Gary Sullivan's Antique Clocks and Furniture Blog


Antique Clocks and Furniture

Winterthur: Furniture Forum 2012
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I have just returned from the Winterthur 2012 Furniture Forum, where I lectured on the subject of northern clockmakers trading with the southern market during the 1st quarter of the 19th century. It was entitled “Clocks For Corn: Northern Clockmakers Trading With The South”. The Forum was called “Furniture In The South: Makers & Consumers”. It included two days of lectures and a fascinating field trip to Homewood Museum At Johns Hopkins University and Hampton National Historic Site. Both were well worth the trip. Add a tour of Winterthur’s Southern Furniture Exhibit on Saturday and it became a four day event. The forum was very well attended and the speakers were excellent. We recorded my lecture which you can now watch on my website. Click Here. Most of the attendees were from the South, so I was one of the few Yankees on hand. We had a lot of fun teasing each other about our accents. The crowd was largely made up of museum professionals and collectors, but there ware also a number of auctioneers, private dealers and restorers.

Folk Art Museum May Partner With Seaport Museum
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The American Folk Art Museum and the Seaport Museum, two New York museums that weathered difficult economic conditions this year, may partner for a series of exhibitions at the Seaport Museum in 2012.

DNA info reports that the news broke at a city council hearing last week, where interim Seaport head Susan Henshaw Jones announced the museums’ intentions:
“‘We are very much hoping that the Museum of American Folk Art will do exhibitions in four galleries [at the Seaport Museum] starting in June,’ Jones said at a City Council hearing last Friday.”

The Folk Art museum moved out of its building on 53rd Street next to the Museum of Modern Art this July, after selling the building to MoMA. The Seaport Museum suffered similar economic difficulties, though in September, it was announced that it would receive a $2 million Manhattan Development Corp. grant for the post-9/11 recovery of nonprofits.

By Dan Duray- [Read his article]

Accumulating fresh merchandise for “Antiques Week” in January
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We have just acquired a few special items that will appear at the opening night preview party for the 2012 Metro NYC Show in January. If you are planning your visit to New York for the festivities, you’ll notice one major change in the Antiques Week schedule. There will be no 2012 TAAS Show, at least not by that name. In 2012, TAAS, also known as “The American Antiques Show”, also known as “The Folk Art Show” will live on in slightly different form. The venue has been taken over by The Art Fair Company and now goes by the name of The Metro NYC Show. It will be held at the same Metropolitan Pavilion location on on the same dates, as the TAAS Shows were.

As in previous years, a preview party will take place on Wednesday evening, January 18th, with the show going from Thursday through Sunday, January 22nd. The core group of antiques dealers who previously did the TAAS Shows will return for this new show. A nice addition will be some exhibitors handling slightly more modern art, such as photography. We are excited to be a part of this event, as The Art Fair Company puts on a very upscale fair. They are well known for their enormously popular “SOFA” art Shows in Santa Fe, New York and San Francisco.

As in years past, the preview party will be to benefit The American Folk Art Museum. One new twist at this year’s gala event will be the fact that the first hour of the preview party will be by invitation only. No tickets will be sold for that time slot. Only invited guests and the best clients of the exhibitors will attend that first hour. Tickets for the remainder of the evening will be available for $75. If you haven’t made your way onto our preferred client list, you are running out of time!
In the months leading up to the show, we accumulate fresh merchandise and hold it for the show. Our clients know that some of the best pieces that we handle appear for the first time at the show. This year will be no different.

We are also planning a “booth talk” at the show (exact time and date to be determined), where I will disassemble some vintage grandfather clocks and discuss their inner workings and the remarkable art of creating them. I’ll also discuss what to look for when considering the purchase of a vintage clock. Hope to see you in New York.

Unearthing artifacts from a revolting repository
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As a 12 year old interested in all things historic, I devoted a great deal of time to searching for the objects of my passion, antique bottles. I would scour antiques and junk shops and occasionally buy the interesting ones that I could afford. Those being under about two dollars. Being on a limited budget as I was, I preferred the free ones. Free because I would dig them at dump sites. Not the nasty land-fill kind of dump sites we have today, but abandoned 19th and early 20th century trash piles. They were a lot easier to find in the late 1960s than they are today, but they’re still out there.

In times past, people often disposed of their trash on their own land. The rear corner of an old property, where two stone walls converge was an out of the way location that often became a dump site. Spending portions of my summers in Maine, I found several old dump sites by following stone walls through the woods in rural areas. The tell-tale shards of broken glass and rusting iron usually tip off the location. A metal detector can aid in the search and I logged a lot of hours on mine.

Although most of whatever would have been placed in a trash pile 100 years ago has now returned to the soil, the glass bottles have not, and those that survive unbroken can be fascinating. Just a few years ago, while hiking in the woods with my kids near my home, I spotted a corner where two stone walls come together behind a Victorian era estate. Curiosity getting the better of me, I starting kicking around in the dirt and quickly unearthed a couple of circa 1900 bottles. We left them there, but the kids were pretty impressed!

Before curb-service provided by diesel powered, hydraulic, trash compacting mega-trucks, popular repositories for trash were often abandoned wells and privies. Generally located fairly close to the house, the artifacts locked up in these abandoned columns of debris, particularly the bottles, can be pretty interesting. Emotionally, one does have to get past the fact that one is digging in what was once the outhouse, but a century later, it’s all just dirt and really isn’t so bad.

“Dug” bottles tend to have a different look than those that have not been exposed to the elements for generations. Their surfaces are often permanently etched from the exposure and require special techniques to clean them up. Due to their properties, some bottles that were once clear in color take on a highly desirable amethyst color after years of exposure to the sun.

The reason for all this reminiscing is that I just found this article about some interesting finds that came out of an abandoned privy in Pennsylvania. Before I get to that, I am burying a message in this post for my friend Mark. He claims to read every one of my blog posts and even tells me that he read the entire blog on hoarders, which is no small accomplishment. Lets see if I hear from him! Here is the story from Antique Trader

I just don’t get some types of art!
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I realize that there are many different types of art and that the people to whom that art appeals are as wide ranging as the art itself. I have to say though, that I struggle to understand some types of modern and abstract art. Take the digital photo that was just sold at Christies in New York for example. I get the fact that it was produced by a highly regarded photographer. I also get the fact that it is thought provoking and interesting. What I don’t get is 4.3 million dollars! For one digital image! If you were by chance the buyer, or even the under-bidder, next time please bring your four point three million dollars to Sharon, Massachusetts and I will build you one of the finest collections of Early American decorative arts that you can imagine.

Below is the story from Artfix Daily.

First new American art museum in half a century
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Here is a story from Antiques and the Arts Weekly.  I find it to be encouraging.

First Major Museum For American Art Established In Almost A Half Century Opens
By Stephen May

If you are a fan of adventurous museum buildings and great American art, you are going to love the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and its world-class collection. Marking a significant development on the US cultural scene, the institution, the brainchild of Alice B. Walton, daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, opened to the public on November 11. It is the first major museum devoted to American art established in almost a half century.

Housed in an innovative building designed by architect Moshe Safdie, the museum is located in a 120-acre forest that used to form the backyard of the Walton family home. Crystal Bridges draws its name from a nearby natural spring, which flows beneath the graceful pavilions.

In keeping with his commitment to attune his buildings to their internal purposes and natural surroundings, Safdie nestled the 200,000-square-foot museum within a ravine, flanked by two wooded hillsides, surrounding two spring-fed ponds. "We aimed to design a museum in which art and nature are experienced simultaneously and harmoniously," says Safdie.

After entering from the crest of a hill that offers dramatic overviews of the entire campus, visitors circulate through 12 galleries in four separate buildings, crossing the ponds with open vistas of the forested landscape. Liberal use of glass throughout the museum encourages warm light suffusing the galleries and enhances views of mature oaks, dogwoods and pines. In keeping with the architect's aim "to create a building in the spirit of the Ozarks," regional materials — such as Arkansas white pine, fieldstone and limestone aggregate — help the structure "resonate with the surrounding hillsides," says Safdie. Walking trails and sculpture link the museum to downtown Bentonville. The beautifully sited museum and its trove of masterpieces are the culmination of a ten-year dream of Alice Walton, who breeds and trains cutting horses on a ranch in Texas, but whose heart remains in northwest Arkansas.

Interested in art from childhood but with no art history training, Walton began collecting regional art and then in the mid-1990s started acquiring national American art. By the end of the 1990s, she envisioned an art museum — lacking in this part of the country. Her plans evolved from "what I perceived of as a gift to the community to what I now think of as a gift to the nation."

And what a gift it is. Aided by such trusted advisors as distinguished art historian John Wilmerding and Christopher B. Crosman, the museum's founding curator of collections, Walton has acquired top-flight paintings, works on paper and sculpture by America's greatest artists. They respond both to Walton's interest in the relation of art "to our history as a nation" and the interrelationship of art and nature. In so doing, they carry out the museum's mission to "explore the unfolding story of America by actively collecting, exhibiting, interpreting and preserving outstanding works that illuminate our heritage and artistic possibilities."

The inaugural exhibition, "Celebrating the American Spirit," showcases 400 works by American masters, arranged chronologically to take visitors on a journey through the evolution of American art and history. The works on view are stunning from the outset, beginning with a series of six portraits of the prestigious and prosperous Jewish colonial Levy-Frank family of New York. Likely painted by Gerardus Duyckinck around 1735, they depict fashionably dressed family members in a traditional English portraiture style. According to catalog essayist Carrie Rebora Barratt of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this is "the only large set of early colonial family portraits to survive intact."

Even more elegant is John Singleton Copley's rendering of "Mrs Theodore Atkinson Jr (Frances Deering Wentworth)," 1765. The leading portraitist of elite Bostonians, his portrait captures his sitter's beauty, grace and elevated social standing. Not far away, Benjamin West's romantic "Cupid and Psyche," 1808, is complemented by Hiram Powers' neoclassical marble bust "Proserpine," circa 1840, from the museum's growing sculpture collection.

Not to be missed are iconic portraits of George Washington by Charles Willson Peale and Gilbert Stuart and a powerful oil study of a resolute "Marquis de Lafayette," 1825, by Samuel F.B. Morse. In Richard Caton Woodville's "War News from Mexico," 1848, white folks avidly read newspaper reports from the Mexican-American War, while a black man and girl listen, seated subserviently at their feet.

The showstopper in this gallery, Asher B. Durand's "Kindred Spirits," 1849, depicts Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School, and its literary champion, William Cullen Bryant, standing on a ledge in a wooded Catskills ravine. After noting the dismay among some when Crystal Bridges purchased the canvas from the New York Public Library, Crosman points out that it is "an icon of the American landscape tradition — not just that of New York." Nearby, landscapes by Cole and Hudson River colleagues Frederic Church, Jasper Cropsey and John F. Kensett celebrate nature's bounties in the new nation.

Other notable works by Thomas Moran immortalize the splendors of the American West, while Eastman Johnson spins narratives of New England, and George Inness's paean to the serenity of pastoral upstate New York reflects the artist's spiritual underpinnings. A figurative oil and two watercolors by Winslow Homer demonstrate his skills in these mediums.

Landscapes by such titans as Alfred Pinkham Ryder and later Childe Hassam, John Singer Sargent, Dennis Miller Bunker, John H. Twachtman, Theodore Robinson, Maurice Prendergast, William Merritt Chase and James McNeil Whistler reflect the influence of European Impressionism and Post-Impressionism on late Nineteenth Century American artists. Portraits by their contemporaries are particularly outstanding, including Sargent's enigmatic depiction of "Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife;" Bunker's "Anne Page," adjacent to Augustus Saint-Gaudens' bust of the same Boston beauty; Gari Melchers' affectionate likeness of his colleague George Hitchcock's first wife and William Merritt Chase's magnificent evocation of an aging, white-bearded "Worthington Whittredge," seated before an easel, palette and paint brush in hand.

Best of all is Thomas Eakins' "Professor Benjamin Howard Rand," 1874, which the museum acquired after Philadelphians raised money to keep Eakins' "The Gross Clinic" in the City of Brotherly Love. "Rand" is a dark and sensitive view of the distinguished faculty member in his study at Jefferson Medical College.

Two galleries feature paintings ranging from gritty Ashcan School paintings at the dawn of the Twentieth Century to pre-World War II Modernists. Among the standout early urban realist images are an Everett Shinn theater image, John Sloan's "Bleecker Street, Saturday Night" and George Bellows' "Excavation at Night" that recalls the huge crater created to build Pennsylvania Station.
Among the early Modernists a highlight is Georgia O'Keeffe's riveting watercolor "Evening Star No. 2," 1917, in which the embryonic superstar captured, with a few broad brushstrokes, the brilliant radiance of a sunset over the arid Texas landscape, the pure saturated colors standing out against white paper.

aThere are fine examples of work by such celebrated members of the avant-garde as John Marin, Oscar Bluemner, Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove and Yasuo Kuniyoshi, but the best paintings are those of Marsden Hartley. They range from a tapestrylike evocation of mountains in western Maine to a still life of energetically brushed red flowers set against a glimpse of a blue seascape to a heartfelt homage to the chiseled body and expressive gaze of a young boxer from northern Maine.

Of more recent vintage are characteristic works by Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton, Arshile Gorky and Romare Bearden. Jackson Pollock's "Reclining Woman," circa 1938-41, painted while under the influence of his teacher, Benton, as well as the radical innovations of Pablo Picasso, offers a fragmented, distorted view of his subject, hinting at the drip paintings that made Pollock the leader of the Abstract Expressionists.

Norman Rockwell's beloved "Rosie the Riveter," a 1943 oil that became a famous Saturday Evening Post cover, is a reminder of the vital role women played in winning World War II and of the artist's accomplishments as storyteller and painter. A remarkable group of paintings dating to 1948 by Milton Avery, Will Barnet and Jacob Lawrence is highlighted by Charles Sheeler's cool, poetic and precise approximation of an abandoned textile plant in Manchester, N.H.

Colorful canvases by Hans Hofmann, Grace Hartigan and Joan Mitchell usher in the era of Abstract Expressionism that dominated postwar world art, but, alas, there is not yet a Willem de Kooning in the collection. Running counter to the prevailing style, a circle painting by Kenneth Noland and a classic "Homage to the Square" canvas by Josef Albers reflect other aesthetic impulses of the 1950s and 1960s.

Other contrasts from the late Twentieth Century include works by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, who created challenging new forms of aesthetic composition, while Fairfield Porter offered warm, Impressionistic views of family and landscapes, and Wayne Thiebaud turned out appealing depictions of food and, in the Crystal Bridges collection, "Supine Woman."

Pop Art, another notable postwar style, is represented by Tom Wesselmann's enormous, sensual "Smoker #9" and Andy Warhol's idolizing, silvery "Dolly Parton." The continuing popularity of Realism is reflected in a snowy landscape by Neil Welliver, two oils by photorealist Richard Estes and a robust lobsterman by Bo Bartlett. Andrew Wyeth's "Airborne," 1996, painted when he was 79, demonstrates the delicacy and foreboding tone of his late work, while son Jamie Wyeth's "Orca Bates," 1990, shows a vulnerable, naked island lad who is about to leave his way of life for school on the mainland, seated in front of a massive whale jawbone.

African American painter Kerry James Marshall explores issues of race, class and community in the large format (100 by 142 inches) acrylic "Our Town," 1995. More recently, in "A Warm Summer Evening in 1863," 2008, artist Kara Walker juxtaposes the silhouette of a lynched woman against a Harper's engraving of New York City's draft riots during the Civil War.

By acquiring work ranging from the Duyckinck portraits of 1735 to the Walker vignette of 2008, Alice Walton and her team have already gone a long way toward assembling the top quality, comprehensive collection she envisioned to tell the story of America through its art. Continued acquisitions will undoubtedly fill gaps in the trove and deepen the roster of American masterworks.

With an eye-popping museum in place and a large and growing collection of masterpieces, the future looks bright for the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

The 352-page catalog edited by Crosman with essays by experts on the museum's holdings is published by the museum in association with Hudson Hills Press. It sells for $60, hardcover.

The museum is at 600 Museum Way. For information, or 479-418-5700.


Steampunk? What the heck is “steampunk”?
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If you have not yet heard of the art-form called steampunk, please permit me to enlighten you. I’m a big fan of steampunk sculpture and I’m in fact a steampunk artist. By way of a definition, steampunk art asks the following question: What would objects look like if modern technology had existed in the Victorian, stem-powered era? Jules Vern’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, and the contraptions featured in the movie Wild, Wild West (1999, with Will Smith) are perfect examples of the science fiction genre that we call steampunk.

Today, the popular steampunk look often includes modern pieces of technology, such as computers, IPods or keyboards that have been modified to look like pseudo-Victorian steam powered machines. The look often includes clock works and industrial steam apparatus. This creative modification of objects in order to create thought provoking and aesthetically pleasing art has been growing in popularity for several years.

There are different aspects of the steampunk movement, often with different followers. Post apocalyptic illustration-art, pseudo-Victorian costumes and science fiction fantasy worlds appeal to some, but it is the sculptural aspect of the genre that appeals to me. It’s a creative outlet that is just plain fun! Since I was a kid, I’ve enjoyed making things from found materials. My interest in tinkering, model railroading and clocks all mesh perfectly with the art of building steampunk gadgets. Here is a photo of a modern digital picture frame that I have “steampunked”.

It has been mounted with lots of vintage brass junk to give the illusion of a steam powered contrivance. I built it to use at antique fairs. We set it up to have images of my inventory scrolling through it at the show. Steampunk artists often give their fabrications whimsical names and concoct far-fetched claims of what their “contraptifications” can do. In this instance, I call it a “transforaminal image perambulator”. Steampunk sculptures incorporate recycled bits of vintage hardware, clock and lamp parts and plenty of imagination.

There is currently an exhibit of steampunk objects on view at The Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation (CRMI) in Waltham, MA. (until January 15, 2012). CRMI has become somewhat of a world headquarters for the steampunk movement. Here is their website: I think that steampunk art is an important bridge between it’s relatively young enthusiasts and the somewhat older collectors of main stream antiques and collectables. Any time we can interest young people in the fantastic world of history, material culture and art, only good things can happen. Some of my clients who are traditional collectors of antiques may think I’ve gone a little bonkers. Perhaps so, but I’m having fun. Here is a video of my “steam powered brain wave enhancer” This was completed just in time for Halloween and is currently on view at CRMI.

Matt attends design seminar by David Easton
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Matt here again.

Earlier this week, I had the good fortune of attending yet another great seminar at the Boston Design Center. The speaker was the celebrated designer and architect David Easton. He presented an illustrated discussion of his works that was somewhat of a retrospective of his accomplishments. It is a stunning body of work. I was humbled by both the scale of the projects and his mastery of style and taste. For some time I have admired his work from afar, but an opportunity to be walked through his collections in person will be a life long memory.

As an architect, David has a comprehensive understanding of architectural style from the Classical through the contemporary. This coupled with his talented sense of design, enable him to first create a physical space in which he can then successfully translate the tastes of his client. David has championed the elegance of the Neoclassical, creating a number of fine homes and collections from the ground up. He showed several slides of these familiar forms that were opulently decorated with rich fabrics and fine antiques.

While I was pleased to see these honored styles still in fashion, I was impressed by the modern designs that David also presented. These spaces he created embody the contemporary mode of open living spaces and efficient layout, but at the same time retained a human scale and a sense of intimacy. David explained how these designs are in keeping with the configuration on our daily lives. Large open spaces that flow from kitchen to dining area to common spaces are more in step with how we live and entertain. Yet at the same time each space retains a partition of sorts, whether it be physical or a visual cue, that enable a more traditional treatment of these spaces. I know that the dinner parties at my home are spent primarily in the kitchen, cramped as it may be. How nice it would be have a more accommodating space.

What was most profound to me in these modern spaces, was David’s ability to retain the Classical ideal in these new settings. I have always felt that antique forms have a place in contemporary design, but until now had not seen it realized.

Imagine the clean lines of say a Clismos chair or a banjo clock set in counterpoint to a present day designs. When the items are chosen carefully, they lend a contrast that strengthens the impact of each style. The sculptural form of tall clock lends a familiar, welcome presence in these sleek spaces. Does this mean I am selling my Federal period home? No! But it does breathe a life into my world, bringing together what had seemed to be two disparate modes of style. I now envision for myself open, efficient spaces decorated with prized antiques; the uncluttered contemporary highlighting the skill and grace of early craftsmen.

Thank you David…

“Pilgrim Century” furniture discovery
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The keno Brothers revealed a remarkable discovery on Anderson Cooper’s show today. They unearthed a fantastically early chest, made in 1685, which makes it one of the oldest surviving chests made in America. It descended in the family of the woman who currently owns it. She had some inkling that it was valuable because of it’s age, but was blown away when they gave it a value of a half million dollars on National television!

So called “pilgrim century” furniture such as this was made in the first 100 years after the Pilgrims formed Plymouth Colony in 1620. Think about this fun fact.....In 1685 when this chest was made, the entire population of the American Colonies was less than what would now fit into two large college football stadiums. Consequently, the surviving examples of their furnishings nearly 400 years later are very few. The collectors of Pilgrim Century furniture are a small but rabid group and finer examples can command very high prices in the marketplace.  Here is a link to the video on Anderson Coopers site.

Research tidbit, pineapples for rent?
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Matt Buckley here this time.  I have always held that one of the prerequisites to being an antique enthusiast, is an appreciation for the tidbits of information that accumulate along the way.  This minutia is prized in an equal measure to the objects.  They become exquisite little nuggets of information that  help to color the image of our history and enrich our understanding of our culture.  As so often is the case, the origins of our customs can be rooted in absurd nuanced behavior from our past.  These are the best tidbits of all.
I encountered just such a factoid recently, while researching a Salem, McIntire school work table.  The tops of the legs have wonderful carved pineapples.  They are a very rare motif in Salem furniture.  I wanted to write a few words on the meaning of the Pineapple as a cultural symbol during the 18th and 19th Century.  I had long understood it to be a symbol of the feast, which had come to express the sense of welcome, good cheer and abundance.  After a quick trip to Google, I had my delightful tidbit of absurd human behavior becoming culture.  I have included the description below, enjoy.

The pineapple has served as both a food and a symbol throughout the human history of the Americas.  Originally unique to the Western Hemisphere, the fruit was a culinary favorite of the fierce Carib Indians who lived on islands in the sea that still bears their name.  In such a gastronomic milieu, reports and later samples of the New World's pineapple--whose ripe yellow pulp literally exploded natural sweetness when chewed--made the fruit an item of celebrity and curiosity for royal gourmet and horticulturist alike.  Despite dogged efforts by European gardeners, it was nearly two centuries before they were able to perfect a hothouse method for growing a pineapple plant.  Thus, into the 1600s, the pineapple remained so uncommon and coveted a commodity that King Charles II of England posed for an official portrait in an act then symbolic of royal privilege -- receiving a pineapple as a gift.

Across the ocean, the pineapple took on other symbolic meanings in England's American colonies.  The colonies were then a land of small, primitive towns and settlements where homes served as the hubs of most community activity.  Visiting was the primary means of entertainment, cultural intercourse and news dissemination.  The concept of hospitality--the warmth, charm and style with which guests were taken into the home--was a central element of the society's daily emotional life.

Creative food display--the main entertainment during a formal home visit--was a means by which a woman declared both her personality and her family's status.  Within the bounds of their family's means, hostesses sought to outdo each other in the creation of memorable, fantasy-like dining room scenes.  At such feasts, tabletops resembled small mountain ranges of tiered, pyramided and pedestaled foodstuffs often drizzled and webbed in sugar, studded with china figurines, festooned with flowers and interwoven with garlands of pine and laurel.  Dinners were extravaganzas of visual delights, novel tastes, new discoveries and congenial conversation that went on for hours.

While fruits in general--fresh, dried, candied and jellied--were the major attractions of the community's appetite and dining practices, the pineapple was the true celebrity.  Its rarity, expense, reputation and striking visual attractiveness made it the ultimate exotic fruit.  It was the pineapple that came to literally crown the most important feasts: often held aloft on special pedestals as the pinnacle of the table's central food mound.

Ships brought in preserved pineapples from Caribbean islands as expensive sweetmeats--pineapple chunks candied, glazed and packed in sugar.  The actual whole fruit was even more costly and difficult to obtain.  Wooden ship travel in the tropics was hot, humid and slow, often rotting pineapple cargoes before they could be landed.  Only the speediest ships and most fortuitous weather conditions could deliver ripe, wholesome pineapples to the confectionery shops of cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, Annapolis and Williamsburg.

A hostesses's ability to have a pineapple for an important dining event said as much about her rank as it did about her resourcefulness, given that the street trade in available fresh pineapples could be as brisk as it was prickly.  So sought after were the fruits that colonial confectioners sometimes rented them to households by the day.  Later, the same fruit was sold to other, more affluent clients who actually ate it.  As you might imagine, hostesses would have gone to great lengths to conceal the fact that the pineapple that was the visual apogee of their table display and a central topic of their guests' conversation was only rented.

In larger, well-to-do homes, the dining room doors were kept closed to heighten visitors' suspense about the table being readied on the other side.  At the appointed moment, and with the maximum amount of pomp and drama, the doors were flung open to reveal the evening's main event.  Visitors confronted with pineapple-topped food displays felt particularly honored by a hostess who obviously spared no expense to ensure her guests' dining pleasure.

In this manner, the fruit which was the visual keystone of the feast naturally came to symbolize the high spirits of the social events themselves; the image of the pineapple coming to express the sense of welcome, good cheer, human warmth and family affection inherent to such gracious home gatherings.

Whimsical pineapple shapes and interpretations became a ubiquitous form for "fun" food creations and general table decorations throughout the 1700 and 1800s.  There were pineapple-shaped cakes, pineapple-shaped gelatine molds, candies pressed out like small pineapples, pineapples molded of gum and sugar, pineapples made of creamed ice, cookies cut like pineapples and pineapple shapes created by arrangements of other fruits.  There were also ceramic bowls formed like pineapples, fruit and sweet trays incorporating pineapple designs, and pineapple pitchers, cups and even candelabras.

During the last century, the art of food display centered around the pineapple has faded to a quaint craft now largely associated with the making of certain kinds of Christmas decorations. These holiday fabrications are one of the few vestiges of an era when all life literally revolved around the dining room table; a less complicated era that left us the enduring icon of the colonial pineapple, a truly American fruit symbolizing our founding society's abiding commitment to hospitality as well as its fondest memories of families, friends and good times.