Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lord Jeffrey Takes Manhattan

By Douglas Kendall, Curator of Collections

Many of my posts focus on rarely-seen objects in the Fenimore Art Museum collections. All museums have great objects in storage, but today I’m writing about a desk-and-bookcase in our collection that’s almost always on exhibition, just 3 hours away from our Museum.

Wood, brass.
Made for W. & J. Sloane, New York, NY, 1926.
Museum Purchase, acquired with funds given by Horace Moses., N0003.1994. Photo: Douglas Kendall

It could be a long story, but suffice it to say that our parent organization, the New York State Historical Association, was headquartered in Ticonderoga, New York from 1926 through 1939, in a building commissioned for the purpose by Horace Moses, a paper company executive who had grown up in Ticonderoga. The building was an exact replica of the Thomas Hancock House, which was built in Boston in 1737 but was demolished in 1863 after the failure of an early attempt at historic preservation. Moses furnished the building with reproductions of colonial and Federal period American furniture, acquired from W. & J. Sloane of New York City.

Today, the building is still owned by NYSHA but is operated as a museum and research center by the Ticonderoga Historical Society. Although THS exhibits its own collections, NYSHA still owns many objects in the building, including the Colonial Revival furniture by the Sloane firm. The gem of this collection is a monumental desk-and-bookcase that features a bust of the British general Lord Jeffery Amherst on the pediment. Amherst was a prominent and controversial British general. His forces captured Fort Ticonderoga in 1759 during the French and Indian Wars.

When the Sloane furniture was acquired for Hancock House, it was intended to be used. But now, over 80 years later, the Colonial Revival is a subject of historical study and Colonial Revival furniture is sought after by museums and collectors. This month, the Museum of the City of New York is opening an exhibition called The American Style: Colonial Revival and the Modern Metropolis and NYSHA’s desk-and-bookcase is a key element in the show. This week I drove to Ticonderoga to meet the THS curator, Bill Dolback and oversee the packing and shipping of the desk by Chad and Josh of Bonsai Fine Arts. It is no mean feat to dismantle a piece like this and then wrap it safely for the 5-hour drive to Manhattan. We discovered some interesting construction details in the process of packing. For example, the interior cubby holes in the upper section are actually an insert that can be fully removed to allow the top and bottom to be separated.

Lord Jeffery will be on exhibition in New York from June 14 through October 30. After that he will once again be on view at Hancock House in Ticonderoga. In either location, he’s well worth a visit.

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