Robert and I have long been collectors of 18th century American decorative arts. The urge to collect started with a modest wedding gift of a colonial “dry sink” that functioned as a bar, became a baby changing table (for a second generation too), and finally, storage for toys. However, that gift started us on a lifelong passion for collecting American antiques. At first our purchases were modest, chosen simply to furnish our home. But our curiosity about more authentic objects and a higher level of craftsmanship led to visiting countless antiques shows and museums, building lifelong friendships with other collectors and dealers and a job at the Yale Art Gallery.
Museums hold the incredible promise of teaching moments. They are the repository of some of the finest furniture, objects and paintings of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries and great places for self education. Starting with the initiatives of Charles Montgomery at the Yale University Art Gallery, museums began to look at the parts of a piece of furniture to understand the key to the whole. Charles wanted to demonstrate the difference between a “better” piece and a “masterpiece”. As museum exhibitions are updated and new technology is available, many of the most recent museum exhibits are working to educate the general museum-going public about our incredible American craftsmanship heritage.
Recently, as part of our continuing education, Robert and I went to the 2010 addition to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, designed by Foster and Partners, to see their newly installed American collections in the Art of the Americas Wing. Some old favorites were back on display looking refreshed after their 3 year hiatus. Of course there were many incredible paintings by John Singleton Copley, silver by Paul Revere, some great Goddard and Townsend furniture and a period room demonstrating new scholarship. There are several wonderful architectural doorways and many opportunities to look at similar furniture with different but subtle regional details that determine whether a piece is fine or memorable. (I might add there is a world of difference between the two.)
The museum looks great and it was wonderful to experience our favorite pieces in new settings with better lighting and, in some cases, with new upholstery. Kudos to the MFA and its curators for a job well done.
I apologize for my pictures, all taken with an iPhone. The light does not amplify the amazing qualities in any of the objects. All the more reason to take a trip to the museum yourself.
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