A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

“Painting, Poetry ... and Porcelaine”

In John Adams's vision of the heirarchy and hereditary nature of education, he was hopeful that his grandchildren might learn "Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine."

Adams's 1780 letter to Abigail, written while in Paris, continues: "It is not indeed the fine Arts, which our Country requires. The Usefull, the mechanic Arts, are those which We have occasion for in a young Country, as yet simple and not far advanced in Luxury, altho perhaps much too far for her Age and Character." The objects featured on this page illustrate examples of the "fine" and "Usefull" arts and include examples of 18th century housewares, jewelry, and needlework.

Dorothy Quincy (Mrs. Edward Jackson)
Portrait, oil on canvas by unidentified artist of the American school, circa 1720

Necklace belonging to Lady Amelia Offley Bernard
Silver mounting with nacre medallions surrounded by paste stones, by unknown maker, Europe, mid-18th century

Cobb family arms [needlework picture]
Needlework (including black silk, silk and gilt thread, beads) attributed to Sally Cobb Paine, circa 1760-1765

Diplomatic medal of the States-General of the United Provinces of Holland given ...
Gold medal, circa 1788

Success to the crooked but interesting Town of Boston pitcher
Earthenware, [between 1790 and 1800]

State Street, 1801
Oil on canvas by James Brown Marston

John Hancock's Silver

John Hancock was one of the wealthiest men in the colonies and was a prominent patriot in the Revolutionary War. Below is a portrait of Hancock as well as two of three recent gifts to the Society of silver pieces formerly belonging to Hancock and his family. The third piece, which is also in the physical exhibit, is a pap boat, which is a lipped, boat-shaped child's feeding bowl.

John Hancock
Portrait, oil on canvas by John Singleton Copley, circa 1770-1772

Pepper pot
Silver attributed to John Potwine, mid 18th century

Punch strainer belonging to John Hancock
Silver, [England, 17--]


Exhibition: 13 June to 7 September 2013

What is the meaning of historical objects? Why are they preserved, and why have they survived? Are they valued for their associations with notable historical figures or landmark events, as objects of beauty, as the survival of relics from a distant past, or for the stories they convey? This exhibition explores these questions through the display of 18th-century portraits and objects from the Society's collections, along with rarely seen engravings, needlework, maps, weapons, furniture, clothing, scientific instruments, and silver.

The exhibit runs from 13 June through 7 September 2013, Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM.

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