Category: Scholarship

Doll Paintings in American Design: A Window into Racial Ideologies

by Allison L. W. Robinson 

When I first laid eyes on the watercolor, the scarf wrapped tightly around her black satin head immediately caught my attention. My eyes danced between its tomato red hue, golden yellow starbursts, and prominent central knot. This simple piece of clothing gave the doll a contained femininity that also hinted at a figure at work rather than at rest. The bold apple red kerchief around her neck guided my eye downwards to study the rest of drawing. 

Renee A. Monfalcone, Doorstop Doll, 1941. Watercolor and graphite on paper. Index of American Design, 1943.8.15613. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.
Renee A. Monfalcone, Doorstop Doll, 1941. Watercolor and graphite on paper. Index of American Design, 1943.8.15613. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

The doll wore a long-sleeved and high-neck bodice, yellow and decorated with leaves flowing delicately from their lightly colored vines. Her shirt was cuffed at the wrist to add an elegant ruffle. The plain white apron appeared to sharply contrast with the charm of her other decorative touches at first glance. 

Further observation, however, revealed that the artist used greys to create folds and shadows, giving movement to the garment. Splashes of red indicated damage and age. Blues hinted at light playing along its surfaces. This watercolor captured the passage of time in the life of this doll forever frozen on canvas, a moment of connection between the object and the artist. 

Renee A. Monfalcone, Doorstop Doll, 1941. Watercolor and graphite on paper. Index of American Design, 1943.8.15613. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art. 

My imagination overflowed with the research and interpretive possibilities of this doll. It could serve as a lens into so many things—blackness as femininity, blackness as labor, and blackness as enslavement—as portrayed by the Index of American Design

This research trip focused on Chapter Two of my University of Chicago doctoral dissertation, which examines watercolors of dolls featured in the Index of American Design. Of the approximately 17,000 objects illustrated for The Index, 300 depict dolls. The location of only a few of these is known, including one at the New-York Historical Society. My dissertation chapter argues that portrayal, description, and exhibition of these doll paintings serve as a window into the racial ideologies of the 1930s as formed through a federal interpretation of early American material culture. 

I spent the majority of my research trip at the National Gallery of Art. Every week I combed through watercolors of dolls. I learned during my research that The Index contained watercolors of dolls portraying white, black, and Native American figures. Viewing them in person gave me a deeper understanding of and appreciation for how artists reproduced the three-dimensional dolls in paint and ink. The paper caught every sketched line, color wash, and brush stroke that brought these dolls to life for the American public.

The National Gallery also held a rich assortment of documents related to the Index of American Design. Many, but not all, of the watercolors that I viewed included observation notes and data sheets about the individual dolls. These documents captured the impressions that the artists had of each doll at the time of its painting. This has since pushed me to consider how the artists acted as mediators between the Americana and the general public, translating the doll and the racial ideologies that it materialized at the time of its production into a twentieth-century work of art.

I am grateful to the Decorative Arts Trust for facilitating my summer research in Washington, D.C., which was foundational for my dissertation. The watercolors and documents that I observed prompted me to explore how the dolls served as tools to teach children about race and nationalism during the Great Depression and World War II. I will continue my research on the Index of American design and other WPA doll-making programs as a Smithsonian Institution Predoctoral Fellow starting this fall. 

The Decorative Arts Trusts offers grants and scholarships for young researchers as part of the Emerging Scholars Program. To support emerging scholars, please consider becoming a member of the Trust

Behind the Scenes: Reimagining the Concord Museum’s Galleries

by Erica Lome 

When I began my job as Peggy N. Gerry Curatorial Associate, sponsored by the Decorative Arts Trust, at the Concord Museum in March, I did not expect to spend only three weeks at my new office before relocating to my apartment to work from home. Like other cultural institutions, the Concord Museum is currently closed to the public in response to COVID-19, but our work continues apace. 

I arrived at the Concord Museum during the early phases of the museum’s two-and-a-half-year plan to reinterpret, redesign, and reinstall its fourteen permanent galleries. This project endeavors to better engage visitors in the fascinating story of how Massachusetts’s first frontier town became the center of the Revolution and nurtured some of the greatest literary minds of the 19th century. 

My primary focus has been assisting my colleagues with the installation of three galleries related to April 19, 1775, the day when the local Massachusetts Provincial militia and minute companies assembled in Concord to defend a stockpile of military supplies from being seized and destroyed by British Regulars. The carefully planned and officially sanctioned violence of April 19 set the stage for the American War of Independence and was sustained for eight long years. 

The main gallery will explore the events of April 19 hour-by-hour, guided by the first-hand accounts of the participants. Visitors will also encounter objects that act as “witnesses” to the conflict, including one of the lanterns hung in the belfry of North Church to signal the movement of British troops (figure 1), the Nathaniel Mulliken clock which ticked away in Buckman’s Tavern as the Lexington militia mustered (figure 2), musket balls fired by Provincial minutemen at the North Bridge, and a sword seemingly abandoned by a British officer during the Regulars’ bloody march back to Boston.

Bookending this gallery are two smaller “Focus Galleries” that will showcase, respectively, domestic furnishings owned and made by the Concord citizens who engaged in the day-long conflict on April 19, and Daniel Chester French’s “Concord Minute Man of 1775” sculpture, made for the centennial anniversary of that momentous day (figure 3). The current plan is for these three galleries to open to the public this fall.

Working on this project has been an incredible learning opportunity. On any given day, I’m managing communication between our design partners, working with our curatorial team to develop and refine interpretive content for the galleries, consulting with the education department on programing for our History Learning Center, and coordinating with our collection manager on object movement and conservation. 

As a material culture scholar and aspiring curator, I am fortunate to have such an active role in crafting new and exciting interpretation for the museum. Taking an object-driven approach to history will enable our staff to tell more compelling and evocative stories, as well as center the lives and labor of people not typically featured in mainstream accounts. 

Moreover, as a self-described “furniture person,” I am excited by the opportunity to do research on Middlesex County craftsmen like Joseph Hosmer and William and Daniel Munroe for future projects, likely with a significant digital component (figure 4). In particular, I am eager to work with curator David Wood to investigate a group of late 18th-century case pieces attributed to an anonymous, and possibly enslaved, woodworker in Concord who made the fascinating and unusual choice to construct his furniture without using any glue (figure 5). 

For History at Home on Memorial Day, I was able to share virtual tours of Daniel Chester French’s maquette of Mourning Victory in the Lisa H. Foote History Learning Center and the Mourning Victory monument at the Melvin Memorial.

I am looking forward to sharing more about these and other projects with the Decorative Arts Trust community over the next two years. For now, feel free to follow the Concord Museum’s Facebook and Instagram feeds to find out more about our collection.

2020 Summer Research Grant Recipients

The Decorative Arts Trust is pleased to announce the 13 recipients of the annual Summer Research Grants

Each year the Trust awards research grants to graduate students working on a Master’s thesis or PhD dissertation in a field related to the decorative arts. The Trust encourages projects that advance diversity in the study of American decorative arts. The word “Summer” may be a misnomer this year, as the Trust extended the terms of the grants to include travel through spring of 2021 due to potential restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Trust also partners with other organizations to offer grants sponsored by the Marie & John Zimmermann Fund, the Decorative Arts Society of Orange County, and the Center for American Art. 

The 2020 Summer Research Grants represent diverse cultures, materials, time periods, and geographies:


Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, Winterthur, University of Delaware

Avery will examine the digitization of modernist American concepts through the incorporation of Art Deco aesthetics in the BioShock video game franchise. His plans to study collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and the New-York Historical Society’s Print Ephemera Collection. 


Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

Browne will travel to examine the archives of the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres in France to study 18th-century French sculptor Clodion (Claude Michel) and the Sèvres’ serialization called the “Vases Clodion.” 


Bard Graduate Center 

De León will study the reinterpretation of the butaca by 20th-century designers Josef Albers and Clara Porset, such as the chairs shown in this image, at the Albers Foundation in Bethany, CT. 

Marie Zimmerman Grant 


The Courtauld Institute of Art

Doucette will continue her study of a 19th-century tilt-top table, veneered with Jamaican woods and bearing images of the British Empire, made in Jamaica by the colony’s leading craftsman, Ralph Turnbull by visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Yale British Arts Center. 


University of Illinois Chicago

Gayles will research the fabrication techniques and material mnemonics in the work of 20th-century Black American craftspersons by visiting collections in Alabama, Georgia, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. 


University of Southern California 

Gordon-Fogelson plans to research the work of mid-century designers Dave Chapman, George Nelson, and Walter Dorwin Teague as well as the Industrial Designers Society of America at the Research and Design Institute at Syracuse University’s Special Collections Research Center. 


University of Virginia

Gunzburger will continue her study of the traditions and ornamental function of 16th-century European lace and related textiles at the Cleveland Museum of Art. 


Yale University

Kok will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore to research snuffboxes made of mother-of-pearl, shell, and imitative materials and decorative styles. 


Boston University

Rideout will visit Richmond and Petersburg, VA, to study ecclesiastical windows that Tiffany Studios was commissioned to create in memory of the Confederacy in the years between 1889 and 1925. 


King’s College London

Rosner will visit several collections in the Philadelphia region to understand more about Quaker women who made shell and wax work boxes. 


University of California, Riverside

Sklarz will travel to Winterthur to examine ways that artists from approximately 1750 to 1860 incorporated waste or discarded goods into their decorative arts and practices. 

DARTS Grant 


University of South Carolina

Weaver will explore The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and American Wing to evaluate a wide range of clothing, silver, and metalwork from the Reconstruction Era.


Bard Graduate Center

Yang aims to continue her investigation of the circulation and consumption of Zhangzhou porcelains in Tokugawa-era commercial and cultural centers by visiting ceramic collections in Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan. 

The deadline to apply for Decorative Arts Trust Summer Research Grants is April 30 annually. For more information on this and other opportunities, read about the Trust’s Emerging Scholars Program. This program is supported by Decorative Arts Trust members and donors. Sign up for the e-newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Instagram for updates on upcoming grant and scholarship deadlines.

Ellie Richards Named Winterthur-Decorative Arts Trust Maker-Creator Fellow

The Decorative Arts Trust and Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library are pleased to announce that Ellie Richards has been selected as the inaugural recipient of the Winterthur-Decorative Arts Trust Maker-Creator Fellowship as part of Winterthur’s 2020-2021 Visiting Research Fellowship program. 

Ellie Richards
Ellie Richards

Richards is an artist, furniture-maker, and sculptor whose work engages with traditional decorative arts materials and forms. Her project “The Highboy’s Understory: Deconstructing the Icon” will examine Winterthur’s collection of high chests and other related forms. She plans to incorporate this research in a new line of work that responds to and reflects on the many stories embodied in furniture forms. 

Richards has held fellowships and has exhibited at prestigious institutions including the Center for Art in Wood, Penland School of Craft, and the Mint Museum

The Research Fellowship Program at Winterthur supports work by scholars and makers to research and draw inspiration from museum, library and garden collections and to share ideas in a robust fellowship community. Applications are accepted annually on January 15. 

The Decorative Arts Trust’s support of opportunities for emerging scholars is an important part of our mission to foster the appreciation and study of art, culture, and history. To read more about the Trust’s Emerging Scholars Program, visit our website, sign up for our e-newsletter, or see Facebook or Instagram.

Theosophical Art in Southern California

by Grace Converse

With the support of a Marie Zimmermann Summer Research Grant from the Decorative Arts Trust, I visited several sites throughout Southern California for my dissertation on creative production in two Theosophical communities: Lomaland in San Diego, CA, and Krotona in Los Angeles and later in Ojai, CA. My doctoral research in Art History at the University of Southern California asks how and why the arts were critical to the manifestation of Theosophical principals, especially the belief in a greater, unifying divinity among all humanity and across all religions. In my research, I examined objects and corresponding documents that will serve as case studies in my dissertation. These include carved furniture, ornate architecture, allegorical paintings, woodblock prints, books, and original musical dramatic works. 

Among the artists at Lomaland was Reginald Willoughby Machell, a British painter, woodworker, and author who joined the Theosophical Society in 1896. Katherine Tingley, the society’s leader,  invited Machell to serve as the director of the art department in 1900 at the newly founded headquarters. Machell then developed the arts education programs at Lomaland’s school where he also taught painting and woodworking. As a resident, educator, and artist, Machell’s work was used and seen on a daily basis in the community. His carvings furnished the site’s public and private spaces and served as set pieces for musical and theatrical performances, as the doors for Lomaland’s main temple, and as a “throne” for Tingley. He also carved frames for several of his paintings in which he abstracted the allegorical themes found on the canvas. 

My summer research also brought me to Krotona’s current location in Ojai, where I studied how the community’s leader, A.P. Warrington, encouraged the melding of craft, fine art, pedagogy, publishing, and performance. I explored Warrington’s role in the organization of the Brotherhood of the Arts, which helped foster collaboration between members of the community who worked across artistic and craft disciplines. This Brotherhood in turn provided the creative foundation for Krotona’s 1918 dramatic, musical rendition of Sir Edwin Arnold’s poem, “The Light of Asia.” Members of the Krotona community contributed to the production not only as performers but also by designing original costumes, sets, and a new outdoor theater that was integrated into the landscape. 

The labyrinth at Krotona is a meander that presents a single undivided path, following the seven-circuit Cretan pattern. No choices are needed other than traveling onward through the winding pattern to an assured goal. The seven circuits of the Cretan labyrinth correspond with the seven spheres of the sacred planets, the seven principles of the human being and the cosmos, the seven days of the week, and other such sevenfold meanings. I was interested in exploring the labyrinth as a site of continuity between Theosophy’s past and its present. While the labyrinth was not created until 1997, it represents foundational Theosophical doctrines and reflects the interests of Theosophists who founded Krotona in the early-twentieth-century.

These sites are only two examples of the Theosophical Society’s creative production I researched through the generous support from the Marie and John Zimmermann Fund and the Decorative Arts Trust. These case studies will provide a base for my continued study of how art, particularly craft and the decorative arts, were central to Southern California Theosophical communities. In my dissertation, I will explore how the Theosophists’ desire to teach, experience, and practice several modes of creative production represents a desire to not only to find unity across all humanity and religions but also to do so through a unification of the arts. 

The Furniture of Daniel Clay, 1795–1829

Daniel Sousa, Assistant Curator at Historic Deerfield in Deerfield, MA, was a Carolyn and Michael McNamara Young Scholar Lecturer at Colonial Williamsburg’s 72nd Annual Antiques Forum in February 2020, a series sponsored by the Decorative Arts Trust. Sousa was the Decorative Arts Trust Curatorial Intern at Historic Deerfield from 2017 to 2018 before he received this curatorial position. Sousa holds a BA in History from Providence College in Providence, RI, and a MA in History from The University of Massachusetts, Boston. In his Forum presentation, “Keeping it in the Family”: The Furniture of Daniel Clay, 1795–1829, Sousa uses inscriptions and other genealogical information to connect furniture between Clay and the previous owners. 

Enjoy this recording of Sousa’s lecture on our YouTube channel

For more information on Historic Deerfield’s Daniel Clay collection, see these Part 1 and Part 2 video tours with Associate Curator Christine Ritok. 

Read the 2020 Antiques Forum blog post for more information about the event, and visit the Decorative Arts Trust website for more information about emerging scholar lecture grants and the Trust’s many other initiatives that support emerging scholars. For updates, sign up for the Trust’s e-newsletter and follow us on social media

Lecture Videos About New Orleans Decorative Arts, Fine Arts, and Architecture

The Decorative Arts Trust is thrilled to bring you recordings of our excellent lectures from the Fall 2018 Symposium in New Orleans, LA, thanks to the generosity of Anne and Wheeler Bryan. Trust Governor Tom Savage, Winterthur’s Director of External Affairs for the Winterthur Museum, introduces the speakers. 

Glimpses of the Past: 300 Years of New Orleans Architecture

Ann Masson, Architectural historian, Tulane School of Architecture

“Goods of Every Description:” New Orleans Craftsmen and Retailers, 1800–1850

Lydia Blackmore, Decorative Arts Curator, THNOC

Preserving a Family Legacy: Art and Architecture at the Hermann-Grima House

Katie Hall Burlison, Chief Curator, Hermann-Grima and Gallier Historic Houses

Salazar: Portraits of Influence in Spanish New Orleans, 1785–1802

Cybèle T. Gontar, Owner/Director, Degas Gallery of New Orleans

Moving Upriver: New Orleans Goods Throughout the Gulf South

Sarah Duggan, Coordinator and Research Curator, Classical Institute of the South, The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) 

You may also enjoy these previously released lecture videos by our two Emerging Scholars Program speakers during the New Orleans symposium: Creole Comforts and French Connections: The Material World of Françoise Petit de Coulange, 1732-1812 with Philippe L.B. Halbert, PhD. Candidate, Department of the History of Art, Yale University; and “A Lover of the Beautiful:” Harriet Joor, Newcomb Pottery, and the Arts & Crafts Movement with Maggie Dimock, who is now Curator of the Greenwich Historical Society, in Greenwich, CT. Read more in this blog post

The Decorative Arts Trust is committed to promote and foster the appreciation and study of the decorative arts. We offer many lecture videos and lecture presentation recordings on our YouTube channel, and we have digital versions of magazine articles on our website and many scholarly posts on our blog. Support for these endeavors comes from Trust members and donors. For updates on new videos and other online resources, sign up for our e-newsletter or follow us on social media

Bluegrass Elegance: The Kentucky Collection of Sharon and Mack Cox

At the Decorative Arts Trust, visits to exclusive private collections add a special touch to our educational programs. With the postponement of the Spring 2020 Symposium in Lexington and Louisville, KY, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we realize that Trust members are missing these rare opportunities to see historic objects that are not accessible to the general public and to speak with the knowledgeable and dedicated collectors who graciously open their homes to our group. 

Thankfully, Trust members Mack and Sharon Cox were kind enough to share some of their notable collection of Kentucky antiques with us, digitally! We hope you revel in this virtual tour of some exquisite items from the Coxes’ impressive holdings and appreciate their detailed descriptions. 

Central Kentucky Clocks 

Central Kentucky clocks. All images courtesy of the Cox Collection.
Central Kentucky clocks. All images courtesy of the Cox Collection.

Kentucky enjoys an abundance of fine tall case clocks, which were expensive and reflect the wealth generated by fertile Bluegrass soils. Their small footprint allows collecting in numbers, as this group of nine clocks furnish our home today. It is a select assemblage. The original owners of seven clocks are known, eight are members of known Kentucky furniture groups, three can be attributed to a specific shop, and one is signed. They date from c. 1793 to 1833. Our collection includes most known Kentucky Rococo clocks (four), two transitional Rococo-Neoclassical clocks, and full-blown Neoclassical and Classical examples.

The assemblage says much about the development of Kentucky culture. Settlement began in 1775, and Kentucky received statehood in 1792. Most residents lived in forts until 1794, however, when hostilities with Native Americans abated. Thereafter, development of the wilderness happened at an unimaginable pace, and, by 1816, Lexington was known nationally as the Athens of the West. Throughout this period, residents were amazingly cosmopolitan. Few were born in Kentucky, and their origins included most regions of the early Republic as well as Europe and Africa. This diversity is reflected in Kentucky’s earliest furniture. For example, the second clock from the left might be mistaken for a Pennsylvania clock, or the third for a Rhode Island clock. The latter is attributed to Daniel Spencer (1741-1796), who migrated from Rhode Island to Kentucky in 1793, a maker explored in an essay in Chipstone’s American Furniture 2018.

With time, increasingly more Kentucky residents were natives resulting in the development of local furniture styles. A good example is the second clock from the right, which was made about 1820 by an unknown Lexington shop. It uses clock-on-frame construction where the case is attached with screws to a platform having turned legs and apron cutouts. Visually similar clocks were made by five or more different shops in the inner Bluegrass and the look is a distinctive part of central Kentucky’s cultural identity.

Portrait of James Clark Todd

Jacob Frymire, James Clark Todd, c. 1806, Lexington, KY. Oil on canvas, 50 ½” x 32 ½”.
Jacob Frymire, James Clark Todd, c. 1806, Lexington, KY. Oil on canvas, 50 ½” x 32 ½”.

This portrait of James Clark Todd (1802?–1849) is among the earliest extant Kentucky paintings.  It is attributed to Jacob Frymire (1765?–1822) who worked in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, but visited Kentucky in 1806 where a handful of his works are known. The subject’s father was Levi Todd (1756–1807), who migrated to Kentucky in 1775 and was among Lexington’s founders. Levi was a contemporary of Daniel Boone, and both led at Blue Licks, a 1782 Revolutionary War battle that occurred in Kentucky (when it was still part of Virginia).

In 1787, Levi Todd built Lexington’s first brick home where his son’s portrait was taken in 1806. James Clark Todd is stylishly dressed, holds a hat in his left hand, and leans on a small table draped with a red cloth. The table has turned legs with scrolled stretchers and a finial. It is similar in form to Baltimore tables of this era and painted brown with a spiral stripping down each leg. Most notable is the fine carpet that was likely imported from Baltimore or Philadelphia. It would have been hauled over the Appalachian Mountains to Pittsburgh, floated 500 miles down the Ohio River, and lastly brought by wagon from Maysville to Lexington. Prior to the arrival of steamboats, carpet was rare and exceedingly costly in Kentucky.

The subject’s niece (Mary) wed Abraham Lincoln in 1842 and was first lady of the United States from 1861 to 1865. Her cousin, Dr. Lyman Beecher Todd, the sitter’s son and second owner of this painting, was among the attending physicians after Lincoln’s assassination.

Fancy Settee

Fancy Settee, c. 1825, Lexington or Frankfort, KY. H: 33 ½”, W: 54 ½”, D: 22 ½”.
Fancy Settee, c. 1825, Lexington or Frankfort, KY. H: 33 ½”, W: 54 ½”, D: 22 ½”.

This diminutive fancy settee was owned by Dr. Nicholas Warfield (1786–1863) who lived near Lexington, KY. It was one of a pair, along with a set of similar dining chairs that descended in Warfield’s family until the 1960s. The settee retains its original vermillion red paint, with chromium yellow and gold leaf accents. On the crest rail are still-life paintings of squash, grapes, pears, and wheat, and the shaped medial slats are decorated with stenciled floral designs.

The settee is part of an emerging Kentucky shop group that includes a side chair (Cox collection) having the same form, but with a different paint scheme, and another fine settee with similar legs that has always furnished Liberty Hall (1802) in Frankfort, KY. The shop, which was likely located in Lexington, was apparently influenced by designs emanating from Philadelphia or Baltimore, where similar forms and leg turnings occur.

Porter Clay Sideboard and Games Table 

Porter Clay, Sideboard, c. 1805, Lexington, KY. H: 42”, W: 71”, D: 23 ½”.
Porter Clay, Sideboard, c. 1805, Lexington, KY. H: 42”, W: 71”, D: 23 ½”.
Porter Clay, Games Table, c. 1805, Lexington, KY. H: 29 ½”, W: 36 ¼”, D: 17 ¾”.
Porter Clay, Games Table, c. 1805, Lexington, KY. H: 29 ½”, W: 36 ¼”, D: 17 ¾”.

­­­­In 1806, Thomas Ashe of England described Lexington as having over 300 mostly brick homes, many “furnished with some pretensions to European elegance” (Travels in America, London, 1808, p. 192). This sideboard was made in Lexington about that time and is attributed to Porter Clay, a brother of Henry Clay (1777–1852), the well-known 19th-century politician from Lexington. Porter migrated from Virginia to Kentucky with his parents in 1792 and was bound to Thomas Whitney, an Irish cabinetmaker who worked in Lexington. In 1798, he ran away to New York City and worked as a journeyman. Porter returned the following year and opened a Lexington cabinetshop where he made furniture until 1808. His furniture exhibits New York and Philadelphia influence and borrows designs in Thomas Sheraton’s 1802 Drawing-Book. Afterwards, Porter became an attorney, Kentucky State auditor, and lastly a traveling Baptist preacher.

A great example of high-style, Kentucky urban furniture, this sideboard has a cove-shaped center flanked by serpentine shaped drawers and tambour doors and rounded ends. It is made of cherry and crotch cherry and walnut veneers with oak and poplar secondary wood. Walnut panels outlined with stringing are let into the outer face of each leg and a banding of tiger maple defined by light and dark string run the lower perimeter of the case. One tambour door retains an early backing, which is block-printed French wallpaper. Four similarly shaped sideboards are known, all with cove-shape centers. Porter incorporated a similar cove-shape in most of his games tables. The cove-shape is unusual and considered a trait of Porter Clay.

Mitchell Family Portraits

Matthew Harris Jouett, Martha Bell Mitchell and Alexander John Mitchell, Jr., c. 1826, Lexington, KY.
Matthew Harris Jouett, Martha Bell Mitchell and Alexander John Mitchell, Jr., c. 1826, Lexington, KY.
Oliver Frazer, Martha Bell Mitchell, c. 1849, Lexington, KY.
Oliver Frazer, Martha Bell Mitchell, c. 1849, Lexington, KY.
Matthew Harris Jouett, Jouett Home & Home Studio, Lexington, KY, c. 1818, Lexington, KY.
Matthew Harris Jouett, Jouett Home & Home Studio, Lexington, KY, c. 1818, Lexington, KY.

Lexington was Kentucky’s economic and artistic center prior to the steamboat era (c. 1820). Matthew Harris Jouett (1788–1827) was Kentucky’s foremost Antebellum artist of that time, succeeded by Oliver Frazer (1808–1864), the most celebrated of his generation. They were related through Jouett’s wife, Peggy Allen (1795–1873), who had two sisters. Elizabeth Allen (c. 1792–1840) wed Dr. A. J. Mitchell, and their daughter, Martha Bell Mitchell (1816–1903), grew up to wed Oliver Frazer. Jouett painted Martha and her brother  (his niece and nephew) in 1826, but died before its completion (first image). She was painted again in 1849 by Oliver Frazer (her husband) along with two of their children (second image).

Jouett and Frazer lived on small adjoining farms just north of Lexington with their homes about 1,000 feet apart. Frazer bought his home from Jouett’s other sister-in-law, Rebecca Allen Redd (1803–1866). Jouett painted all three Allen sisters and gave a landscape painting of his home (third image) to Rebecca Allen painted about 1818. Jouett had two studios, one in Lexington and one at his home, which was in the ell projecting from the left side of his home in the painting. It was a large room, open to the rafters with a dormer and large windows for lighting.

 Kentucky Penitentiary Armchair 

Armchair, c. 1820, Kentucky Penitentiary, Frankfort, KY. H: 38 3/8”, W: 23 ¼”, D: 22 ¼”.
Armchair, c. 1820, Kentucky Penitentiary, Frankfort, KY. H: 38 3/8”, W: 23 ¼”, D: 22 ¼”.

We call this a “non-electric chair of redemption.” The Kentucky Penitentiary in Frankfort opened in 1800, and from 1804 to 1928 used convict labor to produce shoes, barrels, nails, shingles, cut stone, chairs, and other products that were sold to defray incarceration costs. This elegant form, with continuous arms, was made from about 1810 to 1840, with examples transitioning from the Neoclassical through Classical styles. The design is northern Italian, where the form dates to a generation earlier but with variants continuing from the late 18th century to the present. How the design came to Kentucky remains a mystery. 

The Decorative Arts Trust thanks the Coxes for sharing treasures from their private collection with us. We hope to take our members to see these objects in person soon! 

For updates on Trust programs, check our website, sign up for our e-mail list, or follow us on social media. During this challenging time, the Trust continues to promote and foster the appreciation and study of the decorative arts through digital resources and support of emerging scholars through grants and scholarships. Consider becoming a member or donating an unrestricted gift to help us achieve our mission. 

Falconet’s Sculpture in Marble, Porcelain, and Sugar

by Alicia Caticha

My research on 18th-century French sculptor Étienne-Maurice Falconet (1716-1791) traces the emulation, replication, and commercialization of his work in marble, porcelain, and sugar. With the support of a Decorative Arts Trust Summer Research Grant, I was able to study the materiality of these three media, reconciling and weaving together the physical properties of the materials and the historical and political connotations of their unifying characteristic: whiteness.

At the Archive National de Sèvres in Paris, France, I focused on the materiality of soft-paste porcelain, which Sèvres used to reproduce Falconet’s marbles during his tenure as the director of their sculpture atelier. A larger narrative emerged concerning the European-wide “arms race” to discover kaolin, the secret ingredient of Chinese and Japanese porcelain. When the Germans discovered kaolin clay deposits in Saxony (where the widely successful Meissen porcelain manufactory would be founded shortly thereafter), the French found themselves in a peculiar position. They were no longer the leading arbiters of taste in this domain of the arts! In response, Sèvres hired the chemist Jean Hellot to perfect French soft-paste porcelain. 

I studied Hellot’s meticulous records documenting his attempts to mimic the crystalline whiteness of hard-paste porcelain. He experimented with ingredients such as viniagre blanc d’orleans and blanc d’espagne, a vinegar and a white lead pigment often used in 18th-century cosmetics. He even tested burning different types of wood in the kilns, hoping that less smoke would help prevent yellowing, a common defect of French soft-paste porcelain. 

By 1751, Hellot was satisfied with his progress, declaring in his notebooks that his soft-paste recipe produced porcelain that was “infinitely superior, with its perfect whiteness, than all the [other] companies of Europe.”1 That Hellot would make such a bold statement when soft-paste porcelain still remained inferior in terms of its durability—over 50% of Sèvres porcelain was lost during the firing process—speaks to the aesthetic value placed on its whiteness. 

While this interest in whiteness was in large part due to competition with hard-paste porcelain, porcelainiers in France were also motivated by the burgeoning market for porcelain figurines as replacements for outrageously expensive sugar sculptures—made from highly refined white sugar paste—that decorated the dining tables of the elite. My research on this ephemeral sculptural practice took me to the Bowes Museum in Durham, England, which houses the preeminent collection of 18th- and 19th-century sugar sculpture molds. I was able to examine the molds in person, including one with Marie Antoinette’s coat of arms! These intricately carved wooden molds revealed masterful craftsmanship and highlighted an understudied métier for decorative sculptors. Signatures on these molds identify guild specialists who were able to make a living exclusively carving these molds.

I am grateful for the generous and timely support of the Decorative Arts Trust, without which I would not have been able to make these two foundational research trips to support my doctoral studies in Art and Architectural History at the University of Virginia

The Decorative Arts Trusts offers grants and scholarships for young researchers as part of the Emerging Scholars Program. To support emerging scholars, please consider becoming a member of the Trust

1 Translation is the author’s own. Archives de Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, Carton 71, 1.

Fulling “Country Cloth” in the Early Republic

Eliza West, an independent scholar from Richmond, VT, was a Carolyn and Michael McNamara Young Scholar Lecturer at Colonial Williamsburg’s 72nd Annual Antiques Forum in February 2020, an opportunity sponsored by the Decorative Arts Trust. As part of her thesis research in the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, West investigated the process of “fulling” wool for different types of 18th-century garments in her presentation Keeping it Close to Home: Fulling “Country Cloth” in the Early Republic

Enjoy this recording of West’s lecture on our YouTube channel

Read this Antiques Forum blog post for more information about the 2020 event, and visit the Decorative Arts Trust website for more information about emerging scholar lecture grants. The Decorative Arts Trust has many other initiatives supporting Emerging Scholars. For updates, sign up for the Trust’s e-newsletter or follow us on social media