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Today's Hours
Museum: 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Decorative Arts
Porcelain
Glass
Tapestries
Tapestries

A tapestry is a type of woven fabric in which weft threads are used to create a design through warp threads, creating a decorative design within the hanging itself. In genuine tapestry, the design is an integral part of the cloth. Some early “tapestries” like the famous Bayeux Tapestry of Queen Matilda, are actually embroidered hangings, the design sewn over the cloth rather than being part of it. As weaving became more complex, tapestries increased in popularity throughout the late Middle Ages, or Gothic period, and into the Renaissance, not only for their decorative properties, but also as a useful furnishing item in drafty manors and castles.

Cybis
Cybis

There are 16 statues of the North American Indian series by the Cybis Porcelain studio of Trenton, New Jersey. Each statue is hand made and hand painted, making each one unique. The company has since expanded the North American Indian line and new designs are introduced about every six months.

Wedgwood
Wedgwood

When it came to pottery, Josiah Wedgwood is an undisputed genius in his field. He conducted thousands of experiments to achieve new types of pottery that changed the world. His works graced not only the tables of monarchs, but those of the common man.

Pressed
Pressed

The technique for producing pressed glass didn’t emerge until the 19th century, but it made glassware affordable for everyday use. Essentially the process uses a plunger to press molten glass into a mold. The first commercial glass-pressing machine was developed in 1825 by John P. Bakewell, an American, in order to make glass doorknobs.

Steuben
Steuben

Steuben Glass is an American company that began with a very talented Englishman. Frederick Carder came from a long line of glassmakers in England. Eager to join the family business, he quite school at the age of 14 to work at his grandfather’s factory. He began taking night classes to expand his knowledge of the craft and, at the age of 15, took a job as a draftsman at another glassmaking firm, Stevens & Williams. Soon, he was experimenting with colored glass and having his designs put into production. His designs were so successful that the company rewarded him by sending Carder on fact finding trips to Austria, Germany, and the U.S.

Silver
Silver

Perhaps nowhere else has form been so beautifully combined with functionalism than in the Norton’s collection silver, most of it produced in America during the 17th and 18th centuries. For a long time, there was little interest in this early American silver, because people wrongly assumed that most of it was British made. To the contrary, a surprising number of silversmiths of undeniable gifts were to be found in colonial America. In the three major cities of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, there were about 400 silversmiths plying their trade before 1800, and virtually every town in the 13 colonies had its own silversmith. Their main job was to make spoons and silver plate to order, make and repair jewelry, and engrave selected items of any metal.

Tapestries
Tapestries

A tapestry is a type of woven fabric in which weft threads are used to create a design through warp threads, creating a decorative design within the hanging itself. In genuine tapestry, the design is an integral part of the cloth. Some early “tapestries” like the famous Bayeux Tapestry of Queen Matilda, are actually embroidered hangings, the design sewn over the cloth rather than being part of it. As weaving became more complex, tapestries increased in popularity throughout the late Middle Ages, or Gothic period, and into the Renaissance, not only for their decorative properties, but also as a useful furnishing item in drafty manors and castles.

Because they were intended to be part of the furnishings, tapestries were usually commissioned to fit a particular space. These tapestries were then woven by hand on special looms of either vertical warp (high warp tapestry) or horizontal warp (low warp tapestry). Before the 17th century, most tapestry was high warp. From the 17th century on, however, most tapestry was low warp, which could be made a bit more quickly, with a corresponding loss of quality.

In high warp weaving, the loom consisted of two wooden rollers installed horizontally on two uprights; the warp thread was then wound over and fixed to the rollers. In the best tapestries, the warp strings ranged from 16 to 23 per inch. Once the preparation of the initial warp threads was complete, the weaver used tracing paper to transfer the outline of the design, or cartoon (as the drawing for the design on the tapestry was known) onto the warp threads. The cartoon itself remained behind the weaver who used mirrors to check his progress in matching the tapestry to it. The weaver used a bobbin to create the weft, moving through the warp threads first left to right, then back right to left, and beating down each of these double passes (known as a duite) with either the pointed end of the bobbin or an ivory comb.

In low warp weaving, the tapestry was done on horizontal looms with two weaving slats, all eve warp threads connected to the first slat, all uneven to the second. Each slat was moved by a foot pedal. The weaver transferred the outline of the cartoon in reverse because this weaving was done from the back side of the tapestry. He used a mirror placed between the tracing and the warp to follow his execution of the work. Facing the light, he bent over the loom and used both hands, the right passing the shuttle from left to right while he followed with the left hand using a needle or comb to push the thread into place. After one passage through the warp threads, he used the pedal to pull the other slat forward and repeated the process on the uneven-numbered threads.

Because of the size of the pieces, several weavers could work simultaneously on the same piece. Indeed, most of the weavers were divided into specialties; those who, for instance, specialized in flesh and faces, which was considered more delicate work, were paid more than weavers who specialized in landscape or borders. Through close and continual application, a good weaver might be able to create a square foot of tapestry in a week. More generally, according to how complex the cartoon, a weaver could complete a to 6 square yards of tapestry per year.

There were three very important figures in the creation of any Renaissance tapestry. The first was the person who commissioned the work. This was usually a member of the nobility since tapestries were very expensive. This patron specified the size and subject matter of the tapestry, most of them calling for either religious or historical scenes. The patron usually hired the cartoonist, the artist who created the design for the tapestry first. These cartoons were completely colored and rendered drawings that constituted significant art works in their own right. Usually, the artist then subcontracted the work to the weaver, the best of whom were from Brussels. For example, in the early 16th century, Pope Leo X commissioned Raphael to do a series of 10 tapestries based on the Acts of the Apostles. Raphael completed these designs (probably aided by Giulio Romano) in December of 1516 and sent them off to Pieter van Aelst, a master weaver in Brussels. Three years later, just in time for Christmas, 7 of the 10 were delivered to the pope in Rome, each tapestry approximately 15 feet high and 42 feet long. Work had gone a little faster than usual, taking only three years, because the weavers had used the low warp method. The pope paid the equivalent of $130,000 in 1515 currency, which would easily be more than ten times that at today’s rate of exchange.

In 1548, Emperor Charles V commissioned one of the best of the Brussels weavers, Wilhelm de Pannemaker to do a series of 12 tapestries based on the emperor’s campaign against the city of Tunis. The court painter Jean Cornelisz Vermeyen had accompanied the emperor on the campaign and designed the cartoons based on his own observations. In order to fulfill the commission, Pannemaker hired 7 workmen to weave without intermission on each tapestry, 84 workmen in all. They completed the work in a little over 5 years, delivering it in 1554. It had required close to 600 pounds of silk alone (not counting the wool and metallic thread) and represented close to 4,000 square feet of tapestry.

Some patrons even established their own workshops in order to have easy access to the production of tapestries. In 1510, Francois I of France established a workshop at Fontainebleau. He hired two well-known Flemish weavers to head it, requiring them to set up 24 looms and hire their own apprentices accordingly. The workshop continued to function until the middle of the 16th century, despite Francois’s own demise.

During this time, the tapestries currently on display at the R.W. Norton Art Gallery were created. Apparently originally commissioned (or at least later purchased) by Francois I, the cartoons were designed by Giulio Romano, a follower of Raphael who, after leaving Rome for Mantua, had quickly become one of the most in-demand tapestry designers in Europe. The tapestries were based on Plutarch’s epic, Africa, and depicted episodes in the life of Scipio Africanus, the great Roman general who defeated Hannibal, leading general of the city-state of Carthage. In contrast to the strict neo-classicism usually displayed by Raphael, Romano was more baroque, filling his designs with movement, crowding in accessory figures, and using complicated foreshortening and luxurious detail. Once the initial sketches were approved by Francois I (several of them are in the Louvre today), they were sent to Brussels to be woven into tapestries by the workshop of Marc Cretif, a process which took approximately five years.

Click here to see how the tapestries were cleaned

Cybis
Cybis

There are 16 statues of the North American Indian series by the Cybis Porcelain studio of Trenton, New Jersey. Each statue is hand made and hand painted, making each one unique. The company has since expanded the North American Indian line and new designs are introduced about every six months.

There are two types of porcelain: soft paste and hard paste. The best is hard paste porcelain made of “a very finely grained, compact, waterproof, white, translucent paste so hard that even a steel point cannot scratch it”. The process for producing it was developed in China during the T’ang Dynasty in about the 3rd century. Thanks to a gentleman named Marco Polo, who named the smooth ceramic porcellano, it became very popular in Europe around 1300 and considerable effort was devoted over the next few centuries toward trying to discover the formula the Chinese used. In 1708 or 09, a German alchemist, Friedrich Bottger, created the first true European porcelain using kaolin, a white clay found in certain caves, and calcined alabaster, formed into pieces which were fired continuously for twelve hours at an extremely high temperature, much higher than any ever used with previous pottery. In 1710, the first factory to produce this grade of porcelain was built in Meissen, Germany - hence the famous Meissen porcelain.

Though born in Russia, Boleslaw Cybis was the son of a visiting Polish architect, therefore Polish. As a young man, he attended the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, but his training was interrupted by the Communist Takeover in 1921. He fled to Turkey where he barely managed to eek out a living by exchanging artistic work for food. Finally, he returned to Poland, becoming a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and painting in the Cubist and Fauvist styles. After marrying one of his former students, Marja Tym, he traveled extensively throughout Europe, studying the great masters and painting murals and frescos in many major cities. In 1938, he was chosen to paint a pavilion at the World’s Fair in New York City. While they were in America, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began, so they remained.

Needing a new paying career, Cybis made porcelain souvenirs for tourists which were very popular. He established the Cybis Art Productions as a studio, which employed Cybis as designer and sculptor and his wife Marja and six other women as painters. Within two years, Boleslaw Cybis was considered a leader in the field of porcelain art.

With his business successful, Cybis moved to Trenton, New Jersey, found partners, and formed the Cordey China Company. This company was most noted for its giftware items of tea pots and trinket boxes complete with hand molded roses. In the 1950s, Cybis sold Cordey China and formed Cybis Studios. His passion was the American West and he intended to make a porcelain statue for each of the tribes in North America, spending years studying the various tribes and making meticulous notes to ensure his details would be correct. Unfortunately, he died before his project was completed; however, the company spent another 10 years gathering data and completed his dream.

Wedgwood
Wedgwood

When it came to pottery, Josiah Wedgwood is an undisputed genius in his field. He conducted thousands of experiments to achieve new types of pottery that changed the world. His works graced not only the tables of monarchs, but those of the common man.

Josiah Wedgwood was born the 13th of 13 children. At age 11, he was stricken with smallpox that left his right knee damaged, so he could not turn a potter’s wheel. Despite the fact that he schooled himself in the science of clay, he failed to win a partnership at his own family’s potting factory. Instead, he established a business for himself and was successful in creating a new type of earthenware with a special glaze. It caught the eye of Queen Charlotte who ordered a set; the pottery was known thereafter as Queen’s Ware. Since it could be made quickly and efficiently, it was affordable to all but the poorest in England. The porphyry vases are an example of a rare type of Queen’s Ware.

Wedgwood’s next innovation was Jasperware. What is extraordinary about Jasperware is that the color extends throughout the piece; it is unglazed. Jasperware came in many colors, including lilac, yellow, green, black, and the classic Wedgwood blue. Other styles of pottery in our Wedgwood display include Majolica, named for an island off the coast of Spain and noted for its bright colors and bold designs, and enamel ware, which is made to withstand high temperatures, but still be beautiful enough to set out on the table.

After forming a partnership with Thomas Bentley, Wedgwood began to pursue neo-classical designs, like the Parian head of Mercury and the vases and plaques based on Etruscan, Greek, and Roman mythology. Mercury may look like marble, but it’s actually a very fine porcelain known as Parian ware, another Wedgwood innovation. Wedgwood and Bentley established a large studio and porcelain factory named “Etruria” in 1769. On the first day, they fashioned six vases, now called “First Day Vases,” by having Bentley turn the potter’s wheel and Josiah throwing the clay.

The Portland Vase is considered Josiah’s masterpiece. It took him four years to complete and is based on an original Greek vase. The original Greek was made in two glass layers, with the topmost layer chipped away to reveal the figures. Josiah’s vase was two pieces as well, with a Jasperware overlay added to the vase, not chipped from it. When the original Greek vase was smashed by a vandal in 1848, British authorities used Josiah’s Portland vase to replicate the Greek vase. This particular vase is another edition of the Portland Vase. For this vase, draperies had to be added to the figures to appease the Victorian sense of modesty.

Wedgwood is still a living company, using designers like Vera Wang for their plates and cups. Josiah Wedgwood’s other famous contribution to the future was through his family: his daughter married into a famous scientific family and gave birth to Charles Darwin.

Pressed Glass
Pressed Glass

The technique for producing pressed glass didn’t emerge until the 19th century, but it made glassware affordable for everyday use. Essentially the process uses a plunger to press molten glass into a mold. The first commercial glass-pressing machine was developed in 1825 by John P. Bakewell, an American, in order to make glass doorknobs.

In 1827, Deming Jarves of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company at Sandwich, Massachusetts began using his technique to produce glassware decorated with fancy patterns, extremely intricate combinations of dots, circles, diamonds, leaves, and garlands that covered the entire surface of the glass articles, something that could not be accomplished with more traditional methods of cutting and engraving. By 1833, pressed glass was also being produced in England and from there it spread to the rest of Europe.

The glass displayed here was produced by two different American companies. The top and bottom patterns are by Gillinder and Sons: the top are pieces from the “Westward Ho!” series, complete with Indians, buffaloes, and prairie sod houses, and the bottom are pieces from the “Africa” series. Gillinder and Sons established themselves in 1861, but it wasn’t until 1876 that business really took off. America was celebrating its centennial that year, and Philadelphia was hosting a Centennial Celebration. Gillinder and Son set up a miniature glass factory right on the grounds to demonstrate their glass making skills. They had predicted that what most people wanted was a small, relatively inexpensive souvenir to take home with them from the fair. They produced 24 different glass souvenirs, including a replica of the lion’s head on the African Series dishware as a paperweight. Their most popular souvenir was a Cinderella slipper; they sold over 100,000 slippers in the six months the fair was open. The company has recently begun reissuing the famed Cinderella Slipper with a new marking of “GB” for Gillinder Brothers to distinguish it from the antique slippers marked “Centennial Exhibition”.

The other dishes were produced by the Central Glass Company of Wheeling, West Virginia, which was established in the spring of 1863 and for almost forty years had an unblemished history of producing fine glassware. Then in 1892, they issued two different coin patterns, like the one displayed here. The first pattern was called the Colombian Coin because it had Christopher Columbus and other scenes depicting the discovery of America to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his voyage. This one was very popular, even with the government.

However, the government was much less fond of this one. For it, the company produced exact pressed replicas of U.S. coins dated 1892, including dollars, half-dollars, quarters, twenty cent pieces, dimes, and half-dimes (now known as nickels). The coins were so accurate in detail that the government was afraid the plates used in the glass-pressing process could be stolen or abused to make counterfeit coins. They ordered production halted and the plates destroyed after only five months of manufacture. That makes these particularly valuable because they are particularly rare.

Steuben Glass
Steuben Glass

Steuben Glass is an American company that began with a very talented Englishman. Frederick Carder came from a long line of glassmakers in England. Eager to join the family business, he quite school at the age of 14 to work at his grandfather’s factory. He began taking night classes to expand his knowledge of the craft and, at the age of 15, took a job as a draftsman at another glassmaking firm, Stevens & Williams. Soon, he was experimenting with colored glass and having his designs put into production. His designs were so successful that the company rewarded him by sending Carder on fact finding trips to Austria, Germany, and the U.S.

In 1903, an American by the name of Thomas Hawkes was searching for a partner to start a glass factory in Steuben County, New York. Hawkes knew the business, but needed someone creative to spearhead the company. Together, he and Frederic Carder started the Steuben Glass Works. At first, the company specialized in "Art Nouveau" colored glass, exclusively designed by Frederic Carder. Carder developed more than 100 different colors for glass and over 8,000 designs, most of them before World War I.

After WWI, materials for colored glass became harder to obtain and the business began to struggle. Carder and Hawkes sold Steuben Glass to Corning Glass Works in 1918, but still remained in control of the company. In 1932, Steuben had a technological breakthrough and invented a special kind of crystal called “10M” glass. It is so refractive and pure that it allows the entire light spectrum to pass through the glass, including the ultra violet range. The clearest glass is caught close to the furnace nozzle in liquid form; if it is allowed to fall, it creates bubbles in the glass, which are sometimes used as decorative accents in the pieces, such as for the scales of the alligator. Each piece is hand made and hand polished by master glass artisans.

In 1933, Arthur Houghton, Jr., became Steuben’s new president, and Frederic Carder was removed from active control, though he had a kiln brought into his office so he could continue glassmaking. Houghton changed the direction the company was going because the Great Depression had begun and colored glass was no longer in much demand. He began to phase out the colored glass division and smashed many of the colored pieces in their inventory. New artists were brought in to design various 10M pieces, a tradition which continues today and has expanded to include not only artists, but architects as well.

These sets of plates are hand etched reproductions of the birds in John James Audubon’s The Birds of America, a copy of which is on display in the museum. A set of these plates were given to Princess Elizabeth when she married Prince Phillip. She later became Queen Elizabeth II and received another gift of Steuben from the United States as a coronation gift. Also designed by Sidney Waugh are the Seven Deadly Sins Goblets and the Western series of dishes, featuring scenes including Prairie Smoke.

Silver
Silver

Perhaps nowhere else has form been so beautifully combined with functionalism than in the Norton’s collection silver, most of it produced in America during the 17th and 18th centuries. For a long time, there was little interest in this early American silver, because people wrongly assumed that most of it was British made. To the contrary, a surprising number of silversmiths of undeniable gifts were to be found in colonial America. In the three major cities of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, there were about 400 silversmiths plying their trade before 1800, and virtually every town in the 13 colonies had its own silversmith. Their main job was to make spoons and silver plate to order, make and repair jewelry, and engrave selected items of any metal.

Most colonial families purchased household items of brass, iron, copper, pewter or wood, as they could not afford much - if any - silver tableware. Those who could afford silver maintained and displayed it as a significant form and sign of their wealth. Most began by collecting silver coins, usually Spanish, which they took to the smith. The silversmith melted it down, refined it, and then created household goods which were engraved with either the monogram or coat-of-arms of the owners. This made the silversmith a sort of banker/insurance agent, since possessing the silver in the form of actual items retained all of its value and the fact that it was now large and embellished with the mark of the owner made it less likely to be stolen than coins.

Some of the earliest colonial silversmiths, who were French Huguenot in origin, came to America because Louis XIV had ordered most of the silver in France melted down to pay for his wars and the construction of his magnificent new palace at Versailles. Among these was arguably the most famous of American silversmithing names, Apollos Rivoire, who anglicized his name to Paul Revere. His son, Paul Revere II of the famous midnight ride, took over the family business after the French and Indian War and created several pieces of the silver on display: a teapot, a porringer, a pitcher, a cann, and a set of spoons. Revere’s ledger books described all kinds of work from repairing shoe buckles to creating tea sets, and lists objects in gold, silver, and brass. He was also a renowned engraver whose most famous engraving depicts the Boston Massacre and who made plates for the banknotes for the state of Massachusetts.

Revere’s home city of Boston had an especially high number of well-known silversmiths, largely because it was then the wealthiest port city in the colonies. The four greatest silversmithing families of early America, the Reveres, Hurds, Burts, and Edwards, developed in the Boston area. The most famous, of course, were the Reveres. At the age of 13, Apollos Rivoire was sent to America by his Huguenot family in 1715 and apprenticed to silversmith John Coney (1655-1722). Coney, sometimes spelled Cony, was born in Boston, the son of a cooper, and apprenticed to the first native-born American silversmith, Jeremiah Dummer (1645-1718) whose sister he later married. A skilled engraver, Coney designed the plates for the first banknotes printed in America, those put out by the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1690 and 1702. He also produced the first American-made teapot and a caudle cup for Harvard College (as it was known then) later said to have inspired the Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem, Ode on Lending a Punch Bowl. With a career that remained active for 45 years, Coney went through three distinct styles and trained and influenced an outstanding array of future silversmiths.

Another one of Coney’s apprentices to establish a silverworking dynasty was John Burt. Burt had three sons who became silversmiths, but the first two, Samuel and William, died not long after leaving their apprenticeships. His third son, Benjamin Burt (1729-1805), on the other hand, lived to the ripe old age of 76, producing work over a 50-55 year span of time. Like the second Paul Revere, Benjamin was a patriot; he fought at the Battle of Lexington. And also like Revere, he became a prominent and wealthy Boston businessman, prosperous enough to have the renowned John Singleton Copley paint his portrait.

The Hurd family spread itself even farther than the Reveres and Burts through marriage. Jacob Hurd (1702-1758), the founder of the family dynasty, trained both his sons to be silversmiths and approved his daughter’s marriage to his one-time apprentice, Daniel Henchman (1730-1775). Jacob himself was related to another famous silversmith through marriage: his aunt, Hannah Hurd Cowell, was the wife of William Cowell (1682-1736) who, like John Coney, had apprenticed with Jeremiah Dummer.

The fourth great silversmithing family was the Edwards. Thomas Edwards (1701-1755) was a second generation member and the first born in America, his father having emigrated from England. An even more famous product of English emigration was Edward Winslow (1669-1753). Winslow was descended from the first Massachusetts’ governor Edward Winslow’s brother John, who arrived in Plymouth on the Fortune in 1623. John Winslow married Mary Chilton who had arrived on the Mayflower. On Edward’s maternal side, he was a direct descendant of Anne Hutchinson. In addition to this impressive lineage, Winslow is often considered the greatest of the American silversmiths for the quality of his craftsmanship.

If Boston style was largely the product of Huguenot and English design, the primary influence among colonial New York’s 200 silversmiths was Dutch, which resulted in somewhat more elaborate and ornate designs. Many of these early smiths were born in Holland, including the renowned Jacob Boelen (1657-1729/30), originally from Amsterdam. He arrived with his son Henricus, or Hendrick, (who also became a silversmith) shortly after 1680 and became both a popular craftsman and a city alderman and assessor. Hendrick in turn trained Adrian Bancker (1703-1772) who established his own business in 1731. Jacobus van der Spiegel (1668-1708) was one of the earliest native-born American silversmiths. While still a young man, he did military service on the Albany frontier and helped support himself by working as an assessor and constable. Unfortunately, he died at the young age of 40 and, consequently, his work is very scarce today. Another American of Dutch descent, Jesse Kip (1660-1722) produced one of the earliest American teapots.

Huguenots did make their way in New York as well as Boston. Native New Yorker Peter van Dyck (1684-1750), despite his Dutch descent, apprenticed to Huguenot silversmith Bartholomew LeRoux. Peter (originally Pierre) Quintard (1699-1762), himself of Huguenot descent, apprenticed with Charles LeRoux (1689-1745), the son of the Bartholomew that trained Van Dyck. LeRoux carried on his father’s business after his death, worked as engraver and sealmaker to the city, and also served as an alderman and an attorney. He was particularly famous for his silver and gold snuff-boxes. Quintard, his apt pupil, moved from New York to become the leading silversmith of Connecticut. He also became a shipowner, tavern keeper, and proprietor of one of the earliest American potteries. Daniel van Voorhis (1751-1824), variously known as Daniel Voorhies, Daniel van Voorhies, or Daniel Vorhis, was also a prominent New York silversmith. When he created a partnership with a former apprentice in 1791, he brought an established client base with him that included Martha Washington.

While Boston and New York may have commanded the larger contingent of silversmiths, Philadelphia came in a close third, with 100 silversmiths living there prior to 1800. In fact, one of the earliest silversmiths in America, Caesar Griselm, or Ghiselin, came over with William Penn. Prominent Philadelphia smiths represented in the Norton include John David (1763-1797), Abner H. Reeder (1766-1841), and Samuel Williamson (1772-1843).

All of these artists have left us with remarkable examples of their work and evidence of the unexpected artistic sophistication of the early American colonies.. The Norton’s colonial silver collection is not merely an accumulation of precious metal, nor an array of costly artifacts – it is a magnificent piece of our shared American history.