Exhibition | The Material World of the Early South

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on February 18, 2014

From the press release (10 February 2014). . .

A Rich and Varied Culture: The Material World of the Early South
DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, Colonial Williamsburg, opens 14 February 2014

Curated by Ronald Hurst and Margaret Beck Pritchard


Powder Horn, attributed to Jonathan Sarrazin, Charleston, South Carolina, cow horn, 1762–64 (Winston-Salem, NC: The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts)

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A groundbreaking exhibition examining the material culture of the early South from the 17th century through 1840—the first of its kind to include a wide variety of media—will open at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, one of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, on February 14. A Rich and Varied Culture: The Material World of the Early South will feature a dozen categories of media and represent three geographic regions of the South.

Some 350 objects will be drawn from the Colonial Williamsburg collections, those of 10 other institutions and 14 private collections. Many of the items in the exhibition will be on public view for the first time in a museum setting. Like the culture they represent, the objects are diverse, chronologically telling the story of the region’s population as it expanded westward and southward toward the frontier.

“The early American South has long been depicted as a society that produced almost none of the objects used by its substantial populace,” said Ronald L. Hurst, Colonial Williamsburg vice president for collections, conservation, and museums and its Carlisle H. Humelsine Chief Curator. “However, the opposite is true. Southern artists and artisans generated a vast body of material in virtually every medium. The abundance and diverse cultural resonance of these goods will be powerfully conveyed by the objects assembled for this exhibition.”

Featured in A Rich and Varied Culture will be furniture, paintings, prints, metals (silver and pewter), ceramics, mechanical arts and arms, architectural elements, archaeological objects, rare books, maps, costumes and accessories and musical instruments. These objects are each receiving detailed, exhaustive research that sometimes challenges previous research. In one example, a remarkable painting of Frances Parke Custis, on loan from Washington and Lee University, has recently been identified as the work of the Broadnax Limner, a little-known artist who worked in Virginia during the 1720s. Similarly, an elaborately decorated 1770s ‘dresser’ or hutch was long thought to be a Pennsylvania product, but has proven instead to be the work of a Quaker cabinetmaker working in Alamance County, N.C.

While the majority of the objects and paintings in the exhibition come from the various collections of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, several sister institutions are also lending to this important undertaking in an example of unprecedented partnership. Chief among them is The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) at Old Salem Museums and Gardens in Winston-Salem, N.C., with which the Art Museums recently announced a five-year partnership. It is the largest lender with 39 objects. Other lenders include Drayton Hall, a Historic Site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Charleston, S.C..; The Charleston Museum; Washington and Lee University in Lexington; The Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library in Winterthur, Del.; Historic Charleston Foundation; Tennessee State Museum; the University of Tennessee’s Department of Anthropology and McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture; Marble Springs State Historic Site in Knoxville, Tenn.; and The President’s House Collection at The College of Williams & Mary in Williamsburg. Fourteen private collectors are also generously lending to the exhibition. (more…)

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