Metalwork Gallery: Small Luxuries and Irons in the Fire
The metalwork gallery, reinstalled in October 2011, features a display of more than 200 objects from everyday life in the nation’s past as well as some extraordinary items that would have been used by only a few. From massive, wrought iron andirons to delicate gold and diamond jewelry, this selection from the museum’s collection highlights the essential role of metalwork in early American life.
Curators rely upon historic household inventories and wills to research decorative arts. These dated documents itemize textiles, metalwork, furniture, and other possessions. One section of the gallery displays objects inspired by a satirical poem celebrating the humble items a Harvard college housekeeper might have owned in 1731. Ordinary objects, often overlooked, like a rushlight or wedge for splitting wood, are juxtaposed with a pewter dish and iron grease pan to represent life in the past.
The gallery exhibits artisans’ virtuosity in wrought iron, silver, and pewter objects as well as metals blended with other organic materials such as enamels, ivory, shell, and coconut shell. Gunsmiths are masters in metal and wood, and their craft is represented by a very fine group of early Kentucky-style flintlock firearms. Powder horns are familiar to firearms enthusiasts; another section features the nearly lost art of hornsmithing with hair combs, tobacco boxes, and dining wares all made from the pliant and luminous material.