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The Family Record Tradition and The Heart and Hand Artist

A new genre of American artwork, the “family record” or register, appeared just prior to the Revolutionary War. These illuminated manuscripts recorded the births, marriages, and deaths of family members on a single sheet of paper, typically enhanced with images or designs painted in watercolor. The decorative quality of such family records encouraged owners to have them framed and displayed in their homes. For families that could not afford, or did not want, painted portraits of themselves or their children, family records offered an alternative that recorded milestones in the lives of family members, if not their appearance.

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Fancy Dressing Tables from Sullivan County, New Hampshire

Used for grooming and dressing by both men and women, dressing tables made of walnut or imported mahogany, with cases and drawers supported by cabriole legs, first appeared in major American urban centers in the 1730s. The form found a strong market among people of means but had mostly fallen from fashion by the 1780s. After 1800, the form was revived, and dressing tables featuring new designs and ornamental painted surfaces came into vogue. The market for these was particularly strong in New England, where cabinetmakers and ornamental painters exercised enormous freedom in their interpretations of the form and decoration. The large number of surviving post-1800 New England painted dressing tables probably accounts for only a small fraction of the total number that were made.