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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Richard & Jane Nylander: 2010 ADA Award of Merit Recipients

This year’s ADA Award of Merit is going to the husband and wife team of Richard and Jane Nylander in recognition of their contribution to and influence on museums and scholarship. “Their many years of devotion to the field have opened our eyes to the material living of the eighteenth and nineteenth century,” says ADA board-member Arthur Liverant. “They have been extremely generous with their knowledge,” he adds, “and collectors, dealers, and the museum world have all benefited from their contributions.” About the couple who have worked in the museum field for over four decades, Tom Hardiman, keeper of the Portsmouth Athenaeum, says, “Their interest is in understanding the past, not owning it.”

Richard and Jane at Rocky Hill Meeting House, Amesbury, Mass., 2004, during a Decorative Arts Trust tour. Photography by Jonathan Leo Fairbanks, curator emeritus, MFA, Boston. Says Jonathan of the couple, “Dick and Jane are a couple who share their knowledge and scholarship about American material culture with enthusiastic generosity. They are the most dynamic colleagues one could ever hope to find.”

Both came to their careers indirectly. While working on a research project on the China Trade as a political science major at Brown University, Jane explored the manuscripts and contents of a local historic house museum, an experience that opened her eyes to the significance of objects in everyday life and led her to Winterthur’s graduate program in Early American Culture. For his part, Richard was planning to go to graduate school for English, when, through his family’s interest in the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA), Richard had a conversation with the society’s assistant director, architectural historian Abbott Lowell Cummings, who suggested he might enjoy attending the new Cooperstown Graduate Program. Accepted into the program, despite initial reservations, Richard was soon “totally involved.”
“The legacy bequeathed by Jane and Richard Nylander has enriched the fields of American decorative arts, historical scholarship, and historic preservation. Together and separately they have guided and strengthened some of New England’s proudest institutions.”

— James and Donna-Belle Garvin, NH State Architecural Historian and Director of Publications, New Hampshire Historical Society

Jane and Richard’s wedding at the Harrison Gray Otis House, Boston headquarters of SPNEA (now Historic New England), 1972. Richard’s groundbreaking work on the interiors (completed in 1975) helped revolutionize historic house interpretation.

Jane, curator of textiles and ceramics, Old Sturbridge Village, circa 1983. Courtesy OSV. Photo by Henry E. Peach.

Students in the early 1980s at the Harrison Gray Otis House listen to the experts discuss a slant-front desk. Left to right: Albert Sack, Gilbert Vincent, Richard, Jayne Stokes, Brock Jobe.
Hired by SPNEA (now Historic New England) after graduation, Richard retired from the same institution forty-one years later. One of the driving forces behind his dedication to the organization was the collection, which includes the furnishings, interiors, and architecture of thirty-six house museums in five New England states. As he rose from curatorial assistant to senior curator, he says, “There was always something to be learned.” Upon Richard’s retirement in 2008, James Garvin, State Architectural Historian for New Hampshire, remarked in a letter to him, “The astonishing enrichment of the condition, the collections, and the interpretation of these properties…is your gift to living and future generations.”

Richard’s first project with SPNEA was the restoration of the Harrison Gray Otis House (1796), the organization’s headquarters in Boston. The project, begun in the late 1960s, involved Richard, one of a staff of six, and Abbott Cummings in researching period images, studying surviving evidence within the house, and looking at original wallpaper colors and floor coverings, while conservator Morgan Phillips analyzed the paint colors. Completed in 1975, the vibrant interiors, in stark contrast to the muted tones accepted as accurate since the Colonial Revival, have set the standard for how to approach historic house restoration ever since. “It was an exciting time…we were discovering things that we take for granted today,” says Richard.

Richard discussing the new festoon border in the Blue Room of the White House with Hilary Clinton, 1995. Official White House photo.

Since then, Richard has established himself as a leading authority on historic wallpaper, publishing widely in the field, most notably the seminal Wallpaper in New England (1986) with Elizabeth Redmond and Penny J. Sander, a work that helped bring wallpaper to the forefront in people’s thinking about historic houses. Through Richard’s guidance and acquisitions, Historic New England has built the best documented regional wallpaper collection in the country. In addition, he has overseen the creation of a searchable database for nearly 4,000 wallpaper samples in the museum’s collection (

As a member of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House since 1990, Richard also advises on the furnishings of the State Rooms. “This has been a real honor and of great interest to me,” he says, “as I have been interested in the history of the White House and its interiors since I was in high school.”

Connections to New Hampshire via family and friends spurred Jane’s early dream of some day becoming director of the New Hampshire Historical Society. It came sooner than she expected. At twenty-four, she stepped into the position previously filled only by men. Prior to that she had worked with Joe Kindig at the Historical Society of York County, Pennsylvania, on the exhibit 400 Years of Domestic Lighting, which, she says, “influenced my lifelong search for visual documentation.” As director of the New Hampshire Historical Society, one of her first actions was to scrape off the gold letters on the front door: “No Children Allowed.”

“Jane and Richard’s accomplishments can be found throughout the region, and the region is far better for it.”

—Brock Jobe, Professor, Winterthur Museum

Jane, as director at Strawbery Banke, with staff, 1988. Courtesy, Strawbery Banke Museum.

Though now recognized as a leading authority of textiles within the American home, it was only when she went to work in 1969 as curator of textiles and ceramics at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, that she began to see textiles as a key to understanding culture. “Using textiles to frame inquiry, I explored economics, industrialization and world trades, design, clothing, interiors, hand craft, infant care, female education, and a host of other topics.” Her interest in social history, domestic interiors, and museum collections management has made her a major force and resource in the field. “I always wanted to look at the big picture, but from the point of view of home and family,” she says.

Jane with Ronald Bourgeault of Northeast Auctions, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at the Wendell House, Portsmouth, circa 1990. Courtesy, Ron Bourgeault. When the historic Wendell house came on the market in 1987, Jane told the Wendell family that Ron would make a good custodian and responsible owner. “I realize Jane had the same passion for making sure the [Wendell] collection was preserved at Strawbery Banke as she did for me to preserve the house,” says Ron.

In 1986 Jane returned to New Hampshire as director of Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth. During her tenure several projects were completed, including an eighteenth-century tavern, 1790s commercial shop, 1952 Navy Yard worker’s apartment, World War II-era grocery store, and plans initiated for a now widely acclaimed circa-1920 Russian-Jewish family home. Important acquisitions included the Wendell family furnishings, among the best documented examples of locally produced furniture and decorative objects.

Jane’s interest in preservation and historic structures as a means of understanding history next led her to the SPNEA, where her husband was curator, in 1992. As its director for the next ten years, she focused on opening new museum properties, public education programs, improving the library, and emphasizing scholarship and research. Through her efforts, membership doubled.

“Much beloved colleagues and much admired in a distinguished tradition of spousal decorative arts teams.”

—Abbott Lowell Cummings, Architectural Historian

Jane and Richard with their children, Tom, Tim, and Sarah, 1994.

As to their accomplishments they say, “We’ve tried to help people make connections between the past and the present. Whenever we’ve found the answers…we have tried to find a way to publish and teach that information.” Though retired, both remain busy with book projects, the lecture circuit, board memberships—and most importantly, spending time with children, grandchildren, and each other. We truly enjoy what we do,” says Jane, “and that is enriched by sharing.” Both agree that “because we bring different perspectives to the table, there is probably no project that either of us has worked on that the other hasn’t been helpful.”
“For those who seek to understand historic house interiors, there is no better source than the team of Jane and Richard.”

—Carl Nold, President, Historic New England

Jane and Richard with Jeffrey Marshall at Houghton House, Norfolk, England, during a Historic New England members trip to England in 1996, when Jane was director.
The ADA Award of Merit is voted on by the membership of the ADA (Antiques Dealers Association of America) and is presented to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the field of American antiques. The Award of Merit dinner will be held at the Philadelphia Antiques Show at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 17. It will feature cocktails and dinner followed by a variety of guest speakers and friends The ADA Award of Merit is sponsored in part by Antiques & Fine Art Magazine, Antiques and The Arts Weekly, Flather and Perkins Insurance, and The Magazine Antiques. Seating is limited; tickets are $85 per person. For additional information and reservations call the ADA at 203.259.8571 or send your request to: Antiques Dealers’ Association of America, Inc., P.O. Box 529, Newtown, CT 06470-0529.

The ADA is a nonprofit trade association. Its major objective is to further professionalize the business of buying and selling antiques. Its membership is composed of antiques dealers who are dedicated to integrity, honesty, and ethical conduct in the antiques trade. All members are required to guarantee their merchandise in writing on a sales receipt that states approximate age, origin, condition, and any restoration of pieces sold.