Alexandra Kirtley Shares New American Art Galleries at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Jun 24, 2021

A lot has changed in the past year. On June 16 the Trust was welcomed back to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) by Alexandra A. Kirtley, the Montgomery-Garvan Curator of American Decorative Arts, who shared some magnificent enhancements during a tour of the new Robert L. McNeil Jr. Galleries dedicated to American art between 1650 and 1850. 

Encompassing 10,000 square feet of redesigned space, the project allowed the curatorial staff to address topics such as immigration, colonialism, trade, and underrepresented narratives. Throughout her tour, Alexandra highlighted these central themes and interpretative strategies as well as unparalleled insight into the collection.

Facing a “chair wall” inspired by Charles Montogomery’s iconic installation at the Yale University Art Galleries in the 1970s, Alexandra showed the dynamic breadth of the PMA’s collection. Chairs from Bermuda, Mexico, and Philadelphia demonstrate cross-cultural exchange. Focusing on a blue upholstered Bergère à Oreilles attributed to Benjamin Randolph, Alexandra shared a fascinating story behind the color selection for the upholstery.

“This is an indigo blue. During the colonial revival period, women thought that blue reflected poorly on their complexion and so they didn’t often upholster chairs in blue. But when I was doing inventory research for my book I discovered that blue is just as common as red, yellow, and green…The team was able to find a man in Virginia who uses indigo to dye material. So we sent him some of our custom wool damasks, and he was able to dye the fabric. Indigo is important interpretatively because it is one of the traditions enslaved people bring from Africa.” 

This is just one of many fascinating stories you enjoy in Alexandra’s tour below: 

And if you don’t already have a copy, be sure to get Alexandra’s phenomenal publication American Furniture: 1650-1840 Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the PMA website. 

The Decorative Arts Trust hosts monthly virtual tours that give viewers the opportunity to go behind the scenes and experience incredible collections and sites. Curators, collectors, and lovers of decorative arts share fascinating objects and interiors through our tours hosted on YouTube Live. 

If you like this video, we welcome you to subscribe to our YouTube channel at 

Visit the Trust’s calendar of events to see upcoming virtual and in-person programs. For updates about registration openings, sign up for our e-newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. The Trust is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that appreciates the support of members and donors who make programs like this possible. 

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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