Recently, Decorative Arts curator Julie Emerson was able to commission a coffee and tea service from silversmith John Marshall for our collection. It’s a very cool process (both commissioning and making), something the Dec Arts department had never been able to do before—that collection had always focused on historic American and European material.
For me, a work of art lives on in part by its association with people, places, and times past and present. When we see objects in museums, in isolation, how do we understand them as expressions of a maker’s personal vision and circumstances and of viewers’ expectations in the artist’s own time and over the course of generations? Each object of historical American art that I work with has endured because someone—a collector, a critic, an artist’s descendant, maybe—has been its champion, often when few others were. Historical American art has for so much of our past been overshadowed by the taste in this country for European art, which signaled for so many the ideal of artistic achievement and good taste.