Published: March 27, 2012
What is the meaning of historical objects? Why are they preserved, and why have they survived? Are they valued for their associations, aesthetic appeal, oddity or simply the stories that they tell? Such questions will be the focus of a special exhibition at the Concord Museum, “The Object of History: Colonial Treasures from the Massachusetts Historical Society,” on view April 13 through June 17.
The exhibition will explore more than 70 objects, including portraits, needlework, maps, firearms, swords, furniture, clothing, scientific instruments and silver from the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS). In keeping with its title, the exhibition will consider these objects from a variety of perspectives †as items associated with important historical figures or events; as objects of beauty; as exceptional survivals from the past; and as conveyors of amazing stories.
Visitors will explore the materials through the discerning eyes of Concord Museum curator David Wood and MHS librarian Peter Drummey, whose engaging interpretation will reveal the layers of significance imbedded in each object. Further, the juxtaposition of these objects in a gallery setting will stimulate fresh perspectives and new meaning.
Featured will be Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century objects and related documents from MHS’s holdings that are rarely exhibited. An iconic letter that John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail in 1780 provides the framework for the exhibition. In the letter, Adams wrote that he must study “Politicks and War” so that his sons might study “Mathematicks and Philosophy,” enabling their children to study “Painting, Poetry, Musick and Architecture.”
Accordingly, the exhibition’s three sections will explore these topics. Representing “Politicks and War” will be such items as a musket used during the 1689 deposition of Edmund Andros, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Quite apart from its association with an epochal event in colonial history, the musket is a nearly unique survival of a military arm from New England’s first century. The section will also contain a vivid portrait of the young Marquis de Lafayette in his uniform as an officer of the American Continental Army and a pistol presented to the renowned John Paul Jones.
The “Mathematicks and Philosophy” section will contain some of the most complicated instruments used in colonial New England. For example, it will include the surveying compass (circumferometer) made by North Ingraham in the 1730s and mathematician John Foster’s map of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first map published in America. It will also include a truly remarkable object †a meter rule made of brass †part of the effort to standardize measurement worldwide. In 1799, the Revolutionary government of France sent the rule to the Massachusetts Historical Society, the most fitting repository in America at the time.
“Painting, Poetry, Musick and Architecture” will include a copy of the Massachusetts Bay Psalm Book, dating from 1640 and the first large-scale printing project in North America. Also included in this section will be the portrait of the young Dorothy Quincy, the imposing silver punch strainer made by William Breed of Boston and a Seventeenth Century Wampanoag bowl.
The Concord Museum is at the intersection of Lexington Road and Cambridge Turnpike. For more information, www.concordmuseum.org or 978-369-9763.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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