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Decorative Arts Department Records


Held at: Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives [Contact Us]Philadelphia Museum of Art, PO Box 7646, Philadelphia, PA 19101-7646

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Although never a curator, Alfred Coxe Prime honed his expertise in the field of decoratives arts as a collector and author. From 1919 to 1925, he also served as a member of the Museum Committee, and at the time of his death in 1926, Museum president Eli Kirk Price described Coxe as an "authority on all branches of Americana."

In 1925 the Museum appointed Joseph Downs as an Assistant Curator responsible for decorative arts, which had until then been the responsibility of Dr. Samuel Woodhouse. According to earlier annual reports, Woodhouse had been the curator of Old Pennsylvania Pottery, and an honorary curator oversaw European porcelain. (Oriental pottery had always been a separate curatorial category.) At the time of Downs' appointment, "decorative arts" was not a formal designation; instead, as listed in the 1927 annual report, his curatorial responsibility consisted of "woodwork, ceramics, etc." (Other curatorial staff oversaw "Ironwork, armor" and "textiles.") With the appointment of Francis Taylor as curator of Medieval Art in 1928, the Museum named Downs its "Renaissance and Modern Art" curator of decorative arts. When Taylor left in 1931, Downs once again assumed responsibility for all European and American decorative art. He left the Museum in April 1932 for the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Henry P. McIlhenny joined the Museum staff in 1934 as Decorative Arts Assistant. Over the next three years he served as Assistant and Associate Curator, and in 1939 he was appointed Curator. McIlhenny took a leave of absence from 1942 to 1946 (in the U. S. Navy). In 1964 he was named to the Museum's Board of Trustees but also remained with the curatorial department as an Advisor. During McIlhenny's wartime absence, Joan Prentice was the Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts. From 1943 to 1946 she served as Associate Curator, and then Curator of Ceramics and Silver from 1946 to 1948.

Calvin S. Hathaway came to the Museum in 1931 as Secretary to the Director and Editor of the Museum Bulletin. In 1932 he became the Assistant to the Chief of Decorative Arts, but he left in 1933 to join Cooper-Union in New York. In 1963 he returned to the Museum as The R. Wistar Harvey Curator of Decorative Art, a position he held until July 1973 when poor health required him to resign.

David DuBon came to Museum in 1958 as Associate Curator and became Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts in 1964. In 1967 the department was split into two sections and DuBon became the Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Decorative Arts while Hathaway headed the department of Decorative Arts After 1700. In 1973 Kathryn B. Hiesinger, who came to the PMA in 1971 as DuBon's Curatorial Assistant, succeeded Hathaway as curator.

In 1974 to clearly define the department's responsibility, which was now separate from American decorative arts as well as European decorative arts before 1700, the department under Kathryn Hiesinger's curatorial supervision became "European Decorative Arts after 1700." It continues to operate as such.

The earliest records consist of the correspondence of Museum Committee member Alfred Coxe Prime, and thus predate the Museum's formal establishment of any curatorial office or department of decorative arts. Series 2 through 7 document the work of curatorial staff; namely, Joseph Downs, Henry P. McIlhenny, Joan Prentice (in the absence of McIlhenny), and Calvin Hathaway, who each headed the department, respectively, from 1925 to 1973. Material consists of correspondence, subject files, research and exhibition records. During the time period documented, the Museum redefined the department's curatorial charge several times. "Decorative arts" thus referred to different object groups at different times, which were as follows: (1925-1928) all European and American decorative arts; (1928-1931) European decorative arts dated after 1500 ("Renaissance and Modern") and all American decorative arts; (1931-1967) all European and American decorative arts; (1967-1973) European decorative arts dated after 1700 and all American decorative arts.

Later curatorial records pertaining to decorative arts reside in several departmental record groups, namely: European Decorative Arts before 1700 Department, European Decorative Arts after 1700 Department, Dutch Tiles Records, American Art Department Records, and American Decorative Art Department Records. The Medieval Art Department Records include a small amount of correspondence of David DuBon, who became curator of Medieval and Renaissance Decorative Art at the time Hathaway assumed responsiblitiy for objects dated after 1700. No other records for DuBon have been transferred to the Archives.

The material comprising the "Research" series was returned from the American Art Department in 1999. After Calvin Hathaway's departure from the Museum in 1973, these files were apparently turned over to David Hanks, curator of American Art in 1974. Hanks may have used these for his own research purposes.

These materials were arranged and described by Alice Lefton, Bertha Adams and Leslie O'Neill. Funded by a grant from The National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Moved to European Decorative Arts after 1700 Department Records (EDA). "Second Empire Exhibition Records."

Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Alice Lefton, Bertha Adams and Leslie O'Neill
Finding Aid Date
Funded by a grant from The National Historical Publications and Records Commission
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

The Decorative Arts Department Records are the physical property of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. The Museum holds literary rights only for material created by Museum personnel or given to the Museum with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication and for other purposes where stated.

Collection Inventory

Prime correspondence and notes, 1917-1920. 0.25 linear foot.
Scope and Content Note

Included here are both his correspondence and notes on early American artisans.

Physical Description

0.25 linear foot

Downs correspondence and notes, 1925-1932. 2 linear feet.
Scope and Content Note

Here are four alphabets, by two-year segments, 1924-1926, 1927-1928, 1929-1930, 1931-1932, of correspondence. Downs notes to Kimball on Decorative Arts are here also.

Physical Description

2 linear feet

McIlhenny correspondence, 1933-1942. 2.5 linear feet.
Scope and Content Note

The early correspondence of McIlhenny before he took a leave of absence for military service is here in four alphabets, 1933-1937, 1938-1939, 1940-1941, and 1942. Of interest is correspondence on Degas loans to the Louvre.

See Also:

Henry P. McIlhenny Papers / VII. Affiliations / A. Philadelphia Museum of Art

Physical Description

2.5 linear feet

Prentice correspondence, 1943-1946. 0.25 linear foot.
Scope and Content Note

Prentice took over the department correspondence when McIlhenny was away, and here are two alphabets 1943-1944, 1945-1946. Included also are her articles on, e.g., Capodimonte in Antiques Magazine of May 1946.

Physical Description

0.25 linear foot

Physical Description

6 linear feet

General correspondence.


Objects offered to the Museum.

Alphabetical by the person offering the object.


By year.

Unidentified objects.

By questioner.

Hathaway subject files, 1965-1974. 3 linear feet.
Scope and Content Note

General subject files arranged alphabetically by subject including: crafts, jewelry, museology, pottery, historic preservation, University Hospital Antiques Show, etc. There are also departmental budget files for the years 1965 to 1974.

Physical Description

3.0 linear feet

Scope and Content Note

Of the approximately one dozen exhibitions documented in this series, five feature recent acquistions from 1965 to 1971. Some looked at the past, such as "Philadelphia Silver" (1956) and "English 18th-century Enamels" (1972), while others looked to the future, such as "Product Environment: New Furniture" (1970). Other exhibitions include the Museum's 75th anniversary celebration "Diamond Jubilee" (1950), "Threads of History" (1966), a one-month show surveying decorative textiles from the Egyptian to Modern age, and organized by the Costume and Textile Department; "The Animal Kingdom" (1969), and "The Campbell Museum Collection" (1969).

An inventory by exhibition title is available in the Archives. It includes a topical folder list for "Threads of History" and "Product Environment." There is also a separate topical folder list of "Philadelphia Silver."

Physical Description

2 linear feet

Scope and Content Note

"Diamond Jubilee: Masterpieces in America" was an exhibition assembled to celebrate the PMA's Seventy-fifth Anniversary. The purpose of the exhibition was not only to applaud the growth and success of the Museum, but also to illustrate the history of painting and drawing in America Within the exhibition were one hundred paintings and one hundred drawings, and also, sculptures. Included were works by Cezanne, Degas, Matisse, Pollack, Eakins, Picasso, Demuth, Goya, and Raphael. Held from November 3, 1950 to February 11, 1951, the exhibition also coincided with numerous gifts to the Decorative Arts department, including a thirteenth century Limonges enamel chasse and a Bonnin and Morris salt cellar, dated to approximately 1770. The records of the "Diamond Jubilee Exhibition" contain press releases, installation documents, and object descriptions.

[General]., 1950.
Box 1 Folder 1
Scope and Content Note

In 1965, the Museum held a large loan exhibition entitled, "Philadelphia Silver," with pieces dating from 1682 to 1800. The exhibition, held from April 14, 1956 to September 9, 1956, displayed the work of Philadelphia silversmiths, grouped according to maker. 595 objects were included within the exhibition, and they featured the work of both well-known and lesser-known silversmiths, such as Richard Humphreys and Henry Pratt. The records for the exhibition contain object files, record photographs, and copies of the catalogue.

Bequest. Clymer, George., 1939-1956.
Box 1 Folder 2
Catalogue. Master list and (2) copies annotated by Beatrice Wolfe., undated.
Box 1 Folder 3
Copy of "The Walpole Society: A List of Early American Silversmiths and Their Marks," by Hollis French. [Oversize]., undated.
Object file. Plate I., undated.
Box 1 Folder 4
Object file. Plate II., undated.
Box 1 Folder 5
Object file. Plate III., undated.
Box 1 Folder 6
Object file. Plate IV., undated.
Box 1 Folder 7
Object file. Plate V., undated.
Box 1 Folder 8
Object file. Plate VI., undated.
Box 1 Folder 9
Object file. Plate VII., undated.
Box 1 Folder 10
Object file. Plate VIII., undated.
Box 1 Folder 11
Object file. Plate IX., undated.
Box 1 Folder 12
Object file. Plate X., undated.
Box 1 Folder 13
Object file. Plate XI., undated.
Box 1 Folder 14
Object file. Plate XI., undated.
Box 1 Folder 15
Record photographs, undated.
Box 1 Folder 16
Record photographs, undated.
Box 1 Folder 17
Record photographs. Proofs., undated.
Box 1 Folder 18
Scope and Content Note

In the spring of 1965, the recent acquisitions of the Decorative Arts department were selected for an exhibition. On display were several highly important objects, including a well-known high chest attributed to Thomas Affleck, an exceptional Queen Anne armchair, and two English silver pieces by David Willaume. The records, from 1965, contain general material such as correspondence, object descriptions, and notes.

[General], 1965.
Box 2 Folder 1
Scope and Content Note

"Threads of History: The Romance of Fibers in Decorative Textiles, 2500 B.C. - 2000 A.D," was a travelling exhibition circulated by the American Federation of Art. The show was held from May 20, 1966 to June 19, 1966. It was comprised of several hundered contemporary furnishing fabrics and close to one hundred examples of historic textiles. For its showing at the PMA, the Decorative Arts department selected almost one hundred textiles from the Museum's own collection to be added to the exhibit. The records are largely administrative in nature and contain material such as correspondence, installation supports, and planning documentation. The bulk of the records are from 1966.

Catalogues, undated.
Box 2 Folder 2
Correspondence, 1965-1966.
Box 2 Folder 3
Fiscal, 1966-1967.
Box 2 Folder 4
Installation, 1966.
Box 2 Folder 5
Invitations, 1966.
Box 2 Folder 6
Labeling, 1960-1966.
Box 2 Folder 7
Plans and packing lists, 1964-1966.
Box 2 Folder 8
Publicity, 1966.
Box 2 Folder 9
Selected textiles from PMA collection, undated.
Box 2 Folder 10
Scope and Content Note

In the autumn of 1966, the Decorative Arts departments displayed its recent acquistions in an exhibit curated by Calvin S. Hathaway, the PMA's curator of Decorative Arts. Represented in the exhibit was medieval Europe, as illustrated by the presence of religious objects. Also of note in the exhibition was a finished silver coffee pot, made by Philip Syng, Jr., for Joseph Galloway, the infamous Tory sympathizer. The records include press releases, correspondence, and loan documentation.

[General], 1965-1968.
Box 3 Folder 1
Scope and Content Note

From June 4, 1968 to October 6, 1968, the Decorative Arts department exhibited its recent acquisitions under the label, "Made in America" The objects shown illustrated the exceptional craftsmanship of Philadelphians from the Colonial era to approximately 1968. Curated by Calvin S. Hathaway, the assembled objects included an important Chippendale mahogany pole screen, dated circa 1770, and a Queen Anne walnut armchair, circa 1740. The records include correspondence, press releases, and planning documentation.

[General], 1968.
Box 3 Folder 2
Scope and Content Note

The exhibition "The Animal Kingdom," was held from March 13, 1969 to April 16, 1969. It featured animals crafted out of materials such as porcelain, tin, copper, and terra cotta. The pieces were largely from the 19th century and included works from France, England, Germany, and Pennylvania. The records contain object descriptions and internal correspondence.

[General. Object descriptions]., 1969.
Box 3 Folder 3
Scope and Content Note

On November 22, 1969, the PMA opened the exhibition "The Campbell Museum Collection." The exhibition was comprised of nearly one hundred 18th and 19th century silver and ceramic soup tureens, soup ladles, and soup plates, all from the Campbell Museum in Camden, New Jersey. The pieces on display were acquired from various countries including China, France, Germany, and England. The show closed on December 30, 1969. The records include correspondence, planning and installation documentation, slides, and press releases.

[General], 1968-1969.
Box 2 Folder 4
Scope and Content Note

In late February of 1970, the Decorative Arts departments opened an exhibition of recent acquisitions that was known as "Made in Pennsylvania." The exhibition featured Pennsylvania craftsmanship through silver smithing, cabinet making, and painting. The selection process used was rather unusual, as the PMA judged works for the exhibition based on rareness, exceptional workmanship, and the manner in which they illustrated their time period. Of note in the exhibition was a silver teapot made by Joseph Richardson, Sr., a Philadelphia silversmith. The records include planning documentation, press releases, object descriptions and photographs, and correspondence.

[General], 1969-1970.
Box 3 Folder 5
Scope and Content Note

The exhibition "Product Environment: New Furniture" was organized by Emily S. Rauh, the curator of the City Art Museum of St. Louis. It was held from September 30, 1970 to November 10, 1970. The exhibition featured products in living rooms and other domestic interiors that demonstrated the potential and future of residential furnishings. 130 products were shown, created by fifty-seven designers from various countries including the United States, France, Japan, and Scandinavia. The concept of the exhibition was for the designers to illustrate the juxtaposition of current mass production techniques with simplified manufacturing techniques. Interestingly, many of the products were created for mass production and the average consumer, and included furnishings that sold for under twenty dollars. The records for the exhibition include correspondence, object lists, publicity material, and installation and exhibition planning documentation.

Correspondence. St. Louis, City Art Museum of., 1969-1973.
Box 3 Folder 6
Correspondence. Turner, Evan H., 1970.
Box 3 Folder 7
Erection., 1970.
Box 3 Folder 8
[Exhibition planning], 1970.
Box 3 Folder 9
Expenditures., 1970.
Box 3 Folder 10
Installation., 1970-1971.
Box 4 Folder 1
Lighting., 1970.
Box 4 Folder 2
Local retail sources., 1970.
Box 4 Folder 3
[Object list]., undated.
Box 4 Folder 4
Pictures., undated.
Box 4 Folder 5
Publicity., 1970.
Box 4 Folder 6
St. Louis, City Art Museum of., 1970.
Box 3 Folder 7
Scope and Content Note

The Decorative Arts department exhibition of recent acquisitions displayed objects acquired through the efforts of the Inter-Society Committee for 20th-Century Decorative Arts and Design. The exhibition was held from April 6, 1971 to September 27, 1971. On display were modern furnishings and decorative designs. The records contain installation materials, photographs, correspondence, and planning documentation.

[General]., 1971.
Box 4 Folder 8
Scope and Content Note

"Eighteenth Century Enamels" was an exhibition of primarily English enamels manufactured in the mid-to-late eighteenth century. It was held from June 11, 1972 to October 29, 1972, and was installed by Decorative Arts curatorial assistant Karen Christensen. On display were snuff boxes and other small objects. The collection of enamels was formed by two Philadelphia collectors over a twenty year period. The files include cataloguing records, planning documentation, photographs, and correspondence. Also within the files are loan records and valuations.

Cataloguing., 1972.
Box 5 Folder 1
Exhibition planning., 1972.
Box 5 Folder 2
[General]., 1972.
Box 5 Folder 3
Research, circa 1968-1974. 3.5 linear feet.
Scope and Content Note

In 1968 the American Society for Testing and Materials offered to the Museum any details from a house built in 1870-1871 for Charles T. Parry, a senior proprietor of the Baldwin Locomotive. Located at 1921 Arch Street in Philadelphia, the house was to be demolished. With funding from the Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Trusts, the Museum acquired the entrance and vestibule, describing it as the epitomy of "solid opulence of the period." Calvin Hathaway's research pertains to this house and consists primarily of photographs as well as correspondence regarding the dismantling and installation of the pieces. There is also biographical material of Parry, including newspaper articles, a copy of his will, family geneaology and a history of Baldwin Locomotive Works. There is also a file pertaining to the Parry House in the summer resort of Beach Haven, NJ. Some of the 1974 correspondence was written by David Hanks, who came to the Museum that year as curator of American Art.

Another set of research files pertain to Daniel Pabst, a Philadelphia cabinetmaker active during the mid to late 19th century. Documentation consists of correspondence with various descendents, photographs of his work and photocopies of Pabst's sketchbook and some of his correspondence.

A folder-level inventory of this series is available in the Archives.

Physical Description

3.5 linear feet

Print, Suggest