Published: December 4, 2012
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, have received a major gift from Houston philanthropist and collector William J. Hill. An iconic Adolph Kempen writing desk and approximately 150 pieces of early Texas pottery have been added to the collections.
In 1867, Kempen joined the great migration of Germans to America, arriving in Galveston, where he established himself as a “joiner,” an occupation in-between carpentry and cabinetmaking. By 1870, he was in Austin, one of the principal furniture making centers in the state, where he worked until his death. What is unique about Kempen’s desk is its contrast to other early Texas furniture made by his immigrant artisan peers. Kempen’s walnut and maple writing desk, 1870‱880, is widely regarded as a masterpiece of early Texas furniture, and one of the few documented by its maker.
“Blending elements of the Rococo, Gothic and Renaissance Revivals into a unique American expression, his inspiration was likely the furniture of the Midwestern manufacturers, which was being disseminated throughout the state and ultimately forced many Texas cabinetmakers out of business. Perhaps, Kempen wrought this stylish piece in response to the transformation that he was witnessing and as a testament to the quality of craftsmanship that could still be obtained locally,” explained Bayou Bend curator Michael K. Brown.
Hill has also given Bayou Bend his extensive collection of early Texas pottery, representing 24 makers of stoneware, 15 of which are new to Bayou Bend.
Stoneware, unequaled for its durability and insulation properties, was essential for Nineteenth Century food preparation, storage and preservation, making it a commercial commodity. So, regional pottery manufacturing followed population needs and migrations, arriving in the Texas frontier in the 1840s.
Distinguishing colors, shapes and details identify the region in which the earliest vessels were produced, such as a distinctive alkaline or ash glaze unique to the lower South. By the 1860s, influences from Northern manufactories, such as salt glazing and cobalt blue decoration, began to appear in Texas pottery.
Bayou Bend is at 1 Westcott Street. For information, www.mfah.org/bayoubend or 713-639-7750.
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