Tools, Textiles, and Water Mills

During the summer between the first and second years of the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture graduate program, fellows disperse to research their various thesis topics. For me, this meant traveling from Virginia to Vermont, to explore the world of American woolen cloth production in the final years of the eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth century.

A small, engraved billhead, made for Joshua and Thomas Gilpin’s Brandywine Woollen Mill. This image depicts several stages in early nineteenth-century woolen cloth making. Etching: Brandywine Woollen Mill by Joseph Cone, James John Barralet, 1814-1815, Philadelphia, PA. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont, 1959.2089. Courtesy, Winterthur Museum.

As I formulated my thesis proposal over the winter, I knew I wanted to find a topic which would allow me to explore themes of craft, making, and invention. My longstanding interest in textiles and a newfound love of water-powered mills, meant that I decided to undertake a study of fulling and woolen finishing: the final steps in cloth production, which happen after the cloth leaves the loom. For woolen textiles, these last few steps are transformational, often defining what the cloth will eventually be suitable for. While English clothiers were some of the finest in the world, the United States lagged far behind. In the decades after the Revolutionary War, many of these steps were mechanized. Therefore, this trade presented an opportunity to study both a traditional craft and themes of technological innovation.  

To understand the work of both cloth finishers and the machines that were invented to assist them, I first had to understand what their work was accomplishing. This meant looking at the cloth itself. To do this, I first looked at textile samples in the Winterthur Library and later visited the collections of Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, and Fort Ticonderoga, where I was able to examine a variety of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century garments in person— including three coats worn by George Washington! This helped me to develop an understanding of how finishing affects the final look and function of a piece of cloth. This up-close examination has helped me to train my eye, allowing me to see the range of qualities in cloth finishing that were present during my period of research.   

This coat belonged to George Washington and was probably worn by him in the 1790s. It has a provenance that connects the textile it is made of to the Hartford Woolen Manufactory, which operated in Hartford, Connecticut, at the end of the eighteenth century. Accession number: W-1514. Courtesy, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

Close-up view of blue woolen textile, showing the weave structure.

Another portion of my research involved studying written primary sources. At the end of July, I presented some of this research at the 2018 Textile History Forum, in Marshfield, Vermont. My talk focused on the records on one Pennsylvania fulling mill, which survives in the Chester County Historical Society library. Presenting at the forum was an opportunity to get my preliminary research in order but also to get feedback from a wide range of textile historians and practitioners. Since the Marshfield School of Weaving, which hosted the event, recently acquired several pieces from the now-closed American Textile History Museum, the forum   gave me an opportunity to examine some of the textile tools that I had been reading about.I left feeling invigorated and buoyed up by the support my talk had received from fellow scholars. 

This early nineteenth-century napping machine and pair of massive hand-operated cropping shears, are both tools that were used to finish the surface of woolen cloth. 

After studying texts, textiles, and tools, there was still one element of woolen finishing I felt I needed to understand to do my topic justice—the water mills that were the power source for textile finishing machines well into the nineteenth century. I decided to contact Old Sturbridge Village and ask if I could volunteer in their mill sites for a day. While Old Sturbridge Village does not have a fulling mill, it does have three operable water-powered mills: a grist mill, which is currently being repaired, a saw mill, and a carding mill. In August, I spent a day working with Historian and Curator of Mechanical Arts Tom Kelleher in the saw mill and carding mill to learn how water, miller, and machine worked together in this ancient power source.

Historian and Curator of Mechanical Arts Tom Kelleher repairs a leather bent, which makes Old Sturbridge Village’s carding mill run. The carding machine is original to the 1820s and still runs almost daily at the museum.

This opportunity let me feel (literally, since water mills often vibrate with power) what it might have been like to work inside one of these early industrial sites. Exploring how the rotary motion of a waterwheel can be transformed to do many different mechanical jobs also helped me to comprehend the potential that the inventors of the Industrial Revolution saw for developing powered machines to do traditionally hand-operated tasks.

After a summer of research, I’m excited to create a narrative that tells the story of cloth finishing through not only words but also objects, sites, and landscapes and discusses a specific trade and the people who performed it as well as the economy and environment in which it operated.

Post by Eliza West, WPAMC Class of 2019

Posted in Academic Programs, American Culture Studies, Decorative Arts, George Washington, Students & Alumni, Textiles, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Truths of the Trade: Collecting, Researching, and Exhibiting an Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World Cabinet

Double cabinet made in England or the Caribbean, 1770−90. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Henry Francis du Pont Collectors Circle 2017.4

A mere shadow, faintly visible in raking light, is all that remains of the script that once spelled “Philadelphia” on the drawer front of Winterthur’s recently acquired double cabinet. This drawer may be blank, but gold painted letters still adorn the cabinet’s eleven other drawers. Labeled to the left of Philadelphia is the name of the winemaking island of Madeira; to the right is Jamaica; “Teneriffe,” one of Spain’s seven Canary Islands, can be found painted on the drawer below; and names of other prominent eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ports and colonies fill out the mix. All taken into consideration, it became clear to Josh Lane, Winterthur’s curator of furniture, that the cabinet he was examining at the 2016 Delaware Antiques Show was a remarkable document of Atlantic world history. Purchased by Winterthur, the object offered a unique opportunity for study and soon became the focus of the first student-curated exhibition in the Society of Winterthur Fellows Gallery. Thanks to months of research by the students, aided by scholars across the country, the cabinet is now one of Winterthur’s primary references on the transatlantic slave trade.

Interior drawers with gold painted lettering

The use of island mahogany and English oak situate the piece in the world of Atlantic commerce, but its most compelling story is revealed when its locks are turned and doors are opened. Drawers labeled with the names of ports and colonies reconstruct networks of trade: Senegambia, Madeira, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, North Carolina, Waterford, Bristol, Teneriffe, Gold Coast, and Philadelphia, revealing participation in the transatlantic trade between Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and North America that transported shiploads of commodities and captive people during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The closed cabinet

The Winterthur collection is deeply entangled in these trade networks. The commodities that crossed the Atlantic defined the material culture of early America―the very things Henry Francis du Pont and the museum collected. The Atlantic trade involved a wide variety of raw materials and refined goods, but slavery was its engine. Captive Africans and the products of their forced labor flowed into ports like those named on the double cabinet, making possible the luxury and beauty enjoyed by consumers in the past as well as visitors to the museum today. Through ports came sweet sugar and bitter suffering, beautiful mahogany and hideous brutality, gleaming gold and dark dehumanization.
The exterior of the double cabinet appears, at first glance, unassuming in its construction and design. Despite the modest appearance, the island mahogany used as the primary and secondary wood was an expensive material first harvested in the Caribbean as a profitable by-product of clearing land for sugar plantations. Cabinetmakers and consumers throughout the Atlantic world later revered the wood for its dark burgundy color and ease of use. Fitted to the mahogany doors of the cabinet are inset brass locks that served as extra security to protect the valuable insurance policies, shipping documents, and other records held within the drawers and shelves. In addition, the cabinetmaker built locking compartments into the sides of the cabinet for further safekeeping. Close examination also reveals fine attention to precise dovetail construction, suggesting investment of care and skill on par with other case pieces such as desk-and-bookcases and escritoires.

It is possible that the name of the original owner, maker, and origin of the cabinet will never be uncovered. What is known, however, is that the size of the storage receptacles and the labels with geographic locations and letters of the alphabet indicate that the piece functioned as a filing cabinet. The owner would have arranged paperwork dealing with each Atlantic world location in order to organize his business interests. The duplicate mention of “Gold Coast” on two of the drawers offers the best evidence of the cabinet’s use as an organizational tool. The Gold Coast, an area of Africa in what is now Ghana, was an active site of the slave trade in the eighteenth century. The labels “Gold Coast” and “Gold Coast Answered” suggest that the owner had enough correspondence from this region to fill two compartments and perhaps conducted more business there than in any of the other port or colony represented.

In addition to indicating geographic locations, the top drawer of the cabinet, furthest to the left, is labeled “Policys of Insurance.” Filed away were undoubtedly insurance policies penned in ink on sheets of handmade paper. Winterthur’s manuscript collection holds several such examples issued to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century merchants to protect ships and cargo with significant monetary value. Like insurance today, these policies covered loss or damage to capital. Because their cargo often included enslaved humans, merchants involved in the Atlantic trade obscured the language in these documents to ensure full protection.

Rather than displaying such an insurance policy next to the double cabinet in the exhibition Truths of the Trade: Slavery and the Winterthur Collection, the student curators chose a shipping receipt attributed to prominent Newport, Rhode Island, merchants Aaron Lopez and Jacob R. Rivera. The receipt would have fit into the cabinet drawers, but the desire to include the document originated from a graduate student’s ongoing research into Lopez and his transatlantic ventures. In fact, several of the decisions made by the students were shaped by not only their own research but that of others as well. The curators featured a telescope in the exhibition after hearing Dr. Louis Nelson speak about the dual use of the instrument for both navigation on ships and surveillance of enslaved labor by owners on Jamaica plantations. A presentation by Winterthur graduate Sarah Parks prompted the students’ choice of an eighteenth-century letter book containing textile samples described as being “a good style for the coast of Africa.” That letter book was the focus of Sarah’s thesis. Martha Washington’s cake plate, a particularly iconic object in the exhibition, was chosen after learning about the large amounts of sugar imported by the Washington family―information acquired during a gallery walk with the curators, research historians, and archaeologists who made possible Mount Vernon’s exhibition Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Scholars from far and near helped the Winterthur student curators stitch together the story of the double cabinet by surrounding the piece with objects that complemented its “unknowns.”

Student exhibition in the Society of Winterthur Fellows Gallery

Students and staff at Winterthur continually revisit the collection to ask new questions and reinterpret the histories of objects. Truths of the Trade was one such project. It permitted graduate students from the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture and the University of  Delaware Department of Art History to consider how changing cultural and institutional perceptions of race continue to influence the acquisition of objects for the museum―all through the study of an unimposing double cabinet with a remarkable story to tell.

Post by J. Lara and Alexandra Rosenberg are Lois F. McNeil Fellows in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture.

Posted in Academic Programs, American Culture Studies, antiques, Delaware Antiques Show, exhibition, Exhibitions, Furniture, galleries, museum acquisition, museum collection, Students & Alumni, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Dominy Shops at Winterthur

Perched on the south fork of the eastern end of Long Island, East Hampton today is best known as one of the towns comprising “the Hamptons,” a wealthy summer resort. In the eighteenth century, however, it was an isolated and largely self-sufficient community of small farming and fishing villages scattered over 70 square miles and connected to distant markets by sea. When families from those communities needed a clock, a set of chairs, a hay rake, or a cart wheel, they turned to the Dominy family of craftsmen. When the township voted to build a wind-powered gristmill, the elders commissioned a Dominy. Between the early 1760s and 1840s, three generations of this local craft dynasty—grandfather, Nathaniel IV (1737−1812); father, Nathaniel V (1770−1852); and son, Felix (1800−1868)—made and repaired clocks and watches and provided general woodworking, cabinetmaking, and carpentry to thousands of families in eastern Long Island and the Connecticut coast. They filled a critical need for multi-skilled woodworkers and metalworkers.

Smoothing plane inscribed “Nathaniel Dominy/Ye 3d [Joyner/owner?] Decembr/Ye 25th AD 1763.”    Gift of Robert M. Dominy 1959.42

Remarkably, the nearly complete contents of the Dominy woodworking and clockmaking shops survived in situ until 1946.

The Dominy house, 1940, photographed by the Historic American Building Survey. The woodworking shop is on the right. Courtesy Library of Congress

Acquired by Winterthur in 1957, the Dominy tool collection, comprising more than 1,000 hand tools and larger pieces of equipment, has been on display since 1960 in timber-frame structures that closely replicate the original shop buildings.

The Dominy Gallery at Winterthur

The tools, clocks, furniture, and farm equipment as well as the original shop buildings now under restoration by the town of East Hampton and the shop accounts and family papers housed in Winterthur Library tell a more complete story about a family of craftsmen and their pivotal role in the community than any other grouping of tools, documents, and artifacts in the country. Recognizing the importance of this collection as a national treasure, Winterthur is currently planning the reinstallation of the Dominy Gallery with improved lighting, new displays, and digital media designed to enable deeper exploration of the artifacts and documents.

The Dominy family arrived in East Hampton probably around 1669, twenty years after settlers from Lynn, Massachusetts, founded the town. Listed in property deeds as a carpenter and surveyor, Nathaniel III (1714−1778) established the Dominy woodworking tradition and probably trained his son, Nathaniel IV. In addition to general carpentry and cabinetmaking, Nathaniel IV made clocks and repaired watches. He taught woodworking skills to his son, Nathaniel V, who, from 1787 onward, worked as a house carpenter, millwright, wheelwright, surveyor, and cooper. Felix learned the fundamentals of clockmaking and watch repair from Nathaniel IV and gained additional experience in the shop of a New York City watchmaker and repairer in the years 1815 to 1817.

The Dominy family lived near the center of East Hampton village and owned and cultivated 100 acres of farmland scattered throughout the township. About 1715 they moved into a new house apparently built around the core of an earlier structure on the property that had a parlor below a second-floor chamber and a lean-to kitchen. Between 1745 and 1760, Nathaniel III doubled the size of the house with a two-story addition across the front. He also extended the lean-to, adding a woodworking shop of 485 square feet. Faithfully reconstructed at Winterthur, the shop is equipped with the original workbenches, shelves, racks, and other fixtures in the same positions that the Dominy craftsmen installed them, including a great wheel lathe, the only known eighteenth-century example, and a pole lathe, each probably made between 1750 and 1800.

The great wheel lathe probably made by Nathaniel Dominy IV between 1775 and 1800, shown in the Dominy Gallery.

As itemized in their accounts, the craftsmen made more than 1,700 objects in the woodworking shop with tools forged primarily in England and purchased in New York City through East Hampton merchants who sailed weekly to Manhattan.

Desk-and-bookcase make by Nathaniel Dominy V for John Lyon Gardiner, 1800. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Special Fund for Collection Objects 1992.66

In 1798 Nathaniel IV constructed a clock shop at the southeast corner of the house, built around a chimneystack containing a flue for a forge on one side and hearth on the other. Craftsmen there made some 80 cast-brass clock works, from simple to complex, for the next thirty years. Although they made no watches, Nathaniel IV and Felix did a brisk business repairing them. Their affordable rates attracted many clients from Suffolk County and coastal eastern Connecticut, and Felix listed more than 1,000 in a separate book for watch repairs.

After 1810, cabinetmakers newly arrived in the village of Sag Harbor began to compete with the Dominys for market share. In 1823 businessman Nathan Tinker advertised a “furniture warehouse,” well stocked with readymade furniture purchased wholesale in New York City and shipped up the Sound. After some seventy-five years supplying the needs of the community, the Dominy furniture business was undercut by the availability of stylish, inexpensive factory-made furniture. Similarly, the death knell for the Dominy clockmaking business was sounded with the advent of mass-produced, low-cost Connecticut shelf clocks. Priced out of the market, the Dominys stopped making clocks altogether in 1828.

By 1835, at age 65, Nathaniel V pulled back from full-time woodworking. That same year, no longer able to earn a living from clockmaking and watch repair, Felix moved from East Hampton for more lucrative work as keeper of the Fire Island lighthouse. By 1844 he was managing a summer hotel on Fire Island, and from 1861 to his death, in 1868, he owned and managed the Dominy House, a resort hotel in Bay Shore.

The family house, shops, and all contents passed to descendant Nathaniel VII and, after his death in 1910, to his son, Charles Mulford Dominy, also a woodworker.

By 1940, the homestead had fallen into disrepair; fearing its loss, the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) dispatched a team to document the structure with photographs and measured drawings.

Interior of the Dominy woodworking shop, 1940, photographed by the Historic American Building Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress

The Dominy woodworking shop installed at Winterthur.

The following year Charles sold the property. The new owner offered to sell the structure to the town for a museum, but funds were not raised. Fortunately, before the house was dismantled in 1946, Charles’ children removed equipment and tools from both shops for safekeeping, storing larger items in the barn of a Southampton antiques dealer and placing hand tools, shop records, and family papers on loan at the East Hampton Historical Society and East Hampton Free Library. As demolition began, a private buyer stepped in and purchased both shops, moved them to his beachfront home, and combined them to make a guesthouse. Thanks to the generosity of two subsequent homeowners, the shops were ultimately donated to East Hampton with money to fund their reconfiguration and attachment to a replica of the exterior of the Dominy house.

In 1957 Charles F. Montgomery, director of Winterthur, became aware of the Dominy tools. With the support of Henry Francis du Pont, he pursued the acquisition of the collection, which was made possible through the generosity of Dominy family members and funds provided by Henry Belin du Pont. Replicas of the shops with the original tools opened to the public at Winterthur in 1960, followed by the 1968 publication of With Hammer in Hand: The Dominy Craftsmen of East Hampton, New York, the definitive study of the Dominy archives, tools, furniture, and clocks by Curator of Collections Charles Hummel.

The Dominy shops reveal much about life, work, and craftsmanship of an earlier time, and the planned updates to the gallery will allow Winterthur to bring the remarkable story to an even wider audience.

A selection of tools used by the Dominys. Counterclockwise, from top: Smoothing plane, dated 1763, maple and satinwood; Spokeshave, ca. 1800, whalebone stock; Gouge, ca. 1800, wooden handle and horn ferrule; Turning chisel, repurposed steel sword blade inscribed “ANNO” and “1600,” set in a wooden handle with horn ferrule; Square, ca. 1800, whalebone; Wooden patterns, 1790−1830, for the legs of candlestands and tea tables; Dovetail saw, 1790−1830. Gift of Robert M. Dominy 1959.42; Museum purchase 1957.26.209, .117, .119, .207, .301, .303, .305, .23.

Post by Josh Lane, Lois F. and Henry S. McNeil Curator of Furniture, Winterthur Museum

Posted in antiques, Dominy, galleries, museum acquisition, museum collection, Uncategorized, wood working | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Road Trip!

This summer I embarked on an expedition to the Midwest for thesis research on nineteenth- and turn-of-the-century Islamic architecture in American domestic and religious spaces. I refer to this journey as the “Thesis Research Road Trip Adventure” because, little did I know, my choice to drive to each site would lead me to refocus my thesis and make larger connections between architecture, place, and exchange. The hours spent driving alone provided an opportunity to reflect on my site visits and process the information I absorbed on each trip, leading me to newfound insights.

I had a lot of time to reflect on my experiences. Just one part of the map I used to plot architectural examples of Islamic architecture (nineteenth and twentieth centuries)

Each location I visited had a unique story with varying degrees of documentary evidence to support the idea that there was a revival in Islamic architecture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I first traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, to visit the Plum Street Temple, a Reform Jewish synagogue built in 1865 and dedicated in 1866. It is known as the Isaac M. Wise Temple, the congregation’s rabbi until his death in 1900. The synagogue is a hodge-podge of stylistic influences: Gothic and Neo-Byzantine influences on the exterior and a lavishly decorated interior heavily inspired by the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.  I enjoyed visiting the well-preserved synagogue and admiring the stencilwork seen throughout the space.

This is all stencilwork. The decorative elements in the pointed arches are mimicking muqarnas, the honeycomb vaulting traditionally found in Islamic architecture

My second destination was Quincy, Illinois, located along the Illinois-Missouri border. The Villa Kathrine (1900), a Moroccan-style villa sits atop a hill overlooking the Mississippi River. According to local lore, George Metz traveled throughout Europe and North Africa and during his travels in Morocco he encountered a beautiful villa. He brought sketches of this villa back to Illinois and immediately commissioned a house in the villa’s likeness. It features an interior courtyard, three bedrooms, and a faux harem. The house underwent restoration back in the 1980s, so I spent a great deal of time examining the villa and furnishings to determine what was original.

Exterior view of Villa Kathrine

Views from the second floor of the Villa Kathrine, Quincy, IL

The final destination was a private home in Stillwater, Minnesota. The structure was originally a recreation hall in 1902. It was an attached addition to a nineteenth-century Victorian mansion. Created by lumber baron William Sauntry, the recreation hall featured a ballroom, bowling alley, and swimming pool. In 2008, the current owners began a 10-year-long project to restore the site to its 1902 floor plan. It was converted into a triplex before their ownership. Touring the home and examining each nook and cranny was an absolute treat. I even explored the basement area to see the intact pool lining and some original plasterwork and capitals.

Exterior of Sauntry’s Recreation Hall, now a private home, in Stillwater, MN. The windows pictured correspond with the ballroom’s south wall

Original capitals found in the ballroom. The owners restored their home based on the site’s found materials

Driving to each architectural site prompted me to think critically about the sense of place, time, and experience. My decision to drive was a practical choice—it was more economical to drive than to fly to four separate locations. However, interstate and city roadways allowed me to think about the distances between each architectural site and consider how travel and transportation could factor into the dissemination of Moorish Revival architecture. I noticed that each city or town I visited—Cincinnati, Quincy, and Stillwater—were situated along the river. I wondered whether waterways and the circulation of goods helped bring Islamic design vocabularies to these places by way of coastal port cities in the Gulf South or East Coast.

While I initially thought my thesis would explore Islamic architecture broadly, I was surprised to uncover a Midwestern story of Moorish Revival. After reviewing my thesis plot map, it seems that early twentieth-century buildings were branching into other cultural or geographic influences that would have expanded my interpretation of the architecture. However, the nineteenth-century and turn-of-the-century examples were looking to Moorish Spain and North Africa.  With newfound insights in hand, I am eager to uncover and reveal more about the use of Moorish Revival architecture in the Midwest.

Post by Elizabeth Humphrey, Lois F. McNeil Fellow, Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, University of Delaware


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From Beautiful to Practical: My Internship in Historic Clock Repair

Image of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. The clock seen above the fireplace extends from the carved and arched hardwood top to just above the stone mantel, approximately 4 feet in total from dial and mechanism to the lower end of the pendulum bob. Image courtesy of

I have always been fascinated with clocks. If you were to see me in a museum or auction gallery—whether on one of our field studies with my Winterthur classmates or on my own—chances are that you would find me by the clocks. While my time at Winterthur so far has allowed me to study clocks from a historical perspective, I realized that I really did not understand how they worked: how do different movements work differently in similarly-sized cases? How does one assess a clock movement, understanding the best way to repair or restore it to working order without altering its historical significance? Thanks to a WUDPAC lecture this past February, I found an opportunity to answer some of these practical questions. I interned with Lili von Baeyer, clockmaker and historic clock repairwoman, in her Philadelphia studio this summer. Through my work with Lili, I was able to better understand the practical side of working with clocks, seeing not just beauty in their historical significance and patina but understanding their functional needs and learning ways to weave together practicality and beauty.

One of Lili’s long-term clients is the Pennsylvania State Capitol. Lili is responsible for cleaning and repairing all of the Capitol’s 208 wall, shelf, and mantle clocks, and I accompanied her on one of her twice-monthly trips to Harrisburg.

All of these clocks in every office are expected to keep accurate time 24/7. The state employs several people (called winders) to wind these clocks on a weekly basis, but if the movements stop ticking, Lili is responsible for repairing them—no easy feat. I was particularly surprised by the mantle clocks: not your typical cased clock which sits on a shelf, these clocks are literally built into the space over certain offices’ mantlepieces, with three- to four-foot-long pendulums and weight-cords, sturdily encased behind heavy, carved mahogany and oak and brushed brass dials. Lili often relies on the curatorial team at the Capitol when these clocks need to be removed, as it can be a two-person job to lower the weights, remove the dial, and finally extract the movement from its chamber. However, these clocks are all located in active offices and as such must continue to function even if their movements are at Lili’s studio. To comply with this requirement, Lili places a battery-powered quartz movement behind each dial so the clock will continue to appear functional even though its movement is gone. Hardly any of these clocks would be considered antique or valuable in the museum sense, but they are a vital component to daily life and work at the Capitol and a large responsibility to maintain—both in the number of work hours and their significance to Pennsylvania politics.

Assisting Lili with client work allowed me to gain a unique understanding of her day-to-day job but my main project throughout my internship was perhaps the most significant to my understanding of clocks as material culture. On my first day with Lili, she handed me an Ansonia 5 ½ shelf clock to assess, clean, and repair. I quickly realized how little I knew about the ways clocks truly function and that bringing them back to working order after years of disrepair is a true feat. I sketched the gears on both the time and strike side of the clock, carefully disassembled the front and back plates from gears and springs, and cleaned the clock in a solution with electrical charge to gently remove any old oil, dirt, and corrosion. When Lili works on a clock like this one, she will typically take it apart and put it back together between two and eight times; I think I did this at least 20 times. A deceptively simple instrument, this Ansonia 5 ½ pushed me to think about the amalgam of interlocking components, making sure the delicate posts and pins were straight, punching the correctly-sized holes for new bushings, and ensuring everything was reassembled to prevent friction.

My Ansonia partly assembled to check for alignment of gears, pins, springs, etc. This was after I had cleaned and examined it for any bent or broken teeth (thankfully none), straightened out posts and pins that had bent, and re-done bushing holes so the pins would sit evenly in the front and back plates. Here you see a close-up of the strike side of the movement with its spring, gears, and flywheel in the lower right. Image courtesy of the author.

This project also included a trip to Merritt’s, a clock and watch shop and supply store, where I purchased the bushings, pendulum spring, pendulum bob, key, and hands necessary to have my clock working in full order again. I was pleasantly surprised to find how affordable many of these parts were, especially since I had to purchase multiples of a few of them—inserting the new bushings and cutting and shaping the new pendulum spring took a few tries! Working on this Ansonia gave me the exact experience I hoped to have during my internship: I was able to comprehend a particular clock from both a historic and practical perspective.

Here the author is adjusting the assembly of the clock components between front and back plates—a tricky thing to do! Each time one pin fits into its place another one seems to slip, which necessitates a process of carefully adjusting gears and posts until everything fits together before clamping it to test their fit. This was just after finishing redoing the bushings, the punch set for which can be seen opposite me on the bench. Image courtesy of the author.

Secured with clamps on my desk, this clock currently has no case. Someday I hope to make one, but for now I am happy to see my “deconstructed clock” on its own, ticking away the minutes since I was able to repair it and until I find the right house for it.

Post by Katharine Fitzgerald, Lois F. McNeil Fellow, Class of 2019, Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, University of Delaware

Many thanks to Peter D. and Susan R. Finkel for their gracious funding for this internship through the University of Delaware Center for Material Culture Studies

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A Winterthur Interview: Thomas Chippendale at 300

Thomas Chippendale at 300: Treasures from the Collection exhibit, July 20, 2018- May 27, 2019

In celebration of the 300th anniversary of Thomas Chippendale’s birth, Winterthur Museum has organized an exhibit featuring its collection of rococo-inspired furniture, Thomas Chippendale’s publications, and related publications and objects influenced by Chippendale’s designs. Cecilia Aquino, Winterthur intern, sat down with Josh Lane, the Lois F. and Henry S. McNeil Curator of Furniture at Winterthur Museum, to get a deeper understanding of Thomas Chippendale’s prominence as a cabinetmaker, an interior designer, an author, a teacher, a businessman, and a major influencer in the decorative arts.

CA: What do we know about Thomas Chippendale?

JL: Not a lot. It’s so interesting. He has international name recognition, yet little is known about the man himself. We know where he was born, whom he married, how many kids he had, and where he lived and worked in London. His name is synonymous with rococo-style furniture, but did you know that some of the best furniture from his workshop is in the later neoclassical taste?


CA: What do we know about his early life?

JL: In a nutshell, he was born in the north of England in Yorkshire, in a town called Otley, and apparently was the only surviving son of the family. Where he went to learn cabinetmaking, and from whom, is a mystery, but around the age of 30 he had moved to London. He settled in an area of the city that was already on the map as a hive of artistic activity and the place to go for luxury shopping. There were other immigrant artists and craftsmen already in the neighborhood who had introduced a new style—the rococo. It was there that William Hogarth, the painter and satirical printmaker, established an art school that promoted rococo drawing and design work. The French had invented this new style decades earlier, and immigrant craftsmen brought it to London, where it was considered very chic, exciting, and expressive–though it didn’t appeal to everybody. So Chippendale encountered rococo furniture designs from others already working in the style and from artists who had published design books featuring rococo ornament. For example, the exhibit features a little gem of book called Sixty Different Sorts of Ornaments that an Italian immigrant artist named Gaetano Brunetti published in 1736. His engravings of looking glasses and sconces dripping with rococo flourishes helped introduce the new style to Londoners. This book suggests that by the time Chippendale was settling in London, craftspeople were beginning to apply the rococo aesthetic to consumer goods.



CA: So if Gaetano Brunetti published Sixty Different Sorts of Ornaments in 1736, when was Thomas Chippendale’s design book, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director, published?

JL: In the early 1750s, he conceived of his own design book and had signed up over 300 subscribers, who each paid a fair amount of money to support its production and publication. The book was published in 1754, and subscribers received their copies. It was jaw dropping in its unprecedented large format, lavish engraved illustrations, and length. Producing the book meant coming up with designs, drawing them, and then overseeing the artist who engraved the copper printing plates with reverse copies of the drawings so that they would print properly. It was a major endeavor: he had to buy the copper plates and printing paper; arrange for binding; and pay the engraver and printer. Chippendale was really creative. He produced this lush, fabulous, beautiful book. Although he wasn’t the first to publish a book of furniture designs, his was the most lavish and ambitious to date. And he did it because he had a vision for a high-quality product that would guide other cabinetmakers in the latest furniture fashions and also because he viewed the book as a means of self-promotion.


CA: Would you say that was the start of his career?

JL: Having already established himself in London as a skilled and successful cabinetmaker, the book helped launched him on the next phase of his career, enabling him to transform his business. Chippendale was ambitious and wanted to advance to the next level—from cabinetmaker to upholsterer. At the time, upholsterer was the term for a professional who provided comprehensive decorating services. Chippendale viewed his book as a way to attract the attention of aristocratic clients and induce them to hire him to decorate their country houses. And it worked! Clients called on him to choose everything from wallpaper to the carvings over the doorways and the mantles, carpeting, and lighting fixtures. His team of cabinetmakers supplied all the furniture and upholstery. The success of the first edition of his book prompted him to issue two more editions, and soon business was booming. With the financial backing of a wealthy investor, he expanded his workshops and hired craft specialists including carvers, gilders, paper hangers and paint decorators, eventually overseeing as many as 60 craftsmen. He acted not only as business entrepreneur, negotiating with clients, managing payroll, ordering supplies, but also as artistic director and manager of quality control.

However great his fame, his expanded role as upholsterer didn’t make him rich because costs were high and profits had to be shared. He actually flirted with bankruptcy after one of his backers died. His son took over the firm in the late 1770s and went bankrupt in 1804, although he continued to make furniture beyond that date.

CA: Did he get offended if anybody published sketches after his? Or was it more of a compliment that they were inspired by him?

JL: Well, here is the thing, although Chippendale took credit as sole author of the Director, we don’t know if he invented all of the designs in his books. We will probably never know because we don’t know what he was looking at for inspiration, what kind of furniture he was making, or even what works from other shops he was basing his ideas off of. In the end, his drawings of furniture designs probably are a mix of original ideas and riffs on the works of other London cabinetmakers. He made friends with lots of artists in his London neighborhood such as Matthias Lock, a carver and engraver, whom he also employed and who had published a modest book of rococo ornaments before the appearance of Chippendale’s Director. We don’t know, for example, whether Matthias Lock contributed designs to Chippendale’s book.

In turn, Chippendale meant his designs to be shared, studied, copied, and to serve as sources of inspiration. Essentially, the idea was that one could take this new style, the rococo, and work at it, practice it, develop it, and publish interpretations of it—and in so doing, advertise one’s artistic skills. The idea of the “inspired genius artist” who came up with original designs unlike those of any others, is just not the way it worked. Artists and craftsmen shared ideas, putting their own spin on them.

Chippendale prefaced the Director with drawings of the five orders of classical architecture and in the text exhorted workmen to study and learn these orders. He believed that familiarity with the classical orders was an essential component of every cabinetmaker’s education NOT because they needed to know what an Ionic or Corinthian capital looked like, but because the concept behind the orders was that of proportion. Each order had a slightly different proportional scheme that could be extrapolated to buildings, furniture, and other objects, to differing effect. The implication being that the most successful furniture designs were those adapted from his book by craftsmen grounded in principles of classical proportion.


CA: Would you say that is a distinguishing factor of Thomas Chippendale’s work versus other cabinetmakers?

JL: At the same time Chippendale offered full-service interior design work, he and his journeymen used high-quality materials to produce consistently well-made furniture for sale in his showroom. In this regard, he wasn’t different from other top-flight cabinetmakers. In terms of his furniture design book, I think the notion of design sharing—designs intended for use and adaptation by others—was spread across the decorative arts. Ornamental designs were to be adapted for use in textiles, carving, metalwork, and other goods as well as in furniture. The craft community was fluid and the legal concept of “intellectual property” as we know it today—exclusive ownership of creative content, protected by law against copying and imitation—had not yet become a major concern, at least regarding published designs.


CA: What would you imagine Thomas Chippendale saying about the type of furniture we see being created today?

JL: Well, here is the other thing about Chippendale that is so interesting to me, he published rococo designs and his name has become virtually synonymous with rococo, but his work was far wider. Going back to the idea of rococo itself, he didn’t invent the style. He is just working in it and selling it to fashionable people. It was a French idea that first appeared the early 1700s. At the time, France had a royal system of patronage and state-sponsored art schools, where rococo design was refined and promoted. By the time Chippendale published the Director in 1754, the style had been around for 30 years. The third edition of his book wasn’t published until 1762. Over that period of eight years, tastes had begun to change. Chippendale himself, for his most fashion-forward clients, started to work in the neoclassical style.

So Chippendale had his finger to the winds of change in fashion and was ready to embrace new ideas and create designs in the latest style. I think he appreciated the spark of creative flair in other craftsmen. From a design, methods, and materials standpoint, were he to visit us today, I think he would probably find high-end studio furniture intriguing and inspiring. From a business standpoint, he would probably be flummoxed by the business model of small furniture studios producing “art furniture” independent of one another. He would certainly recognize professional interior designers as kindred spirits. On the other hand, I imagine he would dismiss factory-made furniture out of hand—and imagine his chagrin and horror at the use of particle-board and plastic laminates!

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Dining by Design Meets Terrific Tuesdays! Who Says Kids Don’t Like Old Stuff, Too?

What is the most common lament that we curators hear from collectors and those lucky individuals who have inherited family heirlooms? Young people today have absolutely no interest in objects from the past. But is that really true? Perhaps, we just need to find the right “hook” to capture their interest.  I had the chance to test this theory out at a recent Terrific Tuesdays event, our popular summertime series for kids ages 3 to 10, orchestrated by Winterthur’s talented Education Curator Lois Stoehr.

Lois invited me to participate in the Terrific Tuesday in July that was focused on pattern and suggested that I do something relating to Winterthur’s major Galleries exhibition Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table (open through January 6, 2019). Many of the plates and dishes in the show feature brilliantly colored designs, from butterflies and flowers to birds and sea creatures. So, I took a look at our demonstration collection (objects that can be handled by the public) and brought along a nice selection of nature-themed ceramics from the 1700s and 1800s.

I also found photos of a wide range of objects that are included in the Dining by Design exhibition and hung them on the wall, so the kids could see the colors of those original objects. I modified copies of the same photos in PhotoShop and brought duplicates of these along so the kids could color the images any way they liked. 

I was astonished by the dozens of children who stopped at my table and asked lots of questions during my discussions of the demonstration objects. “Why is there a caterpillar on that plate?” “Did little kids eat cookies off of a plate like that one?” “How did that teapot get broken?”

I was particularly tickled by their astonished expressions when I told them that the flower- and bug-filled plate they were holding in their hands was made “back when George Washington was a kid.” (Nope, George wasn’t responsible for the big chip out of the plate rim!)

After we finished discussing the ceramic dishes, kids young and old grabbed favorite pictures, threw themselves on the floor, and dove into the colored pencil containers.

I think that I enjoyed myself even more than the kids did. (Lois, count me in for Terrific Tuesdays next year, too!)

Terrific Tuesdays runs through August 28 with activities and special guests focused on color, form, and other elements of art. Join us for the next Terrific Tuesdays!


Post by Leslie Grigsby, Senior Curator of Ceramics and Glass, Winterthur

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Joyous Memories and Dining by Design

Suki and the Hundred Butterflies pattern dish set

Among the greatest joys an exhibition curator can experience is seeing the pleasure with which guests respond to their displays. Very high on my list relating to Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table (open through January 6, 2019) was the recent visit by my friends Suki and Tony, owners of Lily Asian Cuisine, a highly-rated local favorite in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The couple brought along their two charming daughters, so I could show the whole family how we much we westerners have admired Chinese wares over the centuries.

We spent about an hour viewing the exhibition. We talked about how dinnerware and foods were acquired from the 1600s onward and then looked at dining traditions, setting the table, folding napkins, and the like.  Eventually, we arrived at the area focusing on dinnerware with nature designs in Western styles, such as portrayals of Aesop’s Fable animals and soup tureens in the forms of rabbits and turkeys.

Just before we left that space, Suki came to a halt and said, “I have to tell you a story about dishes!” With sparkling eyes, she reminisced that when she was young she often went with her siblings and cousins to have dinner at their grandparents’ house. “Of course, we were never allowed to start the meal before Grandfather came home.” Just before he was scheduled to arrive home, Suki’s grandmother would bring out a special, covered lacquer box.  She would place it, somewhat ceremoniously, on the center of the table and then slowly lift the lid to unveil an enticing display of little dishes, all fitted together and filled with treats such as nuts, pickled fruits, and the like.  The children selected their favorites, munching on them as they awaited their grandfather’s arrival. “Ah, that is such a happy memory,” said Suki, sighing.

The Moon Gate portal, through which one enters the world of Asian designs inspired by nature

So now, I was filled with suspense as I had an inkling of just what sort of dish she might be talking about. As we were about to pass through the exhibition’s Moon Gate to enter the gallery of nature designs in Asian styles, I rushed ahead and whipped out my phone. The result? Well you can see Suki’s expression in the picture, above.  The butterfly dishes on display in the exhibition were much like the ones her grandmother served treats in.

Tony provided fascinating insights into Chinese meanings of symbols on the displayed tableware.  He told me that the number associated with the dish set Suki admired was meaningful.  The set has nine little dishes, which is a number connected with couples and good things, and when added to the box, the number becomes ten, which is a number associated with the whole family and many good things. What a wonderful concept to be able to share with their family, my own, and yours, too, of course!

See more Dining by Design blogs.

Suki and Tony at Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table

By Leslie B. Grigsby, Senior Curator of Ceramics & Glass, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Posted in Ceramics, China, chinese export porcelain, Decorative Arts, exhibition, Exhibitions, museum collection, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Calling Santa Claus

Maxine Waldron Collection of Children’s Books and Paper Toys
81×481-49m, Winterthur Library

It’s hard to imagine a time when telephones were not a part of everyday living. Today, phones are found in our homes, offices, and even in our pockets—modern life would shut down without them. In the late nineteenth century, however, some consumers questioned the value of owning a telephone, seeing them as either a luxury item for the wealthy or as a disruptive and unpredictable nuisance. Winterthur’s collections contain a number of items relating to the evolution of those concerns, including a rare children’s book in the Saul Zalesch Collection of American Ephemera.

Maxine Waldron Collection of Children’s Books and Paper Toys 81×481-49b, Winterthur Library

Hello! Santa Claus! Or, How a Telephone Upset Christmas was written by Mary Bissell Waterman in 1886, only ten years after Alexander Graham Bell patented his telephone. Waterman, a Utica-based children’s author and poet, explored some of the popular anxieties surrounding the new invention. Her tale opens on a noisy Christmas Eve in the Claus household, which had been flooded with nonstop calls ever since Santa decided to install a phone. To make matters worse, all of the calls were from spoiled rich children whose families could afford the new device. Following a chat with a girl on Fifth Avenue asking for a gigantic diamond ring, Santa finally lost his patience—he screamed at the child, quit his job, and ran off to his room determined to sleep through Christmas.

The story continues with a poor girl calling on a borrowed phone asking for a blanket. Mrs. Claus then decided to steal Santa’s sleigh and deliver his gifts to poor neighborhoods, hospitals, and orphanages. When Mrs. Claus returned home and told Santa what she’d done, he was aghast at the thought of dealing with angry phone calls from rich children about their missing toys. On Christmas morning, however, the phone calls were from wealthy children happy at the joy their gifts brought to others.

The ‘Santa Claus on the phone’ trope remained popular for several more decades. As telephones became more affordable and widespread, however, themes of sentimentality and consumerism overshadowed most traces of social criticism related to phones. Two cards in Winterthur’s Maxine Waldron Collection express this development.

A 1907 Christmas card illustrated by Ellen H. Clapsaddle shows Santa and a child on the phone, separated by a partition bearing a line from Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. The two are speaking on a wall telephone, possibly the Western Electric Model 1317. An undated card from the turn of the century shows Santa reaching for a similar style phone.

The Model 1317 remained in production all the way up until 1937 when technological changes finally made its design obsolete. The well-known Western Electric model 302, which exemplified the trend toward more compact designs, was introduced the same year that the Model 1317 was phased out.

US Forever Postage Stamp crediting the 1937 Western Electric 302 desk telephone design to Henry Dreyfuss, ca. 2011, US Postal Service.

In the Winter 2017 issue of Winterthur Portfolio, authors Russell Flinchum and Ralph Meyer look back at the Model 302 in their exploration of twentieth-century telephone design and the firm of Henry Dreyfuss. “Henry Dreyfuss and Bell Telephones” sheds new light on the histories of iconic models like the 302, the Princess, and the Trimline. Flinchum, a professor of design history at North Carolina State University and former archivist at the Dreyfuss firm, and Meyer, a physicist and expert on Bell System telephones, challenge accepted knowledge about Henry Dreyfuss and telephone design, including their own earlier work. Through July 1 this article can be accessed free of charge. Click here for access to the article. 

Winterthur Portfolio 51, no. 4

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A Whimsical Walk through Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table

Porcelain water buffalo or ox-head tureen and stand, China, 1760–80. Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens at Winterthur 1996.4.234 a-c

We need more whimsy in this world. For me, ever the fan of anything bovine, that whimsy struck as I turned to enter the final room of the Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table exhibition and was met with the exuberant gaze of an 18th-century soup tureen in the shape of a water buffalo’s head drawn from the Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens at Winterthur. In his contemporary usage, the top of his head would be removed so that the bottom half of the tureen could house hot soup, and once the top was replaced, plumes of steam would have risen from his open ceramic nostrils; ever the diversion then as now.

This tureen is only one of approximately 560 objects in Dining by Design, and museum-goers will surely find that particular object that piques their own curiosity. Naturally I hope that our bovine friend will achieve his own celebrity, but there is a veritable range of objects on display here. Similar tureens in the shape of geese and rabbits occupy their own cabinet, while examples of more traditionally ornate and decorative examples of tureens—including one gilded in its entirety with brass—form a distinctive pyramid of objects as one immediately enters the exhibition. There is no shortage in the range of designs that decorate the surfaces of plates, dishes, and bowls, including architectural drawings upon 18th-century Worcester ware, the botanical drawings of Hans Sloane ware, and moralized depictions of Adam and Eve from as early as 1601, among many, many other designs. All of these objects are on display across three spacious rooms in the upstairs galleries. The first room is an exceptionally light and airy space showcasing the range of object types in the ceramics collection. Moving on, guests walk through a more distinctively European collection that captures the different types of representation these objects could achieve before arriving at the end of the exhibition where a room of Asian objects is punctuated by its own pagoda.

Porcelain plate with classical ruins in landscape, Worcester Porcelain Factory, Worcester, England, 1770–75. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Mayer 1977.86

It’s in this first room that some of the most powerful displays are located. A set dining table is displayed against a mirror, which makes it emphatically clear that the material extent of early modern dining accouterments was as important as the precision and care with which they were constructed, composed, and consumed. Placing these objects in the physical settings of their original use reinforces one of the central messages that this exhibition communicates: dining was an everyday act, but it was also a heavily performative and skilled one. Visitors may see up close a collection of flatware: spoons, knives, and forks all made of ceramic, or with a ceramic component. The agate-esque handles of a collection of knives illustrate the trickery that producers were able to employ and the skill with which they transformed their materials to resemble something entirely different. Furthermore, the floral designs that embellish the handles and bodies of these ceramic spoons show how the designed motifs of dining extended beyond the plates and dishes which held consumers’ food and were an integral part of the key objects that they handled.

Finally, there is a vertical wall display comprising 27 individual dishes and plates, arranged in a typical 18th-century table layout. There is something almost disconcerting seeing these objects laid out in this way. When table layouts and the precise positioning of ceramic pieces are typically displayed in museums and heritage properties, they are usually placed on top of a dining table by way of a re-creation – complete with sad plastic grapes. It is easy to appreciate the perspective that this comes from, attempting to educate visitors in the full swathe of objects that formed the material culture of dining in homes. But by extracting the table from this equation, and affixing the display of ceramic dining ware to the wall, so that it sits alike a canvas in a gallery or graffiti on a building, guests are able to see how thoughtfully put together such dining tables were. The attention to symmetry is striking, but so is the sheer expanse of space that these objects occupy. On a table they may seem more in place, but displayed in this way they speak for themselves. Elizabeth Raffald, upon whose 1769 The Experienced English Housekeeper this display is based, would be excited to see such a use of dining ware.

There is far more to see than a blog post could seamlessly tie together, and one strength of an exhibition curated of such a large number of objects is that it enables the museum-goer to draw their own connections between different corners of the gallery. For others the buffalo tureen will not be the main event—he may be a starting point or a waypoint on an individual’s itinerary through the exhibition. It seems almost blasphemous to say that some attendees may not be interested in the buffalo at all. Either way, Dining by Design makes a very interesting comparison to the Treasures on Trial exhibition which preceded it. Both are thought-provoking displays, but while Treasures on Trial encouraged museum-goers to play Columbo with things and assess authenticity, Dining by Design asks its viewers to be imaginative and immerse themselves in an almost alien culture. It illustrates a very important role of the museum to preserve heritage, provide escapism, and present splendor. If Elizabeth Raffald would have been excited by the exhibition, so too would the museum’s founder H. F. du Pont.

Post by Tom Rusbridge, a Ph.D. student from the University of Sheffield and former visiting scholar at Winterthur

Posted in antiques, Ceramics, culinary, Decorative Arts, Design, dining, exhibition, Exhibitions, galleries, museum collection, tableware, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment