Recognized as the architect who transformed Salem into one of the most beautiful towns in America, Samuel McIntire was also a woodcarver who established one of the first significant carving traditions in the new nation. The full breadth of this key aspect of his career is explored in “Samuel McIntire, Carving an American Style,” an exhibition on view at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) October 13⁆ebruary 24.
As part of the exhibition, PEM will host a symposium, “The Art of Woodcarving in America,” November 3 and 4. Speakers will share new research on all aspects of woodcarving in America †furniture, sculpture, architecture, ship carving and folk art. For more information, 866-745-1876, extension 3088.
The retrospective exhibition, which celebrates the 250th anniversary of McIntire’s birth, features many of his masterful decorative carvings for furniture, as well as architectural carvings and freestanding sculpture †a total of more than 200 objects from the Peabody Essex Museum and public and private collections. “Carving an American Style” is curated by PEM’s curator of American decorative art Dean Lahikainen. He is a widely respected authority on Salem furniture and the decorative art and architecture of New England. He is also the author of an accompanying scholarly book, the first devoted to McIntire’s carvings.
McIntire (1757‱811) began his career as a carpenter. He taught himself the art of architectural drawing and went on to become a celebrated architect of public and private buildings. Lesser known is the fact that McIntire made most of his living as a woodcarver, providing ornamental decoration for many of the buildings he designed as well as for furniture and more than two dozen sailing vessels. He also carved portrait busts and other commissions that brought him into the realm of academic sculpture.
McIntire interpreted the new British neoclassical style, which drew its primary inspiration from the art and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. He created a design vocabulary that was confident and ambitiously experimental for the time, and that has continued to inform American architecture and furniture design for more than 200 years.
“Carving an American Style” is organized thematically in five galleries to explore the origin and meaning of the patriotic (such as the American eagle and George Washington), pastoral (fruits, flowers and wheat) and classical motifs (such as drapery and urns) that distinguish McIntire’s carving vocabulary.
The Peabody Essex Museum is at East India Square. For information, 866-745-1876 or www.pem.org .