Furniture Exhibition at Winterthur: ‘Paint, Pattern, and People’

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on April 22, 2011

Press release from Winterthur:

Paint, Pattern & People: Furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1725-1850
Winterthur, 2 April 2011 — 8 January 2012

Curated by Wendy Cooper and Lisa Minardi

ISBN: 9780912724690, $55

This landmark exhibition explores the colorful furniture of southeastern Pennsylvania along with the people who made, owned, inherited, and collected it. Featuring nearly 200 objects—including furniture, fraktur, needlework, and paintings—the show focuses on the culture and creativity of the area’s English- and German-speaking inhabitants. Paint, Pattern & People sheds new light on southeastern Pennsylvania’s highly distinctive local expressions of furniture and presents important objects for which the maker or family history is known. This well-documented furniture provides a new context to understand the objects as fully as possible and place them within specific locations. Although the exhibition is about furniture, it is not about dovetails and glue blocks but rather the people of the region who are the threads from which the story is woven. Thus the furniture in Paint, Pattern & People is the vehicle that transports us into the lives of our ancestors and leads to a greater understanding of our rich cultural heritage.

Due to William Penn’s policy of religious tolerance that attracted people of various faiths and ethnic backgrounds, Pennsylvania was the most culturally diverse of the thirteen colonies. Through the study of objects produced by this great mixed multitude, the extraordinary vibrance and variety of the region’s furniture comes into focus. Ethnicity, religious affiliation, personal taste, socioeconomic status, and the skill of the craftsman all influenced local forms, ornamentation, and construction.

Examples of the stunning and diverse furniture highlighted in the exhibition include:
• A tall-case clock with unusual carved decoration of a pretzel and loaves of bread, made in 1745 for Lancaster baker and German immigrant Andreas Beierle.
• Chester County furniture inlaid with delicate line-and-berrymotifs, including the only known high chest of drawers and a recently discovered double-dome-top desk-and-bookcase, both featured for the first time in this exhibition.
• Furniture with inlaid decoration made of pure sulfur, a substance that when melted and poured into carved-out grooves creates a bright yellow inlay against the brown wood.
• A dynamic comparison of two of the finest known rococo high chests of drawers shown sideby-side, one made in Philadelphia and one in Lancaster.
• The earliest known examples of dated Pennsylvania German furniture: a tall-case clock and schrank with inlaid dates of 1740 and 1741, made by the same unknown craftsman.
• Seven rare blue-and-white delftware plates; one each from sets owned by Quaker families in Chester County; all are dated 1738 and bear the owners’ initials.
• One of fewer than ten known surviving Pennsylvania immigrant chests; this one retains its original shipping labels written in German script from 1737.
• Two extraordinary long rifles, including one of the finest Moravian-made firearms known featuring a carved griffin with inlaid beak and claws of horn.
• A Chester County tall-case clock still owned by descendants of the original owner along with two extremely rare letters sent to the client from the makers of both themovement and case.
• The work of mechanical genius and artisan John Fisher of York, including a tall-case clock that plays seven musical tunes and a painting of the Pennsylvania coat of arms made for the York County Courthouse in 1796.
• Important landscapes, trade signs, portraits, and paintings by noted Pennsylvania artists, including Benjamin West, Thomas Birch, Jacob Eichholtz, Jacob Maentel, John Archibald Woodside, Bass Otis, Edward Hicks, Thomas Hicks, and Charles Hofmann.
• A corpse tray from the Moravian settlement of Bethlehem; this unusual object relates to the Moravian practice of storing bodies of the deceased in a purpose-built corpse house for three days to ensure the person was really dead prior to burial.

The exhibition is accompanied by a full color, 304-page book published by Winterthur and distributed by the University of Pennsylvania Press. This publication is a significant contribution to the literature in the field, presenting new scholarship as well as never-before-illustrated furniture and related objects.

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