The winter holidays are a time to gather with family and friends, enjoying good food and better company, catching up with each other’s lives, and retelling favorite stories from past gatherings. This same shift can happen with objects in museum collections. Memories fade and details written down decades later may not accurately relate the history of the object. Museum co-founder Sarah Pell kept records of family and maker attributions for the items in the Pavilion but some of the information changes over the decades, as all family stories evolve in the telling. For example, the story about a set of furniture purchased in France at the dawn of the 19th century by one family member transforms into a suite that came out of one of Napoleon’s palaces following the battle of Waterloo brought back to the United States by someone else.
Sorting out the specifics of provenance is an important part of what we do in museums because it is the history of the object: who made it, who used it, how it was used, and why it should continue to be preserved for future generations. One of the challenges with documenting the Pavilion collection at the Fort Ticonderoga Museum was the early 20th-century trend to attribute pieces to famous makers without firm evidence.
As we all gather with friends and family this holiday season, Curatorial Assistant Meredith Moore will be taking advantage of her family’s proximity to New York City to visit other institutions and research the provenance of objects in the Pavilion collection Sarah Pell inherited through the Gibbs side of her family. These include objects imported from Asia by her great grandfather George Gibbs’ business in the early years following the Revolution. It is our cautious hope that examining surviving records from the Gibbs family will help answer some of our questions.
Stay tuned here and on Fort Ticonderoga’s Facebook page for updates on the restoration of the Pavilion, new discoveries, and more from Fort Ticonderoga every week.