Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Museum's Collection: What Lies Below the Surface? Part 2

By: Doug Kendall, Curator of CollectionsHere’s an object with a summer theme. The Museum holds a significant collection of 19th-century salt-glazed stoneware. Most such objects were utilitarian in nature. But many potters added artistic flourishes to the gray stoneware jugs, churns and jars in the form of flowers, animals and other designs in bold cobalt blue. One decorator at the Fulper Brothers pottery of Flemington, New Jersey painted three young women enjoying themselves at the seaside on this common 3 gallon jug in the 1880s. The Fulper pottery would go on to produce some of the best known American art pottery of the 20th-century, but it had begun in the early 1800s producing the common stoneware forms that were vital to food production and storage. Perhaps this unusual work by a skilled decorator was a harbinger of things to come for the Fulper pottery. Or maybe the artist was daydreaming of summer on a dreary, rainy day in Flemington. Whatever the inspiration of the design, the artist’s work is preserved here in Cooperstown for you and countless other visitors—both virtual and on-site.
The “Bathing Beauties” jug was given to the Museum by Preston Bassett (1892-1992). Mr. Bassett went to work as a Research Engineer for the Sperry Gyroscope Company, for whom he helped develop a wide range of aviation instruments, as well as aircraft soundproofing and airfield beacons that allowed night landings. He eventually rose to the position of President at Sperry from 1945 until he retired in 1956.

Preston Bassett may have helped create 20th century technology, but he collected 19th century tools and artifacts as a charter member of the Early American Industries Association. During his retirement, he served as vice president of the New York State Historical Association, as well as curator of the Keeler Tavern Museum, just down the road from his residence in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Also beginning after his retirement from Sperry, he became an “uncollector” (in his words), dispersing his antiques to a number of museums, including the Smithsonian, the Henry Ford Museum, Old Bethpage Village, The Farmers’ Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum, to which he gave a fine group of early glass objects as well as the Fulper jug.

The Fulper jug’s unique decoration resulted from the inspiration of the artist; its place in the Museum’s collection came from the inspiration of the engineer-turned-collector, Preston Bassett.

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