PITTSBURGH, PA.- Carnegie Museum of Art
acquired major works for its collection of early American glass and contemporary craft and design. Water decanters by Bakewell, Page, and Bakewell
The museum acquired two remarkable cut and engraved glass water decanters commissioned as part of a large service by President James Monroe in 1818 and made by renowned Pittsburgh glass firm Bakewell, Page, and Bakewell. Existing objects from Monroes service have long eluded scholars and collectors; the last documentation of the objects occurred in 1833, when a dozen glass decanters were sold from the White House. Preserved in private hands for nearly two centuries, these two objects resurfaced in a rural auction in the Mid-Atlantic region in 2010 and are now on view in the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Galleries of decorative arts and design.
The objects are significant not only for their presidential provenance but also their rarity as the earliest known fully cut and engraved American water decanters. They are among Bakewells masterworkspossessing exceptional clarity and cool, gray color, and embellished with the exquisitely cut motifs of strawberry diamonds, prisms, and pointed arches. The central medallions are delicately engraved with the Great Seal of the United of States.
As Pittsburgh-made presidential products of superior artistic and technical merit, the Monroe decanters are an extremely significant addition to Carnegie Museum of Arts collection, says Jason T. Busch, Curatorial Chair for Collections and the Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts and Design. They represent the highest level of design and craftsmanship contributed by our region in the early 19th century.
Benjamin Bakewell is recognized as the father of the American flint glass business. He began his glassmaking career in Pittsburgh in 1808 along the banks of the Monongahela River. Through various partnerships, his glassworks operated until 1882. Bakewells glass was renowned in America for its high-quality, colorless formula, perfected only shortly before the Monroe decanters were made. In 1816, Bakewell proudly sent Monroes predecessor, President James Madison, an example of his firms superior workmanship: a pair of wine decanters also decorated with the Great Seal of the United States.
When President Monroe visited Pittsburgh in September 1817, Bakewell presented him with his own pair of decanters. Monroe followed up with an order for a 340-piece service of cut and engraved glasswhich included six pairs of water decanters (including the two acquired by Carnegie Museum of Art), as recorded on the original invoice preserved in the National Archives. The decanters were acquired through the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund and as a gift from Christopher T. Rebollo.
The Deena and Jerome Kaplan Gift
The museum has received a sizable gift of contemporary craft and design from Deena and Jerome Kaplan of Bethesda, Maryland. Their donation of 23 objects marks the largest single contribution to the decorative arts and design collection in the last decade and dramatically augments the museums holdings of American studio ceramics, contemporary wood art, and studio furniture.
Major ceramic gifts from the Kaplans include works by seminal 20th-century figures such as Kenneth Ferguson, Rudy Autio, and Beatrice Wood. Especially important are the acquisitions of a figure, Grandma with Baseball Player, and a boldly sculpted plate by prominent California clay artist Viola Frey, whose work was not previously represented in the collection.
Decorative arts and design curators Rachel Delphia and Jason T. Busch also selected half a dozen wood objects, many of which exhibit the intricate and masterfully crafted details for which contemporary wood artists are admired. While the museums collection began with American wood artists, the Kaplans gift adds important work by international artists such as Malcolm Zander, Alain Mailland, and Hans Weissflog.
Carnegie Museum of Art has actively acquired innovatively designed seating furniture since the 1980s, and the Kaplans gift comprises particularly exciting additions in studio furniture, including a double rocking chair by California furniture maker Sam Maloof, a bronze and walnut Monkey Settee by Judy Kensley McKie, and a humorous Architects Valet chair by Alphonse Mattia.
We count ourselves very fortunate to have the support of Deena and Jerry Kaplan, says Lynn Zelevansky, the Henry J. Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art. Their gifts have made a very meaningful impact on our contemporary crafts collection.
All 23 objects from the Kaplans are currently on view, having made their debut in Hand Made: Contemporary Craft in Ceramic, Glass, and Wood, the inaugural exhibition of the newly redesigned and renovated Balcony Gallery. The Kaplan gifts are also on view in the Hall of Sculpture Balcony and the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Galleries.