Decorative Arts Study Day with Dr. Philip Zimmerman

By Jenny Steadman, Adult Programs Manager of the Connecticut Historical Society

Chairs, Clocks and Signs

A visit to collection storage gives the group more objects to consider and allows them access to the behind-the-scenes areas of CHS.

On May 21, CHS welcomed a group of Decorative Arts enthusiasts who spent the whole day literally turning things upside down under the expert guidance of Dr. Philip Zimmerman, a museum and decorative arts consultant, author, and nationally recognized authority on early American furniture.

Focusing on materials, construction, maker and history, the group compared pieces to see how these clues led to new Examining Upside-Down Tablesways of thinking about pieces that have long been considered treasures of the CHS collection.

Removing drawers to look for signatures and examine dove tail joints led to a fruitful comparison of the craftsmanship of two dressing tables. Opening a leather-covered box revealed a great trick for dating pieces— a newspaper lining would, of course, have the date the lining was installed!

Sometimes questions led to more and more questions, as when the group asked about restoration performed on a Wethersfield sunflower chest. Offered special access to CHS’s latest acquisition, an Oxbow Chest attributed to cabinetmaker George Beldon and dated between 1790–1805, the group found five ways the chest was unique and that promised fruitful areas of new study.

The group also had the opportunity to explore the furniture storage area, and used this time behind the scenes to identify even more pieces they could discuss and study. All in all, it was an exciting day that offered participants, who included CHS trustees, curators from other historical societies, antiques dealers and appraisers and woodworkers, a chance to experience CHS’s decorative arts collection in an unique, hands on way.

Taking a Closer Look at a Chair's Construction

Study Day participants turn dressing tables upside down to get a better look at materials and craftsmanship.

The Decorative Arts Study Day was part of the programming planned to develop interest in the newly-formed Decorative Arts Affinity Group at CHS. If you are interested in upcoming events, or joining the steering committee for this new group, please contact me at or call (860) 236-5621 x289.

Jenny Steadman is the Adult Programs Manager of the Connecticut Historical Society, and has been in that position since 2012. She holds her Ph.D. in women’s history and literature from Emory University and has taught at Emory University, Trinity College, and most recently at the President’s College of the University of Hartford. She published Traveling Economies: American Women’s Travel Writing with Ohio State University Press in 2007. Stories of women’s travel, adventure, and accomplishment inspire her and sharing those stories is a life-long passion.

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