Category Archives: Collections

Game Room Curtains

The Hammond-Harwood House Museum is updating the window treatments in the Game Room. With a generous donation from the Barry Walsh Memorial Fund, started by Hammond-Harwood House docent Frances Newton Harwood, this project can be accomplished. Extensive research of the variety of late 18th and early 19th century window curtains revealed some alternative options of which styles could belong in the Game Room. In addition to some background on what type of research has been conducted, there are two suggestions of early 19th century window treatments for the Game Room. Which style would you most like to see?

Window curtains came in a variety of drapery styles between the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These styles included venetian curtains, venetian blinds, festoon curtains, and spring blinds, and were hung on either Gothic or French rods. The arrangement of the drapery was dependent on the advice of a professional upholsterer as well as the personal flair of the dweller. Developments in technology also played a role in the styles of curtains over the decades. However, the purpose of the room wherein curtains were to be hung and the expense and fashionableness of textiles available was not to be underestimated as being influential in determining the style of curtain chosen. Sources for research included textual documentation, visual art, and surviving original window curtains to consider what styles of curtains would be appropriate to the interpretation of the Game Room at the Hammond-Harwood House. The decades most prominent in the research were the 1800s-1820s because this is the era of the interpretation of the house. However, that research is contextualized by accounts from the 1760s-1790s, which provided a relevant background to the curtain styles popular in the early 19th century.

Advice from George Smith and Rudolph Ackermann, both prominent publishers in the early 19th century, for interior designers and from images of rooms with curtains, shows that it is natural to expect suggestions for correct arrangements of window curtains. The combination of the three types of sources – textual documentation, visual art, and surviving original window curtains – provides a more distinct result of which curtains would be most appropriate for the Game Room at the Hammond-Harwood House. Ackermann’s Repository of Arts boasts of numerous illustrations of drapery from the early 19th century, which provide fruitful interpretations of many of the styles of curtains fashionable for the time, including a range of textiles suitable for certain rooms. Regarding surviving curtains, the fineness of sewing is occasionally visible but they also offer a more accurate drape of the textile than drawings can depict. French rods became very popular at the end of the 18th century when they were invented and later caused other curtain styles to go out of fashion within the first few decades of the 19th century. Given their popularity at that time, they would be a viable option for the Game Room and would be a good means of suspension for dimity or other light weight cottons. Similarly, venetian blinds are exceedingly convenient and moderate light well. Given a pair of paintings depicting domestic settings with venetian blinds, the Game Room as a small sitting room or parlor is a reasonable environment for such a window treatment instead of cotton curtains on a French rod.

To Let, James Collinson, ca. 1855-1860

~ Collinson, James. To Let. ca. 1855-1860. Philadelphia Museum of Art, http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/82721.html. Accessed 12 Jan 2019.

 

Game Room

Game Room with previous curtains

Style 1) French rod curtains and valence

These curtains are made of a pale green cotton blend cloth. The valence is made from the same cloth as the curtains but is trimmed with a narrow strip of dark green velvet and finished in gold fringe. The fringe and the velvet act as a pleasing accent to this more conservative curtain style. While the valence is secured to a frame above the window, the curtains themselves hang from a French rod by brass rings fastened to the curtain by strips of cotton tape. The brass rings are controlled by two cords which hang to the right of the window. Gold silky tassels are tied to the ends of those cords. By pulling on one tassel or the other, the curtains are drawn open or closed along the French rod. The French rod is of great convenience, but the valence is not just decorative. Its purpose is to conceal the mechanism by which the curtain operates. It thereby enhances the indoor view of the window.

The French rod gained popularity at the end of the 18th century and was used well into the 19th century. By pulling the entire curtain to the side of the window, there was no concern of neatly arranging the fullness of the cloth over ornate curtain knobs. Rather, a greater symmetry was achieved by the balance of the French rod. Additionally, although there was more freedom of movement for the curtains on a French rod, the function of the curtain could easily be maintained, not only for protecting a room from sunlight and for privacy in more urban homes but also to block drafts when they seep through the windows, as emphasized in the section “Ordinances of the Bedchamber” from At Day’s Close by A. Roger Ekirch.

Natalie scanned textiles draft

Style 2) Venetian blinds and swag

These blinds are made of natural wooden slats and hung together with fine cords. The front of the blinds is accented by golden jacquard tape. The swag, like a valence over the window, is made of a pale green cotton blend cloth and is trimmed in gold fringe. This swag is draped over wooden finials which are secured at either end of the frame above the window. The blinds themselves hang from this frame and are controlled by cords which loop through pulleys concealed within the frame. These cords hang to both the right and the left of the window. The cords to the right, which end in gold silky tassels, pull the blinds up and out of view or let the blinds down to cover the glass, while the cord to the left, which is merely looped through a wooden channel, open and close the slats of the blinds. When the blinds are down, the cords to the right can hang loose, but when the blinds are up, they are secured around a wooden curtain knob to prevent them from sliding down. The venetian blinds are highly versatile and cater well to needs pertaining to sunlight allowances and privacy.

Venetian blinds were not as grand as silk damask window treatments; however, that did not preclude their use, especially in smaller, less formal settings. Also, when lighting in rooms was controlled so carefully, nothing was more suitable than venetian blinds. Susanna Whatman wrote in her book on housekeeping from 1776 that many duties of the house maid consisted of attention to window treatments, whether for keeping them clean or managing them as the sunlight shifted across a room. “Venetian blinds. When let down to pull the longest string to turn or close them quite. Otherwise the sun will come through the laths.” (Housekeeping, pg. 38)

Natalie scanned textiles draft 1

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Caring for Your Collections

It seems like everyone collects something – heirloom furniture, baseball cards, vintage purses… Sometimes it’s a purposeful process and sometimes you look around the house and realize that your possessions seem to have multiplied. At least, I do. Whether the collection is intentional or accidental, the outcome is usually the same: you have objects you care about, and you want to take good care of them. If this sounds familiar, I have good news for you – this year and next, the Hammond-Harwood House and City of Bowie Museums will be presenting new sessions of our Collector’s Corner workshop series.

Each workshop will cover the care of a different type of material; sessions on photographs, ceramics, glass, fine art, and paper and ephemera are all on the schedule.  We invite museum staff members and volunteers as well as anyone with their own collection to take advantage of this no-cost opportunity to learn modern, museum-sanctioned techniques for caring for their collections. More information and the workshop schedule are available on the Hammond-Harwood House website.

One of the many collections of glass owned by Henry Sleeper on display at Beauport, Sleeper-McCann House in Massachusetts

One of the many collections of glass owned by Henry Sleeper on display at Beauport, Sleeper-McCann House in Massachusetts

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A New Look

By Tara Owens

The Hammond-Harwood House opens for the season this Saturday, April 6 at 12pm.  In preparation for opening day, my fellow intern Brianna Arnold and I rotated the objects in the exhibit gallery.  The overall goal of this redesign was to provide a better introduction to the House for visitors and give them a glimpse of what they will encounter on the tour.  After many hours scouring our collections, three themes emerged: occupants of the Hammond-Harwood House, highlights from the collection, and architecture. One section of the gallery focuses on the history of the occupants of the House with examples of family crests, a visual timeline of the owners, and items owned by the last occupants, Hester and Lucy Harwood. This will help visitors to understand the historical timeline of the House and make the information presented in the tour more relatable. Highlights from the collections present visitors with examples of the decorative and fine arts they will encounter within the House. The architecture section introduces the visitor to one of the key elements that makes the House historically significant. The Hammond-Harwood House is one of the best examples of American colonial architecture and the new exhibit gallery offers information on the House’s architectural details and history. We hope the new exhibit gallery will enhance your experience at the Hammond-Harwood House.  So, starting this Saturday, we hope to see you there!

A photograph of Hester Harwood as a young girl, now on display in the exhibit gallery

A photograph of Hester Harwood as a young girl, now on display in the exhibit gallery

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Polishing Things Up

By Tara Owens

This Monday the Hammond-Harwood House hosted the event “Collector’s Corner Workshop: Silver Cleaning & Care.” Cohosted by our very own Allison Titman and the wonderful Samantha Dorsey from The City of Bowie Museums, the event welcomed other museum professionals and interested members of the community. The workshop discussed the differences between sheet, raised, and cast silver, what tarnish is and how to remove it, and the best methods of storing and displaying silver pieces. After the discussion, everyone got down to business and tried their hand at polishing some silver. Everyone put on their nitrile gloves and dipped their cotton balls into a mixture of calcium bicarbonate and distilled water. The results were quite astounding – pieces that originally looked dark brown or almost black transformed into a shiny silver. Interns Brianna Arnold and Tara Owens spent the next couple of days putting their newly acquired skills to work polishing various pieces of the Hammond-Harwood House silver collections.

This workshop was just the beginning. Planning for additional Collector’s Corner Workshops are underway. Topics to be discussed include furniture and textiles. Stay tuned for additional information regarding the dates and locations of future workshops, and please let us know if there is a topic of interest you would like to have included in an upcoming workshop. We are always open to suggestions.

Polishing Silver

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Nap Time

A small bed, and a big one, in the Northeast Bedchamber

On snowy Friday afternoons my thoughts can’t help but turn to hibernation. Or at least a long nap in a cozy bed. If I wasn’t such a rule-abiding curator, I could curl up in the high-post bed in the Northeast Bedchamber and put my doll (or cat!) in the miniature bed at its foot. But since I think someone would notice if there was snoring emanating from the furniture, I’ll have some coffee and get back to work.

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February 1, 2013 · 12:25 pm

An Unexpected Find

By Collections Assistant Brianna Arnold

Over the past few months I have been tasked with compiling an inventory of the collection here at the Hammond-Harwood House. This has consisted of me scouring the house searching for objects and listing where I have found them. While on my latest hunt for a few hard-to-find pieces I came across a sword hidden the linen press in the upper passage of the house. I was instantly intrigued with the sword and decided to do some sleuthing to find out more about the piece.

The sword, in situ in the linen press

Starting with its collection file, I found that this sword was referred to as a rapier dating from 1760-1770 and was “used for slashing and thrusting.” The file also stated that the sword was of either French or Northern German origins, but other than that it was a mystery. So where did the sword come from and when was it made? Wanting to try to answer these questions, I contacted an acquaintance who is somewhat of a sword expert. His response to the photos I sent him was quite surprising. His opinion is that the sword is a small sword (not a rapier), which was more popular with gentlemen in the later half of the 18th century, but that the dimensions of the sword are off. If the sword is in fact a small sword the blade is a bit too long. He also doubts that all the pieces of the handle are original, thinking instead that they were added later. Although he only saw photographs of the sword, he is fairly certain that it is not from the late 1700’s but rather a more modern (and by modern I mean the last 100 years) decorative reproduction.

So it would seem that I uncovered a fake! Not so fast, though, because the sword was included in a Sotheby’s inventory of our collection a few years ago and was labeled as a “French Brass-Handled Steel Rapier” dating from the late 1700’s. So is it a genuine 18th century sword, or a more modern reproduction? At this point, we are not sure, but would love to hear more opinions.

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Own a Piece of History?

Anyone have one of these sitting in their house? Someone brought us this advertisement recently, and it was the first I had ever heard of furniture pieces from the Hammond-Harwood House collection being reproduced. I would love to see one of them, and plan on keeping my eyes peeled at consignment stores and thrift shops from now on.

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