Special Tour of Yale’s New Furniture Study Center


For decades the Yale University Art Gallery’s basement furniture study center was a pilgrimage destination for connoisseurs, collectors, and students. The relocation of the collection out of downtown New Haven represented a herculean task, and Trust members gathered at Yale’s new West Campus in Orange, CT, in October to celebrate the results of this enormous effort. A bespoke tour of the new Leslie P. and George H. Hume American Furniture Study Center and workshop in the adjacent Margaret and Angus Wurtele Study Center offered a splendid introduction to these impressive facilities.

Participants were welcomed by a renowned group of Yale art historians and Trust members. Patricia Kane, the Friends of American Arts Curator of American Decorative Arts, and John Stuart Gordon, the Benjamin A. Hewitt Associate Curator of Decorative Arts, played central roles in the organization and execution of the move, assisted by dozens of colleagues from the University Art Gallery. We also enjoyed contributions from Alexandra Ward, the Marcia Brady Tucker Fellow in the department and a past recipient of a Summer Research Grant from the Trust.

The University’s new West Campus is housed in an expansive range of buildings across 136 acres formerly occupied by Bayer Pharmaceutical. Located seven miles west of New Haven, Yale purchased the property for just $109 million, a price that included 17 buildings furnished and outfitted with office equipment and bio-science laboratories. West Campus is organized into research institutes and facilities intended to promote collaboration and interdisciplinary dialogue ranging from molecular biology to sustainable energy to the study and conservation of cultural artifacts.

The cavernous Hume Furniture Study represents one of the extraordinary retrofits of the Bayer facility and now houses more than 1,300 wooden objects across 17,850 square feet. In addition to Yale’s furniture collection, visitors can examine clocks, wood-turned sculpture, and architectural elements from 1650 to the present. The center also contains the new Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Sack Family Archive, an important collection of research materials and business records associated with the iconic antique dealers Israel Sack, Inc.

Alexandra Ward introduced a sequence of didactic displays that were developed to contextualize the Hume Furniture Study, partially funded through a Dean F. Failey Grant from the Trust. Including a variety of wall-mounted boards and cabinets, these stations focus on a broad range of furniture-related topics, including hardware, upholstery, wood, surface, and inlay. These hands-on installations will allow visitors to gain a more nuanced view of the design, construction, and function of the objects on view.

Transitioning to the adjacent Wurtele Study Center, John Stuart Gordon steered us through Yale’s complementary venue for the storage of ceramics, metalwork, and other decorative arts using a combination of open display cases and consolidated storage. Trust members sat down for an interactive immersion into the breadth of Yale’s vast ceramic holdings, concluding with a selection of Postmodernist works by the firm Swid Powell. Founded in 1982 by Nan Swid and Addie Powell, the company created inventive housewares designed by leading architects of the late 20th century, including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Robert Venturi.

From early Colonial furniture to Postmodern dinner services, this special program provided a range of engaging and educational experiences for Trust members. Stay tuned for the next behind-the-scenes opportunity!

If you missed the Trust’s visit to the Hume Furniture Study Center, weekly public tours are available on Fridays at 12:20 p.m. with shuttle service available from the Yale University Art Gallery.

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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