Tuesday, March 7, 2023

English Needlework 1600-1740 The Percival D. Griffiths Collection

There is a new book out on the 23rd of March that will become one of those 'rare library' books almost immediately.  There are many interesting facets of the book set to mention - many storylines.  But first, some pictures and video of the unboxing of this massive 2 volume set covering furniture and embroidery.  

This week the Magazine Antiques and Art Weekly have an article on how the books happened.  Avid collector John Bryan Jr. commissioned the project before his passing in 2018.  I feel fortunate to have visited his collection years ago, seeing many key objects that have fed into my research.  We owe John a debt of gratitude for funding this piece of research to pull together the existing pieces from this monumental turn of the century collection by Percival Griffiths so new research can happen.  

William DeGregorio graduated from the Bard College around the time of the seminal exhibit Twixt Art and Nature and worked at the MFA Textile Department as well as for Cora Ginsburg in NYC.  While not well known to the embroiderers of today, he is well known in the research and collecting sphere.  It was fun to get an email from Billy, as he is known, with pictures of rooms in Percival Griffiths home with a object on the wall circled and a 'do you have any idea where this is!?'; an invitation to join him for an afternoon in the detective hunt for where these magnificent embroideries have ended up.  Billy knew a handful of us who have been hunting in private collections or the back rooms of museums who might have a visual memory of something he was having special difficulty tracking down.  I remember the day when I was able to email him back and say - YES - I knew where a particular small set of baskets were - behind me in the dining room!  I had been able to acquire a set of them before people knew they were originally part of this huge collection.  So I am happy to have my pieces in the volume and identified.  

The volume on embroidery is about the story of how needlework collecting happened and of Sir Griffiths collection in particular.  This is fascinating as you wander through the inventory of pieces and realize that the majority of several seminal collections on the topic are dominated by what he found to be interesting.  This is important to me as I am doing some large survey work and was starting to wonder about numbers of types of objects that could be found and wonder if that was meaningful.  I have readjusted that thinking now that I have wandered the volume realizing how what we see today is so much the product of a handful of collectors in the late 19th century and their personal interests.  

Griffiths left two bread crumb trails for Billy to follow.  A set of photographs of his home's interiors and a book where he pasted photos of the objects collected.  This volume has a new photograph of an object and its location if it could be found and uses the older photo if not.  This is enormous as it means that some pieces we haven't seen have been modern photographed and others that we didn't know exist do have a picture now published.  I can't tell you how many "AH HA" moments I had wandering through the pages for hours on Friday when my advance copy arrived. 

I know that the cost of this volume set may be prohibitive at $300 and the run is only 1200 copies.  Perhaps you can convince a large local library that it is a must for their collection.  But there may be one or two readers who decide this is a must have for themselves, especially if they love furniture.  It can be preordered through many outlets.  But at the very least it is interesting to see how much of an influence collectors have on preservation and our museum collections, how their personal interests affect what we know, and how their largess can enable more research to occur.