Category: Scholarship

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. [N.B. The Decorative Arts Trust has a limited number of copies of the Paxton House catalog for sale, which can be purchased by contacting the office.]

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 Empire State Plaza and New York State Capitol

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!

Introducing Kate Hughes

Kate Huges
Kate Hughes

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has awarded Katherine ‘Kate’ Hughes the 2018-2020 Decorative Arts Trust Internship, American Wing Curatorial Research Scholarship. An alumna of The College of William and Mary and the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Kate is a current Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Intern with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and has previously held positions at the Historic Charleston Foundation and for Ralph Harvard, Inc.

The American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the eighth institutional partner for the Decorative Arts Trust Curatorial Internship Grant. The Trust underwrites curatorial internships for recent Masters or PhD graduates in partnership with museums and historical societies. Through a matching-grant program, these internships allow host organizations to hire a deserving young professional who will learn about the responsibilities and duties common to the curatorial field while working alongside a talented mentor. The Trust’s internship program seeks to provide mutually beneficial opportunities that will nurture the next generation of museum curators while providing essential staffing for the host.

Kate’s primary duties will center around the upcoming exhibition Stories in Clay: Stoneware from Edgefield District, South Carolina, scheduled to open in 2020, under the mentorship of Adrienne Spinozzi, Assistant Research Curator of American Decorative Arts. According to Sylvia Yount, the Lawrence A. Fleischman Curator in Charge of the American Wing, the exhibition reveals the department’s “increased commitment to the distinctive work of artists of color, who have historically been underrepresented in our holdings.”

For her part, Kate “truly could not be more thrilled about every aspect of this opportunity.” A native New Yorker, Kate’s love for museums came about because of her childhood visits to the Met. After completing her academic studies, she continued her education with the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) Summer Institutes, of the Chesapeake (2016) and Backcountry (2017). She will be returning to MESDA this summer to complete her third and final Institute, “The Lowcountry: African American Material Culture and Landscapes”. Her research on potter Thomas M. Chandler’s earliest-known piece, a stoneware butter churn, was recently published in the Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts. Kate is thrilled to have this opportunity to return to her native city and “hometown” museum, and have the chance to share her love of southern stoneware with a new audience.

We look forward to following Kate’s progress on this exciting and groundbreaking project over the next two years!

The Decorative Arts Society Summer Research Grant

The Decorative Arts Trust has relied on the generosity of many donors over the years to underwrite the annual investment into the Emerging Scholars Program. We are pleased to announce the receipt of generous assistance from a like-minded organization on the West Coast, the Decorative Arts Society of Orange County, known as DARTS.

The Decorative Arts Society Board of Directors. Photo courtesy of the Decorative Arts Society, Orange County, CA.
The Decorative Arts Society Board of Directors.

This impressive group formed 1995 and boasts more than 250 members. Although their programming calendar focuses on an annual schedule of lectures by leading figures in the world of decorative arts and design, its philanthropic mission supports the needs of the surrounding community. The founder and first president, Mary Anna Jeppe, envisioned DARTS as a supporting friends group for New Directions for Women, a local rehabilitation and social services nonprofit. Over two decades, the group has flourished, raising over $2 million for community-minded nonprofits in Southern California, particularly focused on those working with women and children.

We are honored to be the first organization outside of California to receive support from DARTS. Their grant will endow an annual Summer Research Grant for graduate students pursuing topics based on objects, collections, crafts, or designers located on the West Coast, or decorative arts-focused students enrolled in West Coast institutions. Through this partnership, the Decorative Arts Trust looks forward to extending our reach to the Pacific!

“We look at this collaboration as an investment in the future” says DARTS board member Sandra Ayres, “both in the Decorative Arts Trust, and in the future trajectory of our own organization.”

We look forward to further profiling the Decorative Arts Society once the first recipient of this grant is revealed! For those interested, applications for the Decorative Arts Trust Summer Research Grants are due no later than April 30, 2018. More information, as well as downloadable application forms, can be obtained on our website.

Recent Discoveries in American Ceramics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Research Report: Emily Anderson

Emily Anderson
Emily Anderson

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

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

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

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

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