Scholars Speak About Daniel Clay Furniture, Face Vessels, and Fulling Cloth at 2020 Colonial Williamsburg Antiques Forum

One of the highlights of the year in the decorative arts field is the Annual Antiques Forum hosted each February at Colonial Williamsburg.

During the 72nd Annual Antiques Forum, Decorative Arts Trust staff, as well as 150 of our members, enjoyed catching up with colleagues and meeting new enthusiasts in curatorial, research, design, and appraisal roles. 

Forum participants especially appreciated the Carolyn and Michael McNamara Young Scholar Lectures (sponsored by the Decorative Arts Trust) on Monday, February 24. Colonial Williamsburg Deputy Chief Curator (and Trust Governor) Margaret Beck Pritchard presided over the session, introducing the audience to the Trust’s Emerging Scholars Program and the new Decorative Arts Trust Prize for Excellence and Innovation

Sarah Bryan, Daniel Sousa, and Eliza West speak at the 2020 Colonial Williamsburg Antiques Forum
Sarah Bryan, Daniel Sousa, and Eliza West speak at the 2020 Colonial Williamsburg Antiques Forum

The lectures began with Eliza West, an independent scholar from Richmond, VT, presenting Keeping it Close to Home: Fulling “Country Cloth” in the Early Republic. She studied colonial documentation and images to investigate the process of fulling wool for women’s garments (such as petticoats) and men’s garments (such as jackets). By working with expert craftspeople and using the scientific method and her parents’ washing machine, Eliza was able to recreate texture and shrinkage comparable to 18th-century records. She brought samples of the original woven wool cloth and two treatments of the “fulled” wool for Forum audiences to see up-close. 

North Carolina Folklife Institute Executive Director Sarah Bryan spoke about John Bull, Esquire: Reconsidering the Origins of a Southern Face Vessel. She shared her research into determining the maker of a face vessel with the words “John Bull, Esqr.” incised. The jug resembles several other face vessels but not precisely enough to definitively attribute it to one potter or pottery. The fact that “John Bull” was a personification of Great Britain and that this vessel is missing a protruding tongue further add interest and mystery to this distinctive object. 

Daniel Sousa, Assistant Curator at Historic Deerfield in Massachusetts, lectured on “Keeping it in the Family”: The Furniture of Daniel Clay, 1795-1829. He analyzed furniture passed down through generations of a family to gain an invaluable understanding into how objects were used in homes over the centuries. 

The presentations were followed by a lively reception where Trust members mingled with the speakers, staff, and other attendees passionate about the decorative arts and material culture. 

Other highlights of the 2020 Antiques Forum included visiting the expansive new Art Museum galleries, learning about the Carter House restoration, and interacting with the Custis Square archaeological investigation. Colonial Williamsburg announced that a group of donors created an endowment for the position of curators of maps and prints, which will be named in honor of the aforementioned Margaret Pritchard. Also, Decorative Arts Trust Executive Director Matthew A. Thurlow was pleased to present a lecture to the Vintage Ladies of Williamsburg on the country houses of Yorkshire. 

The Decorative Arts Trust has many other initiatives supporting Emerging Scholars and educational travel programs about the decorative arts. For updates, sign up for the Trust’s e-newsletter or follow us on social media

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