NRF promotes and invests in the architectural heritage of the Newport community, the traditional building trades, and Doris Duke’s fine and decorative arts collections, for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of all.
As a leader in the preservation of early American architecture, NRF supports research and education in areas directly related to its collections and issues of critical concern to the field of historic preservation.
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NEWPORT, RI – The Newport Restoration Foundation’s Whitehorne House Museum is the only museum in the world specializing in 18th-century Newport furniture and related decorative arts. It opened to the public in 1974 and is now closed for regular visits to allow NRF staff to plan for a reinterpretation of the collection and a much improved visitor experience. While this work takes place, the museum continues to honor its commitment to educate the public about Newport’s renowned furniture making traditions. It also continues to add to the collection, and later this month the two pursuits come together in a series of three lectures co-hosted by NRF and the Newport Art Museum, which will include the story of the exciting discovery and recent acquisition of a previously unknown piece by a younger member of one of Newport’s most famous furniture making families.
In October 2014 a California couple sent a request for information and an appraisal to Newport furniture maker and scholar Jeffrey Greene. The couple included photos of an elliptical card table in the Hepplewhite style. It had long, straight, tapered legs and inlaid lacewood decoration and was similar to card tables made in every American city at the time. What set this one apart was the printed label on the underside of the top. It read:
Job E. Townsend, Cabinet Maker
No. 3, Pelham-Street
N.B. Various kinds of Cabinet Furniture
constantly on hand.
In the 1700s, furniture making was one of the leading trades of Newport, with about 175 craftsmen working here over the course of the century. The Townsends were among the premiere cabinetmakers of the city, setting the bar high for design and craftsmanship and teaching sons and apprentices, including a young John Goddard, who later married into the family. Job was a common first name in the family, and there were at least four Job Townsends who worked as cabinetmakers and several more who went into other trades. So who was this Job E. Townsend who worked at 3 Pelham Street?
From his research on the Townsends, Greene knew immediately that this was the work of one of the more obscure family members. “We knew of a Job E. Townsend working at this time from a single newspaper advertisement and genealogical records, but none of his furniture had ever been identified”, said Greene. “It was like finding a missing puzzle piece to add to what we know of the Newport cabinetmaking trade.” This Job E. (Edmund) Townsend was a third-generation cabinetmaker born in 1781 who lived for only 37 years, dying in 1818 after a long illness. He was the son of Edmund Townsend (1736-1811), a well-known cabinetmaker, and grandson of Job Townsend Sr. (1699-1765), who along with his brother Christopher (1701-1787) began the long line of Townsend cabinetmakers in Newport. Both Job E.’s father Edmund and grandfather Job Sr. served as Newport’s town treasurer and were held in high esteem for their upstanding character and commitment to civic duty.
The couple who had contacted Jeffrey Greene knew little about the history of the table, other than it had been in their family for many generations and that the family traced their roots back to nearby Little Compton, Rhode Island. Greene suggested that the table be offered for sale to NRF for its Whitehorne House Museum collection so it could be shared with the public as an important part of Newport’s cabinetmaking legacy. NRF agreed to the purchase in December 2016, and after two centuries, the table returned from the West Coast to its city of origin.
This April and May at the Newport Art Museum, Jeffrey Greene will present on the discovery of the Job Townsend table and many other related topics in the Whitehorne House Museum 2018 Newport Furniture Lecture Series – part of a new initiative to invite historians, designers, artists, innovators, and craftsmen to interpret the Whitehorne collection through their particular lenses:
Local Manufacture, Global Fusion: Surveying Early American Furniture April 22, 2:00 pm, Newport Art Museum General $15; Newport Art Museum members $10 Mahogany from Honduras, brass from Britain, stylistic details from China, and wealth borne of slavery at home and abroad. This lecture connects the global dots and illuminates how interconnected forces yielded a wide range of new furniture forms in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Townsend and Goddard Dynasties: 18th-Century Cabinetmaking in Newport April 29, 2:00 pm, Newport Art Museum General $15; Newport Art Museum members $10 We can’t talk about Newport furniture without mentioning them, but who were the Townsends and Goddards? Where did they come from and, given that colonial Newport had dozens of other cabinetmakers, why are they so famous? This presentation traces how the Townsend family cabinetmakers influenced the trade for a century, and how the Goddard family carried on the unique Newport style into the 19th-century.
New Discoveries in Newport Furniture May 6, 2:00 pm, Newport Art Museum General $15; Newport Art Museum members $10 The study of Newport cabinetmakers and their work is not a closed book – new discoveries are made all the time, and research into the trade continues to surprise.
For tickets and information about the lecture series, please visit newportrestoration.org/events.
About the Newport Restoration Foundation
Founded in 1968, the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) is dedicated to promoting and investing in the architectural heritage of the Newport community, the traditional building trades, and Doris Duke's fine and decorative arts collection, for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of all. NRF also supports research and education in areas that relate directly to its collections and to issue of critical concern to the field of historic preservation.
NRF is on Twitter @NPTRestoration, Facebook /NPTRestoration and Instagram @NPTRestoration. Visit newportrestoration.org for more information.