Donald C. Peirce. Art & Enterprise: American Decorative Art, 1825–1917, The Virginia Carroll Crawford Collection. Atlanta, Ga.: High Museum of Art in association with Antique Collectors’ Club, 1999. 411 pp.; 235 color and 247 bw illus., glossary, bibliography, index. $60.00.

Art & Enterprise: American Decorative Art, 1825–1917, The Virginia Carroll Crawford Collection is a noteworthy, enormous catalogue published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same title at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, from June 12 through September 12, 1999. Donald C. Peirce, Curator of Decorative Art, wrote the 227 illustrated entries in the book encompassing metals, glass, ceramics, a few textiles, and furniture. The spectra of styles, makers, and materials, and the geographic scope make this book an essential addition to the libraries of scholars and collectors of decorative arts as well as of interest to the general public.

The Crawford collection provides a survey of the finest artisans and designers of high-style nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American decorative arts. The encyclopedic nature of the collection is the result of a well-conceived collecting plan guided by an intuitive staff. In the 1970s, with the High Museum’s focus on the growth of its decorative arts collection, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American objects and a collection of English ceramics were acquired. The ceramics collection was introduced in the 1988 publication English Ceramics: The Frances and Emory Cocke Collection, also written by Peirce. Mrs. Virginia Carroll Crawford, a magnanimous patron of the High Museum and a board member, was interested in assisting the museum in the development of an important collection. She generously endorsed former curator of decorative art Katherine Gross Farnham’s enthusiasm for a time-specific collection of nineteenth-century American decorative arts. Acquisitions began under the stewardship of Farnham, assisted by New York City–based consultant David A. Hanks. While some larger institutions—the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art—and mid-sized organizations, such as the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute of Utica, New York, had been actively collecting nineteenth-century American material since the 1950s or before, there was little competition in this area, and many stellar works of art were available at a relatively moderate cost.

The first purchase (1979) for the Crawford collection, a labeled Thomas Godey cabinet (cat. no. 63), set the tone and complied with the goal of the collection: “To represent the period from 1825 to 1917 in American decorative art with masterpieces whose superior artistic quality is matched by their historical significance” (p. 9). In 1980 Donald C. Peirce joined the staff of the High Museum as curator of decorative art, and working closely with Hanks, he has overseen the evolution of the collection. Peirce has demonstrated great sensitivity to the stated goal.

Because the High Museum lacked adequate storage and exhibition space, in the early 1980s much of the collection was warehoused in New York City. In 1983 the Crawford collection was first exhibited in the new Richard Meier–designed High Museum. In that year the first catalogue of the collection was published: David A. Hanks and Donald C. Peirce, The Virginia Carroll Crawford Collection, American Decorative Arts, 1825–1917 (Atlanta: High Museum of Art, 1983). This ninety-four-page book, using a format similar to that of Art & Enterprise, highlights approximately fifty-eight objects, with an additional sixty-two objects in a black-and-white illustrated appendix.

Mrs. Crawford’s benefaction continued until her death in August 1999, after more than two decades of generosity. The words of former High Museum director Gudmund Vigtel in his preface to the 1983 publication germanely describes the development of the Crawford collection: “The result of this fortuitous collaboration among benefactor, museum staff, and consultant is a collection of consistently high quality of design and extraordinary craftsmanship, of great stylistic breadth, full of delightful surprises” (pp. 6–7).

In Art & Enterprise Donald Peirce has mastered the exacting task of creating an academically strong and visually appealing catalogue. The articulate essays, which average one to one and a half pages in length, are accompanied by striking color images (with a few in black and white) and “tombstone” information (object name, date, maker/designer and active dates, maker’s location, materials, measurements, and inscription or mark). At times an expanded essay, set off by a subheading, addresses either more than one object by a particular maker or a particular theme, such as upholstery treatments of the 1880s (pp. 216–19). A black-and-white thumbnail photograph of a label or mark supplements most entries, and in many cases, crisp photographs of details further the reader’s grasp of inherent craftsmanship. Overall, the design of the book is clean and user-friendly.

Art & Enterprise
is divided into twelve sections, generally arranged chronologically by style beginning with classicism and closing with art nouveau and arts and crafts. Four of the twelve chapters, however, encompass broader themes and date ranges—industrialization (1835–1900), patent furniture (1850s–1880s), rich cut glass (1890–1917), and designs by architects. Each stylistic division in the book considers objects from a variety of media. “Classicism, 1830s,” which introduces the body of the catalogue, has eight entries in four media: silver, gilded-brass, porcelain, and wood. The individual object entries follow a general format of succinct biographical information on the maker (when known) followed by an analysis of style, form, and ornamentation. Deft descriptions encourage close examination. Focused attention leads readers to a better understanding of a maker’s choice of technique and style for the selected ornamental detail.

This book is about decorative arts as art, but as exemplified in “Classicism, 1830s,” Peirce’s tone is one of broad-based connoisseurship. The entries, in many instances moving beyond biographical and stylistic information, add sources of influence and social history to provide greater interpretive context. In the case of argand lamps (cat. no. 4), Peirce explains the technology of the lamp, how it affected form, and the evolution of the usage of argand lamps in the United States. He adds that Thomas Jefferson admired the new, brighter-burning fixtures after arriving in Paris in 1784 as ambassador: “the first argand cylinder lamps in America may have been gifts sent by Jefferson” (p. 22). (The pair in the Crawford collection were manufactured in England and retailed in Boston.)

The following chapter, “Industrialization, 1835–1900,” slightly interrupting the chronological flow of the text, addresses objects manufactured by commercial enterprises often utilizing new technology. Read comprehensively, the entries, which concentrate on glass, ceramic, and cast iron, provide insight into the unprecedented industrial growth of the American decorative arts industry during the second half of the nineteenth century. As an example, by 1876 half the glass produced in the United States was made in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (p. 35). An extended entry on Pittsburgh-made glass (pp. 33–35) explains that glass manufacturing and distribution flourished there due to “materials, access to fuel, the growing western market, location, and industrial enterprise” (p. 33). From such utilitarian objects as a pressed-glass window pane (cat. no. 11) and whale oil lamps (cat. no. 12) to ornamental witch balls (cat. no. 13), the articles demonstrate the range of glassware produced in Pittsburgh and other centers.

Throughout the catalogue, object entries include references to related objects elsewhere in the book. Peirce’s elucidation of the complex associations among stylistic movements and among artisans enhances a reader’s understanding of the myriad levels of interpretation and art historical references pervading nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century decorative arts. The entries on indoor and outdoor cast-iron furniture (pp. 46–51) not only offer the reader a well-rounded look at the cast-iron industry in the United States and illustrate why “many nineteenth-century commentators referred to their era as the age of cast iron” (p. 48), but they also demonstrate the stylistic association between cast-iron objects and related cabinetwork. The cast-iron ottoman made by M. L. Greenwood and Company of Cincinnati (cat. no. 21) embodies the rococo revival style in its sinuous outline, and the essay also refers to the high-style rococo furniture by John Henry Belter (cat. no. 44 ). Similarly, discussion of a cast-iron bench by an unknown maker (cat. no. 26) alludes to such “related . . . domestic furniture from the 1850s through the 1870s” by Alexander Roux (cat. no. 46), Daniel Pabst (cat. no. 54), and a John Jelliff–inspired maker (cat. no. 66).

One of the strengths of Art & Enterprise is its assimilation of contextual information. Photographic documentation varies from an image depicting an object in situ to original design drawings and related objects. The chapter “Gothic and Elizabethan Revivals, 1845–1865” includes a Gothic revival–
style pitcher and goblet by Zalmon Bostwick (cat. no. 28). The items are rare examples of Gothic revival silver, and little is known about this New York City maker who was active only from 1846 to 1852. Complementing the essay are photographs of the marks on the bottom of the pitcher, an English stoneware piece exemplifying the design antecedent, and an American earthenware variation of the form.
Comparable photographic references enhance other essays. An entry on a solar lamp (cat. no. 31) uses an 1856 image from a retail catalogue depicting like objects and a black-and-white reproduction of an 1845 painting by Henry F. Darby. The Darby portrait of the Reverend John Atwood family (in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) features a similar lamp on the center table.

The breadth of the objects in the Crawford collection demonstrates the application to an array of objects of motifs associated with a stylistic movement. This methodology is well illustrated in the chapters “Rococo Revival, 1845–1865” and “A New Classicism, 1855–1875.” A majority of the rococo revival wares in the collection are from Philadelphia and the New York City area. The items range from an opulent silver pitcher made by R. and W. Wilson (cat. no. 38) to exuberantly carved and pierced parlor furniture attributed to John Henry Belter (cat. no. 44). In both media, the naturalistic motifs, richly fashioned in three dimensions, are some of the finest interpretations of the style. The use of classical motifs in a loose and inventive American interpretation of Egyptian themes can be seen in an ebonized armchair with carved lotus blossoms and sphinx-like arm supports (cat. no. 73). More familiar applications of Greek- and Roman-derived ornament are illustrated in the expanded essay “Union Porcelain Works” (pp. 148–55).

The next two chapters, “Patent Furniture, 1850s–1880s” and “Return to Craftsmanship, 1870s,” are provocatively juxtaposed. Patent furniture, which embraced mechanical ingenuity and mass-production techniques, followed the prevalent ornamentation of the period in which it was produced. The centripetal chair (cat. no. 83) made in Troy, New York, about 1850 utilized sheet metal, bent steel, and cast iron, and it emulates the silhouette of the rococo revival style. The seven objects in “Return to Craftsmanship” demonstrate the reactions designers had to the “sinuous curves and sumptuous . . . surfaces” delineated by American furniture makers since the 1840s (p. 178) and to the methodology of mass production. The austere sideboard in cat. no. 89 seems out of place in the Crawford collection until one reads how it is “nearly an exact copy” of a design published in Charles Locke Eastlake’s Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and Other Details (Boston, 1872), one of the most influential treatises of its time. Peirce advances the interpretation of the sideboard by referencing it in his discussion of a richly carved sideboard in the rococo revival chapter.

“Late Century Eclecticism, 1876–1905” illustrates the diversity of stylistic influences existing toward the end of the century and reveals the broad-based approach of Peirce and Hanks toward the content of the Crawford collection. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, designers took inspiration from international influences, such as the arts of the Middle East, as indicated in the flamboyant Tiffany and Company silver-gilt, enamel, and semiprecious-stone coffee set (cat. no. 153 and jacket detail). The heterogeneity of American culture stimulated the country’s firms to create distinctly American objects; this is seen in the Texas-made steer horn chair and ottoman (cat. no. 150) and in the Tiffany and Company bowl modeled after a Native American basket (cat. no. 152).

With forty-two entries, “Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts” is one of the largest segments of the catalogue. Few examples of art nouveau furniture are presented, but this is not surprising as few fully realized American interpretations of the movement are extant. Arts and crafts–style objects from the consummate firms and craftspeople are included: Charles Rohlfs and Craftsman Workshops furniture; Van Briggle, Grueby, and Newcomb pottery; and silver by Arthur J. Stone and the Kalo shop, to cite only a few of the makers. This chapter is one of the few to present textiles; this addition, which includes examples of floor coverings retailed from Stickley’s Craftsman Workshop (cat. nos. 190–91), broadens a reader’s knowledge and understanding of a domestic arts and crafts interior.

The last section of the book, heavily devoted to furniture, is entitled “Designs by Architects.” These entries are as informative as all others, but a general reader may have benefited more if the entries had been included in the chronological segments of the text. The section on Alexander Jackson Davis, for example, would have added to one’s understanding of the Gothic revival style. Likewise, the organic chair probably designed by the firm of Herts and Tallant and the works designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the brothers Greene and Greene would have added depth to the art nouveau and arts and crafts chapter.

Locales and makers are comprehensively accounted for in all the chapters. Art & Enterprise is inclusive in its consideration of urban areas at the pinnacle of the manufacturing trades in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As one expects, the northeastern states are heavily represented by the industrialized hubs of Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York, but lesser seats of commercial trade are also included. Midwestern cabinetmaking centers such as Cincinnati and Indianapolis are portrayed by goods from the Rookwood Pottery and Wooton Desk Manufacturing Company, respectively. Smaller communities also played a significant role in the development of decorative arts: Bennington, Vermont, was home to a respected ceramic production (cat. nos. 15–17), and University City, Missouri, claimed a short-lived pottery and porcelain enterprise (cat. nos. 210–211) that attracted distinguished ceramists of the time—Taxile Doat and Samuel and Adelaide Alsop Robineau. A few objects made in Europe but retailed in the United States (at times, marked by American businesses) are also scattered in the text.

Read sequentially, the various accounts of particular makers are instructive for understanding how their work evolved. For example, in “Japanese Taste and Exotica, 1870–1910,” which is especially strong in its representation of glass and ceramics, Tiffany and Company is represented in the chapter with seven entries, but the author’s references in the book provide an elaboration of the company’s work from the 1850s through 1907 that gives a broad understanding of the firm’s designers and artisans and their output.
A brief glossary, a bibliography that distills secondary source scholarship, and an index conclude Art & Enterprise. Overall, the book presumes a certain level of knowledge. The glossary, therefore, is of particular assistance to readers who are new to the field. The bibliography and index are useful tools, although city names are not indexed.

Art & Enterprise presents an extensive survey, but a brief introductory essay for each section would have strengthened the comprehensive nature of the book. Much of the information can be gleaned by reading each entry in a specific chapter, but introductions could lay an art historical foundation, provide a place for explanations of terminology, and address topics that warrant clarification for less knowledgeable readers. For example, what is meant by a “Return to Craftsmanship,” and why did it take hold in America in the 1870s? Additionally, the delineation of primary and secondary woods in the individual furniture entries would have been an added benefit to specialists.
Since the publication of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s catalogue 19th-Century America: Furniture and Other Decorative Arts (New York: Metropolitan Museum, 1970), few publications have been so rich in scope. Many books about nineteenth-century decorative arts have focused on specific movements or themes, and these are included in Peirce’s bibliography, but Art & Enterprise is a leader in that it includes all media. It demonstrates that while many institutions have moved away from general, collection-based catalogues, there is still merit in collection surveys.

Art & Enterprise: American Decorative Art, 1825–1917, The Virginia Carroll Crawford Collection is an important reference tool for seasoned curators and scholars and a textbook for burgeoning decorative arts enthusiasts. Peirce’s book reflects his conscientious scholarship and his dedication to the study of American decorative arts. Indeed, the collection he continues devotedly to nurture demonstrates the art and enterprise of American craftsmanship.

Anna Tobin D’Ambrosio
Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Museum of Art