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American Rooms of the 18th and Early 19th Centuries

DATES December 02, 1929 through 1930 (date unknown)
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    The new section of American rooms at the Brooklyn Museum consists of nineteen rooms arranged in four groups.

    The first, in four parts, illustrates styles prevalent in the south in the 18th Century. The first part is known as the Secretary House which consists of a hallway, stairway, large livingroom and a bed room. The second part is the Cupola House, so called from the fact that a cupola, from which the waters of Chesapeake Bay could be seen, was added at a somewhat later date than the building of the house. This section consists of a hall, stairway, dining room, parlor and bed room. The third part of the Southern Group is known as the Perry House and consists of and consists of a hallway and a large dining room.

    The second group is from New Jersey and is a parlor and dining room from a house in Irvington.

    The third group is from New England, divided into four parts. The first is a small dining room from Danbury, Conn., the second two living rooms from a house in Wethersfield, Conn., the third a pine bed room from Springfield, Mass. and the fourth the parlor from the Russell House in Providence, R.I.

    The fourth division of this installation is the ground floor of a Dutch Colonial house from Canarsie, N. Y., which consists of a central hall off of which open a living room, a dining room and two bed rooms.

    Secretary House
    Taking up the groups one by one, the Secretary House comes from a town in Maryland called Secretary which received its name from the fact that its principal resident was Henry Sewall, Lord Baltimore's secretary. Henry Sewall came to this country in 1661 and during the course of his administration built this house to provide for his two maiden daughters. It was finally inherited by the son Nicholas who remodeled it in 1720, so that the rooms are now examples of that period. When it was first lived in it was furnished with pieces from the end of the 17th Century, so that this feeling is carried out in the furniture now shown in the rooms. This group gives an excellent idea of how people of culture and quality lived at that time, as Lord Baltimore's secretary was, of course, a man of importance. Due to the political upheaval in England, the Sewall family decided to make their headquarters in America and so settled down at Secretary on their estate.

    An interesting feature of this house is the fact that it is approached from a hallway in which the exterior clapboards are shown, so that when one enters he has the effect of stepping into a complete house rather than a museum exhibit. The entrance is through a rectangular hall from which the stair rises on the left. On the right is a small bed room and facing the entrance is the living room. All these rooms are panelled and corniced and the panelling, baseboards and trim about the fireplace are painted in the original colors.

    Edenton House
    The next section is the Cupola House, built in 1758, which has an interesting feature on the outside in the slight overhang of the second floor which was also typical of 17th Century New England houses. It is entered by a fine, wide panelled door with original hinges and a large brass knocker. At the back of the rectangular hallway is the stairway which makes two turns and has interesting balusters and hand-carving. On the right is a fully panelled dining room with considerable carving and all the woodwork painted a peculiar blue, which makes an interesting contrast to the red marble facing of the fireplace. On the left is the drawing room panelled like the hall up to the chair rail and beautifully ornamented about the windows, doors and fireplace in the typically southern style. The wood used in this house is Carolina pine stained, as it originally was, to represent walnut, except for the dining room. These rooms represent the heavy Classical period and are, therefore, furnished, with heavy Chippendale pieces. The paintings on the wall are done by the same artists whose work hung in the house in 1760. As this house was in Edenton, N. C., it was natural for it to be of high quality, as at that time Edenton was the capital of North Carolina and the center of a wealthy, cultured society.

    Perry House
    Rooms typical of the feeling of hospitality and open-handedness of the south are found in the hallway and the long, high-ceilinged dining room of the Perry House from near Summerville, S.C. which dates from 1806. This room is an example of the Classic revival introduced in England by the Adam Brothers which was reflected in all parts of the east coast of the United States. In this room the carving of the woodwork is lighter than in the room just described. The room is beautifully proportioned, panelled up to the chair rail and has an exquisitely curved cornice. The woodwork is painted in its original colors. The feeling of hospitality is well carried out in the long mahogany extension dining table with the full set of chairs arranged around it and the large, handsome fireplace. This is one of the most attractive rooms in the collection for its spaciousness and has a cheerful aspect produced in great part by the effect of sunlight streaming in the windows.This exhibit was obtained through the generosity of its owners the West Virginia Pulp Paper Company.

    Irvington House
    Passing on to the New Jersey, section there is the parlor and dining room of a house at Irvington, N.J., dating about 1820. The decoration in this room occurs around the doorways and on the mantelpiece where there are carved panels and pilasters. These two rooms, except for a rounded end to each of them, are square in form and one opens directly into the other by a large doorway. The period of these rooms allows them to be furnished with pieces in the Duncan Phyfe style.

    Danbury House
    The next group showing New England, rooms begins with a small room from Danbury, Conn. of about the Revolutionary period, which is typical of the better farmhouses of New England. On the left the whole side of the room is panelled and includes the long, low fireplace. At the back and at the right side there are windows with reflected light and backgrounds giving the effect of a country scene. The furnishings are of the simple type of Colonial furniture made of local woods rather than imported mahogany.

    Wethersfield House
    The next rooms are from what is known as the Porter-Bidwell House at Wethersfield, Conn., and date from about the 18th Century. The one that is papered is known as the "best" parlor. Both of the these are low-ceilinged rooms panelled on the side on which the low fireplace occurs. Some of the furniture which was use originally in these rooms is shown there now. One of the rooms is noteworthy for the pilasters on either side of the windows which cause several breaks in the cornice, thus giving an attractive variety. The more formal of the rooms is exceedingly interesting in the fact that it is papered with an actual old wall paper brought to this country by an old sea-captain but never used. It has gay, bright colors with red and green predominating in a design of exceedingly modernistic feeling.

    Springfield House
    The next New England room is a bed room from a house in Springfield, Mass, built in 1754. This room is completely panelled as to walls and ceiling with pine left in its natural color. It has the unusual feature of a recessed fireplace and a raised hearth stone. The attractive effect of 24-paned windows is well brought out.

    Providence House
    One of the most attractive rooms in the collection was given by the Rembrandt Club of Brooklyn. This is the room from the Joseph Russell House in Providence, R.I., which was built in 1773 and was occupied during the Revolutionary War by the Chevalier de Chastellus who commanded some of the French forces. The elaborate carving in this room is light and dainty. It is fully panelled with a cornice having a series of corbels and dentils. The mantel is a very fine one with its Ionic columns below supporting two pairs of Corinthian pilasters above, which in turn support a full pediment. On either side of the fireplace is an arched and panelled recess.

    Canarsie House
    The fourth group is unique in that it is the only installation in any Museum in the country which preserves a Long Island Dutch house. This one is an example of a farm house where the roof both front and rear slopes out ten to fifteen feet beyond the house line, thus providing a covered porch. Through the courtesy of the City of New York the Museum secured this entire ground floor from the Schenck House which stood in Canarsie Park.The front and one side of the house is shown intact with the actual shingles that were used for outside protection. If entered from the front one first sees a panelled Dutch door opening into a long hall with the living room on one side and the dining room on the other. At the back of the hall the stairway rises on the left at the entrance to a bed room and on the right there is a built-in corner cupboard next to the door leading into the other bed room in which is a built-in bed. In all the rooms the beams are exposed showing the floor boards of the rooms above which is typical of the early Dutch houses. This house was apparently remodeled about 1800, so that two kinds of furniture are shown, the old, rather heavy, Dutch pieces and Dutch pewter and in one room the kind of furniture which the owner would have been liable to have purchased in 1800. In the dining room, which has a fireplace that seems to extend nearly across the side of the room, there is an old iron fireback which was discovered when the woodwork was taken out. The large fireplace had been filled in to make a smaller one but when dug out its original fireback with the British coat-of-arms was found in place and now appear as it did before the remodeling.

    Miscellaneous Details
    All these rooms have been made to appear, by means of their furnishings, as they probably did when they were lived in by their original owners. This has meant the examination of innumerable inventories and wills so that only furniture of the date of the room or earlier has been placed in the rooms. Many of the draperies are of the period but those that are not are faithful copies in materials similar to those in use at the time of the date of the rooms.

    There has been practically no violation of the antique feeling even in the lighting of these rooms. That is to say, no electrice fixtures are used in the rooms. Instead daylight has been used where possible. For inside rooms light is thrown on an appropriately-tinted background from reflectors around the windows which are invisible but which give the effect of sunlight coming into the rooms.

    The installation of these rooms is due to the untiring work over several years of Mr. Lake Vincent Lockwood, one of the bountry's most eminent authorities on early American decorative arts and a Trustee of the Museum. The actual work of installing was carried out under the direction of Mr. André Rueff.

    In the course of time valuable brochures describing each room are to be published with scale drawings of the woodwork and complete history of each house, such as are provided at the South Kensington Museum in London.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1916 - 1930. 10-12/1929, 091a-g.
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  • November 22, 1929 [Handwritten note: Sent to: Arts & Decoration / Antiquarian / Antiques / Town & Country / The [unclear] / Draperies / House Beautiful / Conde-Nast Pub. / Mr. Stove, NY Sun / Mr. Storey, Times / Good Housekeeping / The Sketch Book / Country Life]

    To the Editor:

    On December 2nd the Brooklyn Museum will formally open a section of nineteen American rooms completely furnished. This installation will be unique in that in many cases it will show entire ground floors of old houses, something that has never been done before in any other museum. This exhibition will make one more of the large comprehensive things of this kind in the country. We hope this will interest you and that you will want to send someone to see the rooms. They are being thrown open to the newspaper critics on November 25th but I am sure your representative would get better results if he waited until the opening of the exhibition when the installation will be complete and all the furniture and draperies in their proper places. The finishing touches will still have to be added during the week before the opening.

    When your representative comes he can obtain considerable useful information as well as photographs from the publicity department on the fourth floor of the Museum

    Yours truly,
    for the Brooklyn Museum

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1916 - 1930. 10-12/1929, 088.
  • December 5, 1929 According to the report of Dr. Fox, Director of the Museum, a great deal of the energy of the staff of the Museum was put into preparing for the exhibitions which opened on December 2nd. These exhibitions were the remarkable installation of nineteen early American rooms, one of the most important additions that has been made to the Museum's exhibits, and the exhibition of paintings by the late Walter Shirlaw and a group of his pupila, as well as an exhibition of Paintings by John R. Koopman and members of his Brooklyn Institute class of painting and drawing. This took up the energies of both the Departments of Fine Arts and Decorative Arts for the last few weeks.

    It was somehow found possible by the Decorative Arts Department to take time to prepare an exhibition of Italian textiles which was shown at the Carroll Park Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library and at which there was an attendance of 3500 persons.

    Another event of major importance was the opening of the exhibition of modern Norwegian Prints in the Print Gallery with a first view and tea. This was the first showing of an Exhibition that is to go on tour throughout the museums of the country.

    The Department of Ethnology announces two new exhibitions in the course of preparation, that of the rugs of the Near East from the collection of Mr. Ernest G. Metcalfe, which opens on December 16th, and an exhibition of drawings by American Indians, mostly from the collection of Miss A. E. White. This latter exhibition is to be opened about January 15th.

    The attendance of 34,705 at the Central Museum for the month covered by the report is accounted for in great part by the 35 separate events such as lectures and special gallery talks which were given by the Department of Natural Science and the Department of Education.

    Plans announced by the latter department are those for a Christmas Play to be given for the entertainment of the crippled children on the afternoons of December 18th and December 21st in the place of the story hour. The actors will consist of the children who regularly attend the Saturday story hour and the play will be entitled "Why the Chimes Rang" and will be accompanied by music on the new organ.

    An interesting part of the report was the discussion of the meetings of the Brooklyn Entomological Society which was founded in 1876 and is the oldest society of its kind in America. It has held its monthly meetings at the Brooklyn Museum since 1912 and has received considerable prestige from this affiliation. It has prospered under this association and its publications have quadrupled in scope and value during that time. Some time ago the society dispensed with its own library in order to strengthen that of the Museum which now has one of the best all-around working libraries in entomology in the country.

    Under the heading of accessions some of the most important were an oil painting, "Pont du Carrousel, Paris" by Frank M. Armington, the gift of Mr. Alfred W. Jenkins and an oil painting "Study" by Charles Conder, the gift of Mrs. John W. Alexander.

    The report includes a long list of loans made by people interested in early Americana for the purpose of furnishing the new American rooms.

    The print Department announces a gift of two etchings by Caroline Armington, presented by Mr. Alfred W. Jenkins and the loan by Mr. William A. Putnam of forty-one prints important for the inclusion of works by such famous names as Cameron, Dürer, Haden, Legros, Claude Lorraine, Meryon, J.F. Millet, Rembrandt, Whistler and Zorn.

    An unusual accession in the Department of Ethnology was a Turkish costume from the vicinity of Constantinople dated about 1800, which was purchased.

    The Department of Natural Science received from Mr. Manuel Gufstein a short-eared owl in the flesh.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1916 - 1930. 10-12/1929, 095a-c.
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  • November 8, 1929 Work is being rushed to complete the installation of the new and unique section of American rooms which will be opened to the public at the Brooklyn Museum on December 3rd after a private showing to Museum members and their guests on December 2nd. On the second floor one side of the new east wing has been set aside for this purpose and the rooms extend into part of the central section.

    This new section promises to show the 19 early American rooms in an entirely new manner.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1916 - 1930. 10-12/1929, 077.
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  • November 26, 1929 To the Editor:

    One of the most important events which has occurred at the Brooklyn Museum in several years will be the formal opening of the nineteen early American rooms with a Private showing on December 2nd.

    The installation of these rooms was made possible by the energy and efficiency of Mr. Luke Vincent Lockwood, a Trustee of the Museum and one of the country's most eminent authorities on American interiors. He has asked me to extend this special invitation to art critics, editors of magazines interested in antiques, newspaper editors in charge of antique departments and news reporters to meet him at the Brooklyn Museum at two o'clock on Monday, December 2nd, before the formal opening which will occur at 4 o'clock. In this way the facts about the rooms can be received at first hand from the best authority on the subject and magazine editors can make arrangements about receiving fuller information as well as photographs.

    We hope very much to have your publication represented at this meeting.

    Very truly yours,
    for the Brooklyn Museum

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1916 - 1930. 10-12/1929, 090.
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  • November 23, 1929 The entire force of carpenters, painters and workman of the Brooklyn Museum are working to full capacity to finish the extensive work which is going into the preparation of three exhibitions which will open at the Museum on December 2nd with a private view. The work which involves the greatest detail is the finishing of the installation of the nineteen early American rooms which has been promised for several months. This exhibition bids fair to be one of the most popular showings which the Museum has had in several years. The new section will be divided into four parts showing the architectural characteristics of this country before 1810 in the South, New Jersey, Long Island and New England. All the rooms will be completely furnished with fittings typical of their periods to give the feeling of actual houses instead of Museum exhibits. The special provisions for lighting will contribute greatly to this effect. An ingenious method has been worked out with midden lights reflected on a yellow background so as to give the effect of sunlight streaming into the rooms which are not near daylight.

    The next most comprehensive exhibition of the three is the large collection of the paintings of Walter Shirlaw, one of the first great mural decorators of the United States. His work is being brought forward as that of one of our remarkable artists at the end of the last century. He is expected to have a large contemporary appeal as he was definitely an experimenter who did not allow himself to fall into one style and stay there. This quality of his mind will be thoroughly demonstrated by the exhibition. He did a great deal of figure work, especially allegories; landscapes, particularly the green Vermont hillsides: industrial subjects and portraits. Long before the vogue for painting subjects from our great industries became popular Shirlaw had already discovered this field. One large gallery of this exhibition will be devoted to the work of some of his pupils, namely, Anne Goldthwaite, Robert Reid, Dorothea A. Dreier and Katherine S. Dreier.

    The third exhibition will be that of the work of John R. Koopman and his pupils. This is particularly appropriate at the Museum as Mr. Koopman gives art courses in the Educational Department of the Brooklyn Institute, of which both the Museum and the educational section are departments. Mr. Koopman is instructor in life drawing and antique at the Grand Central School of Art and was a student of Robert Henri, William M. Chase, Kenneth Hayes Miller and Irving R. Wiles. He has exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy, the Carnegie Institute, the New York water color exhibitions, the Corcoran Art Gallery, the Chicago Art Institute and the Brooklyn Museum.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1916 - 1930. 10-12/1929, 089a-b.
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  • November 22, 1929 [Handwritten note: Sent to Art Critics]

    To the Art Editor:

    As there will be an opening of three different exhibitions at the Museum on December 2nd, we are writing to say that they can be seen by you any time on or after Monday, November 25th. This is to make it possible for you to have your review on the week-end of November 30th and December 1st.

    The most comprehensive exhibition and a permanent installation will be nineteen American rooms on the second floor. The first painting exhibition is the work of Walter Shirlaw and some of his pupils in the large gallery of the third floor. The other painting exhibition of the work of John R. Koopman and his pupils will be in the east gallery on the third floor. The usual material giving the information which you will need and the photographs will be on hand as usual in the publicity office on the fourth floor.

    Very truly yours,
    for the Brooklyn Museum

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1916 - 1930. 10-12/1929, 087.
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  • November 13, 1929 The large section of early American rooms which is to be opened to the public on the second of December consists of four large divisions. One will be known as the Southern Group, another the New Jersey Group, the third the New England Group and the fourth the Long Island Group. This installation is looked forward to greatly by lovers of American antiques as it will be the first exhibition of the kind in which entire ground floors will be shown as they appeared, in the houses of which they were originally a part.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1916 - 1930. 10-12/1929, 083.
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