Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute

Utica, NY

315-797-0000 ext.2168


Masterpieces of American Furniture from the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute


Masterpieces of American Furniture from the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, a landmark exhibition of exquisite 19th-century decorative arts, premiered May 2, 1999 in the MWPI Museum of Art.

The exhibition presents more than 65 superb examples of 19th-century American furniture from the museum's permanent holdings, nationally recognized for their extraordinary scope and quality.

Many of these pieces are being shown publicly for the first time. Illustrating the breadth of 19th-century American craftsmanship, Masterpieces of American Furniture from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute highlights works by preeminent artisans including John Henry Belter, Charles Baudouine, John and Hugh Finlay, Herter Brothers, Anthony Quervelle, Alexander Roux, and Tiffany & Company.

Among the objects unveiled for the first time will be a rare Gothic etagere, an aesthetic-style worktable with sophisticated metal inlay, and a modern gothic style chair, the manufacture of which has recently been attributed to San Francisco, California. A hardcover, 172-page, comprehensive, scholarly catalogue accompanies the exhibition.

Masterpieces of American Furniture from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute traces the stylistic evolution of American furniture--from neoclassical to arts and crafts--while comparing and contrasting the ornamental approaches and techniques favored by period craftsmen. American artisans relied heavily on European design sources gleaned through printed design books and periodicals, imported furniture, or highly skilled immigrant craftsmen. The MWPI collection is rich in objects with strong English and French antecedents thus offering a compelling lesson in the transmission of style.

The origin of the furniture collection at MWPI can be traced to the Institute's founders, especially the Williams family, who patronized New York City's distinguished cabinetmakers including Charles Baudouine, Herter Brothers, Leon Marcotte, and Pottier & Stymus.

The family's holdings were bequeathed to the Institute and the museum has actively collected 19th-century decorative arts since the 1950s. The objects included in the exhibition and accompanying book encompass every major 19th-century style and virtually all of the decorative and construction techniques of the period. The project is the first comprehensive scholarly analysis of the MWPI furniture collection. "The exhibition and book," Museum Director Dr. Paul D. Schweizer explained, "are expected to make a major contribution to the burgeoning field of 19th-century American furniture studies."The catalogue, Masterpieces of American Furniture, edited by MWPI Curator of Decorative Arts Anna Tobin D'Ambrosio, offers concise, engaging essays accompanied by exquisite photography. Wendell Garrett, Senior Vice President of American Decorative Arts at Sotheby's, said "Carefully wrought and well-informed, this profusely illustrated study of American furniture is an indispensable contribution to scholarship . . . [that] will become required reading by every collector, curator, dealer, and interested student of American furniture."

Essays on more than 65 examples of the most important American furniture explore the artistic influences on designers and artisans, and explains how these objects were used in Victorian homes. Each footnoted essay offers new research into stylistic influences, manufacturing techniques, and the complex nature of the furniture trade, especially in New York City, the 19th-century American center for exquisite furniture. Essays are authored by D'Ambrosio and other distinguished decorative arts scholars including Kenneth Ames, Michael Brown, Donald Fennimore, Kasey Crier, Jerry Grant, Barry Harwood, Jack Lindsey, Donald Peirce, Page Talbot, Charles Venable, Catherine Voorsanger, Gerald Ward, Janet Zapata, and Philip Zea.

The research offers fresh insight into the workings of many shops, particularly those of Charles Baudouine, Edward Hutchings, A. Kimbel and J. Cabus, and Alexander Roux. Hutchings, for example, was an entrepreneur who opened satellite shops in New Orleans, Chicago, and possibly Mobile, Alabama. Only his New York City wareroom was ultimately successful, but his capitalistic approach to expanding his market is representative of a 19th-century trend that has only recently received significant study.

The book also includes some of the most comprehensive documentation available on cabinetmakers including R. J. Horner, Kilian Brothers, J. & J. W. Meeks, M. & H. Schrenkeisen, and Kilborn Whitman & Co. The encyclopedic nature of the MWPI collection combined with the richly detailed photographs and illustrations from period sources make the book and exhibition enlightening, educational, and an aesthetic delight.

Masterpieces of American Furniture from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute will remain on view at Munson-Proctor Institute through October 31, 1999. The exhibition will then travel to the Cincinnati Art Museum where it will be on view February 18 through May 28, 2000.

The Institute is named to honor the founders who established it in 1919 as a legacy for their community, Utica, NY, and the surrounding region. Programs evolving from their interests and intentions now include 800 events annually with 175,000 total participation. The Institute is a recent Governor's Arts Award recipient. Fountain Elms, which houses the decorative arts division of the museum, is an Italianate-style mansion with period room settings, study galleries, and exhibition galleries. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, and Sundays 1 to 5 pm. (information as of 3/99)

From top to bottom: Drawing Room Cabinet, c. 1865-1870, Alexander Roux (1813-1886), New York, NY, (w. 1836-1880), © Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute; Game Table, c. 1855, J. & J. W. Meeks, New York, NY, (1836-1860), Secretary, c. 1830, Anthony Quervelle, Philadelphia, PA, 1820-1856; Side Chair, c. 1820-1830, Attr. to John and Hugh Finlay (a. 1800-1837), Baltimore, MD, collection Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute

Read more about the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Resource Library Magazine

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 1999 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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