Published: August 11, 2020
Ronald A. DeSilva, 83, of Garrison, an art historian and authority on American furniture and decorative arts, died July 30.
After graduating from Rhode Island College, he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and received a Winterthur Fellowship in Early American Culture at the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum in Delaware.
In 1970, he joined Sotheby Parke-Bernet, where he was assistant vice president and director of the American Furniture and Decorative Arts department, as well as director of the Art Nouveau department.
In the mid-1970s he operated an antiques business in New York City, and in 1977 returned to the auction world when he was appointed director of the American Furniture and Decorative Arts department at Christie’s New York and vice president of Christie’s Appraisals, Inc. In 1980 he opened offices in Garrison, where he offered services as a fine arts appraiser, consultant and lecturer.
DeSilva conducted fundraising appraisal clinics and auctions for museums, historical societies and charitable organizations, earning a reputation for his keen eye, expertise and generous sharing of his knowledge. As a consultant to Johns Hopkins University, he researched and completed the furnishing plan for Homewood, the restored home of Charles Carroll Jr, son of Charles Carroll, the signer of the Declaration of Independence.
His articles on American decorative arts have were published in Art at Auction, Auction Magazine, Architectural Digest and The Clarion. A major essay titled, “The Regional Schools of Early American Furniture,” appeared in a 1971 book, Art at Auction. He also wrote the chapter on American Furniture for the 1974 reference, Anatomy of Antiques.
DeSilva lectured on a variety of topics throughout the United States and at major art museums and universities, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Institute of Fine Arts at Columbia University, the Smithsonian Institution, the Art Institute of Chicago and New York University. His subject areas included American folk art, American and European decorative arts, buying and selling art at auction, appraising fine arts, the regional schools of early American furniture, 1650-1865 (in four parts), fakes and forgeries in early American furniture, and Duncan Phyfe and the New York school of cabinetmaking.
In 1994 he conducted two symposia titled “Is It Phyfe?” as part of an exhibition of the same title at Boscobel in Garrison. The object of each seminar was learning to distinguish the difference between the furniture of Duncan Phyfe and other New York cabinetmakers.
DeSilva served as a member of the board of the Chapel Restoration, the Howland Cultural Center and Riverkeeper. He also served as chairman of the Cold Spring Planning Board, where he worked to create the Architectural Historic District law.
He is survived by his wife, Barbara, his son Matthew DeSilva (Rosemary) and granddaughter, Lucia, as well as his siblings, Deborah Brady and Stanley DeSilva.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. Memorial donations may be made to the Chapel Restoration (chapelrestoration.org), Riverkeeper (riverkeeper.org) and/or the Winterthur Museum (winterthur.org).
—Submitted by the family
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