Maryland Room at NSDAR
Thirty-one state societies are custodians of the treasured DAR Museum Period Rooms in Memorial Continental Hall. The building was constructed between 1904 and 1910 as the original DAR Headquarters. Most of the period rooms were originally used as offices equipped with desks and filing cabinets intermingled here and there with lovely antiques. The Maryland State Society, NSDAR, has consistently maintained its room, except during WWII when much of the building was loaned to the American Red Cross. After the war, these 31 rooms began their transformation to become the Period Rooms of today with the Maryland room undergoing a makeover to become an 1830s parlor.
By the 1830-40s, Baltimore had become one of the preeminent Eastern cities of wealth and trade. The décor depicted in the Maryland parlor is that of a wealthy and cultured family sharing tea and preparing to enjoy a musical performance, most likely by a member of the family.
The most visually striking feature of the room is the scenic wallpaper which aptly reflects the standing of a wealthy Baltimore or Maryland family of the 1830s. Although most scenic wallpapers are block printed, this example is hand painted. Made in Paris and hand-painted about 1900, the set of twenty panels is approximately 36 inches in width and 7 1/2 feet in length. Graphically commemorating the French Revolution, the only information given to the museum was that the paper had been purchased from an antique dealer in St. Louis, Missouri, in the mid-1940s. Through the efforts and generosity of Maryland Daughters, its restoration and installation became a reality.
The design of the blue and gold silk window valences hanging from classical gilt arrows was taken from early nineteenth-century pattern books. Around 1947-48, plans for a new administrative wing first suggested that the Maryland room windows might need to be removed. Fortunately, this was averted and now the lovely valences adorn the windows!
David Shoemaker of Mt. Holly, New Jersey, made the monumental tall case clock exhibited in this room in the early nineteenth century. The finial is in the form of a classical firebird, or Phoenix, representing rebirth and eternal life.
The beautiful piece of furniture with an open lid, on the right in the following picture, reveals glasses that make it look like a wet bar. In truth, it is a grand harmonicon, a high-quality musical instrument made by Francis H. Smithy of Baltimore sometime in the 1830s. It is housed in a beautiful neoclassical mahogany veneer case and contains twenty-four glass goblets. The glasses, when filled with varying amounts of water, are rubbed along their top rims with a moistened finger, thereby creating angelic, ethereal musical sounds! The harmonicon was an expensive instrument and such an “elegantly finished” example like this one could cost as much as $73 in the 1830s which would be $2,355 in 2023.
Baltimore-style painted or “fancy” furniture was a unique contribution to American decorative arts. From 1800 to 1840 this Maryland city was a leading cabinetmaking center. The forms and decorative elements of early Baltimore painted furniture followed examples found in such respected English pattern books as Thomas Sheraton’s The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Book and George Hepplewhite’s The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide. Designers of the time were influenced by the classical motifs discovered through archaeological excavations of domestic interiors found in Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The two elegantly painted side chairs flanking the center card table illustrates the adaptation of the antique Greco-Roman form called the “klismos” chair. These are characterized by raked stiles and rear legs along with gently curved crest rails. Both chairs have caned seats and are painted black with gilt décor done in freehand and stencil. The chair featuring a gilt décor of a helmet, sheathed sword, acanthus, and anthemion leafage belonged to the Francis Scott Key family and was made in Baltimore between 1820 and 1830. The second chair, whose seat crest rail is decorated with a cornucopia, has been repainted and was made in either Baltimore or Philadelphia. The painted card table was also made in Baltimore between 1825 and 1830 and is attributed to the workshop of Hugh and John Finlay. The Finlays operated a shop at various addresses during the early nineteenth century and are perhaps the most famous painted furniture makers from Baltimore. The popularity of Baltimore-painted furniture is evidenced in many household inventories. For instance, "1 Doz Green and Red chairs, 2 Green and red settees, 2 Green and gold pier tables, 2 Green and gold card tables, and 2 Green and gold lamp stands," was listed among the furnishings for the front parlor of Charles Ridgely, a former governor of Maryland.
Another striking object in the Maryland room is the mahogany desk and bookcase made in either Baltimore or Philadelphia sometime between 1795 and 1810. It is the popular “neat and plain” architectural style that relies upon the handsome wood grain of the doors for its visual appeal. It is supported upon splayed or French feet in the neoclassical style. The upper case was used to store books, while part of the lower case functioned as a working desk with drawers and pigeonholes which are revealed when the front section is opened. The lowest portion of the base acts as additional storage.
All of the Period Rooms, including the Maryland room, are historically accurate and represent an incredible educational resource that tells the story of the development of the home between 1690 and 1930.