Virtual 2021 Antiques Forum Features Three Young Scholar Lectures

Feb 25, 2021

Colonial Williamsburg’s Antiques Forum looked a little different this year, as we traded in-person camaraderie and scrumptious teas for online lectures and whatever was in our fridges. The virtual Forum did not disappoint, though, with a full schedule of lectures airing for registrants from February 19 through 24, as well as opportunities to chat during online Q&As and connect through a digital platform. 

The three lectures in the Carolyn and Michael McNamara Young Scholars Series, sponsored by the Decorative Arts Trust, were released for on-demand viewing on the Forum’s final day. 

Rachel Asbury Cole, Collections Technician at The Valentine Museum, presented Re-envisioning a Colonial Mexican Dressing Case in the Global Context. Recent reattribution placed Colonial Williamsburg’s magnificent tortoiseshell and inlaid mother-of-pearl dressing case in Viceregal Mexico, at the center of a rapidly globalizing world. Decorated with the allegorical figure of “America” on the lid, the case represents both the material and geographic intersections of European, Mexican, and Asian trade networks established by the lucrative Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. This talk examined the multicultural iconographic, economic, and social influences that led to the creation of such an elaborate, oversized jewel box and how it fit into the growing market for cosmopolitan luxury goods in 17th-century Mexico. 

Cesar Chelor: The Products of His Hands, Enslaved and Free was the topic of the lecture by Scott Merrifield, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Intern at Colonial Williamsburg. Cesar Chelor, the earliest documented African American toolmaker, worked in New England as part of what we can consider the first school of American plane makers. Merrifield focused on this prolific craftsman, his work, and the world in which he practiced his trade. Chelor learned his craft while enslaved to Francis Nicholson of Wrentham, MA, the first recorded professional plane maker in the colonies. When Francis Nicholson passed away in 1753, Chelor was freed by the terms of Nicholson’s will and bequeathed land, tools, and lumber, which allowed him to open a shop where he manufactured planes bearing his own name as a freeman. Chelor became a prominent toolmaker and supported a family with several children. 

Emily Wells, a PhD candidate in History at William & Mary, delivered the presentation Keep Within Compass: Geography and Feminine Virtue in American Schoolgirl Art. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, moralists encouraged girls and women to “keep within compass.” The compass they referred to was a moral one, however the use of cartographic language is indicative of a broader correlation between geography and conceptions of virtue. Wells discussed the connection between geography, education, and feminine virtue in America during the 18th and 19th centuries. She focused on a case study, a needlework picture that was likely made in Charleston, SC, by a girl named Emma Louisa Lanneau Gildersleeve. In this picture, Emma Louisa utilizes geographical instruments and spatial metaphors to visualize her place in society. The picture appears to be a self-portrait and shows a girl sitting in front of a table, which holds a small globe and map of South Carolina. In her right hand, she holds a compass or pair of dividers, which she positions above the map, as if measuring the distance from one point to another. Although the map locates her within a distinct social, political, and territorial unit, the compass acts as a metaphor for her virtue, a visual promise that she will “keep within compass.” 

These three lectures are available to the general public for a limited time on the Antiques Forum website. The Antiques Forum information page states that all sessions will be available for registrants to view through mid-March. The Trust is extremely grateful for the generosity of Carolyn and Michael McNamara and for the other members who support the Emerging Scholars Program. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation thanks the Decorative Arts Trust in the Sponsors section of the Forum app, which features an informative video about the organization’s mission and initiatives.

Visit the Decorative Arts Trust’s website for information about our Emerging Scholars Lectures initiative and about upcoming virtual and in-person lectures, tours, and symposia.

About The Decorative Arts Trust Bulletin

Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.


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