Summer Reading Recommendations: Collecting and Collections

The Decorative Arts Trust invites you to delve into George H. Schwartz’s Collecting the Globe: The Salem East India Marine Society Museum as the 2020 summer reading selection. Published this year by the University of Massachusetts Press, the text provides a comprehensive study of the Society, now part of the internationally renowned Peabody Essex Museum, where Schwartz is an associate curator.

By exploring practices of collecting, exhibiting, and interpreting international objects and art in the early 19th century, Schwartz offers a new perspective on the function of museums, and how they helped shape national identity. He demonstrates how the East India Marine Society Museum’s international scope influenced the nascent field of public institutions. The Society’s location in the bustling port of Salem, MA, enabled a far-reaching collection, thereby allowing visitors to circumnavigate the globe, gaining both an understanding of the world and their place within it.

Although well-known today, the Society is relatively absent from contemporary scholarship. In Schwartz’s dissertation, he re-examines the impact and significance of the museum by “illustrat[ing] how the Society and its mission remained visible through the museum’s various incarnations to date, demonstrating that it was not simply a Salem institution but rather a symbol of the antebellum United States.” This book offers an excellent primer on Salem’s cosmopolitan outlook in advance of the Trust’s fall 2021 symposium!

If you are looking for an inspiring and invigorating volume to fill your summer reading list, try In Pursuit of History: A Lifetime Collecting Colonial American Art and Artifacts published this year by Yale University Press and the Dietrich American Foundation in association with the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Co-edited by the Dietrich American Foundation’s H. Richard Dietrich III and Deborah M. Rebuck with contributions from nine other prominent art historians, the volume pays tribute to founder H. Richard Dietrich Jr., who established the Foundation in 1963. In Pursuit of History explores the richness of the Foundation’s holdings and showcases highlights from the collection to enhance the current understanding of 18th-century American history and material culture. The Foundation’s diverse collection includes books, manuscripts, maps, paintings, and decorative arts ranging from Chinese export wares and furniture to silver and fraktur. The Philadelphia Museum of Art debuted the companion exhibition, A Collector’s Vision: Highlights from the Dietrich American Foundation, in February, which will remain on view once the museum reopens.

Another important contribution is Fine American Antiques in The Stanley Weiss Collection published at the end of 2019, which illustrates 654 items cataloged in a side-by-side regional comparison that refines the connoisseurial doctrine of “good, better, best.” A collection of early American furniture of this scope has not been published since Albert Sack’s influential 1957 ten-volume compilation, Fine Points of Furniture. This publication also unveils 250 items in the Weiss collection that have not been previously shared online. Separated into “Colonial” and “Classical” sections and then subcategorized by geographical region, this volume features over 800 detailed images, along with a foreword by Trust Board Vice President, Brock Jobe, Professor of American Decorative Arts Emeritus, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. From Jobe’s perspective, the book “brings forward a substantial body of material for us to consider and study” through which “we gain a richer understanding of the designs and materials favored by patrons in the past.” Additional information and images for each object can be found online at stanleyweiss.com.

A print version of this article was published in The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, one of our most popular member benefits. Join today!

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