Category: Scholarship

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. 

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!

Curatorial Interns Update: Dan Sousa and Elisabeth Mallin

The Decorative Arts Trust Curatorial Interns Dan Sousa (Historic Deerfield) and Elisabeth Mallin (Maryland Historical Society) are well into their tenures, and their hard work has produced phenomenal results thus far.

Participants in our one-day symposium in partnership with Historic Deerfield gained a glimpse into Dan’s projects as the Peggy N. Gerry-Anne K. Groves Curatorial Intern. His primary tasks are research and writing for a catalog of the museum’s holdings of English ceramics alongside his mentor Amanda Lange, Deerfield’s Curatorial Department Director. Their work on the project consists of two introductory essays and nearly fifty object entries, including the documentation of English ceramics throughout the Connecticut River Valley. Dan and Amanda have made extensive visits to museums, private collections, archives, and archaeological sites, and hope to incorporate any new discoveries into a third catalog essay on the commercial availability of English Ceramics in the Connecticut River Valley between 1700 and 1850.

Sousa CIG
Dan installs a clock face for the exhibit, “Rococo: Celebrating 18th-Century Design and Decoration” in Historic Deerfield’s Flynt Center.

Dan’s work has extended to other curatorial projects around the museum. “Researching potential museum acquisitions,” he says, “has been particularly enjoyable. My research has assisted in the acquisition of several items, including an 1801 bed rug wrought by Esther Packard of Cummington, MA, and a tall mahogany secretary attributed to the Hartford cabinetmakers Kneeland and Adams.” He has worked with colleagues across the curatorial department, including assisting Associate Curator of Furniture Christine Ritok with research for an upcoming article on cabinetmaker Daniel Clay. He has also contributed to two exhibitions: as co-curator for Why We Collect: Recent Acquisitions at Historic Deerfield, 2010-2017; and as lead curator for the current exhibition at the Flynt Center for Early New England Life, Rococo: Celebrating 18th-Century Design and Decoration, which will be on view through February 10, 2019. Furthermore, Dan has taught sessions on object handling and genealogical research for Historic Deerfield’s Summer Fellowship Program, an opportunity he relishes.

Elisabeth Mallin, the Decorative Arts Trust Associate Curator at the Maryland Historical Society, has likewise assumed a central role over the past eighteen months. Her lead project, an ongoing assessment of the museum’s furniture collection, allowed her to undertake a massive re-arrangement of the furniture storage for better access to key pieces not currently on display. This has led to unexpected encounters with other elements of the collection, including MdHS’s historic weapons holdings, which she has started cataloging and re-housing. In addition to these tasks, she oversees gift offers to the Society and the deaccessioning processes.

Mallin CIG
Elisabeth Mallin adds objects to the expansion of “Divided Voices: Maryland in the Civil War” at the Maryland Historical Society.

Elisabeth has also served as project manager and co-curator, alongside with Director of Education David Armenti, for MdHS’s exhibit Divided Voices: Maryland in the Civil War. Originally installed in 2011, the show focuses on Maryland’s unique role as a slaveholding Union state during the war. However, the installation lacked a component that introduced the visitor to the roles of slavery and the free African-American population in Maryland prior to the Civil War. “We felt that the conclusion of the exhibit deserved greater attention, as did the role of African-American soldiers during the war.” Elisabeth and David added twenty objects to the exhibit, fifteen interpretive text panels, introductory and concluding text and design elements, and a new introductory video. The first gallery of the exhibit is the first permanent installation dedicated to African-American history at Maryland Historical Society and brings together decorative arts, fine arts, and material culture.

Elisabeth’s projects have also included installing an exhibit on Maryland foodways for the annual Maryland Day celebration, developing new curatorial tours, and assisting in the implementation of docent tours during the Museum’s Free First Thursdays program. She will also be lecturing at the Society in September on furniture imported to Maryland in the 18th and 19th centuries, a topic she will revisit at the Colonial Williamsburg Antiques Forum next February.

Trust members will have the opportunity to benefit from Elisabeth’s contributions to the Society in person on April 24, 2019, the day before our Spring Symposium in Annapolis begins. Elisabeth and her mentor Alexandra Deutsch, the Vice President of Collections and Interpretation, will lead in-depth tours and workshops for participants.

We have enjoyed following the progress of Dan and Elisabeth throughout their tenures as interns and wish them the best as they begin to embark on the next stages of their careers. We are also grateful to our donors, particularly the Gerry Charitable Trust and the Marie and John Zimmermann Fund, for their continued support of this vital component of the Trust’s Emerging Scholars Program!

The Trust’s Summer Reading: “Never Caught”

Never Caught by Erica Armstrong Dunbar pieces together the story of Ona Judge, a slave owned by Martha Washington who escaped into freedom in 1796, during the final year of Washington’s presidency in Philadelphia. Selected as the 2018 summer reading book for the Decorative Arts Trust, the publication creates a narrative through the material objects Judge would have interacted with during the course of her life. Historians usually rely heavily on documentary evidence to produce an accurate and nuanced story. Written documentation does not always exist for all parts of a historic community. Large portions of the narrative of slavery have been overlooked due to a lack of primary resources: widespread illiteracy in the enslaved community; the conflict in early America, including among the Founding Fathers, over the existence of slavery in the new nation; and intentional secrecy among the community of free African-Americans and early abolitionists committed to assisting slaves who chose to flee.

Dunbar, the Charles & Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University, considers Judge’s perspective throughout the book. Born at Mount Vernon in June 1773 to Betty, who produced homespun cloth and made everyday clothes for both the Washingtons and their slaves at Mount Vernon, Judge’s early life was inconsistently documented. As a household slave, her daily life closely mirrored Martha’s, as Ona dressed and undressed her mistress (in clothes spun and sewn by her own mother), accompanied her on social visits around Philadelphia, and helped look after great-grandchildren and visitors. Dunbar bases her narrative on this record, elucidating how the Washington’s genteel life was only possible thanks to the slaves working in the background.

Given gaps in the documentary record, Dunbar necessarily makes educated guesses about elements of Judge’s story, particularly around the details of her escape in March 1796. Even at the end of her life, when she gave two interviews to abolitionist newspapers at her home in New Hampshire, Ona Judge was intentionally vague as to how she affected her escape, merely mentioning that friends in Philadelphia’s free black community assisted her. Dunbar makes a compelling case about how two entries in the Washingtons’ account books may give clues as to how Judge planned her flight. In March 1796, the Washingtons hired Richard Allen, a free black man, to sweep the chimneys of the Executive Mansion. A born entrepreneur, Allen owned a sweep business as well as a cobbler’s shop nearby on Spruce Street. He was one of the founding members of Philadelphia’s Free African Society, a mutual aid organization that also rendered assistance to fugitive slaves. Allen’s visit to the executive mansion occurred shortly after Judge learned that she was to be given as a wedding present to Martha Washington’s granddaughter Eliza. Two months later, on May 10, the Washington’s gave Judge money for a new pair of shoes, which may have provided her a second opportunity to consult Allen while visiting the shoe shop run out of his home. Ten days later, on May 21, Ona slipped out of the Executive Mansion as the Washingtons entertained guests at dinner and disappeared.  

This engaging book offers new material on the perspective of slaves in the 18th century that is only just beginning to be publicly discussed at former sites of enslavement such as Mount Vernon. Dunbar’s research illustrates the importance of material culture in developing our knowledge and understanding of history, particularly when written documentation is scant. For more information on the Trust’s Summer Reading program and other membership benefits, please visit the membership page of our website or contact us for more information. (New York: 37Ink/Atria, 2017, $16)

 

On the Hunt for French Material Culture in the Land of Midnight Sun

The announcement for the Decorative Arts Trust’s recent Study Trip Abroad “Sweden and Denmark: Scandinavian Castles and Collections” caught my attention even though my specialty is Monticello and its material culture. Although headed to Nordic countries, my curatorial appetite was whetted because I knew the itinerary would contain many rare examples of French decorative arts! French art and architecture set trends around the western world in the late 18th century, but the Swedes in particular were as influenced by French art and architecture as Thomas Jefferson, who lived in Paris from 1784 until 1789. After a series of unexpected events, I found myself in Stockholm with a welcoming group of Trust travelers, who proved to be engaged learners and great fun too.

The Haga fauteuil de bureau. Photo courtesy of Diane Ehrenpreis.
Revolving Armchair or Fauteuil de Bureau, probably Paris, c. 1785. Photo courtesy of Diane Ehrenpreis.

Of all the historic and aesthetically impressive sites, the one that I was most keen to visit was Haga Park with its Neoclassical Gustav III Pavilion. Built for the king in 1784, it was designed by Olaf Templeman and decorated in the French manner by Louis Masreliez.[1] The interiors offered a smörgåsbordof French furnishings, or Swedish examples in the French style, including gilded mirrors, wallpaper treatments, bed alcoves with blue-gray silk curtains and alcove beds, and most exciting of all, a revolving armchair, or a fauteuil de bureauin French, (fig. 1) designed for gentlemen to use at a desk.[2] The royal example has fluted legs, carved rosettes, gilded brass bosses and trim, as well as faded leather upholstery over a comfortably padded back and seat. The chair can be easily moved because of its casters, rotating to enable the sitter to work more efficiently by saving time and motion.

Revolving Armchair, attributed to Thomas Burling, New York, 1790 (c) Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.
Revolving Armchair, attributed to Thomas Burling, New York, 1790
(c) Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.

This handsome and innovative chair was available to only the wealthiest patrons, which apparently did not include Jefferson. Despite the haul of furniture that returned to America when Jefferson gave up his post as Minister to France, it did not include a fauteuil de bureau. Instead, he commissioned one almost immediately upon arriving in New York City, charging the cabinetmaker Thomas Burling with the job. Jefferson’s revolving chair (fig. 2) survives today as one of the most important objects in the collection at Monticello. From 1790, when he took possession of it, until his death in 1826, this is the chair that Jefferson used almost daily when working on his correspondence. The Burling version has the same overall features as the high style example at Haga Park, but the form is less refined and the decorative elements have been eliminated. A great-grandchild told journalist Frank Stockton that “In . . . his study, stood Mr. Jefferson’s writing-chair which was made to suit his peculiar needs; the chair itself was high-backed, well rounded, and cushioned. . .”[3] Jefferson used his armchair in his cabinet, or study, at Monticello, where he executed his vast correspondence. It appears that this placement and function is in keeping with how King Gustav used his own example in the library of the Pavilion at Haga Park. Having the rare opportunity to consider a fauteuil de bureau in its original setting, both at Monticello and Gustav III’s Pavilion, was an invaluable experience. My own modern turning office chair is directly related to the innovations in seating promoted by these two Francophiles, and others like them.

N.B. Diane Ehrenpreis would like to thank the Decorative Arts Trust and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation for their support of this trip. She would welcome the opportunity to greet her travel mates and invites them to come see the Jefferson armchair at Monticello. Please visit our website https://home.monticello.org/

 

[1]For more on Haga Park and the Pavilion: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustav_III%27s_Pavilion

[2]For more on this type of chair see: Wolfram Koeppe, Extravagant Inventions: The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens(New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012), 167-169.

[3] Frank R. Stockton, “The Later Years of Monticello,” Century Illustrated Magazine, XXXIV, no. 5 (September 1887): 654. This armchair is owned by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. See: Susan R. Stein, The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello(New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993), 266-267. George Washington also had a version of the revolving chair made by Burling.

A New Chapter for Drayton Hall

Opened this past May, Drayton Hall’s brand new Sally Reahard Visitor Center is the organization’s most visible recent effort to open up the site to visitors. Incorporating the first purpose-built dedicated gallery and exhibit space, easier access to the house and grounds, and active incorporation of the property’s ongoing archaeological excavations, the visitor center brings to light the transformative investigations of the past decade and offers new interpretations based on documentary and archaeological evidence.

Built between 1747 and 1752 as a rice and indigo plantation for John Drayton, Drayton Hall descended in the family for seven generations before it was turned over to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Since opening to the public in 1977 the house has been preserved as an unfurnished architectural relic. Although the family’s possessions have long been scattered to descendants and various museums, ongoing archaeological excavations have helped uncover the material record of early life on the property.

The Sally Reahard Visitor Center at Drayton Hall. Image Courtesy of Drayton Hall Preservation Trust.
The Sally Reahard Visitor Center at Drayton Hall. Image Courtesy of Drayton Hall Preservation Trust.

The visitor center’s inaugural exhibit covers the house’s construction and early years. The third son of a prominent family, John Drayton’s early life is largely a documentary blank until his acquisition of the property, but even subsequent records are spotty. For example, in 2014, the dendrochronology of the roof’s support beams proved that the house’s construction began a decade later than previously assumed. Still unknown is how many enslaved workers lived on the property during the earliest years, despite their presence being extensively documented on other similar properties of the era. The exhibit tackles these issues head-on, displaying treasures such as the earliest known architectural rendering of Drayton Hall, thought to have been made by John Drayton himself, archaeological finds, and the uncomfortable history of slavery on the site. The most unexpected, and disturbing, object currently on view is a silver slave brand that would produce the mark “I Drayton.” Although the practice of branding was relatively rare in North America, and there is no written evidence of it with regard to Drayton Hall, this object is proof that the historical traumas of slavery were very real, regardless of whether or not they were documented.

The staff of Drayton Hall is eager to bring a richer experience to visitors going forward. “The heart of this project is the opportunity to display our collection,” says Carter Hudgins, President and CEO of the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust. “Visitors can now expect much more than a tour of the estate.” Likewise, the staff archaeologist and curator of collections Sarah Stroud Clarke looks forward to using the galleries to “delve much more deeply” into stories of the property’s inhabitants from the slaves to John Drayton’s early life.  

The Decorative Arts Trust is thrilled to host a one-day symposium in collaboration with Drayton Hall on September 15. “An Agreeable Prospect: Rediscovering Drayton Hall in the 18th-Century Atlantic World” will explore new research about John and Charles Drayton’s cosmopolitan outlook in the colonial era, covering landscape, architecture, and decorative arts. Participants will enjoy in-depth tours and lectures by Drayton Hall staff and renowned experts who assisted in the preservation of the house and reinstallation of the galleries. An optional fundraiser in support of the Trust’s Emerging Scholars Program and Drayton Hall’s Wood Family Fellowship Fund will also take place the night before at the c. 1770 Charles Elliott House in Charleston. The day’s itinerary and registration page can be found here. Please join us for this exciting event!

 

The Upper Hudson: Four Centuries of Craft and Commerce

Among the oldest surviving European settlements in the United States, Albany and the Upper Hudson region boast a rich and often overlooked array of historic sites that illustrate the region’s economic importance to the development of the modern United States. Throughout the symposium, participants encountered sites introducing topics ranging from the Dutch fur trade to the Erie Canal, and from post-industrial urban renewal to the renovation of Colonial Revival historic house museums.

The program began with an introduction to Albany’s architectural history and development by City Historian Tony Opalka. While comparatively few traces remain of the original Dutch city, the Low Country influence remains in the original city plan and the fashionable 18th-century houses built after the colony’s handover to the British. Like many communities, Albany struggled with economic recession throughout the 20th century, and various development projects erased many historic neighborhoods. The symposium’s opening lecture and reception took place in the heart of the massive Empire State Plaza, an urban renewal effort of the 1960s and 1970s at the behest of Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Although the massive construction project modernized the city’s infrastructure and provided much needed space for the state government, it came at the cost of the destruction of several historic 19th-century neighborhoods.

Friday’s itinerary focused on the early history of Albany and its rise to national prominence. Former Trust Governor and Co-President of the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust Peter Kenny discussed the rapid development of cosmopolitan European cultural life in the area with the Dutch settlement in 1614. The area’s economic importance to the country increased with the opening of the Erie Canal, which according to historian Duncan Hay, became a major aspect of the region’s identity. After lunch at the historic Fort Orange Club, we visited three key sites in the city. The Albany Institute of History and Art, founded in 1791, is one of the oldest extant museums in the United States. Our guides, curators Doug McCoombs and Diane Shewchuk, brought participants up close and personal with the museum’s extraordinary collection during a special tour through collections storage and the galleries. Participants were treated to a close look at furniture by French-born New York cabinetmaker Charles-Honoré Lannuier, while Christian enjoyed the opportunity to briefly hijack the tour to show participants original concept sketches by industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss, the subject of his master’s thesis. Heidi Hill’s tour of Schuyler Mansion was a particular highlight of the day. Hill has overseen a vast restoration program during her tenure at the site, particularly in the lead up to the house’s recent centennial as a museum in 2017. Although work continues, the digital reproduction of Philip Schuyler’s “Ruins of Rome” wallpaper and replicas of the family’s back stools in the front hall offer visitors an immersive, tactile link to the house’s heyday during the American Revolution. Many took advantage of an opportunity to sit on the chairs—a rare opportunity at a historic site!

Saturday’s schedule brought participants across the Hudson River to Troy. Founded in the late 18th century, the city became an industrial center in the 19th century, making it one of the wealthiest communities in the nation. Economic depression through much of the 20th century had the fortuitous effect of preserving many fine buildings. In addition to touring a fabulous private collection, participants were wowed by the splendor of St. Paul’s church. The 1820s gothic structure was renovated and redecorated in the 1880s by Tiffany Studios. As one of the few surviving intact Tiffany interiors, it is a marvelous time capsule. Tiffany historian Josh Probert offered enlightening commentary on the church’s decorative program and significance.  

An additional highlight of our time in Troy was our visit to the Rensselaer County Historical Society and the Hart-Cluett House. A rare survivor, the interpretation of this early-19th-century townhouse is strengthened by astounding archival material discovered by RCHS board member Dough Boucher packed away in a long-forgotten trunk. Participants were able to view receipts from talented local furniture maker Elisha Galusha, whose Rococco Revival designs are popular among local collectors. The Hart family kept meticulous records of their purchases, including many from Galusha, that were displayed along with the extant furnishings they document.

In the afternoon, participants chose between two of tours of Albany’s historic districts. An excursion to the Capitol Hill neighborhood included a visit to the collections storage of the New York State Museum with Curator Connie Frisbee Houde and Curator Emeritus John Scherer before exploring the Masonic Lodge and State Capitol. Other participants chose to investigate archaeological excavations at the city’s oldest surviving house, the Van Ostrande-Radliffe house of 1728, followed by a walk along the historic Pearl Street district ending at the First Reformed Church, designed by renowned Albany architect Philip Hooker.

Developments in historic preservation and interpretation are ongoing throughout the Upper Hudson region, and we enjoyed updates on recent findings during our Sunday lectures. Local independent scholar Britney Schline Yatrakis, the Marie Zimmermann Emerging Scholar Lecturer, shared new research on the collaboration between women and jacquard weavers in upstate New York in the designs of coverlets. Siena College professors Jennifer Dorsey and Robin Flatland concluded the program with a discussion of their collaborative project with the Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence, the home of an African-American abolitionist family that served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Their work involves outreach in the local community and will use virtual reality technology to help interpret the space.

Although Albany may is often overlooked, the symposium introduced Trust members to fascinating sites and exciting research on the spectacular public and private collections. We look forward to equally exciting programs in the coming months, including our special one-day program at Drayton Hall and fall symposium in New Orleans!