Invention and Innovation in the Decorative Arts

Side Chairs, 1808-1830. Samuel Gragg (1772-1855), Boston, Massachusetts. Gift of Mrs. Walter L. Weil, 79.38.b and d. Photograph by David Bohl.

Teapot, ca. 1765, England. Special Acquisitions Fund, 91.025.12a-b. Photograph by David Bohl.

Knights Templar Shelf Clock, ca. 1867. John Haley Bellamy (1836-1914), designer, Charlestown, Massachusetts. Niles, Ward & Co., case maker, Charlestown, Massachusetts. E.N. Welch Clock Co. (1864–1903), clock works manufacturer, Forestville, Connecticut. Museum Purchase, 98.067a-b. Photograph by David Bohl.

Invention and Innovation in the Decorative Arts
Ongoing

Rocking Chair, 1898-1915. Heywood Brothers and Wakefield Company, Gardner, Massachusetts. Gift of Barbara Mason, 84.25.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

Rocking Chair, 1898-1915. Heywood Brothers and Wakefield Company, Gardner, Massachusetts. Gift of Barbara Mason, 84.25.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

Decorative arts, the objects that consumers have bought to fill their homes over the centuries, bring art, creativity and usefulness together. Householders needed a chair to serve as a comfortable seat, but in making their selection, furniture shoppers also sought a chair that appealed to their taste and budget. As well, some buyers looked for household furnishings that reflected their interest in the fashions of the day and supported their social aspirations.

To stand out in the marketplace, many craftsman and manufacturers brought innovation and invention to their products and processes. Some of their innovations included new ways to decorate objects, such as ceramics ornamented with bright glazes or detailed images. Other craftsmen created innovative processes, bending wood to make chairs or mechanizing different ways to manufacture furniture. These innovations allowed them to offer new kinds of products or gave them an edge in the market by featuring a less expensive product than the competition. Still other producers invented methods for mimicking luxurious materials for an everyday price. Some craftsmen helped create a market for their goods by selling a product that had not been available before. The makers whose work is featured here brought creativity, business sense and bold ideas to the objects they produced.