Wadsworth gives intimate look at early American bed furnishings

In early America, the bed played a central role in family life and home décor. It often was placed in the parlor, where anybody could see it, and at night, several members of the family slept in it together.

“Privacy in the 18th century was very different than it is today. The idea of being alone in a bedroom and closing the door was nonexistent,” said Brandy Culp, curator of American decorative arts at Wadsworth Atheneum. “The parlor was not the Victorian definition. It was the most important room in the household, a multifunctional space.”

An exhibit at the Hartford museum showcases bed furnishings, which in early America were often the most expensive thing a family owned, something they wanted to show off, not hide. In a wide variety of fabrics and techniques – silk, wool glazed to look like silk, quilting, applique, embroidery, crewel – professional or home-based textile artists created pieces that made up the ideal bedstead.

The Tree of Life was a common motif in these works. “It was based both on Biblical iconography and on Eastern tradition. It symbolized birth, life, death, regeneration, creation,” Culp said.

Many pieces in the exhibit reflect this symbolism in muted, polite, sleep-invoking colors. The showstopper, however, is a bolder piece by Hannah Leathers-Wilson, a black and white geometrical creation in Leathers-Wilson’s signature weft-loop weave, a technique so rigorous that Culp called the mysterious 19th-century textile artist “a mathematical genius.”

BED FURNISHINGS IN EARLY AMERICA: AN INTIMATE LOOK is at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 600 Main St. in Hartford, until Jan. 27. thewadsworth.org.

On other walls

“Downsized: Small-Scale Sculpture by Contemporary Artists” is the holiday show at Bruce Museum, One Museum Drive in Greenwich, up until Jan. 27. On Nov. 8 at 6 p.m., a panel discussion will be held with some of the artists. Admission to the talk is $15. Register: brucemuseum.org.

Works by Leila Daw are at Sue and Eugene Mercy Jr. Gallery at Loomis Chaffee School, 4 Batchelder Road in Windsor, from Nov. 8 (reception 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.) until Dec. 7. The show is inspired by geography, the environment and Daw’s work with Myanmar tapestry artists. loomischaffee.org.

The Shoreline Arts Trail’s 17th annual Open Studios weekend is Nov. 10 and 11 in Branford, Guilford and Madison. For a map, visit shorelineartstrail.com.

Hartford Public Library, 500 Main St., is hosting an African-American history photo exhibit from the collection of Bill Costen, of more than 1,000 photographs of Tuskegee Airmen, soldiers in World Wars I and II, “Buffalo Soldiers” from the 19th century and Pullman Porters. It will be up until Dec. 14. A reception will be held Nov. 14 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. hplct.org.

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