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48 minutes | Dec 16, 2021
The Argument for Silver Tableware
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And in the antiques world the sincerest form of imitation is reproduction: the humble and studious attempt to conserve the lessons of the past because of their timeless value. One firm that’s well-versed in this particular form of historical homage is James Robinson, Inc., whose hundred-year partnership with a legacy silver workshop in Sheffield, England, has resulted in what Curious Objects host Ben Miller calls “the best historical-style silver flatware being made today anywhere in the world.” James Boening, director of James Robinson, Inc., and Craig Kent, workshop manager in Sheffield, come on the pod to dish about the vital importance of age-old processes like annealing, and the irony that homeowners would run themselves ragged trying to decide which rug to buy, but will settle for cold, unbalanced steel tableware without even blinking.
38 minutes | Oct 6, 2021
This Chair Is Made of America
Ben speaks with Ellery Foutch, assistant professor in American studies at Middlebury College, about a “relic Windsor chair” assembled by Henry Sheldon (founder of the Middlebury museum named in his honor) in 1884. This unusual piece of furniture was built with woods salvaged from structures with local or national significance—such as the warship Old Ironsides, the William Penn House in Philadelphia, and a colonial whipping post.
51 minutes | Aug 25, 2021
How to Make a Modern Home (with Antiques), featuring Thomas Jayne
Time was, many top interior designers sought to conjure a perfectly seamless décor—whether it be all Louis XV furniture, all early American, or all modern. The results could be beautiful—but also somewhat boring, and certainly impersonal. Interior decorator Thomas Jayne suggests another way to put together the spaces we live in: by using creative combinations of striking art and objects from across time to derive a style that’s endlessly evocative, livable, and fresh. In this episode, Ben Miller gets the goods from Jayne on the history of interiors (from the Greeks to the present day); what to budget first; and the spirit of “democratic decoration,” that, historically, has animated American interiors.
37 minutes | Jul 28, 2021
O’Keeffe on the Block
In mid-May, two paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe sold at auction, one in each of the world’s top sales rooms. Green Oak Leaves fetched $1.15 million at Sotheby’s, while Autumn Leaf with White Flower brought nearly $5 million at Christie’s. This month on our Curious Objects podcast, we bring you Reagan Upshaw—critic, dealer, appraiser, and all-around bon vivant—to expound on the lovely filaments, sepals, and stamens of O’Keeffe's oeuvre.
46 minutes | Jun 29, 2021
The WPA Origins of the American Doll, with Allison Robinson
During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration funded an interracial labor program in Wisconsin that employed over five thousand women to craft handmade goods: the Milwaukee Handicraft Project. Especially noteworthy among the rugs, quilts, costumes, and books that the women produced is a run of exquisitely crafted and clothed toddler-sized dolls. Host Benjamin Miller learns from scholar Allison Robinson about how these dolls—made to represent different ethnic groups both foreign and domestic—provide insight into New Deal–era debates over women’s labor, race, and cultural nationalism . . . and into the origins of Barbie and American Girl.
41 minutes | May 26, 2021
English Glass/Chinese Craft
The technique of reverse-painting was introduced to China in the late 1600s by its European trading partners, who manufactured and shipped the plate glass necessary for its production. By the middle of the following century artists specializing in producing images for foreign markets were well-established at China’s primary international port, Guangzhou, or Canton, as well as the capital of Beijing. In this episode, Corning Museum of Glass curator Christopher Maxwell introduces a superlative example of this transnational art. The circa 1784–1785 painting depicts a bullish scene on the Zhujiang River, with junks and sampans crowding the wharf in front of the famous “hongs” (warehouses) flying the flags of Denmark, Sweden, Great Britain, and the Netherlands.
37 minutes | May 5, 2021
Bill Traylor on the Silver Screen, with filmmakers Sam Pollard and Jeffrey Wolf
In April of 1853 a child was born into slavery on an Alabama cotton plantation owned by George Traylor. His first name was Bill and he would take the plantation owner’s last name for himself. A sharecropper and laborer for most of his life, in the decades since his death in 1949 Bill Traylor has became known to the world as an artist. Now, a new documentary tells Bill Traylor’s story on film for the first time. Ben Miller speaks with executive producer Sam Pollard and director Jeffrey Wolf about "Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts," distributed by Kino Lorber and available in virtual theaters via Kino Marquee.
72 minutes | Apr 22, 2021
Museums and the Lure of the Sell-Off, with the PMA’s director and CEO Timothy Rub
The Association of Art Museum Directors killed something of a sacred cow last year when it ruled that museums will be permitted to use funds from deaccessioned artworks—previously strictly controlled—to pay for a wider array of institutional costs. On the occasion of this year’s virtual Philadelphia Show, Ben Miller speaks with the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s director and CEO Timothy Rub about the AAMD’s ruling and ripple effects it might have throughout the museum world. In a wide-ranging conversation, which gets into the nitty gritty of collecting and deaccesioning habits and procedures, as well as fundraising niceties, Rub makes a strong case for continuing to keep the departments of museums—and their fundraising efforts—firmly separated.
26 minutes | Apr 14, 2021
The Book of Hours: A Medieval Best-Seller
More popular than the Bible: that’s what the richly illustrated volumes known as books of hours—which helped worshipers keep track of each day’s seven canonical prayer periods—were during the Middle Ages. A trove of these objects from the Elaine and Alexandre Rosenberg collection is up for sale on April 23 at Christie’s, and in this special episode of the podcast Ben and Christie’s specialist Eugenio Donadoni zoom in on a particularly opulent example illuminated by the mysterious Master of the Paris Bartholomeus Anglicus.
44 minutes | Mar 31, 2021
Corot’s Impressionist Lunchbox
Only nine times in his seventy-eight years did Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot paint on anything other than canvas, paper, and panel. On one occasion, offended by the crude wooden lunchbox carried by his friend Alfred Robaut, Corot had a new one constructed, which he decorated with a plein air painting, "Fraîcheurs matinales" ("Morning Freshness"). It’s a mini-masterpiece made all the more charming by its humble setting, a breezy landscape of trees and hills awash with sunlight and enlivened by one of Corot’s favorite motifs: a flash of red, the hat of a small figure coming over a rise. Host Ben Miller gets the story from the dealer who sold it, Jill Newhouse, and the collector who bought it, Ray Vickers.
48 minutes | Feb 24, 2021
Five Hundred Years of American Craft, with Glenn Adamson
Glenn Adamson makes his second appearance on Curious Objects to discuss his new book, Craft: An American History. As his research shows, artisans from Paul Revere and Betsy Ross to Patrocino Barela and George Barris played a crucial and under-examined role in the formation of the United States’ national character. And what’s more, he tells us, the communal-slash-individual nature of craftwork could represent an antidote to the country’s current polarization.
42 minutes | Jan 29, 2021
Blended Spirits: A Curious Objects Cocktail Hour at the Winter Show
From an early Renaissance list of statutes stipulating the amount of wine that every man, woman, and child of Bologna would receive daily, to a chunky twentieth-century cocktail ring, you’ll hear about wacky objects and the wild stories behind them from some of the Winter Show’s most irreverent dealers: Daniel Crouch (Daniel Crouch Rare Books), Carrie Imberman (Kentshire), and Keegan Goepfert (Les Enluminures).
59 minutes | Dec 16, 2020
Bright young antiques dealers Pippa Biddle and Benjamin Davidson come on the pod to talk treasure—specifically, a homely wooden box that punches above its weight, thanks to its curious Revolutionary War provenance and a Herman Melville connection. Also—certainly music to the ears during this holiday season—the pair sings the praises of untrammeled accumulation as an interior design strategy.
44 minutes | Nov 8, 2020
What two paintings from the 1930s can tell us about women’s issues
Around 1930, two British artists, Agnes Miller Parker and Jessica Dismorr, went to work on a pair of paintings—one a modernist Madonna and Child, the other depicting a highly symbolic portrait of a rampaging cat—that are now on view at the Fine Art Society’s galleries in London and Edinburgh. FAS principals Emily Walsh and Rowena Morgan-Cox explain to Ben how two women painters made their mark during a time when the art world was still male-dominated.
50 minutes | Oct 16, 2020
A Dalva Brothers Wonder Cabinet Turns Heads at Christie's
Dalva Brothers, Inc., specializes in the sort of lux 1700s French furniture—ebonized wood, gilded rococo flourishes, parti-colored marquetry—that just screams ancien régime. Some 250 of the choicest items from the firm’s inventory are being offered at Christie’s this October, and Dalva Brothers' principal David Dalva III, along with Christie’s specialist Jody Wilkie, talk with Ben about the crème de la crème: a secretary-cabinet resplendent with Florentine pietra dura figurative panels and gleaming ormolu mounts, possibly handled by noted marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre.
54 minutes | Sep 29, 2020
“The Most Awesome Cup of All Time” . . . and 500 Other Objects
Dealer Adam Ambros and curator Ed Town join Ben to talk about a collection of mostly small objects made in Britain between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of them marked with a date. During the discussion, Town and Ambros tease out the material history and forgotten figures behind six of the most quotidian of these objects—two Elizabethian shoehorns and a powderhorn by little-known craftsman Robert Mindum, and three beakers by Nathaniel Spilman—and reveal that for the emerging middle class these were not merely useful objects, but status symbols.
46 minutes | Aug 25, 2020
A Fireback from Hell—Ironworks and Industrial Labor in the Antebellum South, with Torren Gatson
Scholar Torren Gatson, guest editor for the current edition of the MESDA Journal, comes on the pod to talk about an iron fireback (a metal plate protecting the back wall of a fireplace) produced at the Vesuvius Furnace in Lincoln County, North Carolina. Established by revolutionary war veteran Joseph Graham, the furnace depended on slave labor—oftentimes quite skilled—as well as that of freedmen and white women. Gatson’s research paints a compelling picture of the unique work culture this state of affairs produced.
33 minutes | Jul 28, 2020
A Journey to the Center of the Earth, with Robert McCracken Peck
According to some, underneath our feet is a second, inverted world, home to strange beasts, the Lost Tribes of Israel . . . maybe even Hitler. In the nineteenth century, a booster for this “hollow earth” theory was one John Cleves Symmes of Sussex County, New Jersey. Accompanied by a perforated wooden globe, between 1818 and 1827 Symmes crisscrossed the United States delivering lectures on the existence of portals to this “underworld” located at the poles, and urging an expedition be undertaken to discover them. Drexel University’s Robert McCracken Peck comes on the pod to talk about the theory and the globe in this episode of Curious Objects.
52 minutes | Jun 27, 2020
An Armchair's Astonishing Provenance, with Tiffany Momon
This month, Ben speaks with Tiffany Momon, visiting assistant professor at Sewanee University in Tennessee, and founder of the Black Craftspeople Digital Archive, a scholarly resource that explores the contributions that African Americans have made to the material culture of the United States. Tiffany and Ben focus their attention on a chair made by enslaved craftsmen at Leonidas Polk’s Leighton Plantation in Louisiana, and Tiffany offers tips on what institutions and researchers can do to ensure they’re telling the full story of the decorative arts.
39 minutes | May 26, 2020
The Life and Labor of Enslaved Potter Dave Drake, with Ethan Lasser
In 1834 a law was passed in South Carolina that prohibited slaves from reading or writing. The punishment for transgressors? Fifty lashes. That same year, Dave Drake, an enslaved potter at work in Edgefield County inscribed his first poem on a large stoneware jug he'd made. In this episode of the podcast, Ethan Lasser, chair of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, tells Dave’s story and that of an 1857 storage jar that bears the epigrammatic lines: "I made this Jar for Cash-/ though its called lucre trash/ Dave.”
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