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Friday, 15 April 2011 02:37
Winterthur has one of the finest libraries anywhere on the Shaker religious sect. Largely donated by the Andrews family—Edward Deming and Faith Andrews were pioneer Shaker scholars and collectors beginning in the 1920s—the collection holds thousands of printed items, manuscripts, and photographs by and about the Shakers. Even so, it has no manuscripts chronicling the activities of the first Shakers before they established their initial village in the late 1770s.
Friday, 15 April 2011 02:29
What is it that makes Milton Avery’s (1885–1965) art appear so much more “modern” when compared to canvases by his contemporaries, whether they be figurative or abstract artists? With modernism, the search for immediacy, for quickness, for vitality—the pursuit of effects intrinsic to the sketch became the ends rather than the means of artistic achievement. No longer relegated to a stage within the production of a finished work of art, characteristics of drawings and studies became increasingly appreciated for their ability to convey a world of change, speed, and novelty synonymous with all that was “modern” in people’s lives and daily experiences.
Tuesday, 12 April 2011 23:47
Two dozen species of hosta line the path to the door of Fernside Cottage, a fieldstone house tucked into a hillside by a creek. Open the door and find a veritable shower of rainbow spatterware; the English pearlware festooned, draped, and striped in prism colors. Move on to the stair hall and be heralded by two towers of graduated stoneware crocks painted with cobalt deer, birds, or flowers. “It is all about graphics,” says Dennis, a designer, landscaper, restorer of old houses, and unstoppable collector.
Tuesday, 12 April 2011 23:43
The Philadelphia Antiques Show marks its fiftieth year in 2011. For half a century this highly regarded event has set the standard for excellence in the world of American antiques, featuring prominent dealers showcasing rare and extraordinary works. Since its inauguration in 1962, each show has also been distinguished by the presentation of a curated loan exhibit, with objects borrowed from museums, professional institutions, and private collections. This year, the loan exhibit brings together items associated with forms of celebration through centuries of American history.
Tuesday, 12 April 2011 23:40
Queen Victoria’s sixty-three-year reign, from 20 June 1837 to 22 January 1901, was the longest in English history and spanned a period of dramatic technical advance in the art of portrait miniature painting, the last great flourish of which was during the Queen’s first two decades on the throne. This third and final catalogue raisonné of miniatures in the Royal Collection is the first major study of the art form in the Victorian period. Covering over 1,100 works, the publication draws extensively on unpublished material from the Royal Archives.
Tuesday, 12 April 2011 23:38
Charleston, South Carolina, is fortunate to have many of its residents and institutions focused on preserving its history and architectural heritage. One of the wealthiest ports during the colonial period, large numbers of talented artisans produced luxury goods for their sophisticated local clientele. Unfortunately, much of the furniture and decorative arts made during this golden era either no longer survive or have been dispersed (see pages 298–299), leaving scant record of what was produced and owned. One individual—businessman and Charleston native John M. Rivers Jr.—set out to reclaim the city’s decorative heritage and has made a concerted effort to acquire and return locally made furniture, silver, and other objects that tell the story of Charleston and its inhabitants.
Tuesday, 12 April 2011 23:36
With its silversmiths, jewelers, blacksmiths, cabinetmakers, and numerous other skilled craftsmen, Charleston, South Carolina, was the cosmopolitan nucleus for southern decorative arts during the Colonial, Federal, and Antebellum periods. However, as locals know, “The Holy City”—as it is oftentimes called because of its many churches—has not consistently enjoyed a position of affluence. Traditionally, the two wars fought on its turf and other misfortunes have been held responsible for the loss of much of Charleston’s fine and decorative arts.
Tuesday, 12 April 2011 23:30
Middleton Place (Fig. 1), home of Arthur Middleton (1742–1787), a signer of the Declaration of Independence, is a National Historic Landmark in Charleston, South Carolina. Now owned by the Middleton Place Foundation, the plantation has had continuous family stewardship for approximately 320 years. Burned to the ground in February 1865 by the 56th New York Regiment, Middleton Place, a rising phoenix, is renowned for America’s oldest landscaped garden, a rejuvenated plantation stableyard interpretive complex, conservation easements along the Ashley River that shield the landscape from modern incursions, and a house museum in the restored (ca. 1870) South Flanker. Thanks to the generosity of Middleton descendants, the museum contains a family archives and a collection of Middleton paintings, silver, furniture, jewelry and clothing of extraordinary quality and with impeccable Middleton provenance. For four decades, developing these collections has been a rewarding process of scholarship and discovery.
Saturday, 09 April 2011 04:54
Born the youngest of three sons to Thomas and Anne Drayton at the family’s Magnolia Plantation in 1715, very little is known about John Drayton’s upbringing. In 1738, the twenty-three-year-old Drayton entered the public record through his purchase of a 350-acre tract of land located next to his birthplace on the Ashley River. Here, Drayton constructed Drayton Hall, a masterpiece of colonial architecture that was influenced by the classical design principles originally published by the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio (1508–1580) in I Quattro Libri Dell’Architettura (1570). The architect of Drayton Hall remains a mystery. The recent discovery, however, of a list of early eighteenth-century pattern books present within Drayton Hall’s eighteenth-century library—works by Colen Campbell, William Salmon, Isaac Ware, James Gibbs, Batty Langley, and William Halfpenny—suggests that John Drayton played a central role in the building’s creation.1 Current research is beginning to expose how such pattern books were not only used, but were in fact adapted to create the first fully executed Palladian structure in colonial America. Accordingly, John Drayton is reemerging as one of North America’s earliest exponents of Anglo-Palladianism (Fig. 2).
Saturday, 09 April 2011 04:49
Charleston, South Carolina, prides itself on numerous firsts. For instance, the first theater building in America was constructed in Charleston (in 1736), as was the first public golf course (in 1786). The citizens of Charleston have long been protective of their city and its unique character, and in 1931, the first historic district in the country was created by Charlestonians, and in the 1950s, the first revolving fund to purchase and rehabilitate historic buildings was developed in the city. As a result of the latter two progressive actions, Charleston represents the finest intact collection of colonial and antebellum architecture in the nation.
Saturday, 02 April 2011 06:36
While the newly opened Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, offers a hemispheric view of 3,000 years of North, Central, and South American art, the period rooms tell a distinctly local story. Of the eight period rooms and other architectural elements interspersed within fifty-three new galleries, six of these rooms make their return to public view after a hiatus of nearly eight years, now carefully restored and rethought for a new generation of visitors. Two other rooms are on view for the first time. The American period rooms have been a popular part of the MFA’s displays since they were first installed in the former Decorative Arts Wing of the museum, which opened to the public in 1928. Now, as then, the rooms focus on New England, complementing the MFA’s significant holdings of colonial and nineteenth-century art from New England. The most elaborate and well known of the period rooms are those from Oak Hill, Samuel McIntire’s 1800–1801 architectural masterpiece created in Peabody, Massachusetts, for the Derby-West family and filled with luxurious furnishings and exquisite examples of his carved furniture. The three Oak Hill rooms now sit comfortably alongside a gallery devoted to the furniture of John and Thomas Seymour (who were heavily patronized by the Derby-West family) and the neoclassical silver of Paul Revere. Other rooms now reinstalled include the 1730 Jaffrey parlor and the 1803 Shepard parlor, with its original French scenic wallpaper. Two newly installed rooms from the 1840 Roswell Gleason House in Dorchester inform adjacent galleries of mid-nineteenth-century paintings and decorative arts; the earliest timber-frame structures—the 1692–1693 Manning frame and the 1704 Brown-Pear hall—are placed in spirited dialogue with the museum’s important collection of early Anglo artifacts arranged within and around their walls. Throughout, the period rooms inform our sense of place and scale, while providing a more intimate encounter with art.
Saturday, 02 April 2011 06:24
At a rural auction in Maine during the summer of 1979, a couple purchased an old handmade box containing a family group of eight silhouettes (Fig. 1). Three of the silhouettes were signed by the artist using the embossed stamp “W. Jennys” (Fig. 2).1 These silhouettes, also called shades or profiles, are an exciting example of the versatility of early American folk portrait painters. They are the work of William Jennys (1774–1859), who with his father, Richard (ca. 1734–ca. 1809), travelled for sixteen years as itinerant portrait painters between 1792/3 and 1808.2 Oil on canvas portraits by Richard or William Jennys (Figs. 3–7) are in numerous museum and private collections. Less well known is the fact that in 1805, William, responding to a new technical revolution as well as his own artistic sensibilities, began preparing silhouettes with a most unusual decorative quality. We are not aware of a previously published family group of silhouettes by this artist.
Saturday, 02 April 2011 06:21
The earliest records of the ancient bronzes of Hunan Province, China, come from the Song dynasty (960–1279) scholar Hong Mai (1123–1202). In his book Notes of Rong Studio (Rongzhai Suibi [ca. 1196]), he recorded that in 1187, a Western Zhou dynasty (11th century–771 BCE) tomb was looted and bronze objects were found within. Centuries later in the 1920s, several exotic-shaped vessels came to market and garnered worldwide attention. One of these was an elephant shaped zun (wine vessel) exhibited in the Musée Guimet in Paris. However, the serious study of the Hunan bronze began in 1981 when archaeologist Gao Zhixi raised the question in an essay as to “whether the Shang bronze culture has crossed Yangzi River or not.” At the time of his inquiry, excavations since the 1950s had turned up a number of Shang (16th–11th century BCE) and Zhou dynasty bronze vessels, including the famous human-faced rectangular ding (cooking vessel), which was excavated by a peasant in his village in Huangcai, Ningxiang, in 1958. In subsequent decades, more extraordinary bronze vessels were unearthed in the Ningxiang area, Hunan Province.
Saturday, 02 April 2011 06:13
An important part of the story of art has been characterized by self-taught ingenuity and work ethic honed by struggle for survival and passionate appreciation for life. As an African-American man born in Alabama, Thornton Dial’s (b. 1928) art represents a deeply important voice in this story and embodies many of the developments and shifts in the way art is made, understood, and consumed in the modern world.

Dial did not receive his technical skills and knowledge of materials at an academic institution, nor his philosophical and aesthetic ideas solely from Western sources. His work is grounded in the African-American culture and visual traditions of the South and in a craftsmanship refined from utilitarian skills. He does not fit the definition of an “Outsider.” Instead this self-taught artist’s work has been called folk or vernacular, and while these categories are not necessarily false, Dial’s art transcends them.

A clear-eyed observer of the human condition, Dial has spent the last two decades exploring the complexities and contradictions present in American history and culture. Different media express the vision behind his abstracted, symbolic subjects in different ways, and the interplay between painting and sculpture roots the work in twentieth-century art, where the blurring of these traditional categories has been thoroughly explored. Dial draws with metal, sculpts with paint, and creates complex space using line.
Saturday, 02 April 2011 06:09
Near the ancient town of Dali in Yunnan Province in Southwest China is the towering massif called Cangshan that contains extraordinary marble deposits noted for their unique twisted striations and explosive combinations of colors. This Yunnan stone was esteemed so early in China that the Chinese word for “marble” is “dali.” This marble is also the source of Dali Dreamstones, natural canvases that reveal mysterious variegated patterns within each formation.
Saturday, 02 April 2011 06:02
Along with being one of the foremost financiers in history, Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913) was an avid art collector and generous cultural benefactor. In the early-nineteenth century Morgan began amassing a collection of important manuscripts, early printed books, and Old Master works on paper. A New York City resident at the time, Morgan decided to have a private library built to house his notable acquisitions. With Charles McKim (1847–1909) of the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White at the helm, a grand, three-room Italian-Renaissance-style palazzo masterpiece was constructed between 1902 and 1906.
Saturday, 02 April 2011 05:53
For her sixteenth birthday, the wife’s future husband gave her a Saratoga trunk. “He knew I liked antiques,” she says. More than forty years later, antiques continue to be an integral component of this couple’s life together.

When the couple was first married, the husband was a graduate student at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. They would go to the Philadelphia Antiques Show each spring, and, says the wife, “though we knew we couldn’t afford objects of such quality at that point, we enjoyed viewing the booths and being inspired.” When they got married, her grandmother gave them some money, and the first thing they did was visit the antiques shops in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where they purchased an English Pembroke table, currently in their dining room, and a tiger maple chest of drawers, which their daughter and son-in-law now own. As they expanded their collection, the couple would attend the January antiques shows in New York—the Winter Antiques Show, the Piers, and Sanford Smith’s show to benefit the Museum of American Folk Art (now the American Folk Art Museum); increasing their collection slowly, but with items of quality. It was at a Sanford Smith show in the early 1980s that they first met Patrick Bell and Edwin Hild of Olde Hope Antiques. An instant bond was formed that continues today.
Friday, 01 April 2011 02:49

From his school days growing up in Philadelphia, Morrie remembers with fondness the shop classes taught by his teacher Erwin Drexel at the Episcopal Academy in Merion, which inspired him to dream of becoming a cabinetmaker. In his words, “I dabbled at woodwork,” and was very proud of a copy of an early nineteenth-century tripod table that he made as a high schooler. With his usual self-deprecating humor, Morrie admits he’d chosen a second rate example to emulate.

Thursday, 31 March 2011 00:01
Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture is the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture. The idea originated, with an exhibition called “Walt Whitman: a kosmos,” which I curated at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., in 2006. I had labeled a photograph “Walt Whitman and his lover Peter Doyle,” which elicited the response from Jonathan Katz, director of the doctoral program in visual studies at the University of Buffalo, that it was the first time Whitman and Doyle’s relationship had been openly acknowledged in a major museum exhibition. We subsequently had a series of conversations about the unacknowledged role of sexual difference in art and the place of gay and lesbian artists in the making of modern American portraiture. Jonathan Katz had been attempting to interest a museum in mounting such an exhibition for many years and he was delighted to find a willing collaborator in the Portrait Gallery.
Wednesday, 30 March 2011 23:48
The blue, green, peach, and yellow facades known as “Rainbow Row” are among the most iconic landmarks in historic Charleston, South Carolina (Fig. 1). The “longest cluster of intact Georgian row houses in the United States,”1 the fourteen buildings that compose this section date to between 1720 and 1790. Originally a bustling commercial boulevard facing one of the busiest harbors in the colonies, the wharves have since been filled and tourists now stroll along this tree-lined street.