Published: December 17, 2013
WINCHESTER, VA. — The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley announces several recent and important acquisitions.
At Brunk Auctions’ November 16 sale, the museum was the winning bidder of the rare Nineteenth Century desk made by one of the Shenandoah Valley’s most recognizable and eccentric early artisans. Crafted in 1808 by John Shearer (active circa 1798–1818).
According to the museum’s executive director Dana Hand Evans, the desk is a fine example of Shearer’s work, and it perfectly tells the quirky cabinetmaker’s story. Shearer, who is known to have worked in Martinsburg, Va. (now West Virginia), typically signed his name multiple times on his objects, and he often also inscribed them with political sentiments or other thoughts.
The elaborately carved desk is no exception. Signed, dated and inscribed in numerous places, the desk also features a hidden note that Shearer wrote and pasted into a tambour compartment. The note documents the desk’s story and references characters in Shearer’s life.
There may be as few as 57 known objects by Shearer in private and museum collections, including those of Colonial Williamsburg and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA). This desk was previously unrecorded.
In the family of Charles H. Folwell of Mount Holly, N.J., during the 1930s, the desk may have descended from the original owner (Philip Stuber) through the Neill family of Hagerstown. At the museum, the desk joins a circa 1818 Shearer walnut sideboard — the only one by the artisan that is known to exist — which the museum acquired in 2010. Prior to their acquisitions by the museum, both the Shearer desk and the sideboard were in private collections and not accessible to the public.
According to Evans, the museum has established an endowment for the sole purpose of presenting exhibitions and building the collection. While the museum is young and lacks the purchasing power of many larger, more established institutions, careful planning has made possible such significant acquisitions as the Shearer desk. These acquisitions are milestone achievements for the museum, she said, for they bring important objects of valley history home and place them on display in the MSV, where all may view them.
“The MSV is focused on acquiring objects that have a solid provenance, are relevant to the valley’s history, and tell engaging stories,” said Evans. “This desk was a homerun on all counts and we couldn’t be happier.”
Following minor conservation, the desk will go on view as quickly as possible.
November 16 must have been a popular day for auctions as Evans not only acquired the Shearer desk that day but also an important group of artifacts related to Winchester, Va.-silversmith Thomas Boyle Campbell (1796–1858). Evans was the winning phone bidder at Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates’ semi-annual Americana, antiques, fine and decorative arts auction.
This group of artifacts descended directly in the Campbell family. It includes a miniature portrait of Campbell, circa 1818–23; an oil on canvas portrait of Campbell; family silver; and archival materials. Noteworthy for their rarity, the miniature and oil portrait are the only known images of the silversmith.
Evans said that the rare images of Campbell will help the museum tell the story of a prominent Shenandoah Valley silversmith. The silver spoons in this recently acquired lot will join other works by Campbell in the museum’s collection.
Following conservation, the miniature and portrait will be placed on view in the museum.
A rare matched pair of pottery whippet figures made by Shenandoah Valley potter Samuel Bell (1811–1891) is now in the collection of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.
Both figures are signed “Samuel Bell / Winchester Sept 21 1841,” and are believed to be the only identically signed and dated whippets by the Bell family known. The museum acquired the figures at auction in July.
Though few examples have survived, the Bell whippet was a popular decorative form made by several members of the Bell family during the Nineteenth Century. The newly acquired figures are two of a small number of whippets known to have been produced by Samuel Bell while he was working at his father’s Winchester shop. In addition to being hand signed, the whippets are impressed with the mark “S. Bell.” This rare variation of the Samuel Bell maker’s mark is believed to be the potter’s earliest stamp, used only on redware pieces produced in Winchester. In 1843 Samuel Bell moved to Strasburg, Va., and established a prolific shop that would operate for the next 70 years.
The museum’s growing collection of Bell pottery includes a miniature pitcher and a greyhound figurine made by Samuel Bell while the potter worked in Winchester. Museum benefactor Julian Wood Glass Jr (1910–1992) acquired the latter figure in 1967. Unlike the newly acquired pair of whippets, the paint that originally decorated the figurine purchased by Glass had been removed. The exhibition display also features 11 other items produced by Bell potters and includes works by Peter, John, Samuel and Solomon Bell.
The museum recently unveiled a new Master Plan and has organized two groundbreaking exhibitions, “Becoming Patsy Cline” on view through July 6, and “Safe at Home” (on the Southern pie safe), curated by Jeffrey S. Evans and Kurt Russ. The latter exhibition, opening in May, will coincide with a MESDA regional seminar.
The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley is at 901 Amherst Street. For more information, www.theMSV.org or 540-662-1473, ext 235.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm