Brides, Housewives, Hostesses: Caring for and Enjoying Nathaniel Gould’s Furniture in Eighteenth-Century Salem
Betsy Widmer, Newburyport, MA
Side chair by Nathaniel Gould, 1770, for Clark Gayton Pickman and Sarah Orne, Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. Paul Moore, 1939. Photograph by Gavin Ashworth
Bureau table by Nathaniel Gould, ca. 1766–1768, Marblehead Historical Society, gift of Mrs. Francis B. Crowninshield, 1945. Photographed by Dennis Helmar in the Lee Mansion, Marblehead, MA
Portrait of Mary Toppan Pickman by John Singleton Copley, 1763, Yale University Art Gallery, bequest of Edith Malvina K. Wetmore, 1966
The genesis of Betsy Widmer’s talk was the discovery of the account books of Nathaniel Gould, Salem’s most prominent mid-18th century cabinetmaker. Kemble Widmer and Joyce King found this treasure trove of Nathaniel Gould’s account books at the Massachusetts Historical Society. This extraordinary find, together with dexterous sleuthing and connoisseurship, have allowed them to understand better Nathaniel Gould’s multi-faceted and complex colonial business. They have also been able to identify extant furniture listed by Gould in his account books and to suggest a number of the original owners.
One of the most surprising discoveries was the number and size of orders placed with Gould at the time of marriage, when a newly wed couple set up their household. Betsy Widmer will take a close look at these wedding orders: the commissions, the furniture, the couples, the weddings and the houses which Nathaniel Gould’s furniture first furnished.
Additional primary sources, such as letters and diaries, allow us to follow some of these young couples as they courted and married. Betsy Widmer invites us to join in their flurry of activities and rituals, purchases and expenses that characterized elite weddings in 18th century Salem. Her presentation, however, does not stop there. We will follow the newlyweds, through primary source materials such as diaries and letters, as they “go to housekeeping.” Mrs. Widmer will help us understand how they displayed, and cared for the furniture in their homes. Daily challenges of living with fine furniture became far more complex as political events threatened the underpinnings of Nathaniel Gould’s Salem.
Betsy Widmer graduated from Connecticut College with a bachelor’s degree in art history, followed by a master’s degree from Winterthur’s program in early American culture. Her experience spans the realms of curatorship, publication and auction house leadership. Mrs. Widmer served as director-curator for the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, DC, followed by curatorship of the Abigail Adams Smith Museum in New York City. She was an editorial assistant for the Magazine Antiques for 10 years before she entered the auction field. She was an assistant vice president, then vice president for Sotheby’s in New York for 14 years, before becoming a senior vice president at Christie’s in New York. Betsy Widmer next served as senior vice president for AntiquesAmerica.com, in Boston, before becoming vice president of collections and interpretation for Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH.
Mrs. Widmer’s publications include At Home: The American Family 1750–1870 (1990); The Arts of Independence (1984); The Antiques Book of Victorian Interiors (1981); and The Antiques Book of Colonial and Federal Interiors (1980). She contributed “Looking Glasses in America 1700–1850” to American Tables and Looking Glasses in the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University (edited by David Barquist, 1992).