Ever since the Pilgrims celebrated their first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in December, 1621, that most popular of holidays has become an opportunity for all Americans once a year to celebrate this country's New England roots. It seems particularly appropriate, therefore, that two closely related exhibitions exploring the arts and skills of New England in Minnesota are scheduled for November 1997 through January 1998 at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Titled "New England Hearth and Home," the event consists of both "A Passion for the Past: The Collection of Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little at Cogswell's Grant," organized by the American Federation of Arts, and "Inherited and Collected: The Arts of New England in Minnesota," organized by the Institute's own Department of Decorative Arts, Sculpture and Architecture.
"A passion for the Past" provides a rich survey of New England decorative arts and folk art from the 17th through the 19th century, drawn from the unparalleled collection that Nina and Bert Little amassed from the 1920s to the 1990s. Nina's dedication to documenting and publishing the objects they acquired, through approximately 150 articles, books, and exhibition catalogs, prompted Wendell Garrett of The Magazine Antiques to write that Nina Little "contributed more to American decorative arts scholarship-in both quantity and quality-during the 20th century than any single person."
Nina Little's scholarship was equaled by her husband Bert's commitment to the conservation of New England's architectural past. As the long-time director of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA), he was the principal overseer of historic properties throughout the region. Bert and Nina deeded Cogswell's Grant—their 18th-century farmhouse in Essex, Massachusetts—along with its contents to the SPNEA following their deaths in 1993. Since then, Cogswell's Grant has been transformed from the country home of private collectors into a house museum that will open to the public in the summer of 1998. Meanwhile selected objects from the Littles' collection are the basis for the traveling exhibition "A Passion for the Past."
As part of the great western migration in search of more fertile soil and virgin forests, numerous families from New England and upstate New York (including some of Bert Little's Salem, Massachusetts relations) relocated to the Twin Cities in the second half of the 19th century. The treasured possessions they brought with them as mementos of their eastern heritage form the nucleus of the second part of "New England Hearth and Home."
Many of the objects in "Inherited and Collected" are drawn from donations to the Institute dating back to the 1920s. Direct descendants of Sir William Pepperrell of Maine, Governor John Langdon of New Hampshire, and Samuel Adams of Massachusetts have provided several notable examples of New England furniture in our permanent collection, and these pieces are now displayed with their distinguished pedigrees fully revealed. Other local institutions are lending additional objects with well-documented histories of ownership in the northeast, including the Ard Godfrey House (managed by the Woman's Club of Minneapolis), the Sibley House (formerly managed by the Daughters oft he American Revolution), the Minnesota Historical Society, and the Hennepin County Historical Society.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts was actively collecting furniture and decorative arts from New England even before the doors of the present building opened in 1915. Starting with a pair of Queen Anne side chairs in 1914, the Institute has particularly sought out appropriate examples with which to furnish its 18th-century American period rooms. It has been generously assisted in this quest by the Friends of the Institute, as well as by a number of collectors, including Mrs. Charles C. Bovey, Mr. and Mrs. James Ford Bell, Mrs. Vernon A. Wright, Fred Salisbury II, Mr. and Mrs. Allyn K. Ford, Mrs. Warren C. MacFarlane and her son and daughter-in-law, Wayne H. and Rosalee MacFarlane, and Mr. and Mrs. John Driscoll. Selected examples from all these donations are shown, along with pieces acquired by current-day Twin Cities collectors who favor objects with a New England past.
Among the rich array of objects that grace "New England Hearth ad Home" is a portrait of Harriet Paddleford, originally painted in Norway, Maine, about 1837. Harriet's husband William, took it with him as a keepsake when he ventured to Kansas in the mid-1850s. After his death there in 1876, this striking piece was returned to New England, and Bert and Nina Little eventually acquired it for their collection. it remained there until the Littles' heirs sold those objects not left to the SPNEA (as part of the Cogswell's Grant bequest) at Sotheby's in the autumn and winter of 1994. Fortunately for the Twin Cities, a Minneapolis couple, who have been inspired by the Littles in their own quest for the finest New England furniture and folk art, purchased the Harriet Paddleford portrait at that sale. Now it rejoins-albeit temporarily-some of the pieces with which it was long associated as part of the Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher little Collection.
"New England Hearth and Home," which combines the legacies of the Littles and of many Minnesota-based inheritors and collectors of New England's past, promises to enlighten and delight everyone who visits it.
Christopher Monkhouse is the Bell Memorial Curator of the department of decorative arts, sculpture, and architecture.
Catherine Futter is guest curator for special projects in the department of decorative arts, sculpture, and architecture.
"New England Hearth and Home," "A Passion for the Past: The Collection of Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little at Cogswell's Grant" and "Inherited and Collected: The Arts of New England in Minnesota"
November 16-January 25, 1998
Dayton Hudson Gallery
An Open Door to the Study of Bygone Days: Early Collections in New England. Thursday, November 13, 1997, 11 A.M.
What Shall We Do with Our Walls?
Thursday, November 13, 1997, 6:00 P.M.
Side Chair, 1739
Bequest of Mrs. James S. Bell
Mrs. James S. Bell, the donor of this Boston chair, was a descendant of Sir William Pepperrell of Maine. New research has brought to light the maker of this Boston side chair, through the survival of a bill for it in the collection of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. It indicates that 10 walnut side chairs and two armchairs with "compass," or rounded, seats were made in 1739 by Thomas Baxter for William Pepperrell.
Side chair, about 1770-90
Boston area, Massachusetts
Gift of Emma C. Tate
Mrs. William E. Goodnow (Harriet Paddleford), about 1837Attributed to John Usher Parsons (active 1830s)
Oil on canvas
Lent by Patty and Sam McCullough
Abigail Gowen 1759-1850, 1763
Joseph Badger (1708-65)
Oil on canvas
Gift of Rhodes Robertson