“‘The Freshest Advices’ New Discoveries in American Decorative Arts,” the theme of the 64th Williamsburg Antiques Forum conducted February 19′3, was translated by Ronald Hurst, chief curator of Colonial Williamsburg and chairman of the forum as “latest news,” taken from the front page of an Eighteenth Century newspaper. That is just what the forum is all about †the latest findings in the museum world, auction sales and collecting. The Williamsburg Antiques Forum was initiated 64 years ago by Colonial Williamsburg along with Alice Winchester and The Magazine Antiques .
This year’s event began on Sunday evening with a receiving line hosted by Colonial Williamsburg President and Mrs Colin Campbell and Vice President and Mrs Ronald Hurst personally welcoming each of the 330 participants. The reception was a bountiful offering by four Williamsburg taverns.
The meeting officially opened on Monday morning with Colin Campbell greeting and giving a brief “state of the foundation.” Even in economic hard times when similar institutions are struggling, Colonial Williamsburg has managed to stay a little ahead of the game, was his report. This is due largely to the generosity and increase of donors, many of whom attend the forum.
Robert Leathe, vice president collections, Old Salem Museums and Gardens, gave the keynote lecture. He was able to connect three pieces from the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts’ (MESDA) collection and attribute them to cabinet shops in southwest Virginia, eastern Tennessee and central North Carolina with routes to southeast Pennsylvania by way of the Great Wagon Road.
Wendy Cooper followed, taking a group of cabinetmakers in a specific county of Pennsylvania and relating them by worship places, relatives and friends. She traveled by car several times over a five-year period to see and compare various forms. She was able to make new attributions. One very good piece of advice from this lecture was to be aware of the smallest details and know the pieces that have already been identified and have provenance.
After lunch, forum attendees were treated to tour houses not ordinarily open to the public. Included were Blue Bell Tavern, the current home of Dr Janine Skerry, Colonial Williamsburg curator of metals, and the home and collection of June Hennage and the late Joe Hennage.
Afternoon lectures were an introduction to the special exhibits that would be on view on Tuesday. Presenting the synopsis were Margaret Pritchard, Colonial Williamsburg curator of maps and prints; Johanna Brown, director of collections, Old Salem Museums and Gardens; and Elizabeth Davison, independent scholar, curator of “More than Meets the Eye, Art in Clay” and “A True North Briton, The Furniture of John Shearer.”
Ron Hurst began the Tuesday itinerary by announcing the latest acquisitions of the museums of Colonial Williamsburg. Photos were flashed on the 15-by-20-foot screen showing the finest details. Most of these items were purchased with monies from the Sara and Fred Hoyt Furniture Fund or the Friends of the Colonial Williamsburg Collection. Hurst, who is in charge of the museums and collections, provided some details as to how these objects were acquired and paid for. As he spoke, it was clear he was in a job he loved, for all the fresh additions were special to him.
This year saw the addition of several needleworks, samplers from states that were not previously represented in the collections, including Alabama and Wisconsin. The Wisconsin piece was dated 1818 with the caption of “Racine, W.T.,” meaning Wisconsin Territory, as it was not yet then a state.
Fresh furniture included a paint decorated North Carolina chest, circa 1844; a companion chair for the museum’s collection in the governor’s palace; two chairs and a stand from Bowling Green Farm in Caroline County, Va.; a John Bagly clock; a mahogany corner cupboard from Norfolk, Va.; and a Windsor chair, paint decorated, comb back, from Philadelphia.
Several paintings were added in the last year, including a pair of portraits by C. Thompson, found at Northeast Auctions and, as with many of the fresh additions, funded by the Friends of the Colonial Williamsburg Collection. Hurst even told of the purchase of the painting of Captain John Smith by Salazar y Mendoza, circa 1799, pointing out that another $30,000 is needed to finish paying for it.
Tuesday’s lectures highlighted more discoveries in North Carolina furniture and furniture makers in a lecture by June Lucas, director of research, MESDA, Winston Salem, N.C.
Suzanne Findlen Hood, associate curator of ceramics and glass, discussed “Chinese Porcelain in Virginia.”
“Freshest Advices” can also mean new faces in the museum world. Late afternoon mini lectures were presented by three talented fellows from the Winterthur program in American material culture at the University of Delaware. They were Benjamin W. Coleman, Shoshana Resnikoff and Adam T. Erby.
Tuesday evening concluded with a colonial barbeque at Shield’s Tavern, compliments of Ron Bourgeault and Northeast Auctions.
Wednesday began with Lisa Minardi, assistant curator of furniture, southeastern Pennsylvania furniture project, Winterthur. The research that went into this finding was incredible. Minardi started with a piece of furniture and a fraktur. She said to keep one’s eye on the fraktur and study the handwriting, it will reappear. Grouping mostly paint decorated or line and berry furniture into three groups, she set out to find who was responsible for the decoration and possibly the construction of a series of Pennsylvania decorated (mostly) chests. Those who missed this lecture can find its observations in American Furniture 2012 , published by Chipstone.
Another treat on Wednesday was the lecture “Defining American Silver, The Hennage Collection,” by Janine Skerry. This collection was on display in the Hennage home the forum participants toured on Monday. Skerry’s “Freshest Advice” was that this would eventually become the nucleus of Colonial Williamsburg’s American silver collection.
The afternoon included free time and a program on Newburyport samplers in the Hennage Auditorium by Dr Tricia Wilson Nguyen. Tea and crumpets were served in the lobby of the Williamsburg Lodge. The last presentation of the day was the collection of John and Judy Herdeg titled “The Herdeg Collection, Fifty Years of Pleasurable Pursuits.”
Thursday is the final day of the official forum. It is fitting that it ends with a social hour and banquet. This is the time that old and new friends say their farewells until next year. There is one thing that is apparent; this is a very compatible group. Colonial Williamsburg may be the host, but many museums, scholars and friends have input and it is apparent when their names are flashed in the credits on the big screen.
The final day’s lectures were indeed “The Freshest Advices,” as Beverly (Bly) Straube gave her report on Jamestown, which has recently entered into a partnership with Colonial Williamsburg. Sponsored by Chipstone, “Surprises from the Soil, the Material world of America’s Birthplace, Recently Uncovered” gave attendees a peek into the world of archaeology and its story-telling artifacts.
Cybele Gontar of Sotheby’s provided a look at Louisiana’s Eighteenth Century furniture, and John Nye, auctioneer and appraiser, presented the latest news in the auction world and its trends for the future.
The closing talk was given by Robert Sackville-West, 7th Lord Sackville. He showed pictures of his 400-year-old home, Knole in Kent, England, and the National Trust, which is restoring and preserving it.
The 65th annual Antiques Forum will be conducted February 17′2, 2013. For information, www.history.org or 757-229-1000.