From August 19, 2016, through January 8, 2017, the Yale University Art Gallery presented Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830. This groundbreaking exhibition provided the most comprehensive survey of Rhode Island furniture ever assembled, including not only iconic, stylish pieces from important centers of production like Providence and Newport but also simpler examples made in smaller towns that had previously received little scholarly attention. The exhibition drew on more than a decade of research executed for the Rhode Island Furniture Archive and highlighted some exciting new discoveries. Art and Industry in Early America also addressed the surprisingly broad reach of Rhode Island’s furniture production, from the boom of the export trade at the turn of the 17th century and its steady growth throughout the 18th century to the gradual decline of the handcraft tradition in the 19th century. Featured in the exhibition were elaborately carved chairs, high chests, bureau tables, and clocks—more than 130 exceptional objects from museums, historical societies, and private collections. Reflecting on one of New England’s most important artistic traditions, Art and Industry in Early America encouraged a newfound appreciation for this dynamic school of American furniture making.
Exhibition organized by Patricia E. Kane, Friends of American Arts Curator of American Decorative Arts. Made possible by generous support from an anonymous donor; Lulu C. and Anthony W. Wang, B.A. 1965; Jeanie Kilroy Wilson; Jane P. Watkins, M.P.H. 1979, and Helen D. Buchanan; and the Henry Luce Foundation. Additional support provided by Jerald Dillon Fessenden, B.A. 1960; Judith and John Herdeg; Sarah Jeffords; Gayle and Howard Rothman; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Wunsch Americana Foundation; the Friends of American Arts at Yale Exhibition and Publication Funds; and the David and Rosalee McCullough Fund.