Providence and Newport Impress Members During Rhode Island Symposium

Nov 27, 2023

The Decorative Arts Trust’s Fall 2023 Symposium in Rhode Island was one for the books! Glorious weather coupled with autumn foliage provided the perfect backdrop for members to enjoy tours in Providence and Newport. The unseasonable warmth made the walking tours and convivial gatherings all the more delightful.

Pre-Tour Examining Newport’s Gilded Grandeur

The sweeping Pre-Symposium Tour on October 25–26 featured standout experiences at many of Newport’s breathtaking sites, including The Breakers, The Elms, and Rosecliff. The Trust has a reputation of obtaining access to exclusive sites, and members were thrilled to experience the private residences of Bois Doré, Rock Cliff, and Indian Spring, the gardens at Bellevue House, and Kingscote, which is not currently open to the public. Dining at the New York Yacht Club in Newport, an overnight stay at Newport Harbor Island Resort, and a stop at Clouds Hill en route back to Providence added to the allure of this two-day experience.

Opening Night at Providence’s Corliss-Carrington House

The Symposium opened on the evening of Thursday, October 26, at the historic Corliss-Carrington House. Trust Executive Director Matthew Thurlow welcomed guests, and Trust Board President Brock Jobe introduced speaker Robert Emlen, a Visiting Scholar in Brown University’s Department of American Studies. Rob’s Jonathan L. Fairbanks Lecture, Picturing Providence and the Cultural Landscape of College Hill, gave members insights into Providence’s geography, history, and built environment. The evening continued with an Opening Night reception generously sponsored by Brunk Auctions, and members enjoyed touring the grand Corliss-Carrington House with the owner.

Friday on College Hill and Benefit Street

The first morning of the Symposium opened with a lecture by architectural historian John Tschirch entitled Divine Providence Defined: The Architectural Development of Rhode Island’s Capital. John’s framework prepared members for a day exploring the city’s historic Benefit Street and College Hill, the home of Brown University. Participants enjoyed guided visits at the Rhode Island State House and the Providence Athenaeum, followed by lunch at the Hope Club. Members met John again for a walking tour highlighting Providence’s historic architecture, and the day continued with curator-led tours of the John Brown House and the Lippitt House. We ended the day with a special reception for Decorative Arts Trust members at the Sponsor level and above, as is our Symposium tradition, at Beth and Stanley Weiss’s impressive gallery of English and early American furniture.

Saturday Exploring Providence’s Artistic Heritage

On Saturday, we heard from two RISD Museum curators and from a RISD Assistant Professor before heading off to tours. Elizabeth Williams, RISD Museum’s David and Peggy Rockefeller Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, presented Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance in Providence, Rhode Island, and Emily Banas, Assistant Curator, Decorative Arts and Design, told us about Art and Design from 1900 to Now: Artist Commissions and Collaborations. RISD Assistant Professor Christopher Roberts shared his research in Radical Imaginings of Evidence: Slavery and Architectural Refusal of the Speculum Oris at the Providence Market House. The group then explored more of Providence, this time dining at the Providence Art Club and studying this storied organization’s complex of historic buildings and collections. The RISD Museum provided a look into art from a variety of periods as well as the  stunning collection of 18th- and 19th-century objects on view in Pendleton House. We are grateful to members who joined us for the evening’s Emerging Scholars Program Fundraiser at the home of Trust member JP Couture, whose handsome c. 1850 Italianate townhouse off Benefit Street served as a beautiful backdrop for a stellar close to the day’s festivities. 

Concluding Lectures and Colonial Newport Post-Tour

Sunday morning featured four enticing lectures on diverse decorative arts topics. Emily Banas joined us again to share a sneak peak of a wallpaper exhibition she is organizing at RISD Museum for 2025. Sháńdíín Brown, RISD Museum’s Henry Luce Curatorial Fellow for Native American Art, lectured about Indigenous Art: Past, Present, and Future at RISD Museum, and RISD Museum Associate Curator of Asian Art Wai Yee Chiong introduced us to An Avian Bequest: Abby Aldrich Rockefeller’s Japanese Prints at the RISD Museum. The Symposium concluded with a lecture by Rick Ring, Deputy Executive Director for Collections and Interpretation at the Rhode Island Historical Society. His lecture Seeing Things Differently to Tell Larger Stories: Re-envisioning the John Brown House Museum was a fitting end to a wonderful exploration of Providence.

A group of members then continued on to Newport, this time to study architecture and objects from the town’s Colonial period. After lunch in Newport’s historic Colony House, tours covered Touro Synagogue, Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Vernon House, and Hunter House. A special 18th-century furniture exhibit in the Newport Galleries of Art, Design, & Craft at Rough Point rounded out the exploration, and participants got to see a bit of Doris Duke glamour as well. The day culminated in a lovely reception at the elegant home of Trust members Martha Wallace and Edward Kane, with sunset views of Narragansett Bay.

Recordings of select lectures can be found on our YouTube channel in the Fall 2023 Symposium in Rhode Island playlist

Overall, the Trust received many compliments on this program, and we were pleased to bring the diverse wonders of Rhode Island to members from all over the country. This Symposium, like so many others, sold out quickly. To learn about registration for our upcoming Symposia, be sure to sign up for our email list and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Members at the Ambassador level and above receive advance registration notifications and benefits.

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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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