The last time I talked about Brandon’s activities at Colonial Williamsburg, I shared some of the new galleries he helped put together through his strategic work in moving and placing furniture, folk art, and other objects. A lot has happened since then, from the opening of more galleries to the acquisition of new objects, so we’re due for an update. Today then, let’s take a look at what he’s been doing for CW’s Art Museums.
Some of the most dramatic additions to the museum space have occurred in the foyer, where there are now historic architectural features suspended from the walls. In addition to furniture, clothing, and other objects associated with material culture, CW collects architectural fragments, but these aren’t always the easiest objects to display, given their site-specificity. The works on view here, however, exude a sculptural quality while retaining enough of their structural form for viewers to recognize what they are, so they actually look quite well here. The staircase in the above photos is from Menokin, a historical house currently undergoing conservation. It’s known for being the home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. CW acquired the staircase last year, and Brandon traveled there with other collections staff to transport it. Given ongoing pandemic conditions, it was a little more challenging than usual due to social distancing protocols, but he was able to get it back safely, and later help install it.
This fireplace mantle, in turn, comes from a family home located in the Virginia Piedmont region in the central part of the state. The house is no longer extant, but the mantle is a well-preserved example of the Fancy Style, which was popular during the early nineteenth century. Distinguished by their love of color and painted decorative effects, Fancy pieces are eclectic works bursting with patterns and painted wooden surfaces imitating marble and other materials. When first made, this mantle would have appeared even brighter than it does now.
Brandon has also been helping out with new gallery spaces. The last time I talked about his work, for instance, this map gallery was only partially completed. Since then, he’s helped finish installing the remaining works, including the very large map in the central picture.
Another particularly striking gallery that Brandon has helped work on is devoted to tall case clocks. Colonial Williamsburg has a large number of these objects, but this is the first time I’ve seen so many of them outside of storage. As you can imagine, it’s an impressive visual and spatial experience, seeing all these tall objects lining the gallery walls. The exhibit also goes into a great amount of detail explaining how these clocks operate and includes transparent display cases that show the various mechanisms and what they do.
I also appreciate the stylistic variety within this show, with clocks ranging from the relatively simple to the ostentatious. If I had to choose a favorite, it’d probably be the painted one in the center of the photo gallery below, if only because I didn’t see another one like it in the exhibition space. Made in Virginia, it reflects the aesthetic influence of Pennsylvania, underscoring the cultural exchanges occurring within the colonies in terms of furniture styles and other objects. As someone who’s interested in art access and the circulation of ideas via visual and material culture, I can’t help but be interested in such an object.
Still, there’s a lot to admire in the craftsmanship of the more ornate examples as well. The clock from London in the lower right picture is especially impressive, as its entire surface is covered in delicate marquetry; see the image detail below.
As you can see, Brandon has been keeping busy in the galleries. It’s work that requires creative flexibility, especially when it comes to moving large yet fragile objects such as tall-case clocks, and I always admire how Brandon is able to negotiate the unique challenges of these objects while retaining his sense of admiration for their materials and construction. As I’ve been saying for years, the real magic of exhibition work comes from the art handlers and preparators who take the conceptual ideals of a show and manifest them physically through their installation work, and the shows you see here are no exception. Brandon’s work may happen behind the scenes, but he is a key part of the collections team, and visitors see the results of his labor every time they walk into the galleries and view what he has helped put on display.
Despite all the activity happening within the museum, however, Brandon’s biggest ongoing project has arguably been happening outside of it, in a house located just a couple of blocks from the museum. It’s a place filled with objects of all kinds, so many that they’ll form the core of a new exhibition scheduled to open later this year…
…but that’s another post.
If you’re in town and want to see the objects that Brandon has been working with, come check out the Art Museums at Colonial Williamsburg. They’re open to the public and always looking forward to visitors.