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Home | Articles | Explore the Decorative Arts at Winterthur this Fall

merican decorative arts forms come in all shapes, sizes and media. This autumn at Winterthur, visitors can see historic home furnishings and rare silver spoons, as well as take a new tour of the period rooms. In addition, America’s First Families is the theme of the annual Yuletide tour.

Pier tables were designed to go against the wall, or pier, between two windows, and were usually
surmounted by a looking glass. This table, made by Charles-Honoré Lannuier between 1805 and 1810, shows how he used French and English design elements to create objects that appealed to New York customers. Photo courtesy of Winterthur.

New Tour of Old Rooms
“Fashionable Furnishings: Domestic Spaces in Early America” explores the wide range of furnishing styles popular in America between 1720–1815.

The tour includes rooms that have not been open to the public for many years. Among these are the Bowers Parlor and Somerset Room, with woodwork from a home in Massachusetts (c. 1760s).

The Charleston Dining Room—with woodwork from South Carolina, ca. 1772—is set for a dessert party of the period. Visitors may contrast this scene with two rooms that recreate the home of a wealthy Delaware farmer in the early 19th century.

The “Fashionable Furnishings” tour also includes Shop Lane, which was installed in the former bowling alley and showcases old store facades from Connecticut, New York, Baltimore, and Virginia. The shop windows are filled with various collections of pottery, porcelain, and metalwork. The tour is on view through January 19, 2001.

Detail Of Songbird Singing “Liberty” and cage with open door embossed on a silver teaspoon made by Christian Wiltberber in Philadelphia about 1800.
American Bird-Decorated Spoons Exhibition on View
For almost six decades in the 18th and 19th centuries, bird-decorated spoonswere all the rage in America. The exhibition “Flights of Fancy: American Silver Bird-Decorated Spoons” showcases numerous objects from that period.

Before the Revolution, England influenced American style in everything from architecture to fashion. This was also true for silver spoons decorated with birds. While popular in England from about 1750 to 1780, such spoons continued to be made in America until the early 1830s. Initially, the birds used on American spoons imitated the images used by the English, usually from biblical and classical sources. Following the Revolution and the many political, economic and social changes that took place, the bald eagle became the symbol of the new nation and the most popular image on spoons.

Many of the bird images were only for decorative purposes, but some also carried moralistic or instructive meaning. Bird images were also found in other areas of society, including newspaper mastheads, trade signs and trade cards, and even bookplates and jewelry clasps.

Detail of Dove and Olive Branchembossed on a silver teaspoon made by Christian Wiltberber in Philadelphia about 1800.

Among the popular images, a songbird freed from its cage singing “I love liberty” communicated the movement toward free expression and participation in government by the governed. This evolved into America’s government “by the people, for the people,” symbolized by the eagle, with its wings outspread and shield-emblazoned body clutching the symbols of both war and peace in its talons.

“Flights of Fancy” also explores how these spoons were made and decorated and includes the only three known surviving dies that were used to transfer images onto spoons. The exhibition draws from the Ineson-Bissell Collection of about 8,000 pieces of American silver flatware dating between 1650 and 1900, as well as the Tousey Collection of 3,800 pieces of silver, both at Winterthur. In addition, some private pieces are on display. “Flights of Fancy: American Silver Bird-Decorated Spoons” is on view in The Society of Winterthur Fellows Gallery through April 20, 2001.

Detail of a Federal Eagle embossed on a silver teaspoon made by Samuel Krause in Lancaster, Pennsylvania about 1810.

Photos courtesy of Winterthur.

Classical Furniture from 19th Century New York
Discover the brilliance of fashionable early 19th-century interiors in “That Classy Classical Style: New York Furniture, 1800-1825.” The exhibition showcases furniture with flashy veneers and shiny gilt mounts as well as imported decorative objects as it paints a picture of this period in American interior decoration.

Like their contemporaries today, well-to-do Americans in the early 19th century had a taste for the finest. In the exhibition, visitors see how the artisans of New York rose to the challenge of their customers’ demands for elegant furniture in the fashionable classical style popular in, and inspired by, both England and France.

The classical style featured urns, lyres, mythological figures and other motifs inspired by archaeological discoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum, and in Greece and Egypt. Furniture makers in England and France published their creations in design books that were imported into this country and used to make furniture that was often uniquely American. The exhibition will include an assortment of these colorful and lavish original English and French designs from the rare book collection in the Winterthur Library.

Winterthur has one of the largest collections of furniture actually marked by Lannuier, from his earliest, very French-style work done soon after his arrival in New York to pieces executed in a more English Regency style. Lannuier’s obsessively superior workmanship and limited production contrasts with the enormity of Phyfe’s manufacturing and marketing operation, as well as the fact that the latter’s career continued into the 1840s, several decades beyond that of Lannuier. Today, Phyfe is best known for the stylish scroll-back chairs with sabre legs that were almost a hallmark of his shop, although they were not unique to him.

The brilliance of the fashionable interiors of this period was also seen in the imported porcelains, gilt metal candelabra, and rich mantel clocks. Often the furniture and decorative pieces were put in rooms that had colorful imported wallpapers, silk window hangings, and expensive woven rugs. “That Classy Classical Style” will also include examples of these “necessary refinements” as it paints a picture of this rich and elegant period in American interior decoration.

Yuletide at Winterthur includes an elegant dessert party during the administration of President James Monroe. The display includes some of his china, made in France in 1817. Photo courtesy of Winterthur.

Yuletide at Winterthur
In honor of the 200th anniversary of the construction of the White House and the first presidential elections of the new millennium, the holiday celebrations of America’s Presidents and their families are highlighted through January 7, 2001.

George and Martha Washington’s holiday hunt breakfast, a “snowball” fight in Andrew Jackson’s White House, and John F. Kennedy’s Nutcracker Suite Christmas tree are among the holiday vignettes recreated this year. More than 15 displays present different aspects of the holidays as experienced by the First Families of the 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-centuries. Elegant historic interiors recall the traditions of such Presidents as Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Before the White House was built, George and Martha Washington spent the holidays in Philadelphia or at Mount Vernon in Virginia. Hunting, preceded by a large hunt breakfast, was an important part of the holidays in the late 18th century. A Mount Vernon Hunt Breakfast, featuring spare ribs, bacon, grits, eggnog, and hominy cake, recreates the Washington’s holiday traditions.

In 1835, President Andrew Jackson invited children from all over Washington to a party with his children. Their celebration ended with a “snowball” fight using the centerpiece for ammunition. Photo courtesy of Winterthur.
During James Monroe’s administration, then Vice President John Quincy Adams honored Andrew Jackson, “The Hero of New Orleans,” at an event in January 1824 and this scene comes to life on the tour. A lavish affair with more than 1,000 guests, the party featured extravagant displays of greens, wreaths, and flowers, along with chalk decorations on the floor.

John F. Kennedy’s 1961 holiday celebration is the focus of the Montmorenci Stair Hall. Winterthur’s founder Henry Francis du Pont was appointed by Jacqueline Kennedy that year to chair the Fine Arts Committee of the White House. At Christmastime, the White House hosted its first “theme” tree, based on Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, with branches laden with toy soldiers, sugar plum fairies, candy, toys, and baskets of fruit.

New Year’s calling, a tradition still practiced by the du Pont family, was a custom from the earliest days of the White House and remained an annual event into the 20th century. Winterthur’s display evokes the 1802 calling presided over by Thomas Jefferson; among the tokens he received from well wishers was a “Mammoth Cheese” weighing 1,235 pounds.

All of the scenes on the tour are documented through diaries, newspaper accounts, books, correspondence, paintings or prints of the period.

For additional information, call 800.448.3883 or visit our website at www.winterthur.org. Winterthur Museum is located on Route 52 in Delaware, six miles NW of Wilmington, Delaware.

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