Published: December 11, 2018
By Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY – Directed by Eric, Peter and Noah Wunsch, the Wunsch Americana Foundation pursues an agenda both ambitious and ambient, developing programming that reaches into the auction arena, where they host receptions and exhibitions; into the museum field, where they make strategic loans to sympathetic institutions and sponsor presentations; and into the gallery and studio realm, where they collaborate with makers. A November program at the Wadsworth Atheneum, for instance, saw Eric and Noah joining in a panel discussion with tastemakers such as Rodman Primack, founder and executive director of Design Miami, on the future of period and contemporary design.
In conversation recently, Eric Wunsch said the motivation for much of what the Wunsch Americana Foundation does can be summarized in a single word: relevance. Stewards of a foremost collection of Eighteenth Century American furniture and other decorative arts, the Wunsch family – father Peter and sons Eric and Noah – seek to make an often distracted public more aware of the mastery of American design of all eras.
“Some recent commentary in the popular press about antiques has been lame and thoughtless, promoted by individuals in the field who say millennials don’t care for antiques or that people don’t have the time or resources for them. Our response is to bring new voices into the conversation. Our programming centers on the question of relevance. We come back to it again and again,” Eric says.
The best-known Wunsch initiative is its awards night, planned for Wednesday, January 16, at Christie’s in New York. Open to the public, the event includes a cocktail reception from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, with remarks at 6 pm. Honoring the late collector Eric M. Wunsch, Peter’s father, the 2019 prize will go to the Decorative Arts Trust and Thomas Jayne.
With a far-flung membership, the Decorative Arts Trust, headquartered in Pennsylvania, promotes the appreciation and study of decorative arts through symposia and study trips as well as collaborations and partnerships with museums and preservation organizations. It makes its greatest mark through its sponsorship of graduate students and young professionals via the internships, research grants and scholarships it underwrites.
“The Decorative Arts Trust represents the continuing effort to educate people of all ages on American decorative arts and period design and make it accessible. We want all generations to see how American decorative arts ring true today. It resonates throughout everything we do,” says Peter Wunsch.
Readers may meet some of this new talent at the Decorative Arts Trust’s annual Emerging Scholars Colloquium. Now in its third year and sponsored in part by the Wunsch Americana Foundation, the colloquium is planned for Sunday, January 20. The program is organized in partnership with the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, whose George F. Baker houses on East 93rd Street in Manhattan provides the venue for the talks and a benefit brunch.
“We are thrilled to receive the Wunsch Award. Sharing the stage with Thomas Jayne is especially meaningful for us,” said Matthew A. Thurlow, the Decorative Arts Trust’s executive director.
Thomas Jayne is that rare individual who straddles scholarship and the marketplace. Among his many accomplishments, he earned a master’s degree from Winterthur’s program in Early American Culture before doing stints at Christie’s and the design shop Paris-Hadley and Associates. His familiarity with historical design has made him a go-to resource for collectors and institutions. Among the latter, the Shelburne Museum, RISD Museum, Historic Hudson Valley, Winterthur and Yale University have sought his services.
Jayne is the author of several books on design, the most recent of which, Classical Principles for Modern Design – Lessons from Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman’s The Decoration of Houses, provides thoughts on living with antiques in the modern world. Jayne shares William Faulkner’s view that the past is not even past, or at least, it does not need to be. “Tradition is an active thing,” he says, adding, “Putting an Eighteenth Century chair into a room today is a contemporary gesture. Keeping it fresh means actively using the vocabulary.”
Presently working on a postwar house in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood for clients who recently bought a pre-Revolutionary War-era house in Charleston, S.C., Jayne remains an ardent antiques enthusiast. He stresses, “Certain things will go in and out of style, but the best endures and is always usable in interiors. “
Peter Wunsch notes, “Tom is the best example of a forward-thinking designer who uses American decorative arts as a template to create beautiful, contemporary spaces. He represents the best in classic taste. At the center of his design is connoisseurship. He is intensely well-informed about the history of the spaces and the work he does in clients’ homes.”
Past award-winners of the Eric M. Wunsch Award for Excellence in the American Arts include Morrison Heckscher, Linda Kaufman, Leroy Graves, the Chipstone Foundation, Brock Jobe, Wendell Castle, Peter Kenny, Audrey Heckler and the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust.
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