Two From PEM: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould and Audacious, The Fine Art of Wood
Chest of Drawers, 1758-66, attributed to Nathaniel Gould. Marblehead Historical Society and Museum, Jeremiah Lee Mansion Marblehead. © 2014 Peabody Essex Museum. Dennis Helmar Photography.
IN PLAIN SIGHT: DISCOVERING THE FURNITURE OF NATHANIEL GOULD
ON VIEW NOVEMBER 15, 2014 - MARCH 29, 2015
At the dawn of the American Revolution in a city bustling with trade, politics and commerce, a craftsman of unusual ability was working tirelessly to create fine furniture for his wealthy patrons. Nathaniel Gould (1734-1781) established one of the region's most sought-after workshops, producing thousands of technically sophisticated and aesthetically refined works for clients at home and for export. With an astute business sense, Gould thrived in one of the most tumultuous political and economic eras in American history. Despite all of this, until recently, Gould's life and legacy was largely unknown. Masterworks sat in anonymity in the halls of major museum collections, unsigned by their maker and identified only vaguely by their geographic origin. In 2006, everything changed.
In the vaults of the Massachusetts Historical Society, among the records of Gould's estate lawyer, researchers discovered documents that cast fresh light on American furniture history. Three of Gould's bound ledgers kept between 1758 and 1783 document in detail the production of almost 3,000 pieces of furniture in his Salem workshop. Analysis has revealed the identity, preferences and transactions of more than 500 of Gould's patrons as well as the names of his journeymen and probable apprentices.
In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould — on view through March 29, 2015 — is the first exhibition to definitively unpack this discovery and describe the signature characteristics of Gould's work. In Plain Sight also invites exploration into the life, times and social mores of early America through the lens of one of the country's earliest and most successful woodworkers. Stately desks, bombé chests and scalloped-top tea tables made of the finest imported mahogany are presented alongside paintings, archival materials, decorative arts and an interactive workbench and desk provide insight into the makers and consumers of 18th-century American design and culture. The exhibition is accompanied by an exquisite publication of photographs and detailed essays from PEM curators and principal researchers Kemble Widmer, Joyce King and Betsy Widmer.
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