Magazine article Humanities

Handcraft History

Magazine article Humanities

Handcraft History

Article excerpt

OHIO AUCTIONEER AND APPRAISER ANDREW RICHMOND owns "just about every book written on the decorative arts in America west of Philadelphia." The entire collection takes up only two feet of shelf space.

"If you had a similar collection about the decorative arts in Philadelphia and New England, that collection would take up dozens of feet," Richmond said in his office at Garth's Auctions, Inc., in Delaware, Ohio.

That discrepancy led Richmond to set aside his auction gavel for a time last year to become the curator of "Equal in Goodness: Ohio Decorative Arts 1788-1860," which runs through June 5 at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in Lancaster. The exhibition's title reflects Richmond's belief that the decorative arts in Ohio and throughout the Midwest are underappreciated.

"As soon as the first settlers started heading west into Ohio, there sprang up this stigma," Richmond said, "a stereotype that the state was populated by fringe-leatherwearing, log-cabin-inhabiting frontiersmen who drank rum by the gallon."

While those rugged, crude, indomitable individuals certainly did exist in Ohio, they by no means defined the citizenry of the country's westernmost cities in the early 1800s.

In his memoir Recollections of Persons and Places in the West, H. M. Brackenridge noted that Cmcinnati, a mere thirteen years after its founding in 1788 as "a rude encampment" was, around 1801, "a beautiful little city, in the midst of a highly cultivated country. I went up to the market, which I found equal in goodness to that of Philadelphia."

Mounting "Equal in Goodness" was a labor of love for Richmond, with an emphasis on labor. The exhibition features 220 household objects - pottery, cabinets, clocks, glass and silverware, samplers, sideboards, percussion rifles - made available by sixty lenders. Last year, Richmond logged more than ten thousand miles, driving the state both for Garth's and in preparation for the exhibition, which opened on January 29.

"My first aim" for the exhibition "was to demonstrate the desire early Ohioans had to fill their homes not just with utilitarian items but with beautiful, refined, sophisticated things," Richmond said. "And my second goal was to turn that frontier stereotype on its head, to show how Ohioans maintained the traditions both from the East Coast and, in the case of the German and Swiss settlers, the Old Country, while at the same time tweaking them, reworking them, making them their own."

A high-style corner cupboard from Cuyahoga County in northeast Ohio borrowed the eastern urban practice of using light-wood inlay and veneer on mahogany to create contrast and a "visually interesting façade," Richmond explained. …

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