Treasures from the Kentucky Historical Society

February 3, 2011

The Kentucky Online Arts Resource, a project of the Speed Art Museum, is pleased to add the Kentucky Historical Society to the site’s growing list of museum partners!

KOAR now features several highlights from Kentucky Historical Society’s exhibition, Great Revivals: Kentucky Decorative Arts Treasures. Curated by Estill Curtis Pennington, the exhibition brings many of KHS’s best pieces together in a single installation at the Old State Capitol in Frankfort.

Among my favorites: a terrific example of “art-carved” furniture with carved decoration by Kate Perry Mosher of Covington, Kentucky (located just across the river from Cincinnati). I first saw this cabinet several years ago in one of KHS’s storage areas and was blown away the quality of Mosher’s work. Her carvings of herons, Kentucky cane plants, and other plant forms reflect great skill and a great eye for design.

Cabinet

Cabinet with carving by Kate Mosher, 1892

Mosher learned from a master: Cincinnati’s Benn Pitman, the godfather of Cincinnati’s late nineteenth-century art-carved furniture movement. Pitman established a wood carving program at the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 1873. Like Mosher, many students of art carving were women. She ranked among the best, exhibiting her work at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.


Silver in Kentucky, 1800-1860

December 10, 2010

I’m pleased to announce the opening of Silver in Kentucky, 1800-1860, a new installation at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum. The exhibition features over twenty-five outstanding examples of silver hollowware, including pitchers, tea sets, and other forms. All come from the state’s finest private collection of Kentucky silver.

Along with the work of well-known Kentucky silversmiths like Asa Blanchard (about 1770-1838), the exhibition also includes pieces by less familiar makers like Charles Plimpton (working from at least 1814). Judging by period advertisements, Plimpton was more active in Lexington as a “silver plater” than as a silversmith, perhaps explaining the relative scarcity of silver pieces with his mark.

Charles Plimpton's mark

Other highlights include: an extremely rare coffee or hot water urn bearing the mark of Lexington’s George Stewart (active in Kentucky from about 1857 until about 1864), a Stewart horse racing trophy for the 1846 Chiles Stake, and an Asa Blanchard teapot that retains an old, and perhaps original, cloth strainer bag mounted on a silver collar.

Photos of pieces in the exhibition, including images of their marks, will appear on the Kentucky Online Arts Resource in early 2011. (As you can see from the image below, photographing the pieces wasn’t a point-and-shoot operation!)

Photographing a George Sharp, Jr. pitcher


The Art of Collecting Kentucky Antiques

December 10, 2010

I’ve gotten great feedback from my earlier post featuring video of Bob Noe. Bob, along with his wife Norma, have helped lead the way towards an expanded interest in great Kentucky antiques and art. Through Bob and Norma’s wonderful generosity, over 100 pieces from their collection are gradually making their way to the Speed Art Museum.

In response to popular demand, here’s another segment featuring Bob in which he shares his opinions on what makes for a successful collector.


USA Today Plugs Kentucky Collection

November 29, 2010

USA Today loves the Speed Art Museum and its Kentucky Collection. They said so in the November 26, 2010 issue. Check it out here.


New Installations of Kentucky Art and Antiques

October 19, 2010

I’ve recently completed two installations at The Speed Art Museum that feature great Kentucky art.

For the exhibition Pursuing the Masterpiece, I’ve installed the fantastic Kentucky sugar desk I discussed previously. Using maps, texts, and images, the desk is placed in both its historic and antiquarian contexts. I also produced a video featuring the husband-and-wife collectors who gave the desk to the Speed. They are a remarkable pair, having spent 40 years building one of the state’s finest collections of early Kentucky antiques and art. Here’s a short clip of the husband, Bob Noe, describing the desk:

I also recently installed Modern in the Making: Design 1900-2000, which features over 50 pieces from the Speed’s collection.

Hadley Pottery bowl, 1956

Kentucky is represented by several objects, including three pieces designed by Mary Alice Hadley (1911-1965) for Louisville’s Hadley Pottery.

I’ve also included a beautiful set of turned rosewood bowls made by Kentucky’s Rude Osolnik (1915-2001), one of the United States’ great craft artisans.

Salad set, about 1950 by Rude Osolnik

Finally, Kentucky’s rich ceramic tradition is respresented by a wonderful Bybee Pottery face pitcher made in Bybee, Kentucky.

Bybee Pottery pitcher and mugs, about 1940


Sweet Desk

July 9, 2010

There’s nothing sweeter in Kentucky furniture than sugar furniture–that is, pieces like sugar chests, sugar boxes, and, yes, even sugar desks. Made in the state between the 1790s and the early 1850s, sugar furniture has enticed collectors for decades. Long-time collectors Bob and Norma Noe recently gave The Speed Art Museum a magnificent sugar desk made between 1810 and 1840, surely in the north-central part of the state (more on its geographic origins below).

Mason-Fleming-Nicholas County sugar desk, The Speed Art Museum, photo by Bill Roughen

Though small in size (it measures 31-5/8 h. x 29-1/4 w. x 13-7/8 in. d.), the desk’s visual presence is huge. A grid of figured veneers decorates its facade, an unusual feature among surviving Kentucky pieces. An inlaid star on the skirt below adds to its elegance.

The bulbous profile of the skirt along with the desk’s spidery, curved legs associate it with a group of furniture made in the Mason-Fleming-Nicholas County area. Mason County sits along the Ohio River and served as a major entry point for goods and migrants headed into the central Bluegrass region and its capital, Lexington.

Sugar desk showing interior, photo by Bill Roughen

Marianne Ramsey and Diane Wachs, in their landmark study, The Tuttle Muddle (2000), associate the furniture group with the cabinetmakers Gerrard Calvert, Peter Tuttle, and John Foxworthy. The three men, ultimately related through marriage, came to Kentucky from Prince William County, Virginia. Like so many others, they probably arrived via the Ohio.

Sugar also came to Kentucky off of the Ohio, arriving from the Caribbean and Louisiana via New Orleans. It was a costly commodity in early nineteenth-century Kentucky. Specialized, equally expensive pieces of furniture like this desk provided secure storage for the sugar.

The desk also reinforced sugar’s value as a status symbol. By itself, refined sugar was visually mundane–it usually was sold in cones wrapped in blue paper. Placing the sugar in a fine piece of furniture, though, proclaimed its importance. It also added a ritual dimension when the sugar was used: it had to be removed from its princely storage; bits were cut off and used to sweeten the social consumption of tea, coffee, and other drinks; and then the sugar disappeared again into the desk.

To see more Kentucky sugar furniture and related objects, visit the Kentucky Online Arts Resource and use the search term, “sugar.”


Blogging great Kentucky art!

June 17, 2010

Well, we will be in the days and weeks ahead. As a counterpart to our site, The Kentucky Online Arts Resource (KOAR), look here for behind-the-scenes info on what we’re doing: sometimes research updates, sometimes news on site additions and improvements, sometimes our general thoughts on Kentucky’s artistic heritage. Who knows what we’ll come up with…

KOAR is a project of The Speed Art Museum in Louisville, the state’s oldest and largest art museum.