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Museum Publishes Scholarly Volume of American Furniture featuring Masterpieces from the Collection

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is pleased to publish American Furniture 1650–1840: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, co-published and distributed by Yale University Press. It is the first publication dedicated to one of the finest collections of early American furniture in the United States and underscores the leading role of Philadelphia’s artisans and patrons who profoundly shaped early American furniture design. The book is published in anticipation of the opening of the new galleries for the display and interpretation of American Art from the early colonial period to the mid-nineteenth century, which are made possible through the ambitious master plan by architect Frank Gehry to rejuvenate the museum’s iconic Main Building, opening next year.

The richly illustrated volume focuses on nearly three hundred works from the museum’s spectacular collection of early American furniture, which is especially well known for furniture by artisans from Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania. Organized by geographical location of production and arranged roughly chronologically within those groupings, Alexandra Kirtley, the museum’s Montgomery-Garvan Curator of American Decorative Arts, charts the history of the museum’s deep collection of Philadelphia-made furniture and continues with noteworthy furniture made in other regions of Pennsylvania, as well as New England and New York and ending with furniture made in the South, Bermuda, and Mexico.

Interpretive texts are deeply informed by new research on the furniture and the artisans who made it, and that was gleaned from archival resources and significant recent investigations illuminating how various design sources from abroad helped shape a unique visual language for early American furniture design. The volume has a notably chic design featuring lush photographs of the furniture, much of which was recently treated and reupholstered by the museum’s Conservation staff as part of Kirtley’s examination, research, and study necessary for this publication.  

Kirtley’s introductory essay focuses on the history of the formation of the collection of American furniture beginning with the museum’s founding in 1876 and continuing through today, introducing several promised gifts, including those from museum Trustee Lyn M. Ross and Trustee and Board Chair Leslie Miller and her husband Richard Worley. Notes on provenance, publication and exhibition history, and technical notes for all 297 pieces of furniture are located at the back of the publication along with a glossary of furniture terms, which was written by publication assistant Alison E. Tufano. The 336-page volume features more than 333 illustrations and is available online at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Store. (ISBN 0876332963; $50 hardcover).

American Furniture, 1650–1840: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art is the fourth volume in the current series of books that chronicle exceptional holdings within the museum's collection. Other titles include Arms and Armor: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (published in 2020), by Dirk H. Breiding, the J. J. Medveckis Associate Curator of Arms and Armor; Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (published in 2019), by Jennifer A. Thompson, the Gloria and Jack Drosdick Curator of European Painting and Sculpture and Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection; and Art of China: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (published in 2018) by Dr. Hiromi Kinoshita, The Hannah L. and J. Welles Henderson Associate Curator of Chinese Art.

About the Author
Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley is the Montgomery-Garvan Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she has worked since 2001. She has spearheaded numerous major exhibitions, including Colonial Philadelphia Porcelain: The Art of Bonnin and Morris (2008) and Classical Splendor: Painted Furniture for a Grand Philadelphia House (2016). She has organized installations at the museum ranging from Philadelphia furniture to Rookwood porcelain and the silverwork of Philip Syng. Her previous books include: Classical Splendor: Painted Furniture for a Grand Philadelphia House (2016); Start with a House, Finish with a Collection (2014); Treasures of American and English Painting and Decorative Arts: From the Julian Wood Glass Jr. Collection (2010); and The 1772 Philadelphia Furniture Price Book: A Facsimile (2005).

This publication was made possible by Leslie Miller and Richard Worley, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor, and the Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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