J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Rhode Island Furniture in Connecticut, Opening 19 Aug.

On Friday, 19 August, The Yale University Art Gallery will open a new exhibit titled “Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650-1830.”

The exhibit’s website says: “Drawing together more than 130 exceptional objects from museums, historical societies, and private collections, the show highlights major aesthetic innovations developed in the region.”

The New York Times reported:
Patricia E. Kane, the lead curator of American decorative arts at the University Art Gallery here, has overseen a team that is attributing thousands of antiques and fragments of architectural ornament to Rhode Island carvers. The workers’ biographies are traceable partly because of the sheer volume of legal paperwork, which tells of unpaid bills, stints in prison and abandoned wives. . . .

Her team has connected chalk and pencil lettering on the undersides of furniture to particular artisans and patrons mentioned in deeds, wills, invoices, family correspondence and memoirs. The information has been organized into a database, the Rhode Island Furniture Archive.

Ms. Kane has helped debunk family legends about provenances, corrected typos in the historical records and resolved disagreements among dealers and scholars. She has deciphered looping handwriting and decoded cryptic numbering systems that were used by families of carvers who intermarried and worked in similar styles, including the Goddards and Townsends in Newport and the Spencers in Providence. . . .

The artisans — who had job titles like joiner, turner and upholsterer — and their clients also profited from owning and trading slaves. The Africans and African-Americans helped in the woodworking shops. Still, Ms. Kane said, no names of any Rhode Island slaves who made furniture have surfaced.

The catalog describes reversals of fortune and tragic fates. Apprentices at workshops that went bankrupt ended up in rags and in court with their former employers. Eunice Hazard, one of the Goddards’ regular customers, was left impoverished after the Revolutionary War with seven children; her husband [Thomas] had sympathized with the British and eventually fled to Canada.
For more information on the region’s furniture production, see the Boston Furniture Archive, managed by Winterthur. That Delaware museum owns the clock shown above, made about 1750, which will be in this exhibit.

TOMORROW: Eunice Hazard and her husband.

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