material culture along the Great Wagon Road. We also met with people who have incredible knowledge of the region like Nick Powers (Museum of the Shenandoah Valley) and Jeff and Beverley Evans (Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates) who opened their homes to us and shared their wonderful collections of local material. I think that our day in West Virginia with Matt Webster (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation) was a standout. One of the most moving experiences was our visit to Harewood in Jefferson County, West Virginia, which has belonged to descendants of George Washington’s family for generations. The family has carefully maintained the house and collection. It is a time capsule of American history and material culture.

DAT: Inspired from your time as a Curatorial Assistant at Monticello from 2011-2012, you approached MESDA with the intention to research the watercolor painting  The Junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers by artist William Roberts. Have you stuck with this topic? Made any exciting discoveries?

KM: Yes, I have stuck with my original topic, and it keeps expanding. I was very excited to work on the art of William Roberts, an artist about whom very little was known, but whose work once hung at Monticello. I’ve made some very fascinating discoveries this summer. I look forward to sharing more of the research in my Summer Institute presentation and paper, and plan to continue working on this topic in the future.


At this point in SI, have you benefited from specific experiences or information that will impact your work at CW?

KM: Definitely. This summer’s topic opened my eyes to a region that I had not previously studied in great depth. As the Americana Foundation Intern in American Graphics, I work with maps, prints, and works on paper. Working with maps in the course really helped to further develop my understanding of the importance of geography on regional settlement patterns and transportation. Even after just the few weeks of the Institute, I definitely look at maps very differently. The fact that MESDA owns Roberts’ work in three different stages of the printmaking process has also taught me important lessons about the artistic process and allowed me to work with objects that normally don’t survive together. I hope that I can approach my work at Colonial Williamsburg with a broader mind and sharpened research skills as a result of this experience. ◪

We are truly honored to underwrite continuing education opportunities like Katie’s for emerging decorative art scholars and professionals. The Trust remains immensely grateful to donors who make opportunities like the Continuing Education Scholarship possible.  If you would like to contribute to the our Education Fund and support innovative scholarship like Katie’s you can do so by following this link.

 

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Help Fairfax House ‘Save the King’

While Fairfax House in York, England is best known for elaborately decorated interiors exemplary of 18th -century English design, the institutional mission focuses on York architecture and decor from a broader period. The opportunity to acquire the King David Panel, a high-relief sculpture completed by Grinling Gibbons (1648-1720) in York during the late 17th century will dramatically enhance this effort. The panel is currently up for sale at auction and, if purchased by an international buyer, at risk of leaving England. Thus, Fairfax House has launched a ‘Save the King’ campaign to keep the King David Panel in York.

Intimately scaled, the King David Panel is an interpretation of Peter Candid’s painting, The Performance of a Motet of Orlando di Lasso (1589-1583), which similarly illustrates a concert directed by the biblical King David. The panel depicts episodes related to Psalms 148 and 150, with King David carved at the center of the composition and was likely commissioned by a member of the Barwick family of Yorkshire. The king composes music with his harp as cherubs listen closely and angels in the clouds join him in concert, most notably Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music, who is shown playing her cello. The complex and detailed carving of this limewood panel showcase Gibbons’ exquisite ability to manipulate wood.


The ‘Michelangelo of Wood’, ‘Britain’s Bernini’, and the ‘King’s Carver’ are just a few names that have been assigned to Gibbons. His woodcarvings can be found in situ in England’s grandest 17th-century country houses as well as Museum collections in the UK and abroad. Gibbons soared to success in the late 17th century under the patronage of the English the royal family. He then went on to create pieces for St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and Kensington Palace among other renowned establishments.

Information on Gibbons’ early life and career, however, is surprisingly scarce. This is why the King David Panel, which is Gibbons earliest and only surviving York-made piece, is important to English cultural heritage and for future research on the artist. The magnificent panel demonstrates his promising talent for woodworking at the beginning of his fruitful career. Even today Gibbons’ lasting impact on the interior design of English country homes is visible. Traces of his influence can be linked through the work of later craftsman such as the widely successful cabinet maker Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) who was inspired by Gibbons and also worked in York for a brief time.


The Decorative Arts Trust fully supports Fairfax House’s efforts to keep this panel in York. Our organizations have long been intertwined from curatorial internship placements to study trip abroad tours, and we wish Fairfax House a hearty success in the final push of their fundraising efforts. To date, they have been enormously successful with their ‘Save the King’ campaign and they have raised over £290,000 thanks to the generous support from the HLF Art Fund, V&A Purchase Fund, public campaigning, and other various donors. They are within £10,000 of their final goal. If you wish to contribute to this important campaign and aid Fairfax House in securing Gibbons’ panel you can do so through an online donation by following this link. Participants in the Chippendale Tercentenary Tour next spring will enjoy the opportunity to see the panel up close in York.

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Savannah: More than Meets the Eye

Founded in 1733 by British general and social reformer James Oglethorpe, the city of Savannah has remained an important center of commerce and culture ever since. Although it has long outgrown the original boundaries of Oglethorpe’s utopian grid plan, the city’s gorgeous historic center boasts an incredible array of historic structures. For those willing to delve a little deeper, Savannah readily offers up breath-taking collections, which contain fascinating histories amassed over nearly three centuries. For participants in the Trust’s Spring 2017 Symposium, Savannah was truly a city where there is more than meets the eye.

Our program opened with a wonderful lecture by Dale Couch, Curator of Decorative Arts at the Georgia Museum of Art, during which he pointed out that Georgia, and Savannah in particular, has always been current with the latest prevailing trends in style and taste. While many rich Savannah families imported household furnishings from northern manufactories or Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries, Georgia-made items possess a unique grace and style. Dale’s observations about a local taste for the trendy were fully borne out during the opening reception at the Green-Meldrim House. Built between 1853 and 1861, the lavishly detailed dwelling is one of the finest examples of Gothic-Revival architecture in the South. During the Civil War, Charles Green lent the house to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman for use as his headquarters. The Green family eventually left Savannah, but, in a stunning turn of events, much of their original furniture was recently discovered in the possession of descendants living in Paris and has returned to Savannah. During the reception, members enjoyed a brand new exhibit featuring highlights of the Green family furniture, curated by Tania Sammons, one of our speakers and a key figure on our symposium planning team.

Our Friday schedule covered some of the oldest sites and earliest history of Savannah. Lecturers discussed a range of topics from Robin Williams’ exceptional talk on the development of the city’s urban plan to Jamie Credle’s introduction to the 20th-century preservation efforts started by a band of community-minded women. After lunch at the Olde Pink House, one of the city’s few surviving 18th-century structures, we enjoyed tours of three noteworthy sites. The John Berrien House, built by the Revolutionary War hero John Berrien in 1791, not only survived a devastating city-wide fire in 1820 but also managed to keep many of its original surfaces hidden away within the walls. Preservation architect David Kelley and historian Maryellen Higgenbotham discovered incredibly rare samples of original wallpaper dating back to the house’s earliest years. Just down the street, the Isaiah Davenport House tells a parallel story, interpreting the life of its namesake, a carpenter and joiner who built many fashionable structures throughout Savannah in the early 19th century, including his own showcase house. The Davenport house was the first success of the city’s preservation movement, which formalized under the auspices of the  Historic Savannah Foundation. In the six decades since, the wildly successful organization has gone on to save hundreds of buildings throughout the city. Our final stop was the fabulous Owens-Thomas House, built 1816-1819 by the fashionable young English architect William Jay in the latest Regency style. The house is one of three sites run by the Telfair Museums and exhibits graceful 19th-century furniture in a beautifully restored interior. The legendary Southern hospitality evident throughout the house extended into the rear garden, where participants enjoyed the chance to rest their feet and relish a scoop (or two!) of Savannah’s famous Leopold’s ice cream.

Saturday turned our focus to Savannah’s architectural heyday during the mid-19th century, when wealthy families commissioned the grand Victorian mansions that became a fixture of the city’s image. Sometimes the figures associated with the buildings rise above their local roles. The Andrew Low house, for instance, was the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, and is now a pilgrimage site for girls in green sashes as well as the history-minded visitors who appreciate the sterling collection on view there. No visit to Savannah would be complete, however, without a visit to the Mercer House. Construction for the family of General Hugh Mercer was interrupted by the Civil War, which prevented any member of the family from ever living there. After a century of various owners, the house experienced a golden age during the 1970s, when it was restored by preservationist and antiquarian Jim Williams. Both the house and Williams sprang to national prominence upon the publication of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in 1994, and the release of the feature film three years later. However, the house tells a larger story of the city and the development of the American antiques trade, as Williams was a collector, dealer, and decorative arts scholar in his own right. Much of his collection remains in the house today, and we were greeted by Williams’s sister, Dr. Dorothy Williams Kingery, the current owner. Our final stop was across the street at the home and gallery of local artist Morgan Kuhn. Her loving restoration of a Monterey Square townhouse, which had long been subdivided into apartments, not only returned a fine historic structure to its original glory but exhibits Savannahians’ unabated emphasis on historic preservation.

Our symposium concluded with four compelling lectures on Sunday morning. Rita and Daniel Elliott of the LAMAR Institute related their findings on regional pottery, with a particular focus on Purysburg, SC, just across the border. Historian Kathleen Staples examined the history behind a family quilt long thought to depict a scene from the Civil War but actually dating from the American Revolution. Jenny Garwood of MESDA discussed samplers made by two Low Country girls, Mary Smallwood and Sarah Jones, which featured the Ten Commandments. Our closing lecture by Shannon Browning-Mulliss, Curator of History and Decorative Arts at the Telfair Museum, closed with an important reminder of the importance of using the decorative arts to tell stories of the forgotten figures of history, in this case the enslaved Driver Morris, who received an engraved silver cup from his master in recognition of his bravery during a disastrous storm.

For the Trust, this symposium was a fresh look at a city well known to many. Thanks to the gracious help of local Trust member, and the newest addition to our Board of Governors, Mary Raines, Tania Sammons, and our wonderful hosts and speakers, we enjoyed unprecedented access to the delights of the city, some well known and others known only to locals, complemented by Savannah’s legendary hospitality. We look forward to more adventures in the second half of the year, particularly our 40th anniversary celebration in conjunction with the Fall Symposium in Hartford!

Dewey Lee Curtis Scholars in Savannah

The first component of the Trust’s Emerging Scholars Program was the Dewey Lee Curtis Scholarship to attend our biannual symposia. We are proud to continue the tradition of bringing at least two scholarship recipients to these wonderful events and prouder still that they find the experience so meaningful. This spring, we awarded scholarships to our symposium in Savannah to Maureen Marton and Lea Lane. They thoroughly enjoyed the program and shared their thoughts below.

We are very grateful for the generosity of our participants for making this opportunity possible for Lea and Maureen. If you would like more information on the Trust’s Emerging Scholars Program or how you can assist this effort, please feel free to contact us or visit our website. We look forward to hosting scholarship recipients this fall during our 40th-anniversary symposium in Connecticut!

“The opportunity to hear from the heads of museums and historic houses in Savannah, who have overcome the challenges intrinsic to working in the field, encouraged me as I build the foundation of my career. Kathleen Staples’ conclusion that a family heirloom was several decades older than the owners believed, despite many generations relaying the same incorrect information, was eye opening. As historic houses and the objects they contain always come with the lore of multiple generations, her presentation offered a concise reminder that one should not take these stories at face value, despite how often they are told. My current work at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute involves a great deal of research on the three generations who occupied Fountain Elms. As I learn more about the family and their influence in the community, the nature of the relationship between objects in the museum and the family become increasingly complex. First-person sources do not always know the facts about the items that they lived with, and it is crucial to dig deeper, even with years of oral history substantiating a claim.”

Maureen Marton

Decorative Arts Trust Curatorial Intern

Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, NY

“The experience of attending the Decorative Arts Trust symposium in Savannah opened my eyes to the cross currents of culture, class, and materials that defined the Low Country in the 18th and 19th centuries. The presentations introduced a cast of historical characters worthy of a great American novel, who shaped the local physical environment and spearheaded the preservation movement that made it possible for us to enjoy the city today. Savannah may have shed its original utopian philosophy over time but has kept the fundamentals of urban design and organization that make it so distinctive. Similarly, the symposium brought together individuals from varied disciplines and backgrounds, unified by their love of the antique. Walking the streets of Savannah, I learned about their personal interests and vision for the future of cultural heritage sites. Likewise, each speaker brought their own perspectives drawn from their work in the field. These discussions will continue to inspire me as I look to direct my research and work to best serve new generations of decorative arts enthusiasts.”

Lea Lane

Mellon Foundation Curatorial Intern

Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, VA

The Decorative Arts Trust and the International Society of Appraisers

The Trust pursues collaborations with other organizations as an essential part of fulfilling its mission “to promote and foster the appreciation and study of the decorative arts.” We have recently partnered with the International Society of Appraisers and the Foundation for Appraisal Education to provide continuing education opportunities for appraisers who are new to the field. Long-time ISA members Cindy Charleston Rosenberg and Fred Winer recently became members of the Trust because of this partnership. Grace Fitts, our spring intern who is pursuing a certificate in appraisal studies, recently spoke with Cindy and Fred about their backgrounds and their thoughts on the importance of collaboration to their field.

Cindy Charleston-Rosenberg
Cindy Charleston-Rosenberg

Cindy has been an active member of the ISA since 2000, including service as the organization’s president. She became an appraiser while the owner of a successful art gallery, which she ultimately closed to focus on a full-time appraising business, the Art Appraisal Firm in Pennsylvania. As an experienced appraiser, Cindy recognizes the persistent challenges that face the field, particularly when the comparable sales used to substantiate value are few and far between. In response to these challenges, she is thankful to have the opportunity to collaborate with her generous ISA colleagues and benefits from their shared efforts and insight.

Cindy joined the Trust in 2016 after learning of the organization through Matt Thurlow and Christian Roden. Although she has not yet had the opportunity to attend a Trust program, she loves keeping up to date with our activities. Cindy believes membership in the Trust is beneficial for appraisers because of the quality of the continuing education opportunities the Trust provides. “The Trust offers a level of scholarship and advanced knowledge you are unlikely to find elsewhere,” she advises.

Fred Winer
Fred Winer

Fred Winer became involved with the ISA in 1983, coming into the field indirectly while helping an acquaintance, who had trained as an appraiser but lacked business experience. Fred, on the other hand, was an adept hand at commerce but knew nothing of appraisals and auctions. Their partnership led him to a career change, and now he and his wife, Maureen, own their own business, Parting with Possessions in Maryland.

While most personal property appraisers tend to specialize in a particular component of the fine or decorative arts, Fred’s expertise lies in the application of appraisal theory and methodology, allowing him to think outside the box when an object doesn’t fit into a normal classification scheme. This skillset was essential when tasked by an insurance company to appraise an unusual gargoyle in the shape of a golfer that was damaged in a house fire. Believed to be the work of the master carver of the National Cathedral, Fred’s sleuthing led him down the chain of apprenticeship in the carving world (with a detour into the market for European gargoyles), but the lack of comparable examples prevented a firm appraisal until he was able to confirm that the carver of the National Cathedral was a friend and golfing partner of the original owner of the golfing gargoyle, which was a wedding present. This key provenance allowed Fred to make an informed appraisal that would have been impossible from face value alone.

Fred met Matt Thurlow many years ago while the latter was lecturing at the Tuscaloosa Antiques Symposium, an event organized by fellow ISA appraiser Molly Snow. Their paths crossed again after Matt became the director of the Decorative Arts Trust in 2014, as both the Foundation for Appraisal Education and the Trust funded scholarships to Winterthur Institute, a decorative arts bootcamp that many appraisers attend as part of their recertification process. A mutual interest in funding access to these essential continuing education programs underscores the importance of this collaboration.

The Trust is grateful for the support, appreciation, and cooperation Cindy and Fred have encouraged between the Decorative Arts Trust, the International Society of Appraisers, and the Foundation for Appraisal Education. We are thrilled to welcome appraisers from around the country to our programs, and look forward to creating many more opportunities to foster this exciting partnership!