Published: March 22, 2011
Winterthur presents “Paint, Pattern & People: Furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1725‱850,” from April 2 through January 8. This exhibition explores the colorful furniture of southeastern Pennsylvania along with the people who made, owned, inherited and collected it. Featuring nearly 200 objects †including furniture, fraktur, needlework and paintings †the show focuses on the culture and creativity of the area’s English- and German-speaking inhabitants.
The exhibition is curated by Winterthur’s Wendy A. Cooper, the Lois F. and Henry S. McNeil senior curator of furniture, and Lisa M. Minardi, the assistant curator of furniture for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Furniture Project.
The exhibition sheds new light on southeastern Pennsylvania’s highly distinctive local expressions of furniture and presents important objects for which the maker or family history is known. This well-documented furniture provides a new context to understand the objects as fully as possible and place them within specific locations. Although the exhibition is about furniture, it is not about dovetails and glue blocks but rather the people of the region who are the threads from which the story is woven. Thus, the furniture in “Paint, Pattern & People” is the vehicle that transports viewers into the lives of their ancestors and leads to a greater understanding of America’s rich cultural heritage.
Due to William Penn’s policy of religious tolerance that attracted people of various faiths and ethnic backgrounds, Pennsylvania was the most culturally diverse of the 13 colonies. Through the study of objects produced by this great mixed multitude, the vibrancy and variety of the region’s furniture comes into focus. Ethnicity, religious affiliation, personal taste, socioeconomic status and the skill of the craftsman all influenced local forms, ornamentation and construction.
Examples highlighted in the exhibition include a tall case clock with unusual carved decoration of a pretzel and loaves of bread, made in 1745 for Lancaster baker and German immigrant Andreas Beierle; Chester County furniture inlaid with delicate line and berry motifs, including the only known high chest of drawers, and a recently discovered double-dome-top desk-and-bookcase, both featured for the first time in this exhibition; and furniture with inlaid decoration made of pure sulfur, a substance that when melted and poured into carved-out grooves creates a bright yellow inlay against the brown wood.
A dynamic comparison of two of the finest known rococo high chests of drawers is shown side-by-side, one made in Philadelphia and one in Lancaster.
Also shown will be the earliest known examples of dated Pennsylvania German furniture †a tall case clock and schrank with inlaid dates of 1740 and 1741 †made by the same unknown craftsman; seven rare blue and white delftware plates, one each from sets owned by Quaker families in Chester County, all dated 1738 and bearing the owners’ initials; and one of fewer than ten known surviving Pennsylvania immigrant chests, this one retaining its original shipping labels written in German script from 1737.
Other highlights include two long rifles, including one of the finest Moravian-made firearms known featuring a carved griffin with inlaid beak and claws of horn; a Chester County tall case clock still owned by descendants of the original owner along with two extremely rare letters sent to the client from the makers of both the movement and case; and the work of mechanical genius and artisan John Fisher of York, including a tall case clock that plays seven musical tunes; and a painting of the Pennsylvania coat of arms made for the York County Courthouse in 1796.
Important landscapes, trade signs, portraits and paintings by noted Pennsylvania artists will be included, such as Benjamin West, Thomas Birch, Jacob Eichholtz, Jacob Maentel, John Archibald Woodside, Bass Otis, Edward Hicks, Thomas Hicks and Charles Hofmann.
Winterthur is on Route 52, five miles south of US Route 1. For general information, www.winterthur.org , 800-448-3883 or 302-888-4600.
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