Not for sale: An exquisitely made collection of miniature furniture

Keeler’s scholarship was almost as impressive as his display of technical skill: each of his pieces was fashioned with museum-quality authenticity. In fact, labels affixed to the furniture reveal that his collection, even if unappreciated by his daughter, had often been on loan to New London’s Lyman Allyn Art Museum.

Judging by the models he chose for his miniatures, Keeler was well acquainted with the Americana collections in a number of museums. Several pieces are copied from furniture at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Mabel Brady Garvan Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, and others. The Metropolitan Museum’s guide to the American Wing published in 1924 seems to have been one of the reference books in Keeler’s library. Among the illustrations in the guide (p. 83) is a view of a room from Newington, Connecticut, then on display at the museum. It shows a fine wall of tombstone arched paneling with engaged pilasters with rosette carved capitals and a raised panel over-mantel, as well as a glazed door shell-carved corner cupboard. This seems to have been the inspiration for Keeler’s sitting room and cupboard (see Fig. 4).

He may also have referred to a second, more complete illustration of the room as shown in the first volume of Wallace Nutting’s Furniture Treasury, published in 1928. Nutting’s book was influential in its time, so it is not surprising that eighteen of the forty-five objects Keeler chose to reproduce are illustrated in its pages. Then too the Nutting collection formed the basis of the Wadsworth Atheneum’s Americana collection, which was easily accessible to Keeler and must have been a frequent stop for him. 

Zeke Liverant purchased the collection and brought it back to his shop, removing two of the miniatures to keep for himself. “My father was always on the lookout for the best, and I guess he decided to treat himself,” Arthur suggests. One of the two was a Philadelphia tilt-top tea table with acanthus-carved knees and carved claw-and-ball feet. The other was a continuous-bow windsor armchair with a red-painted surface. The tea table even had a handmade brass catch under the top, applied with three very small tacks and with a working spring on the inside. “Dr. Keeler did not make many case pieces of furniture, so the Philadelphia piecrust tea table represents the supreme accomplishment of the eighteenth-century cabinetmaker in the collection,” Arthur says. The windsor chair happened to be one of Zeke’s favorite forms. 

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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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