Summer Destination: Colonial Williamsburg

Huffington Post Arts

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I was recently invited to serve on the board of the Colonial Williamsburg Art Museums. I had known of the museums since my time at Williams College as an important collection of American art and artifacts. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation operates two world-class art museums, The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum – the foundation’s renowned collection of British and American fine and decorative arts dating from 1600 through 1830, and The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. John D Rockefeller Jr. established the museum in 1957 in honor of his wife, Abby, and her leading role in the collection and study of folk art. Mrs. Rockefeller gave the core collection of 424 objects to The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1939. They also have a top notch conservation lab to care for the objects.

In addition to the Art Museums, Bassett Hall – an 18th-century frame house (the Williamsburg home of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr.) was given to The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation by the Rockefeller family which also included Abby Aldrich Rockefeller’s eclectic and pioneering collection of 125 pieces of folk art. Coincidentally one of their grandchildren has a painting from my Quilt series of works reflecting my interest in this area of folk art.

The museum houses the world’s largest collection of Southern furniture; important holdings in English silver and pewter; an important collection of 18th-century clothing and textiles; and one of the largest collections of British ceramics outside England. Other objects are exhibited in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic areas including furniture, metals, ceramics, glass, paintings, prints, maps, tools, weapons, numismatics and textiles. Colonial Williamsburg’s collection of American folk art is one of the finest and most comprehensive collection in the world – and includes paintings, textiles, sculpture, works on paper, decorative useful wares, and other media.
The American furniture collection covers the full regional range of production before 1840, stretching along the Atlantic Seaboard from Maine to Georgia and reaching the “Backcountry” from Ohio to Louisiana. The collection contains the most regionally comprehensive grouping of pre-1840 American furniture in the world. Their collection of close to 1,000 examples of Southern furniture constitutes the largest in the country.

British silver is among the greatest strengths of the collection, in large part because of its popularity in early America. The nearly 4,000 prints from the Graphic Collection illustrate 18th-century life and provide an important visual resource for understanding taste and social behavior in Anglo-American society. The collection also features hundreds of early maps that reveal what was known or believed about the land.

As a member of the National Council on the Arts, the advisory Board to the National Endowment for the Arts and a painter myself, I try and visit as many museums as I can for inspiration and insight. Of particular interest to me is the quilt collection as I have a body of work based on the quilting theme. The collection of 400 quilts exhibits incredible design work. One of the benefits of being on the Museum Board is that I get to return again and again and view the expansive collection.

And, there’s much more – the numismatic, archeological and musical instrument collection as well as early mechanical arts – tools, machinery, kitchen equipment, arms, military accouterments, scientific and medical instruments, and clocks and watches. Among the highlights of the collection is one of the largest and complete bodies of 17th- and 18th-century British military firearms in the world. It’s a museum highly recommended for the whole family.

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