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Historical Society Looks at Decorated Home Pieces

Anne Dimock and Charlie Gruman

The Historical Society of Early American Decoration was started in 1946 to honor decoration expert Esther Stevens Brazer

 The Historical Society of Early American Decoration is a non-profit educational organization whose primary purpose is to research, record and preserve examples of early decorated pieces found in the homes of our American ancestors.

This year is the 70th anniversary of HSEAD, and there are 13 active chapters totaling more than 400 members from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and also from Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Japan. Our national office is at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown.

Early American or “Colonial décor” was popular in America throughout the 20th century, and during the 1940’s it was all the rage. World War II prompted a powerful, renewed sense of patriotism throughout the country and the Colonial decorating style represented Home and Patriotism to millions.

With this heightened sense of patriotism came an awareness of the need to preserve the architecture and traditional crafts of the Colonial period. Restoration village museums, such as Colonial Williamsburg and Old Sturbridge Village, first opened to the public in 1946, and enjoyed the support of wealthy patrons, such as Abby A. Rockefeller, and average Americans alike. It was into this atmosphere of renewed interest in Early American or Colonial architecture and decorative arts that the Historical Society of Early American Decoration was established in 1946 in honor of Esther Stevens Brazer, the premier authority on Early American decoration.

Esther Stevens, a descendant of Zachariah Stevens, who established a decorated tinware shop in Maine around 1800, was born in Portland, Maine, and showed an early interest in art and architecture. She studied art, design and interior design at the Portland Art School and the Columbia University. These interests lead Esther to dedicate the rest of her life to research, reproduction and the teaching of authentic Early American decoration.

HSEAD members submit articles for judging in country painting, gold leafing, reverse glass painting, stenciling, clock dials, freehand bronzing, theorem painting, Pontypool, Victorian flower painting and pen work. Although only the above categories are acceptable for judging, members continue to research and record other early decorated American pieces such as bride’s boxes, chairs, primitive paintings, wall and floor stenciling, frakturs, bellows, silhouettes and band boxes. This is the art work that was part of the 1800-1850 American Home.

Many chapters have mounted local exhibits of original pieces along with members’ work in venues such as libraries and museums. The Central New York Chapter, in collaboration with the History Center, is featuring an exhibit highlighting local members’ work, opening on Aug. 25 and running until Sept. 24. Recently, HSEAD partnered with Old Sturbridge Village to establish a more permanent public exhibition, research and teaching space at the David Wight House, which has since hosted numerous classes, open houses and other events. Members are part of a regular rotation of artisans presenting demonstrations to the public at Old Sturbridge Village.

The Central New York Chapter of HSEAD is comprised of 34 organizations. Members of the CNY chapter come from all over our local region, including the North Country, the Southern Tier, Rochester, greater Syracuse and the Finger Lakes. We are a very active chapter with monthly meetings, speakers and presentations, tours and trips to sites in our region, regularly scheduled classes and nationally organized HSEAD events.

Local membership information is available from Chapter President Doris Holdorf at (607) 965-8076 or Membership Chairman Joanne Balfour at (315) 637-0404. We welcome you to join us. See our website for more information about HSEAD.

The exhibit of the Central New York Chapter will be on display at the History Center in Tompkins County from Aug. 25 through Sept. 24. The History Center is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Saturday demonstrations: Children’s stencil Day, Aug. 27, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; HSEAD member art skills, Sept. 10, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and Sept. 19 and 24, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Sept. 2: Gallery Night meet and greet the public, 5 to 8 p.m.

Anne Dimock is a local HSEAD teacher and Charlie Gruman is an HSEAD Guild member.


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