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"Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U. S. Department of State"
2004-11-04 until 2005-01-02
Portland Museum of Art
Portland, ME, USA

Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U. S. Department of State will be on view at the Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine from November 4, 2004 through January 2, 2005. The exhibition features 170 objects from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State --one of the nation's least-known cultural treasures--that constitute one of the most extraordinary collections of Americana in the world.

The exhibition, curated by Dr. Jonathan Fairbanks, presents some of the finest examples of American paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, and furniture of the golden age of American decorative and fine arts, from approximately 1750-1825. From the great Philadelphia chest attributed to Joseph Deleveau to the exquisite settee by Duncan Phyfe; from paintings by J. S. Copley, C. W. Peale, Gilbert Stuart, and Thomas Sully to silver by Paul Revere II and John Le Tellier; from porcelain belonging to George Washington to the most elegant pewter, these objects, owned by America=s illustrious founders, highlight America=s achievement in the arts in the Colonial and Federal periods.

These icons of American history not only tell the story of our forebears; they are essential to documenting the early days of the Department of State and the origins of American foreign policy. These are objects that illuminate the climactic events and towering personalities that were instrumental in the birth of the United States. They also remind us that America shared in the elegance and grandeur of the Age of Enlightenment. The early Americans who owned these works and the artisans who made them clearly had sophisticated aesthetics, a rational sense of function, and high technical skills. The people who shaped these objects shaped more than physical beauty; they shaped a national consciousness.

This exhibition comes from the collection of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the

U. S. Department of State, which includes some of the finest examples ever created of American furniture and fine and decorative arts from the 18th and early 19th centuries. The collection was assembled starting in the 1950s as part of a larger plan to transform a suite of box-like rooms into an elegant and distinctively American backdrop for affairs of state. The result, designed and assembled in only 30 years, is a series of graceful rooms for entertaining diplomats and foreign heads of state that are renowned world-wide for their beauty and evocative period settings.

Attributed to the shop of Duncan Phyfe,
Classical Mahogany Sofa,
New York, New York,
ca. 1810-1820,
35 x 73 x 23 in.,
With rare hairy legs and feet,
Lent by Mrs. James Balling. Photography by Will Brown

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