American Decorative Arts

The Gallery’s collection of American decorative arts ranges in date from the 17th century to the present day. The Mabel Brady Garvan Collection, renowned for its strength in the colonial and early Federal periods, is the core of the collection and is noteworthy for rare examples of American silver.
Teakettle on Stand
Spring Grass II
Vase
Jar
Model No. 1760 "Mesa" Table
Tea Caddy

About American Decorative Arts

Featuring approximately 20,000 objects in all media, the Yale University Art Gallery’s collection of American decorative arts is among the finest in the United States. Its particular strengths are in the colonial and early Federal periods, due in large part to generous gifts from Francis P. Garvan, B.A. 1897. Yale’s collection of early silver is noted for superior examples from New England, New York, and Philadelphia. The furniture collection comprises outstanding examples from all periods, with particular strength in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. In addition to the pieces displayed in the Gallery, more than 1,000 examples can be seen by appointment in the Furniture Study.

Also present in the American decorative arts collection are significant holdings in pewter and other metals, as well as glass, ceramics, textiles, and wallpaper. A major addition to the collection occurred in the 1980s, when Carl R. Kossack, B.S. 1931, M.A. 1933, and his family donated more than 7,000 pieces of American silver, with particular concentrations in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In recent decades, acquisitions have focused on late 19th- and 20th-century objects, including contemporary turned wood, the John C. Waddell Collection of American modernist design, and the Swid Powell Collection.

The department has also developed a website, the Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery, as a resource for studying furniture making in Rhode Island from the 17th to the 19th century.

The permanent-collection galleries feature a chronological survey of American design from the colonial period to the present day. Thematic cases explore how issues of commerce, gender, religion, and ethnicity are integrated into the American experience.

Search the Rhode Island Furniture Archive

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Note from the Curator

Graduate students enrolled in this spring’s chair design workshop at the Yale School of Architecture gathered inspiration for their year-end projects at the Gallery’s Furniture Study. Students visited the Furniture Study and examined up close the molded plywood techniques used by artists Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Alvar Aalto, as well as the wood shaping and joinery found in designs by Hans Wegner, Richard Meier, and others. Drawing on this experience, the students then responded to different design problems and objectives with projects in a range of materials, including wood, metal, fabric, and resin. Their works are now on view through July 31 in the School of Architecture’s exhibition Edge of Tomorrow: Year-End Exhibition of Student Work, 2014–15, in Paul Rudolph Hall, across York Street from the Gallery. The public can also view chairs and other objects from the colonial era to today during free guided tours of the Furniture Study, which are given most Fridays at 12:30 pm and depart from the Gallery lobby.

Patricia E. Kane

Friends of American Arts Curator of American Decorative Arts

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Find an Upcoming Furniture Study Tour

Chairs by (left to right) Isaac Southard, Emily Bell, and Anthony Gagliardi in the Yale School of Architecture’s exhibition Edge of Tomorrow: Year-End Exhibition of Student Work, 2014–15, on view in Paul Rudolph Hall

Meet the Curators

Patricia E. Kane

Patricia E. Kane, the Friends of American Arts Curator of American Decorative Arts, has been at the Gallery since receiving her M.A. from the University of Delaware, Winterthur Program in Early American Culture, in 1968. She received her Ph.D. from Yale in 1987. She oversees collections from the 17th century to the present, pursues research on early American silver and furniture, and is the director of the Rhode Island Furniture Archive.

patricia.kane@yale.edu

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John Stuart Gordon

John Stuart Gordon, the Benjamin Attmore Hewitt Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts, first became interested in material culture while studying as an undergraduate at Vassar College. He received an M.A. from the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture and a Ph.D. from Boston University. His specialty is American design from the late 19th through 21st centuries. In addition, he supervises the Furniture Study, the Gallery’s expansive study collection of American furniture and wooden objects.

john.s.gordon@yale.edu

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Further Reading

Barquist, David L. American and English Pewter at the Yale University Art Gallery: A Supplementary Checklist. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1985.

Barquist, David L. American Tables and Looking Glasses in the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University, exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

Barquist, David L., and Ethan W. Lasser. Curule: Ancient Design in American Federal Furniture, exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2003.
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Battison, Edwin A., and Patricia E. Kane. The American Clock, 1725–1865: The Mabel Brady Garvan Collection and Other Collections at Yale University. Greenwich: New York Graphic Society, 1973.

Buhler, Kathryn C., and Graham Hood. American Silver: Garvan and Other Collections in the Yale University Art Gallery. 2 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970.

Carr, Dennis A. American Colonial Furniture, an Interpretive Guide to the Yale University Art Gallery’s Collection. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2004.
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Cooper, Helen A., et al. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2008.
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Eisenbarth, Erin E. Baubles, Bangles, and Beads: American Jewelry from Yale University, 1700–2005, exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2005.
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Freedman, Paula B., and Robin Jaffee Frank. American Sculpture at Yale University. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1992.

Gordon, John Stuart, et al. A Modern World: American Design from the Yale University Art Gallery, 1920–1950. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2011.
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Hood, Graham. “American Pewter: Garvan and Other Collections at Yale.” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 30, no. 3 (Fall 1965).

Kane, Patricia E. 300 Years of American Seating Furniture: Chairs and Beds from the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections. Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1976.

Main, Kari M. Please Be Seated: Contemporary Studio Seating Furniture, exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1999.

Phillips, John Marshall. Early American Silver Selected from the Mabel Brady Garvan Collection. Ed. Meyric R. Rogers. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1960.

Ward, Barbara McLean, and Gerald W. R. Ward. Silver in American Life: Selections from the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University. New York: American Federation of Arts, 1979.

Ward, Gerald W. R. American Case Furniture in the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.

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American Decorative Arts, Containers, Metal