New-York Historical Society

I must admit that had it not been for Bill Cunningham’s ”Facades” we would most probably have skipped the New-York Historical Society. Sitting modestly next to the illustrious Natural History Museum, it’s easy to pass it by. Even the ticket desk staff seemed somewhat surprised at the extra visitors and promptly asked us which Museum we wanted tickets for: the Natural History or the Historical Society?… Just making sure we’d got our history right, I  guess.

But I’m glad we made the right choice, or else we would have missed this: The Dr. Egon Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass.

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Tiffany Studios (1902-1938). Dragonfly shade, probably designed by Clara Driscoll ca. 1900-06

Tiffany glass lamps were produced until the late 1930s by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s company, best known as Tiffany Studios. L.C. was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of Tiffany & Co., the very same jewelry and luxury items NYC company with its very own trademark colour – the ”Tiffany Blue”.

Dr Egon Neustadt, an Austrian immigrant who had collected Tiffany lamps since 1935, gifted his entire collection of 132 original designs to the museum.

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Tiffany Studios (1902-1932). Peacock & Dragonfly shades, probably designed by Clara Driscoll ca. 1900-1906. Tulip shade designed ca. 1906-1910

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Bamboo shade, probably designed by Clara Driscoll ca. 1900-1906. Poppy shade, designed ca. 1910-1913.

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On the left, Wisteria lamp, designed by Clara Driscoll, ca. 1901

The note reads: The Wisteria was one of the most popular lamp designs produced by Tiffany Studios. Although the lamp was long attributed to Mrs. Curtis Freshel of Boston, recently discovered correspondence written by Clara Driscoll, head of Tiffany Studios’ women’s glass cutting department, reveals that it was in fact her design. The shade is composed of nearly two thousand small pieces of glass. This model cost four hundred dollars in 1906.

But the sparkling Art Nouveau garden of Tiffany is only part of the riches; the museum boasts a magnificent collection of paintings, astonishingly hanging in storage-like metal panels in a wrongly-lit room, as if actually hiding from view. The collection includes Thomas Cole’s iconic five-painting series The Course of Empire (click here for full series).

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Thomas Cole – Desolation. Oil on canvas, 1836, 39 ½ × 63 ½ in

There is also a large collection of furniture, including George Washington’s inaugural armchair and Valley Forge camp bed, jewelry, ceramics, glass, accessories and weaponry, an all-round trip through American History.

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Two Polish Jewish refugee kids eating oranges for the first time. Palestine, ca. 1940. Gelatine silver print

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Hellooo? Could you show me the way to the galleries, please?

In 1970, artist Jack Stewart began to photograph graffiti on subway station walls and  inside cars. His interest grew through the 1970s, along with the rise of the phenomenon. Steward interviewed dozens of young graffitists in his studio, most of them under the age of sixteen. His wife Regina recalled:

”The graffitists were as intense at these meetings as they were when they were tagging. They just couldn’t sit still and could tag as fast as they could talk. Soon the started to hit everything in the studio. Eventually, we reached an agreement: if they would refrain from tagging Jack’s paintings, and everything else in the studio, we would donate the inside of the studio’s bathroom door”

There are more than 190 tags on this door from some of the most respected graffiti writers of the period.

Graffiti as a museum item? Who would have thought?

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On the ground floor, a remarkable exhibition of Quilts is presented, marking the 150th anniversary of the darkness of Civil War (1861-1865). ”Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War” is running until 24 August 2014.

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”Reconciliation Quilt” 1867. Made by Lucinda Ward Honstain (1820-1904) of Brooklyn, New York. Cotton, appliquéd. Lucinda Ward Honstain commemorated the Civil War and chronicled life in post-war America in this quilt. The blocks include a black man addressing a white man on horseback, saying ”Master I am Free”. Another block, near the top, is labeled ”Jeff Davis & Daughter”, showing Confederate President Jefferson Davis with a woman holding an American flag – thus giving the quilt its name, the ”Reconciliation Quilt”.

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Women Weavers, Lowell, 1860s. The directors of nine Lowell, Massachusetts, mills sold off their raw cotton at vastly inflated prices in 1861. They closed down cloth production and dismissed ten thousand workers, ”penniless, into the streets”. Even with the loss of the Southern market balanced by new military demands, wartime cotton production in the North involved only half of the available machinery. Unemployed male factory workers often had no alternative but to enlist in the Union army.

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The New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West

Photographs by Konstantinos Implikian.

New York, 11 June 2014

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11 thoughts on “New-York Historical Society

  1. Wow so many things to see! I think i would have spend a lot of time at the lamps…I have a thing for anything that has to do with light…And what was that graffiti door about? I’ll take out a door and bring them to the museum if i’m gonna get some money for it 😛 Again a very interesting post Lia. It’s great to visit virtually museums that i’ll probably never get to see up close 🙂

    • And I’ve got a thing for stained glass. It looked like the garden of Eden over there, stuck as they were in a corner… what with the poppies and dragonflies – there were even bamboo leaves! Bedazzling!
      Start working on your graffiti door and never say never! Austria is just the first step (and has some fantastic museums too!)..

      • Stained glass is pretty amazing as well 😀 Maybe when i go to Austria i can shoot photos in the museums and let you write the stories, i’m not so good at describing things and places 🙂 You are definitely excellent at that!

  2. You know there is a book called Mr Tiffany and Clara which fictionalizes the Tiffany studio and what it was like to work with the great man. I read it a while ago. (The author’s agent might have become my agent but I chose another instead 🙂 You might enjoy it, especially as your trip is so fresh, as it’s very detailed about the process and the period in New York…

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