Metalwork Gallery: Small Luxuries and Irons in the Fire
Visitors will see examples of artisans’ virtuosity in wrought iron, silver, copper, and pewter objects as well as metals blended with other organic materials such as enamels, ivory, shell, and coconut shell. Gunsmiths, whose craft required mastery of metals and woods, are represented by a very fine group of early Kentucky-style flintlock firearms. The familiar form of a powder horn is displayed opposite a larger section featuring the art of hornsmithing with hair combs, tobacco boxes, lanterns and dining wares all made from this pliant and luminous material.
Curators rely upon historic household inventories and wills to research decorative arts. These dated documents may itemize textiles, metalwork, furniture, and other possessions. One section of the metalwork gallery displays objects inspired by a satirical poem, Matthew A—y’s Will. The verses celebrate the humble items a Harvard college housekeeper might have bequeathed to his wife in 1731. Ordinary objects, often overlooked, like a rushlight or wedge for splitting wood, are juxtaposed with a pewter dish and an iron grease pan to evocatively illustrate the poem’s imagery.