Tag Archives: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

BMA Voices: The treatment of the Strawberry Hill roundels

Before Treatment photos of the roundels.

Before Treatment photos of the roundels. Unknown Maker. Crucifixion with Longinus Piercing Christ’s Side. c. 1520. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Saidie A. May, BMA 1941.399.1a

Christine Downie, Objects Conservator

One responsibility of a conservator in a museum is to “condition check” artworks that are requested for loan from other institutions, to ensure that the work is stable and in good condition to travel. In May 2008, a request came from the Yale Center for British Art, The Lewis Walpole Library, and the Victoria and Albert Museum for several roundels (small, single pieces of lightly tinted glass painted with scenes using vitreous paint and colored yellow using silver stain, usually round) in the BMA collection. The institutions were organizing a major exhibition featuring objects from the collection of Horace Walpole – a well-known British historian, Member of Parliament, novelist, connoisseur and collector of decorative art pieces, including stained glass. The roundels were made in the 1500s and later collected by Walpole for his home “Strawberry Hill” in Twickenham, England. Unfortunately a number of the BMA roundels were broken in numerous pieces and precariously held together by plates of glass. They were certainly too fragile for travel overseas. Stabilizing them would require the skill of a stained glass conservator. There was not enough time and money for this to be achieved for the Walpole exhibition so I sadly had to say no to the loan.

Horace Walpole home “Strawberry Hill”, in Twickenham, England.

Horace Walpole home “Strawberry Hill”, in Twickenham, England.

I became curious how these roundels had come to the BMA from Strawberry Hill and how they ended up surrounded by odds and ends of stained glass fragments. Valuable information came from Michael Peover – an expert on the Strawberry Hill stained glass – and Sona Johnston, then Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture. It seems the roundels were sold in an estate sale in 1842 by Walpole’s heir, the Earl of Waldegrave, and passed through various hands before being acquired by an American – William Randolph Hearst. At some point they were combined together with stained glass fragments into two panels with a stained glass patterned surround. Saidie A. May later bought them at the 1941 sale of the Hearst Collection. She had the two stained glass panels separated into 4 panels and inserted in four windows. These were eventually donated and installed at the BMA along with several other medieval and renaissance stained glass pieces from her collection.

In January 2009 Johnston and Tom Primeau, Head of Conservation, organized a review of all the BMA stained glass by historian Michael Cothren, Scheuer Family Professor of Humanities at Swarthmore College. I was asked to find a stained-glass conservator that would be experienced enough to take on treating the stained glass that Cothren and the BMA curators identified as gems, including the four panels with the Strawberry Hill roundels. I was lucky to find such a person at a 2009 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Forum for the Conservation and Restoration of Stained-Glass Windows. The following January, stained glass conservator and artist Mary Clerkin-Higgins examined all the gems of the stained glass collection in the BMA conservation lab. Through the generous financial support of the The Richard C. von Hess Foundation, the pieces were carefully packed by art handler Mike Klunk and delivered to Mary’s studio in New York for treatment. Mary and her colleague Takuji Hamanaka were able to treat the roundels and surrounding glass and bring them together as two panels once again. The two panels are now being installed in the Jacobs wing with the hope that next time a loan request comes for a Walpole exhibition the answer will be yes!

Mary Clerkin-Higgins examining two of the roundels in the BMA conservation lab.

Mary Clerkin-Higgins examining two of the roundels in the BMA conservation lab.

Four of the six roundels and fragment inserted into windows.

Four of the six roundels and fragment inserted into windows.

After treatment photo of the Strawberry Hill roundels and surrounding glass, taken in the BMA conservation lab.

After treatment photo of the Strawberry Hill roundels and surrounding glass, taken in the BMA conservation lab.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

 

BMA Voices: Souvenir

Columbian Art Pottery (also known as Morris and Willmore). Teapot and Cover. 1893-1905. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Albert H. Cousins Memorial Fund, BMA 2003.45

Columbian Art Pottery (also known as Morris and Willmore). Teapot and Cover. 1893-1905. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Albert H. Cousins Memorial Fund, BMA 2003.45

Dr. David Park Curry, Senior Curator and Dept. Head of Decorative Arts, American Painting & Sculpture

You needn’t be a tea drinker to be charmed by this whimsical teapot with its soft, velvety bisque surface, tinted a blush pink not unlike a good rosé, resplendent with gilding. The teapot turns up at both ends – giving it an optimistic air. It is marked on the underside “Trenton N.J.”

“Trenton Makes – The World Takes.” So reads a large neon sign on an iron bridge spanning the Delaware River between Trenton, New Jersey and Morrisville, Pennsylvania. The manufacture of ceramics, first attempted during the colonial era, burgeoned there during the mid-19th century, establishing Trenton as a major ceramics center with fifty commercial pottery plants – hardly an auspicious moment to start yet another. However, nothing daunted, William T. Morris and Francis Willmore did just that, naming their new firm The Columbian Art Pottery. “Art” in the company title distinguished it from more utilitarian concerns – Trenton manufacturers were less noted for teapots than for potties – sanitary ceramics to furnish the earliest modern bathrooms.

Trenton lies just a few miles down from the spot where George Washington famously crossed the ice-choked Delaware River to mount a surprise attack on the British during the American Revolution, a bid for freedom largely driven by economics. Morris and Willmore’s attack on international markets was more subtle. By including “Columbian” in their company title, they took advantage of celebrity and name recognition generated by the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago, visited by more than 27 million people – an instant customer base avid for ceramic souvenirs manufactured by the Columbian Art Pottery.

If we can believe Emmanuel Leutze’s monumental Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851, Metropolitan Museum of Art), the future president traveled in an open boat back in 1776. The actual site, west of Trenton, is a peaceful country glade bordering the river, but Leutze’s exaggerated Delaware conjures the high seas. Leutze hoped his theatrical picture would stir mid-19th-century liberal reformers in Europe who might be inspired by the earlier American patriots.

Washington Crossing the Delaware

Emmanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware. 1851. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Gift of John Stewart Kennedy. 97.34.

Intrepid sailors in an open boat really did cross the high seas heading for the World’s Columbian Exposition. They were Scandinavians, sailing an exact replica of a 9th-century Viking ship, excavated on at the Gokstad Farm in Norway in 1880. With its dragon head and upraised tail-like handle, the little teapot recalls the replica of the Gokstad Viking ship, one of the greatest attractions at the Chicago fair.

Today you can glimpse the Lower Trenton Bridge and its neon sign when dodging heavy traffic on I95. Leutze’s monumental painting of Washington is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The original Gokstad ship is in the Viking ship Museum in Oslo, Norway. To see the Columbian Art Pottery teapot, visit the new American Wing at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Viking, replica of the Gokstad Viking ship, at the Chicago World Fair 1893.jpg
Viking, replica of the Gokstad Viking ship, at the Chicago World Fair 1893“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.