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The collection at NRF’s Whitehorne House Museum comprises furniture and related decorative arts made or used in Newport and elsewhere in Rhode Island in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Included are pieces by the renowned Townsend and Goddard families, other well known artisans, such as Benjamin Baker and Samuel Vernon, and many unnamed, equally skilled craftsmen. Newport cabinetmakers made some of the most highly regarded furniture in the British colonies of North America, with richly grained mahogany, distinctly formed ball-and-claw feet, and characteristically “Newport” block-and-shell carving, all of which can be seen in the sampling shown below.
Benjamin Baker Highboy
Tankard by Samuel Vernon
Carver Chair with braided cornhusk seat
Painted and embroidered mourning picture on silk
Porringer by John Otis
Pier table by John Goddard
Dining table by John Townsend
George Washington mantel clock
Portrait of Timothy Orne by Joseph Badger
Portrait of Rebecca Taylor Orne by Joseph Badger
Caleb Wheaton tall case clock
Side chair by John Townsend
19th-century watercolor showing John Goddard’s house and workshop
Benjamin Baker was active as a very prolific chair maker in Newport from 1760, and is also known to have made clock cases, tables and case furniture that was produced primarily for export to the coastal trade. Among the many Newport characteristics found on the highboy is the use of cabriole legs with pad feet on the rear in combination with open-talon claw and ball front legs -- a Newport practice for furniture intended to stand against the wall. Another Newport trait is the elongated ball and claw foot with webless talons having an extended grip over the ball, which in this case are undercut. Of special interest is the intaglio carved petal and leaf motif decorating the knees, a feature frequently found on Newport highboys and tea tables. A focal point is the beautifully carved shell motif, also a favorite decorative device of the high style Newport cabinetmakers. Here it is further decorated at the center with a fleur-de-lys. The most unusual feature of the Whitehorne House Museum’s high chest are the three drawers in the top row of the upper case.
A silver tankard with a tapering cylindrical barrel with molded lip and foot. It has an s-scroll handle parting from a drop motif and terminating in an oval shield. A dome cover with a spiral thumbpiece and formal bud finial cover the tankard. "LRP" is engraved on the handle and the scratchweight 29 ounces is marked on body and handle. Stamped with "SV" maker's mark on body and handle.
This armchair is one of a group of three that demonstrates a strong Dutch influence on some of the earliest furniture made in Newport, RI. It also speaks to connections, perhaps less well known, with local Native American craft production. Unique to the Whitehorne example is the braided cornhusk seat, possibly woven by local Wampanoag or Narragansett weavers. This is an unusual feature found in other early chairs associated with Little Compton, which remained a fairly isolated agricultural outpost into the twentieth century but had early ties through families such as the Browns, who owned this chair, to nearby Aquidneck Island and the urban centers of Portsmouth and Newport, as well as to local Native American craftsmen.
The red paint with gold decoration dates to the Victorian period; it covers a layer of blue paint, date unknown, but also not likely original.
Painting on silk of two women in black outside a church with embroidered details.
The Whitehorne House Museum’s oval dining table is one of only two known labeled dining tables made by John Townsend. This dining table is an example of the type of architectural furnishings considered to be necessary in 18th-century dining spaces. This graceful neo-classical oval table retains the functionality of its predecessors as it can separate into a table and two consoles for alternate uses or storage. The plinths above each leg are decorated with four undulating vertical blocks or “book inlay,” a feature associated with the workshop of John Townsend. On the legs is a string of five bellflowers centering a spine of black inlay, and, characteristic of John Townsend’s work, the bellflowers rest above two inlaid dots. Pasted on the center of one of the back rails of one of the consoles is a rectangular engraved label reading MADE BY / JOHN TOWNSEND, / NEWPORT. with the date 1796 written by hand.
Commemorative clock depicting George Washington. With white enamel dial contained in a rectangular plinth surmounted by a gilt eagle with the motto "E Pluribus unum" flanked on the right by a standing figure of George Washington in military costume with inscription on swag, rectangular base with figural commemorative panel on the front of the base that depicts Washington as Cincinnatus, the famed citizen-statesman of Rome in the fifth century, B.C. The whole raised on engine turned bun feet, silk lining on interior of hinged works cover.
This tall clock case is the work of eminent Providence clock manufacturer Caleb Wheaton. Tall clock cases like this example were prized possessions of mid-eighteenth century American families. The bonnet of the case has a molded curved cresting that supports three fluted urn and flame finials. The bonnet is supported by two full and two half fluted pillars and the white painted dial is decorated with urn and scroll spandrels. The dial also includes the hour and second hands as well as a date register and the maker's name "Caleb Wheaton Providence". The door block and carved at top with a projecting carved shell, the plain base supported on ogee bracket feet.
This is one of a pair of ball and claw foot side chairs in the Whitehorne House Museum collection, originally part of a larger set. They have served as the touchstone of what a typical Chippendale chair by John Townsend might look like. The overall effect of these chairs is one of strength. The base is particularly robust, with its boldly carved ball and claw feet and thick unchamfered rear legs joined soundly by block and ring turned stretchers; a standard feature of eighteenth-century Massachusetts and Rhode Island chairs. The arched section at the center of the crest rail is crosshatched, a favorite decorative device of Newport craftsmen. During the second half of the eighteenth century, chairs with interlaced c-scroll splats were popular with cabinetmakers along the east coast. The splats on this pair of side chairs are based on English printed prototypes, as was a common practice in each of the major colonial port cities.
Watercolor painting depicting John Goddard's house in the Easton's Point neighborhood of Newport, RI. The composition includes two houses and dock scene with beach. Written in pencil script, bottom right corner: Old Newport houses, 1865. In bottom left corner, in pencil: S.C.