Exhibition: American Colonial Revival Style in New York

Posted in books, exhibitions, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on August 27, 2011

From the Museum of the City of New York:

The American Style: Colonial Revival and the Modern Metropolis
Museum of the City of New York, 14 June — 30 October 2011

Curated by Donald Albrecht and Thomas Mellins

The American Style: Colonial Revival and the Modern Metropolis brings together extraordinary furniture, decorative objects, and photographs to survey, in New York City and beyond, the Colonial Revival movement in the realms of architecture and design. The exhibition covers the fertile period from the 1890s to the present, focusing on the years from 1900 to the 1930s, when New York City, through department stores, museums, and more, was the center for the style’s promotion nationwide.

Exhibition Catalogue: Donald Albrecht and Thomas Mellins, The American Style: Colonial Revival and the Modern Metropolis (New York: Monacelli Press, 2011), 224 pages, ISBN: 9781580932851, $50. Easily the most recognizable architectural style in America, with its brick or shingled facades trimmed in white and ornamented with restrained classical detail, the Colonial Revival emerged in the late nineteenth century and is still the basis for classical
design today. The American Style surveys the evolution of the Colonial Revival from the 1890s to the present, focusing on the period from 1900 to the 1930s when New York City was a major center of architecture and decorative arts. Leading architects, including McKim Mead & White, Delano & Aldrich, and Mott B. Schmidt, used its vocabulary for private residences and clubs as well as institutional buildings—banks, schools, churches, and museums.

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As Edward Rothstein writes in his review for The New York Times (13 June 2011) . . .

National Design That’s Hidden in Plain Sight

One sign of a powerful style is its invisibility. It is so familiar it is scarcely noticed. It is so natural, how could things be otherwise? We don’t really pay attention to the style itself. Instead we notice contrasts, variations, violations.

One of the achievements of the illuminating exhibition “The American Style,” which opens on Tuesday at the Museum of the City of New York, is that it helps make the invisible visible. With photographs of grand mansions and suburban residences; with images of high schools, apartment buildings, town halls and post offices; with examples of mass-market furniture and finely made cabinetry; with pewter candlesticks and pictorial wall murals and floor plans, the exhibition gradually helps us see what is all around us. Its subtitle defines the terrain: “Colonial Revival and the Modern Metropolis.”. . .

The style embraces both authority and intimacy, proclaiming the hopes of ordinary citizens as well as the heritage of those well established.

There is also a historical aspect to its appeal. The revival developed after the nation’s centennial celebrations in 1876, when the scars of the Civil War and the struggles of Reconstruction were salved by these allusions to an almost pastoral colonial past. Reproductions were made of early furniture. Paintings, vases and decorative plates incorporated images of Washington.

On display here is a hand-tinted photograph from the studio of Wallace Nutting, a minister who at the turn of the 20th century became something of a revival missionary, staging domestic tableaus in colonial-era homes and photographing them. The style gained another wave of energy from the renovation of Colonial Williamsburg in the 1930s, which even influenced architects of new urban developments.

The style, as the exhibition shows, eventually evolved into a national style meant “to invoke a national experience and express national values.” When the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its American Wing in 1924, its first curator, R. T. H. Halsey, said the displays of early decorative arts would counter “the influx of foreign ideas” and present traditions “invaluable in the Americanization of many of our people.” . . .

The full review is available here»

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