Pennsylvania style

ANTIQUES Staff

ANTIQUES Staff

Photography by Gavin Ashworth | It took knowledge—knowledge and taste together,” according to Harry Hartman of Harry B. Hartman Antiques and Interiors who helped to form this exceptional private collection of American furniture and folk art and American and Chinese export paintings. For nearly fifty years, the Hartman name has been synonymous with purveying fine antiques from southeastern Pennsylvania. This house and collection show that off, as well as Hartman’s other talent—well-designed spaces in which to live comfortably with antiques.
The owners began collecting in the mid-1980s when they were newly engaged to be married. She was already clear on what she liked, but he had grown up in a Navy family that moved frequently and he had not yet experienced the passion that collecting can instill. In thinking about furnishing the house they had just purchased, they decided to visit the Delaware Antiques Show in Wilmington. There they met Hartman, who sold them a red-painted New England chair-table, which he kindly offered to deliver. When Hartman arrived with the table, he was surprised to be greeted by a longtime friend who lived just west of his Marietta, Pennsylvania, shop. She turned out to be the mother of one of his new clients. Now a trusted and dear friend to two generations, the couple credits Hartman with cultivating their taste and encouraging them to read about and study the objects they collect.

Twenty years later, their house is best described as a collection of collections. Fine Philadelphia-area mahogany and walnut furniture with veneered and carved decoration is juxtaposed with collections of yellow ware and salt-glazed stoneware, late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century baskets of all shapes and styles, Canton porcelain, Chinese export paintings and gouaches, early Pennsylvania samplers (see Fig. 14) and fraktur, chalkware cats, milliners’ forms, hatboxes, and weather vanes, among other things. The American paintings in the collection have a broad reach too, ranging from a Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks (see Figs. 2, 12) to twentieth-century paintings by Ben Austrian, Edward Willis Redfield, and African American Horace Pippin (see Figs. 1, 10).

The house itself was designed in 1939 by the well-known Main Line Philadelphia architect Walter K. Durham.1 One of Durham’s classic “French country” designs, it was brimming with charm and elegance, although several additions had been made over the years. “It had all the right bones,” Hartman says. Working closely with him to honor those bones, the couple had earlier additions removed that conflicted with the original design and expanded only where the lines of the house naturally welcomed them. Inside, each room and nook became a canvas for the works of art they acquired on weekly jaunts with Hartman to the numerous antiques shows and auctions in the Delaware Valley and central Pennsylvania. With their focus on the arts produced in the region, they came to know and patronize local dealers—including the Schwarz Gallery (paintings), M. Finkel and Daughter (samplers), Philip H. Bradley and his son Philip W. (furniture), H. L. Chalfant (furniture and decorative arts), Diane Bryman (Oriental rugs), and the late Elinor Gordon (Chinese export porcelain). And as their taste and knowledge have expanded, they now also travel to New York for the major furniture and paintings shows and sales.

The broad entrance hall serves as an overture to the collection (Fig. 3). Below a sprawling canvas of the hongs at Canton, painted for export in 1780, is a Philadelphia mahogany arch-backed sofa with the high peaked crest rail and wide scrolling arms that give late eighteenth-century Philadelphia sofas such a desirable sculptural presence. The earlier Philadelphia walnut upholstered easy chair, with its C-scroll arm terminals rolling outward, cabriole legs, and trifid feet, was purchased from the estate of the legendary collectors Pamela C. (1906-2001) and Lammot du Pont (1905-1983) Copeland. The rectangular shape of the mahogany New York tea table of about 1765—called square in price books because of the squared corners—was common in New England but rare in New York—and rarer still in Philadelphia, where round tilt-top examples, like the one beside the clock in the corner, were ubiquitous. Flanking the tea table is a pair of mid-eighteenth-century Philadelphia solid-splat walnut chairs with compass seats. The tall clock has an eight-day movement and an engraved brass and painted dial made by Delaware’s major clockmaker, Duncan Beard (active 1765-1797) of Appoquini­mink (now Middletown), in southern New Castle County.2 Dating to the 1780s, it is housed in a mahogany case that shares features with others made for Beard’s clocks that are ascribed to the Delaware cabinetmaker John Janvier Sr. (1749-1801). Of note on these cases are the waist-door panel with wonderfully curving edges and the three-speared carved central ornament.

The bright yellow silk damask upholstery and harmonious groupings of furniture in the Port Royal Parlor in the Winterthur Museum inspired the decoration of the living room (Fig. 10).3 Accessed by a set of broad stairs, the sunken living room is a hallmark of Durham’s French country style. In the center is a large Philadelphia marble-topped mahogany slab table also purchased at the Copeland sale. It falls into the realm of a “frame for marble slab,” as the 1772 Philadelphia furniture price book describes the form, al­though it has a low height (27 ¾ inches) and great depth (32 inches) relative to the more common tall and narrow shape of most marble slab tables.4 It is finished on all four sides, suggesting a central room position rather than the more typical placement against a wall. The matched walnut easy chairs at the far end of the room were both made in Philadelphia in the mid-eighteenth century. It cannot be proven that they were made as a pair, but construction similarities suggest they were made in the same shop.5 Below an English looking glass (one of a pair) is one of two closely related small Philadelphia mahogany chests of drawers of about 1765. Also in the room, although not visible in Figure 10, are a Philadelphia high chest of drawers and desk-and-bookcase, along with the fine assortment of late eighteenth-century tilt-top tables, chairs, and a card table from Philadelphia that are pictured. In the over­mantel hangs an archetypal Bucks County winter scene by Pennsylvania impressionist Redfield. The five-piece Kangxi garniture on the mantel shelf dates to the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century and is among the numerous examples of blue-and-white Chinese porcelain throughout the house. A Philadelphia tall clock with a movement by William Huston (1730-c. 1790) stands beside the fireplace.

In the dining room is a Chester County, Pennsylvania, cherry corner cupboard of a desirably small size and noteworthy for the high pitch of the scroll pediment and the distinctive rosettes (Fig. 4). It was an early purchase from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, dealer Philip H. Bradley and is filled with a portion of the couple’s considerable collection of Canton ware, which is distinguished for its array of rare forms. Based on their remarkable similarity to those made for George Washington in 1797, the dining room chairs, one of which is shown beside the corner cabinet, are attributed to the Scottish-born Philadelphia cabinetmaker John Aitken. At the other end of the room, flanking the fireplace, the collectors juxtapose two Pennsylvania inlay traditions by placing a Chester County inlaid walnut cabinet under each of a pair of elegant Philadelphia mahogany card tables with serpentine front rails (see Fig. 5). The card tables date to the 1790s and the cabinets, of a type often used to safeguard spices, to the 1760s. These two distinct forms show how the same decorative technique can achieve totally different effects. On the cabinets, geometric motifs inlaid in contrasting light woods are part of a vernacular folk tradition: such designs, initials, and abstract flowers are also found on pottery, painted furniture, and drawings from the region.6 While still geometric, the inlay on the tables is daintier, more stylized, and less personalized. Ultimately, it is based on architectural order, with a tripartite facade formed by panels of contrasting woods framed by delicate line inlays. The tables hold additional examples of blue-and-white Chinese export ware, including fish-shaped dishes intended as receptacles for fish bones.

American baskets dating to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are suspended from exposed beams in the family room; in one corner, an impressive collection of miniature baskets spills out of a small southeastern Pennsylvania hanging corner cupboard (see Figs. 1, 6). The tail and extra shelf at the bottom bespeak the cupboard’s Germanic origins. This room, which is adjacent to the kitchen, is part of an earlier addition that the couple had rebuilt to be more in keeping with the original house. In it they also display a large collection of yellow ware in a Dutch cupboard, some of their salt-glazed stoneware, and several of their animal carvings by the celebrated itinerant carver Wilhelm Schimmel. Pippin’s Milkman of Goshen of 1945 hangs above the fireplace, which is flanked by two well-preserved early Pennsylvania painted dower chests-the type of choice find for which Hartman is legendary. Although not pictured, the room also contains the early New England painted chair-table that was the first object the collectors purchased from Hartman.

The walls of the stair hall are hung with two types of Chinese export art—a series of twelve gouaches illustrating the production and sale of tea to the Western market and a large early nineteenth-century oil painting, depicting a view of the Pearl River from Canton to Whampoa Anchorage (see Fig. 11).7 The clock at the top of the stairs was made by Goldsmith Chandlee (1751-1821), a Quaker clockmaker born in Nottingham, Pennsylvania. The third generation of a clockmaking dynasty, Chand­­lee moved in 1775 to Stephens City, Virginia, and then to Winchester, Virginia, where this clock and its case were made. Chandlee maintained close ties to his southeastern Pennsylvania roots; during the American Revolution he played host to a number of Quakers who were exiled from Philadelphia for their unwillingness to fight, among them the important furniture maker Thomas Affleck (1740-1795).

An arch-paneled Berks County, Pennsylvania, Kleiderschrank (wardrobe) dominates one wall of the principal bedroom (Fig. 15). It is stacked to the ceiling with colorful nineteenth-century papered hatboxes, all of which survive in remarkable condition. Such bursts of color not only demonstrate Hartman’s skill in combining different mediums and eras, but also the couple’s passion for collecting strongly in certain areas—there are dozens more hatboxes displayed elsewhere in the house. The mahogany Philadelphia easy chair, also purchased at the Copeland sale, is a later more developed example than the one in the entrance hall: it has C-scrolled arm terminals that are more tightly rolled and angle downward and shell-carved cabriole legs that end in claw-and-ball feet. The charming mid-nineteenth-century folk painting of a girl with her cat hints at the couple’s special fondness for cats. They are featured prominently in the guest room, where a collection of nineteenth-century chalkware cats is arrayed on a shelf above a nineteenth-century hooked rug with cats (Fig. 17); and another feline is painted on a large travel or document box set on top of a Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, walnut chest-on-chest (see Fig. 16). Dating to the late 1760s, the chest-on-chest has bracket feet with an unusual profile, only two drawers in the bottom case, and the sulphur inlay decoration that is seen on other furniture from this region.  

The latest addition to the house is a sunroom off the back that overlooks a terraced garden. Hartman designed the sunroom to be enjoyed twelve months of the year—white silk twill upholstery with blue piping in the summer, a rich camel-colored wool with red piping in the winter. Fittingly, this sun-drenched room is ornamented with weather vanes that have survived harsher effects of sun—and of snow, wind, and rain: on one wall hangs a commanding Indian vane made about 1880 that retains its original surface, and on another is a selection of animal vanes, which are a particular favorite of the wife (see Figs. 7, 8).

Collecting is about exploring one’s passion for art, history, and the people who both made and lived with objects and works of art. The search for the right piece of furniture, the unusual ceramic form, the complete set of Chinese watercolors, the hatbox in remarkable condition, or the well-preserved sampler from a school not yet represented  has defined this couple’s collecting for more than two decades. Their focus on southeastern Pennsylvania—and the exotic cultures with which Pennsylvanians traded—grounds the collection to its locale. And mixed together with Hartman’s eye for grouping and balance, it all lives comfortably under one roof. 

1 See Jean Kessler Wolf, “The Residential Architecture of Walter K. Durham in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania, 1925-1968: The Typological Analysis and Conservation Guidelines,” master’s thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1993.  2 See Frank L. Hohmann III, Timeless: Masterpiece American Brass Dial Clocks (Hohmann Holdings, New York, 2009), No. 10.  3 Port Royal was a house built for Edward Stiles in Frankford, Pennsylvania, in the 1760s. Henry Francis du Pont purchased it from his dealer friend J. A. Lloyd Hyde and installed its architectural elements throughout his “American Wing” at Winterthur. 4 Prices of Cabinet and Chair Work (Philadelphia, 1772), p. 20.  5 One was purchased from a private collector and the other acquired soon thereafter at auction.  6 Lee Ellen Griffith, The Pennsylvania Spice Box: Paneled Doors and Secret Drawers (Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, Pa., 1986).  7 See Carl L. Crossman, The Decorative Arts of the China Trade: Paintings, Furnishings, and Exotic Curiosities (Antique Collectors Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1991), pp. 173-179.

ALEXANDRA ALEVIZATOS KIRTLEY is the associate curator of American art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.