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Saturday, 16 March 2013 23:09

Blue and white is a color combination that has been popular for centuries, particularly for ceramics and textiles. While the history and technology of blue and white ceramics are well understood, a group of European and American blue and white resist-printed textiles remain somewhat of a conundrum.

Saturday, 16 March 2013 23:03

Sit Down! Chairs from Six Centuries (21 October, 2010–16 January, 2011) at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, celebrates one of the most useful objects found wherever people gather. Sit Down! considers broad stylistic trends in European and American furniture from 1470 to the present, including Gothic, rococo, neoclassical, the revivals and reforms of the nineteenth century, and the American studio movement of the twentieth century. The exhibition examines the evolution of style, the nature of technological innovation, and the social meaning of seating furniture. Works on display are from the museum’s collection, with important loans of works by Samuel Gragg, Gustave Herter, Josef Hoffmann, Marcel Breuer, and Robert Venturi. Paintings, portraits, and pattern books complement the selection and establish cultural context.

Thursday, 07 March 2013 03:49

Founded by Hartford art patron Daniel Wadsworth (1771–1848) in 1842, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is America’s oldest public art museum. A luxury once reserved for the wealthy, Wadsworth set out to make art accessible to all social classes. Using his own collection as the foundation, Wadsworth quickly expanded the museum’s holdings, accepting works from Samuel Colt’s wife, Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, and financier, J. Pierpont Morgan. Many works remain in the museum’s permanent collection.

Thursday, 07 March 2013 03:42

Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF) was founded in 1947 to preserve and protect the historic landmarks structures and material culture that make Charleston a unique American city. The foundation is well known for its advocacy programs, including protective covenants and easements, and it was the first organization in the country to establish a Revolving Fund, a model now replicated in historic communities across the nation. Education and outreach coupled with preservation is at the heart of its mission. One of the primary ways that HCF fulfills this goal is through the interpretation of its collection and two museum sites: the Nathaniel Russell House (1808) and the Aiken-Rhett House (circa 1820). These historic properties serve as an ideal exhibition space for HCF’s outstanding collection of fine and decorative arts, architectural elements, and archeological fragments from the early eighteenth to the late nineteenth centuries.

Thursday, 07 March 2013 03:24

During the last half of the eighteenth century, craftsmen of Continental and British descent brought a wide variety of Old World ceramic traditions to the North Carolina backcountry. The achievements of these craftsmen often surpassed those of their Middle Atlantic and New England contemporaries, particularly in the application of polychrome slip decoration. North Carolina potters transformed the most basic material into objects of exceptional beauty and cultural significance. For the Moravians, slipware plates and dishes functioned as reminders of their European roots as well as potent symbols of religion and the cycle of life. For other potters and their patrons, decorated earthenware was a means of expressing and preserving their identity in the New World (Fig. 1).

Thursday, 07 March 2013 03:13

The Connecticut River Valley region stretches from northern New Hampshire to Long Island Sound. The area including Deerfield, Massachusetts, south to Old Saybrook, Connecticut, was an important center for needlework. Taught by skilled instructresses, young women in fashionable academies and smaller day schools mastered the art of needlework and painting, beginning with elementary samplers and advancing to canvaswork in the eighteenth century and to exquisite pictorial silk embroideries and detailed watercolors on paper and silk at the turn of the nineteenth century. The finished pieces demonstrated the young women’s accomplishments in the “polite arts” and displayed the gentility and social status of their families.

Thursday, 07 March 2013 02:53

Gertrude Townsend, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s, first curator of textiles, focused much of her energy during the late 1930s and early 1940s on building the country’s finest collection of early American embroidery, curating the exhibition New England Colonial Embroidery, in 1941, the first to focus exclusively on the subject. With the opening of the museum’s new American Wing in November 2010, three consecutive exhibitions will further Townsend’s work and will be the basis for a forthcoming publication exploring the embroideries of colonial Boston, the lives of the girls and women who made them, and the economic role of embroidery in this urban center (Fig. 1).

Thursday, 07 March 2013 02:45

The new Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), opening November 20, 2010, marks the culmination of over a decade’s work to bring together in one place a more inclusive vision of American art. In 1999, renowned architects Foster + Partners (London) were selected to design the new wing for the Art of the Americas and Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard (Fig. 1) accessible through the two redesigned entrances, Huntington Avenue and the State Street Corporation Fenway Entrance. The design reestablishes the MFA’s north-south axis envisioned by Guy Lowell (1870–1927), the museum’s original architect, bringing visitors to the heart of the MFA and improving navigation throughout the building.

Thursday, 07 March 2013 02:39

Louis Comfort Tiffany created Parakeets and Gold Fish Bowl to showcase his firm’s design and glass manufacturing skills at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. In a promotional brochure for the fair, Tiffany stated that it “illustrate[s] most perfectly the possibilities of American glass.”

Thursday, 07 March 2013 02:29

Few realize today the extraordinary level of enthusiasm with which Americans pursued ownership of sculpture during the last half of the nineteenth century. The reasons for the popularity of parlor sculpture were many and varied, but essentially sprang from the desire of the wealthy and the newly vested middle class for art as an expression of their taste and sophistication. Tastemaker Clarence Cook succinctly stated this impulse when he noted that “there is hardly anything that better rewards [the] trouble [of acquiring it] than a fine cast of a really noble or lovely piece of sculpture.”1

Saturday, 02 March 2013 04:58

When Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) retired from the presidency in 1809 and returned to Monticello to live year-round for the first time since 1796, his domestic world was expansive and complex. His wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson (1748–1782), had been dead for nearly twenty-seven years, but his oldest daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph (1772–1836), her husband, Thomas Mann Randolph Jr. (1768–1828), and their eleven children joined the Monticello household, as did Jefferson’s sister Anna Marks (1755–1828), and, eventually, a grandson-in-law, his grandmother, and three great-grandchildren.1

Friday, 01 March 2013 04:04

American antiques have been a passion for Norman and Mary Gronning since their introduction to them in Buffalo, New York, in the 1960s. As newlyweds just beginning their careers as teachers, the couple sought a way to supplement their income and decided to go into business with several friends selling second-hand furniture. In their excursions they met dealers in early American furniture and became aware of the potential value and historical importance of these objects. Intent on learning all they could, many weekends were spent visiting historic sites and museums throughout the northeast. The couple eventually began to buy and sell antiques instead of used furniture.

Friday, 01 March 2013 03:56

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a collector as someone who “collects or gathers together…specimens, works of art, curiosities…[and] items of interest because of [their] excellence, rarity, etc.” It would be much more efficient to simply refer the reader to Peter Tillou. With houses in Litchfield, Connecticut, Sanibel Island, Florida, and Sun Valley, Idaho, brimming with collections of American and European furniture and paintings, folk art and Dutch Old Masters, Chinese Tang and Han ceramics, ancient bronzes, arms and armor, African carvings, American glass, contemporary art, and pre-Columbian pottery, not to mention garages full of vintage classic cars, Tillou’s eclectic approach to assembling objects creates environments that are a wonderfully refreshing juxtaposition of times, places, and styles.

Friday, 01 March 2013 03:43

Broadway’s “discovery” by William Morris (1834–1896), a principal figure in the English Arts and Crafts movement, spearheaded interest in the quiet village in the English Cotswolds (Fig. 1) and brought about its incarnation as an arts colony populated by a group of prominent painters, writers, musicians, and other creative souls who convened there in the mid-1880s, a tradition that continues today. The so-called “Broadway group” included a number of American expatriate painters, chief among them John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), hard at work on what would become his masterpiece, Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose (Fig. 2). Surrounding Sargent at this time was a congenial group of artist-friends whose relatives, spouses, and children posed, gardened, entertained, and established a sense of camaraderie in the sleepy village that bequeathed an enduring legacy as well as a remarkable group of artworks that capture the flavor of the colony.

Thursday, 28 February 2013 02:15

When Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764–1820) arrived in cosmopolitan Philadelphia in 1798, the city had been the capital of the “new Republic” of the United States for eight years. By introducing Philadelphians to Grecian-influenced architecture with his Bank of Pennsylvania, completed in 1801, he ushered in a new style, already transcendent in Europe, that would come to dominate American design in the first half of the nineteenth century. Latrobe was to help make Philadelphia what, in 1811, he predicted it would become; “the Athens of the Western world.”1 Latrobe, a London-trained architect, was finely attuned to the broad interest in ancient cultures that had swept Europe in the second half of the eighteenth century. He understood the connection, already fostered in America by Thomas Jefferson, between the rich architectural heritage of the Greek and Roman democracies and their natural successor flourishing on the banks of the Delaware.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013 02:01

Among the key elements for turning a passion for antiques into a business is the ability to be a good teacher; one who knows how to engage and encourage others. Such is the case with Mark and Marjorie Allen, specialists in period antiques.

Saturday, 23 February 2013 05:30

The whimsical crayon drawings of the artist whose signature has been interpreted as “P. S. Downes” has elicited interest from folk art collectors and scholars since the 1970s.1 The images portrayed frequently relate stories—supposedly autobiographical—about an aged sailor who saw service in the merchant marines (slaving, smuggling, being ship wrecked), who had been a member of the 4th New York Heavy Artillery Company K during the Civil War, and was later a member of the S. L. Judd Grand Army Post No. 377 in Windsor, New York. Record searches to date have turned up no evidence of such a man. Speculation that the artist had a connection to the village of Downsville in Delaware County, New York, because many of his drawings have been found in this area, seem logical, but have also turned up little information. It was the recent Internet publication of the list of Civil War Soldiers in Madison County that allowed a Private Parley S. Downer of Company K of the 4th New York Heavy Artillery to step forward and be recognized. Reevaluation of the signature that appears on many of the works by the artist show that what has reasonably been viewed as “P. S. Downes” is, in fact, “P. S. Downer,” and the Scottie appearing in many of his works is, as theorized, his middle name.

Saturday, 23 February 2013 05:19

Walk into almost any American antiques show and you will find for sale several examples of a unique portrait style produced in the northeastern United States from approximately 1820 to 1850. These portraits measure only about 3 by 2¾ to 5 by 4 inches, and present the sitter in a tightly cropped image on either a light white cardboard called Bristol board or on paper. In a direct pose, watercolor, ink, or pencil is used to depict the sitter in bold relief using an economy of line. Unwavering light is directed straight onto the sitter without shadow, so the figure appears to be almost self-illuminated. Facial features range from examples left roughly sketched to those minutely finished with delicate color. The sitters are solitary, with emotion and gesturing conspicuously eliminated and, usually, there is no attempt to use background detail to produce an atmospheric space. In a monumental stillness, the sitters seem to be fixed in time with the image so close to the picture plane that the person appears ready to step into the viewer’s world.

Saturday, 23 February 2013 05:07

A layered cutwork Tree of Life, discovered at a Connecticut antiques show in the booth of the late Frank Ganci, presented an intriguing puzzle when it first came to light in 1980 (Figs. 1, 1a). Upon its removal from a non-original frame, the cutwork exhibited legitimate signs of age. Of paramount interest was its obvious resemblance in silhouette to the design of The Tree of Life painted by Hannah Cohoon (1788–1864) at the Hancock, Massachusetts, Shaker community in 1854 (Fig. 2). The question is, does this cutwork represent a major Shaker discovery or a twentieth-century copy based on the original work?

Thursday, 14 February 2013 05:22

American art connoisseurs John and Susan Horseman have assembled a collection of American paintings that are being traveled by the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, Tennessee. The exhibition, Modern Dialect: American Paintings from the John and Susan Horseman Collection, brings together sixty-eight paintings from the collection to explore artists and the works they created in the tumultuous years surrounding the two World Wars.