Photo credit RISD Museum
“To tell a great story about American art is a particularly RISD story”-John W. Smith Museum Director
As the leaves turn to bright colors in New England, and the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, the air chills and the American history that surrounds us is subtly evoked. Our children study our early history in school this time of year and the RISD Museum in Providence Rhode Island has joined the conversation with their retrospective exhibit entitled Making It In America. Rhode Island School of Design is known for its focus on the making of art, and with this recently opened exhibit, the Museum of RISD outlines how the works of our past remain relevant, and revelatory to the makers of today.
There was a tandem progression of American development and mastery of design that took place early on as settlers and then influences from varying cultures staggered into the country. The craftsmanship and personality of objects seen in furniture styles, and portraiture tell the story with a perspective on how we portray ourselves within the context of the American Dream.
Co-Curators Elizabeth Williams of arts and design and Maureen O’Brien of painting and sculpture collaborated by pulling together pieces from the RISD collection. Together their selections narrate the way in which our American identity evolved through the objects both functional and decorative that were crafted and displayed between the early 1700s and the early 1900s. The curators then brought in the celebrated decorator and decorative arts historian Thomas Jayne to really make the objects pop.
Thomas Jayne used his understanding of how important color and pattern were to American design as a context for the geometry of the objects in the space. A number of portraits are mounted on replicas of early American wallpapers that coupled with Rococo frames, as Thomas Jayne put it “makes the Copley’s sing in a way white walls never would”. Thus exhibiting the 18th century paintings in a uniquely pop culture look.
In an exhibit that is as much about opportunity in America as it is the art that came out of those opportunities; the varied experiences are on display, a wood spindle chair remade out of a spinning wheel, set nearby an ornate silver serving piece. A cabinet by a Finnish immigrant highlights the varied styles that merged as the cultures did to become a uniquely American style.
Artist Unknown, ca.1700
The making of art in America merges with American ambition, but as you walk through the collection you realize the story begins and ends with the Native Americans. One of the first pieces upon entering the gallery is the Painting entitled Native American Sachem and one of the last is the Paul Manship tabletop bronze pair of sculptures created nearly 200 years later, the Indian and Pronghorn Antelope atop a Frank Lloyd Wright table. The modern architecture of the Chase Center Galleries serves as the canvas for this collection of more than 100 outstanding works of painting sculpture and decorative arts made in between. The exhibit opened on October 11th and will run through February 9th.
Paul Manship, 1885-1966
The RISD Museum was established in 1877 “American art has played a central role at the RISD Museum since it’s earliest days, and we celebrate this legacy with Making It In America.- Museum Director John W. Smith
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