Published: April 18, 2011
While there have been previous displays of Ohio-made quilts, furniture, samplers and local products, the recently mounted exhibition “Equal in Goodness” is a dazzling presentation of the diversity and quality of the early material culture of Ohio. This assemblage, featuring 231 objects from more than 55 collections, encompasses the spectrum of ethnic groups settling in Ohio and the wares of their craftsmen.
The staging at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio celebrates the institution’s tenth year. In the past, the wonderful Georgian mansion, the Reese-Peters House, that houses the arts center has hosted impressive exhibitions featuring Ohio samplers, the Shakers in Ohio and many local artists. This exhibition, however, is undoubtedly the most ambitious and important to Ohio decorative arts. It is on view through June 5.
Andrew Richmond, vice president of Garth’s Auctions, Inc, and board member of the center, serves as the curator, with the assistance of his wife, Hollie Davis. He is a graduate of Winterthur and authored “Southern Sophistication on the Early Frontier: The Inlaid Furniture of Washington County, Ohio, 1788‱825” in American Furniture , 2004.
The exhibition takes its name from a quotation in Recollections of Persons and Places in the West , 1834, by H.M. Brackenridge: “As I am not writing a tour, minute descriptions of every duck puddle or broken pane of glass will not be looked for. It will be expected, however, that I should take some notice of Cincinnati, which, 13 years before, was covered with the native forest, excepting the space occupied by a rude encampment. I now found it a beautiful little city, in the midst of a highly cultivated country. I went up to the market, which I found equal in goodness to that of Philadelphia, but much cheaper.”
Curator Richmond divided the state and the materials selected for the exhibition into four quarters. This partitioning nicely corresponds to the four large rooms on the second floor of the Reese-Peters House.
To the right as a visitor enters, the Southeast, the earliest section of Ohio, is highlighted. Although Fort Harmar was built at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers in 1785, it was not until the development of the Northwest Territory three years later that the town of Marietta, Ohio’s first, was founded. Settlers from New England, Virginia and Pennsylvania moved into the area.
As Richmond writes in the catalog, “The key to the successful settlement of the Ohio Country was relative ease of transportation” with its rivers and, later, canals. These waterways enabled the ready distribution of glass made in Zanesville and local agricultural goods to be shipped down the Muskingum, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. Later, the canals provided easy means to market the stoneware of what is today Akron.
The daybook/account book of cabinetmaker Joshua Shipman (1767‱822), formerly of Connecticut, is featured. In one two-and-a-half-year period, he made more than 70 pieces of furniture. His customers included Ohio Company founder Rufus Putnam, founder of Zanesville; Joseph Buell, whose tall-case clock is on display; and silversmith Azariah Pratt (1767‱836), the maker of a spoon on view.
Pratt, from Saybrook, Conn., was one of several silversmiths among the first 48 pioneers in Ohio in 1788. He returned to the East during the Northwest Indian War, but came back in 1793, moving to Athens County in 1821. William Moulton, from Massachusetts, was also among that initial group. He died in 1795, and tradition says his daughter Lydia had assisted him in his trade. Two spoons on display bear the mark “LM,” suggesting the rare work of an Eighteenth Century female silversmith.
A stove, circa 1830, was made at the Mary Ann Furnace in Newark, named by David Moore (1772‱865) after his wife. A history of the area states that stoves from this factory “were in the center of hundreds of log-cabin schoolhouses&nd in every bar-room&⁴he center of a steady stream of tobacco juice.”
A group of furniture from Fairfield County, with its distinctive sunburst motif, superb examples of Zanesville glass and pottery and numerous quilts and coverlets impress visitors with the range and excellence of the products associated with this section of Ohio. A water cooler now in the collection of Winterthur Museum is redware covered with a cream glaze. The name of “Smith and Jones Slago Pottery” is inscribed on the piece, and it is decorated with a very unusual relief of a shield flanked by eagles created by the use of a salt cellar.
John Cleaves Symmes and Colonel Robert Paterson established Losantiville in 1788, but the governor of the Northwest Territory, being a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, renamed the site Cincinnati two years later. As steamboat traffic on the Ohio River and transportation on the Miami and Erie Canals grew, so did Southwest Ohio. The Cincinnati Cabinet-Maker’s Book of Prices for Manufacturing Cabinet Ware , 1830, is a testimony to the strong furniture-making element in the Queen of the West. A labeled mirror by W.L. Jones, working 1816 to at least 1830, and a pair of chairs with the label of the Western Chair Manufactory, 1830‱846, are two examples of the city’s furniture production. The city was later to become the furniture capital of the country.
A low-post bed bears the imprint of former slave Henry Boyd (1802‱886). Through another cabinetmaker, Boyd †barred from taking out a patent himself because he was black †patented his screw-in rails. Advertisements in the 1830s and 1840s warned against buying any similar bedsteads that did not have his mark. All known beds attributed to him do bear his mark. The example featured in the exhibition is rare because it has low posts.
A chest of drawers attributed to Matthew Patton (1778‱856) from Dayton and a cupboard made by Christian Shively (1770‱820) of Montgomery County outside Dayton indicate furniture making was also prominent through the southwest section of Ohio. Patton was a trained cabinetmaker from Virginia and Kentucky who advertised as early as 1808. Shively was primarily a farmer who came from Pennsylvania via Maryland. The work of these craftsmen reflects their backgrounds.
Silver and pewter from Cincinnati are well represented in the exhibition, as are samplers. Caleb Allen Jr (1808‱873), Robert Best (1790‱831), Pulaski Scovill, Wilson McGrew (1800‱859) Peleg Collins, Nathan Hazen (1809‱851) and Edward (1810‱865) and David Kinsey (1819‱874) were well-known silversmiths whose products are included.
The development of the Northeast part of the state began with the surveying of the Western Reserve by the Connecticut Land Company. One of the shareholders, Moses Cleaveland, sailed along Lake Erie and founded the city of Cleveland in 1796. The painting, “Second Cleveland Court House and Public Square” by Sebastian Heine (1804‱861) depicts the two-story structure with Doric columns and topped by a cupola.
The New England influence is readily apparent in the furniture made by William Tyler from Connecticut, the clocks of Lambert Lewis (1775‱834) and Phineas Deming from Connecticut, and pottery of I.M. Mead and Solomon Purdy of Vermont. Of special note are a collection of hound-handled pitchers and other Rockingham-glazed yellowware from East Liverpool, once known as the pottery capital of America.
German (Zoar, 1827) and Swiss (Sonnenberg †now Kidron, 1819) settled in the lower portion of the Northeast quadrant, and later expanded westward to Indiana. The brightly painted furniture of Valentine Yoder (1831‱912), John Zimmerman (1800‱890) and Henry Shanefeot, combined with the colorful fraktur of the Flowering Vine Artist and others, will surely delight the eyes of exhibition visitors. Fraktur is one often overlooked but truly a rich segment of Ohio’s material culture.
Because of the continuing presence of Indians and the poor quality of land, Ohio’s northwest portion was little developed until the 1830s. German settlers came from eastern Ohio, drained the flat swampy land and created fertile fields. New immigrants came from the Old Country via Cincinnati to join their kin.
The furniture and most of the decorative arts in this area reflect this strong Germanic heritage. Diamond-shaped panels and bold painted decoration are quite similar to the adornment seen on objects from eastern Ohio. The Swiss of Sonnenberg shared a heritage with those in Pandora/Bluffon and kin in nearby Berne, Ind.
Each section of the exhibition includes noteworthy furniture, clocks, quilts, coverlets, silver, pewter, pottery, glass and fraktur. The Shakers are represented by a sampler from North Union and a pair of dining chairs from Waterwater. Maps and paintings add historic annotations to the three-dimensional objects.
“Equal in Goodness” is a delightful excursion through Ohio, its history and its decorative arts. It is a collection of choice objects that rarely see the light of day, hidden away in private collections or obscured in the dark corners of museums.
Garth’s Auctions, Inc, produced the catalog with funding provided by the Johns family in memory of David L. Johns. It includes photographs and descriptions, as well as historical information, for all 231 objects in the exhibition. It is available from the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio for $25.
A Midwest Antiques Forum Weekend is planned at the Decorative Arts Center for May 13‱5. It opens with a tour of the exhibition on Friday evening and continues with lectures by Emily Pfotenhouer, Francis J. Puig, Andrew Richmond, Trish Cunningham and Brock Jobe. It concludes on Sunday morning with a panel discussion by Wes Cowan, Jeff Jeffers and Charles Muller. For more information and registration, www.midwestantiquesforum.com.
The Decorative Arts Center of Ohio is at 145 East Main Street. For further information, 740-681-1423 or www.DecArtsOhio.org .
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