Day Five: Rhode Island School of Design to Plymouth, MA
Our fifth day in New England began with a visit to the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Located in Providence, Rhode Island, RISD is a top-ranked design school with an impressive museum. We were led through the museum by Decorative Arts Curator Elizabeth Williams, who pointed out pieces of the museum’s wonderful and varied collection, including a Gorham Manufacturing Company pendant and a stunning William Christmas Codman writing table and chair.
In the Paula and Leonard Granoff Galleries for 20th century art, Williams showed our class some of RISD’s most interesting works, such as Harry Bertoia’s Diamond Chair, and pieces by artists ranging from Jackson Pollock to Toots Zynsky.
We then moved on to the Pendleton House, which, when installed in the early twentieth century, became the first museum wing in America to be dedicated exclusively to the display of American decorative arts.
We ended our visit by examining one of the museum’s most extensive collections and Williams’ own specialty: Gorham silver. The Rhode Island School of Design museum owns more Gorham silver than any other institution in the world. As we walked through the museum, we also saw the space that is slated to be converted to a study center and storage space for decorative arts. I found the museum’s collection of rolled gold plate jewelry to be particularly fascinating, as it relates to my thesis topic.
We returned to our vans to travel to Massachusetts, where we spent the afternoon enjoying a lovely lunch and exploring the home of private collectors. We ended our day in Plymouth, where we were treated to dinner at the home of the WPAMC director, Ritchie Garrison, and a late night tour of Burial Hill Cemetery led by Donna Curtin, director of the Plymouth Antiquarian Society.
Burial Hill has been used for burials since the 1620s, and includes the graves of many prominent Plymouth residents. The oldest stone that has survived is the marker for Edward Gray, which is dated 1681. The first fort of the Pilgrims was built on Burial Hill, and is commemorated with a marker that our class was able to view. Several Mayflower passengers, including Governor William Bradford and William and Mary Brewster, have markers in the historic cemetery.
Our class would like to extend a special thank you to the people who made this day possible, especially: Elizabeth Williams, the private collectors who hosted us for the afternoon, Ritchie and Carla Garrison, and Donna Curtin.
Emily Rebmann, Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, MA University of Delaware (2015)