Exhibition | In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on October 30, 2014

Press release (15 September 2014) from PEM:

In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA, 15 November 2014 — 29 March 2015


Chest of Drawers, 1758–66, attributed to Nathaniel Gould. Marblehead Historical Society and Museum. Photographed in the Jeremiah Lee Mansion (ca. 1766–68), 170 Washington Street, Marblehead. © 2014 Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Dennis Helmar Photography.

At the dawn of the American Revolution in a city bustling with trade, politics and commerce, a craftsman of unusual ability was working tirelessly to create fine furniture for his wealthy patrons. Nathaniel Gould (1734–1781) established one of the region’s most sought-after workshops, producing thousands of technically sophisticated and aesthetically refined works for clients at home and for export. With an astute business sense, Gould thrived in one of the most tumultuous political and economic eras in American history. Despite all of this, until recently, Gould’s life and legacy was largely unknown. Masterworks sat in anonymity in the halls of major museum collections, unsigned by their maker and identified only vaguely by their geographic origin. In 2006, everything changed.

In the vaults of the Massachusetts Historical Society, among the records of Gould’s estate lawyer, researchers discovered documents that cast fresh light onand forever enhance our understanding ofAmerican furniture history. Three of Gould’s bound ledgers kept between 1758 and 1783 document in detail the production of almost 3,000 pieces of furniture in his Salem workshop. Painstaking analysis has revealed the identity, preferences, and transactions of more than 500 of Gould’s patrons as well as the names of his journeymen and probable apprentices. This veritable data dump of information has led museums, antique collectors, and the general public to examine their collections with fresh eyes and piqued interest. Works whose significance was obfuscated by the passage of time and lack of provenance are now being reconsidered and reappraised.

Attributed to the shop of Nathaniel Gould, Side Chair, 1770. Mahogany, maple, birch, and pine. H. 3811⁄16, W. 21½, D. 21 inches. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Gift of Mrs. Paul Moore (39.88.2).

Attributed to the shop of Nathaniel Gould, Side Chair, 1770. Mahogany, maple, birch, and pine, 39 x 21 x 21 inches (NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Gift of Mrs. Paul Moore, 39.88.2)

In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gouldon view at PEM from November 15, 2014, through March 1, 2015is the first exhibition to definitively unpack this discovery and describe the signature characteristics of Gould’s work. In Plain Sight also invites exploration into the life, times and social mores of early America through the lens of one of the country’s earliest and most successful woodworkers. Stately desks, bombé chests, and scalloped-top tea tables made of the finest imported mahogany are presented alongside paintings, archival materials, decorative arts, and an interactive workbench and desk provide insight into the makers and consumers of 18th-century American design and culture. The exhibition is accompanied by an exquisite publication of photographs and detailed essays from PEM curators and principal researchers Kemble Widmer, Joyce King, and Betsy Widmer.

“Possessing extraordinary woodworking skills and a refined sense of design, Gould created works that rank among the finest produced in 18th-century New England,” says Dean Lahikainen, PEM’s Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of American Decorative Art. “This jewel-like exhibition celebrates the best of Gould’s furniture in a format that invites contextual exploration and rewards close looking.”

Gould’s work is distinguished by its careful attention to graining, distinctive carved ball-and-claw feet, extended knee returns, and superbly carved pinwheels and scallop seashells. Clients could choose from a range of design forms, including desks and chests of drawers, tables, chairs, beds, and miscellaneous pieces, such as cradles, coffins, and fire screens. Gould built his career on his ability to translate London’s latest designssometimes gleaned from British pattern books, including Thomas Chippendale’s The Gentleman and Cabinet-Makers Directorinto a more conservative style that pleased the tastes of the region’s wealthy elite.

The Gould ledgers reveal a high percentage of domestic furniture produced to fill wedding orders, mostly from members of the merchant class. Within a highly competitive social environment, newlywed couples aspired (as they do today) to own status symbols that communicated the family’s wealth and social position.

At the time, Salem was the hub of coastal trade and, as the ever-wise businessman, Gould saw opportunity. His ledgers reveal 616 pieces of furniture that were sold in the Caribbean and of this inventory, 62 percent were desks, half of which were made of cedaran aromatic wood prized for its ability to deter insects in the semitropical regions. Gould’s participation in the export business also allowed him to become Salem’s principal importer of cedar and mahogany logs and allowed him to reserve the best pieces for his own magnificent workshop.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

From Giles:

Kemble Widmer and Joyce King with essays by Dean Lahikainen, Glenn Adamson, Daniel Finamore, and Elisabeth Garrett Widmer, In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould (London: Giles, 2014), 284 pages, ISBN: 978-1907804335, £45 / $70.

9781907804335In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould is the stunning result of happy accident and indefatigable, dedicated research. In the field of early American furniture made in Massachusetts, Nathaniel Gould has loomed as something of a mystery—believed to have been prolific, handsomely skilled, and exceptionally enterprising, yet considered elusive because of a scarcity of known works, lack of documentation, and difficulties of attribution. Accident—the unexpected discovery of Gould’s day books and account book in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society—and analysis—painstaking and inductive—have produced an invaluable, multifaceted case study.

This book establishes Gould unquestionably as Salem’s leading cabinetmaker before and during the period of the American Revolution. He made substantial and often expensive furniture, including case pieces of bombé form embellished with carving. The number of works that can be attributed to Gould remains small, but the foundation for increasingly assured connoisseurship lies within these pages and Gould’s archival records. The scale of his workshop, his impressively large, diverse clientele, and his successes in Salem’s furniture export trade attest to his achievements as an entrepreneur.

This book illuminates not only a particular individual, but the Salem/Boston/New England spheres in which Gould operated during a tumultuous time in American history. The scrupulously recorded notations in his ledgers are precious clues to emerging concepts of style and taste, cultural mores, business practices, socio-economic circumstances, and familial histories with local, regional, and national relevance. In Plain Sight presents a choice array of forms confidently assigned to Gould’s shop and makes accessible the ledgers themselves, meticulously analyzed and interpreted to facilitate present and ongoing scholarship regarding Nathaniel Gould, Salem, early New England furniture, and colonial America.

Kemble Widmer has applied his training and career as an industrial engineer to his examination of early furniture in Boston and Essex County, Massachusetts. Over twenty-five years, by rigorously documenting and comparing like forms, he has determined places of origin and even individual craftsmen. His research on Nathaniel Gould has disclosed an unparalleled amount of information about cabinetmaking, customers, and colonial life. Joyce King, an eleventh generation inhabitant of Salem, Massachusetts, is an expert in genealogical research. She has collaborated closely with her co-author on numerous issues of provenance that have enabled attributions of furniture to Nathaniel Gould. Glenn Adamson, formerly Head of Research, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, is The Nanette L. Laitman Director of the Museum of Arts and Design, New York. He is the founding co-editor of The Journal of Modern Craft and the author of Inventing Modern CraftDaniel Finamore is The Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. Dean Lahikainen is The Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of American Decorative Art at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. His publications include Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style and In the American Spirit: Folk Art from the Collections of the Peabody Essex MuseumElisabeth Garrett Widmer, formerly director of Sotheby’s American Arts course and a Senior Vice President at Christie’s, New York, and director of Classes in Connoisseurship, is an authority on American eighteenth- and nineteenth-century decorative arts and social history. Her publications include At Home: The American Family, 1750–1870.


Exhibition | Tables from the Great Gallery of The Wallace Collection

Posted in exhibitions, lectures (to attend) by Editor on October 30, 2014


Pier table, Italy, ca. 1770 (London: The Wallace Collection)
A high resolution image is available here»

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

Now on at The Wallace:

Collaboration, Conservation and Research: Furniture from the Great Gallery
The Wallace Collection, London, 19 September 2014 — 27 September 2015

Two pairs of monumental tables have been on display in the Great Gallery for more than a century. The recent Great Gallery refurbishment project provided the perfect opportunity for all four tables to undergo full cleaning and conservation treatment. To address the treatment needs of the tables, the Wallace Collection teamed up with Buckingham New University, City and Guilds of London Art School and West Dean College and several students undertook the work as an integral part of their degree course. Now, some two years later, the tables have returned from treatment and look stunning in their former locations, much as they would have looked in Sir Richard Wallace’s day.

During the course of their treatment conservators and curators were able to analyse the tables forensically, discovering, for example, that the two in the centre of the gallery (F510-511) are not in fact a pair, instead one is a later copy of the other. To learn more about our new findings, as well as the techniques which the students used in their conservation work on these and the pair of pier tables (F514-515), come and visit the display from 19 September in the Conservation Gallery at the Wallace Collection.


All talks start at 1pm in the Conservation Gallery.

Monday, 22 September: John Slight, a former student from Bucks New University, will discuss the treatment of a grand nineteenth-century Italian table.

Monday, 20 October: Hans Thompson, a former student from City and Guilds of London Art School, will discuss the treatment of the Italian eighteenth-century Pier table.

Thursday, 20 November: Kate Aughey, a former student from West Dean College, will discuss the treatment of the Italian eighteenth-century Pier table.

Monday, 8 December: Dr. Marina Sokhan, Head of Conservation at City and Guilds of London Art School, will discuss the treatment of the Italian eighteenth-century Pier table as well as the conservation course at City and Guilds of London Art School.

%d bloggers like this: