Published: April 24, 2018
Review by Laura Beach, Photos by Greg Smith
PHILADELPHIA – The Antiques Dealers Association of America (ADA) honored Peter M. Kenny at its annual Award of Merit dinner on April 20. The event, held this year at the Philadelphia Antiques and Art Show at the Navy Yard, celebrates outstanding contributions to the American arts.
Welcoming guests, ADA president Steven S. Powers likened Kenny’s sustained interest in American furniture to an itch that must be scratched. Kenny looks at furniture and expects it to speak back to him, Powers said of Kenny, vice president of Classical American Homes Preservation Trust and the former Ruth Bigelow Wriston curator of American decorative arts and administrator of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“The ADA stands for authenticity, integrity and ethical conduct. Those words represent your goals and aspirations, as well as those of my longtime friend and colleague Peter Kenny,” began the evening’s keynote speaker, Morrison H. Heckscher, the Lawrence A. Fleischman curator emeritus of the American Wing, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In his illustrated talk, Heckscher emphasized Kenny’s talent for eliciting the best from his colleagues in his role as American Wing administrator. He joked, “When Peter arrived at the Met, the paintings curators didn’t talk to the furniture curators, and the furniture curators didn’t talk to the paintings curator…Peter was hired because of how he worked with individuals of so many skills and levels.
“Peter was a lieutenant who was totally in sync with me. We were fortunate to do this together,” Heckscher said of their multiyear collaboration on the renovation of the Met’s Engelhard Court and reinstallation of its American Wing, which the men worked on with architect Kevin Roche. “We had fun transforming that great but flawed building,” Heckscher said.
Heckscher also praised Kenny’s excellence as a scholar and connoisseur. “On his own, he installed two of the great period rooms at the Met,” said the curator emeritus, describing Kenny’s meticulous reassembly of the McKim Mead and White Parlor Stairhall from the Metcalfe House in Buffalo, N.Y., and the alacrity with which Kenny acquired and installed an intact Dutch Colonial interior from the 1751 Daniel Peter Winne house near Albany, N.Y.
Of Kenny’s two landmark exhibitions and their accompanying catalogs, Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York (2011) and Honoré Lannuier, Cabinetmaker from Paris: The Life and Work of a French Ébéniste in Federal New York (1998), Heckscher said, “He took these two extraordinary immigrant cabinetmakers – one from Scotland, the other from France, and from different traditions – and showed they were at their best when working in the tradition from which they came.”
“This is a momentous night for Peter Kenny,” said ADA vice present Arthur Liverant, inviting Kenny to join him on stage. In jest, Liverant offered Kenny a card table as a prize, only to tease, “You didn’t get here fast enough, so all you are getting is a finial, not even the highboy.”
“The room is full of wonderful people, a community of great folks who support each other,” said Kenny, accepting the honor. Thanking his family, Kenny described the role his mother and grandfather played in nurturing his interest in material culture, noting, “I find it amazing that these simple objects carry messages to us.” He spoke of the excitement he felt when taking a call at the family’s ancestral farmhouse on Prince Edward Island, he learned the inscription “Fete en New York, 1817, HL,” had been discovered by a Met conservator under the top of a table Kenny believed to be by Lannuier.
Of his latest venture at Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, Kenny noted of CAHPT’s founder, Richard Jenrette, “He is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.” Moving to CAHPT, Kenny said, “has been a wonderful transition in my life.”
Past winners of the ADA Award of Merit are Albert Sack, Elinor Gordon, Wendell Garrett, Betty Ring, R. Scudder Smith, Satenig St Marie, Dean F. Failey, Joe Kindig, Philip Zea, Jane and Richard Nylander, Morrison H. Heckscher, the American Folk Art Society, Peter Tillou, Brock Jobe, David McCullough, Joan and Victor Johnson and Patricia E. Kane.
For additional information, www.adadealers.com or 603-942-6498.
(Editor’s note: Jenrette died unexpectedly on Sunday, April 22, two days after the ADA dinner.)
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