Living history: A New England couple reanimates the past

Delftware jug with por­traits of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, London, 1662. In­scribed "M/HS/1662" and "C R/2" and "D/QK" on the front. Height 11 . inches. Photograph by Gavin Ashworth.

"You can have all the furniture you want but it's the accessories that count," Lillian B. Cogan (1897-1991), the pioneering Connecticut antiques dealer who helped popularize what were called Pilgrim Century decorative arts, long ago advised the couple. Today their  interiors sparkle with English silver, much of it made between 1625 and 1713. "For me, the marquee piece is a Charles I pierced cake basket by Richard Blackwell I that dates to about 1625," says Timothy Martin of S. J. Shrubsole in New York (Fig. 3). "It has beauti­ful chasing, almost Elizabethan in feel, that singles it out. It's just exquisite."

Like any great collection, this one blends courage, care, and conviction. The couple indulges a passion for seventeenth-century English tin-glazed earthen­ware, or delftware, seeking signed, dated, or marked examples decorated with specific events or recogniz­able subjects by known decorators or potteries. Most of the pieces have exceptional provenances. When the Longridge Collection, formed over thirty years by Syd Levethan, came to market in 2010 and 2011, the couple stepped up to buy many of its top lots. Among the most spectacular is a dated charger that may have been made to commemorate the July 9, 1638, marriage of Aaron Wit and Frances Allen at Saint George the Martyr in Southwark (Fig. 17). The distant past is rarely more tangible.

"There are other private American collections that are larger and more diverse, but for seventeenth-century English tin-glazed earthenware this is the best I've seen. Every work is a masterpiece of form or decoration," says Luke Beckerdite, who, with London dealer Garry Atkins, advises the couple. 

Like the decorative arts in their collection, the couple's paintings also speak to what is dis­tinctly American, in the main progressing from Raphaelle Peale's intimate arrangements of fruit and nuts (see Figs. 2, 13) to untamed views of land and sea by Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole, Fitz Henry Lane (Fig. 14), Jasper Francis Cropsey, Martin Johnson Heade, and William Bradford. "So many people are buying contemporary art but we stayed away from it. We wanted a harmonious arrangement of paintings, furniture, and objects," the wife says. In the lower hall, Andrew Wyeth's The Milk Room of 1964 hangs near a two-drawer oak Hadley chest carved with the initials "T B." In this setting, at least, Wyeth's meditation on Karl Kuerner's Chadds Ford, Pennsyl­vania, barn and on a rural America fast receding seems part and parcel of the late twentieth-century antiquar­ian movement that some fear is disappearing. 

To house their seventeenth-century furniture, the couple added an atmospheric tavern room with stone walls, an enormous stone hearth, and old beams (Fig. 16). They furnished the room with an exceptional Boston drop-leaf dining table of about 1710 to 1720 and a set of nine comely Boston chairs of roughly the same date, with shaped crests, spoon backs, and Spanish feet. "It took me twenty-five years to as­semble the set," confides West Chester, Pennsylvania, dealer Skip Chalfant who lived with these sculptural pieces, which the collectors covered in Russia leather salvaged from the eighteenth-century ship Die Frau Metta Catharina, sunk off the coast of Cornwall and discovered by divers in 1973.

The tavern room contains a Boston drop-leaf dining table of 1710-1720; an assembled set of eight c. 1720-1725 Boston maple side chairs and one armchair, all upholstered in Russia leather; and a two-drawer joined, carved, and painted oak sunflower chest, Wethersfield, Connecticut, 1680-1720.  On the chest are, left, a rare English delft blue and white candlestick, Southwark, dat­ed "1653" and initialed "I/I·T" and the double portrait jug shown in Fig. 18. Also visible is a pair of Commonwealth silver dishes, London, c. 1654; a pair of silver casters by Francis Garthorne, Lon­don, c. 1683; and a pair of silver salt cellars, London, 1694. On the rear wall hangs the delft charger shown in Fig. 17. The table is set with an assembled service of Georgian silver, 1731-1769.  The Serapi carpet dates to c. 1890. Photograph by Gavin Ashworth. 

Arrayed on a two-drawer sunflower chest made in the Wethersfield area between 1680 and 1720 is more rare English delft. Dated 1653, a blue and white candlestick is the only one of its kind still in private hands. A dated 1662 blue and white commemorative jug is decorated with the portraits of Charles II and his queen, Catherine of Braganza (Fig. 18). 

Housed in an adjacent, purpose-built cellar, a comprehensive wine collection assembled by the husband over thirty years emphasizes decades-old Bordeaux, Burgundies, and Rhônes. From time to time, the couple has financed projects with sales of their liquid assets. More often, they simply enjoy their good fortune as an accoutrement to memorable evenings spent with friends and fam­ily, their faith in New England's durable values ever solid and unchanged by time.

 

 

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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