Ancient American, Native American, 17th-Century, and Maritime Art

Level LG Galleries

Level LG’s dramatic central galleries include displays of goldwork from regions now part of Panama and Colombia, Andean textiles, classic Maya ceramics, and a range of Native American works. In adjacent galleries, visitors can explore the beginnings of colonial life in the New England region through 17th- and early 18th-century portraits, furniture, silver, and domestic textiles. One gallery features Colonial embroidered samplers, and another is devoted to intricate ship models and the arts of the maritime world. Also on this level are Brown Pearl Hall, a 17th-century period room, and the 17th-century Manning House frame.

Ancient Central America

Mask, 900–500 BC, OlmecThe Ancient Central America Gallery features Mesoamerica (modern-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras). Upon entering this gallery in the Art of the Americas Wing, across from the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery for special exhibitions, visitors are greeted by the enormous, highly decorated burial urns (650-850 AD) made by the ancestors of the K’iché Maya of Guatemala. A highlight of the gallery is the Museum’s superb collection of Classic Maya ceramics, the foremost of its kind outside of Guatemala (an interactive touch screen explores various themes presented in these ceramics). These include the artist Mo’n Buluk Laj’s masterpiece depicting the birth of the Maize god (755-780 AD), considered among the finest Maya works created. Royal jewelry and body adornments—Olmec jades, especially a superb portrait mask, from Mexico, and a newly acquired Veracruz ballgame yoke (450-700 AD)—are also exhibited, along with a fine selection of art from other ancient cultures of Mexico.

Ancient South America

Shaman effigy pendant, AD 900–1600, TaironaExamples of the Museum’s renowned collection of ancient Central and South American art are showcased in this gallery. Textiles from Peru will be seen on a rotating basis, providing an opportunity for visitors to compare Andean imagery in a variety of media, including gold, ceramics, and fiber arts. Goldwork from the various cultures that lived in ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia is on display, including a striking cast gold “cacique” figural pectoral, enigmatic “tunjo” cache figures made by the Muisca people, and large-scale dynamic body adornments from southern Colombia. Ceramics from other ancient Andean cultures are also featured. These range from vessels created by the Nasca people, exquisitely painted with abstract motifs and schematized renderings of the human form, to hand-modeled and mold-made sculptural pottery in the shape of fruits, animals, and historical figures made by the Moche and Chimú cultures of northern Peru. In addition, an array of musical instruments, including ocarinas, shell trumpets, rattles, and hand drums, address the role performance played among many ancient American cultures to convey social, political, and religious principles.

Native North America

Drawing No. 24 (from Ledger Book Containing 33 Drawings), 1885, Silver HornWorks of art created by the diverse indigenous peoples of North America were among the earliest objects collected by the Museum after its opening in 1876. The collection now spans the continental United States and Canada from ancient times to modern day. A prominent feature of this gallery is the MFA’s extensive collection of art (largely pottery) from the Puebloan peoples of Arizona and New Mexico, which includes outstanding works from the period before contact with the Spanish (patterned ceramics by the ancient Mimbres and Anasazi). The Museum’s collection also includes objects from the time following the arrival of the Spanish, represented by 19th- and early 20th-century pottery from many pueblos, including those Zia and Zuni decorated with abstract birds. Also on view is pottery made by the ancient Mississippian Tradition “Mound Builders” of the mid-West and Southeast; basketry of California and the plains peoples; Diné (Navajo) textiles and jewelry; an Apache headdress; moccasins by Eastern Woodlands people; spectacular objects from the Pacific Northwest, including a mid 19th-century Tsimshian chief’s chest; a Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) potlach figure; and a recently acquired Chilkat dancing blanket; as well as masks and scrimshaw produced by Inuit (Eskimos). This gallery also features modern Native American artists in various media, including paintings, works on paper, ceramics, jewelry, glass, basketry, and textiles in both traditional and contemporary modes. Highlighted are works by artist Preston Singletary, who explores his connection with ancient customs, along with paintings and works on paper by such artists as Stan Natchez and Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, and ceramics by Nathan Begaye and Diego Romero.

Brown-Pearl Hall

Mrs. Richard Patteshall (Martha Woody) and Child, 1679, attributed to Thomas SmithBuilt in Boxford, Massachusetts, north of Boston, about 1704, the Brown-Pearl hall illustrates New England domestic life in the first years of the eighteenth century. Based on descriptions of 17th-century inventories, the room has been furnished with chairs, tables, metalwork, and other objects found in an Essex County home of the period, illustrating the multi-purpose nature of a 17th-century hall. The room is dominated by a massive open-hearth fireplace and showcases a rare early bed. The timber frame of the room exemplifies the heavy mortise-and-tenon construction used by immigrant builders during the earliest years of the Anglo-American colonies. Outside of the room, 17th- and early 18th-century furniture representing various New England shop traditions and illustrating various decorative techniques such as carving and painting is featured. The gallery also includes a rare double portrait of the period, Mrs. Richard Patteshall (Martha Woody) and Child (1679), attributed to Thomas Smith.

17th Century/Manning House

Chest of drawers with doors, 1670–1700This gallery has been designed around the large, dramatic timber frame from the second floor of the late 17th-century Manning House from Ipswich, Massachusetts, now installed as an architectural setting for decorative arts and paintings. Examples of the MFA’s unparalleled collection of 17th- and early 18th-century North American furniture, silver, and portrait paintings, primarily from New England, are featured. The case furniture and chairs on display represent many of the regional shop traditions of the period, including Boston, Salem, the Hartford area, and the Connecticut River Valley. Domestic and ecclesiastical silver by Boston silversmiths, including rare examples by John Hull and Robert Sanderson, Jeremiah Dummer, Edward Webb, and John Coney, are well represented, as are European ceramics and glass of the kind imported into the North American colonies in the 17th century.

George Putnam Gallery / Ship Models and Maritime Arts

100-gun ship of the line, about 1715–1719This gallery is devoted to the golden age of maritime ship models, paintings, and decorative arts, all of which are presented as though installed in a collector’s ship room for maritime arts. For hundreds of years, craftsmen have celebrated and disseminated technological advances in sea faring by building stream-lined hull models and minutely detailed ship models, such as the Dutch East-Indiaman, Valkenisse (1717), and other English, French, and American examples, including the Constitution (1928) and Flying Cloud (1915). Artists such as Robert Salmon (The British Fleet Forming a Line Off Algiers, 1829), Fitz Henry Lane (New York Harbor, about 1855), and William Bradford (Icebound Whaling Ship, about 1875), painted maritime views. Others recorded the topography of harbors, commemorated battles, and memorialized ships and their captains. Maritime arts were not always commissioned from professional artists—sailors and prisoners of war often occupied their time with model making and carving scrimshaw in many forms. The variety of works presented in this gallery allows visitors to explore a maritime world intricately tied to the colonization and commercial development of the Americas.

Burton A. Cleaves Gallery / The Baroque in North America: Trade and the Arts in the Atlantic World

Sugar box, about 1680–1685, John ConeyThe gallery presents colonial North American objects of the baroque style, which is characterized by elaborate ornament, richly patterned surface treatments, and imported exotic materials. Veneered furniture, including high chests and dressing tables, carved high-backed cane chairs, and other highly decorated new furniture forms demonstrate colonial craftsmen's engagement with the period interest in light and space. Outstanding examples of silver candlesticks, sugar boxes, chocolate pots, and wine cups by John Coney, Edward Webb, John Noyes, Jeremiah Dummer, and others demonstrate the richness of American silver in this period, with its elaborate surfaces and use of symbolic ornament. Paintings by John Smibert, one of the first important British-born artists to work in the North American colonies, also are shown here, among them his iconic portrait of the Oliver Brothers (1732). Adjacent to the Ship Model Gallery, this gallery further explores topics of trade and exchange throughout the Atlantic Basin during the early 18th century.

Edward and Nancy Roberts Family Gallery / Colonial Embroidery of Boston: Samplers, Pictures, and Domestic Textiles—Rotating Gallery

Sampler, 1771, Sally JacksonThis gallery will feature special exhibitions on a rotating basis, beginning with a selection of colonial embroidery created in Boston. The embroideries of Colonial Boston girls and women have long been treasured family possessions and are now much sought after by collectors. The charm and craftsmanship of Adam and Eve samplers, pastoral pictures with leaping stags and galloping hunters, as well as crewelwork bed hangings and delicately embroidered baby caps bring to mind a warm domesticity; however, they also reveal much about the lives of Boston women and their role within colonial society. This series of exhibitions focuses on three types of needlework—samplers, schoolgirl pictures, and domestic embroideries—revealing the role of embroidery in the education of women, in their domestic lives, and as an important source of household income. A catalogue will accompany these installations.

Samplers (on view November 20, 2010 – March 13, 2011)

Colonial Boston samplers played an important role in educating young women by teaching them embroidery and the ability to recognize letters and numbers. The use of samplers was common in Europe, and when the first colonists to New England arrived they brought their samplers with them to help educate their children. A pair of 17th-century samplers brought to Boston will be exhibited to show the Boston samplers’ English roots, as well as examples of samplers from East Anglia, where many colonial Boston families originated. These samplers share many similarities with some of the earliest known Boston work. During the 18th century, schools were established to teach embroidery, and distinctive sampler styles developed that have been associated with specific neighborhoods. The exhibition will feature many of these styles, including Boston's most famous samplers, which are identified by the depiction of Adam and Eve at the bottom.

Schoolgirl Embroideries (on view April 2 – August 28, 2011)

As the ranks of wealthy Bostonians grew during the 18th century, many elite families had the resources to allow their daughters to continue their education and become accomplished young ladies. After completing their samplers, many girls created embroidered pictures, overmantels, and coats of arms that became cherished family heirlooms. These pictures were common in England, and ready-drawn canvases were imported into the New England colonies. However, Boston teachers, embroiderers, and artists also began drawing their own canvases. While canvas work pictures predominated, some girls embroidered in silk on silk. This style became more popular in the third quarter of the 18th century and is associated with the teacher and milliner Elizabeth Murray, whose portrait by John Singleton Copley is included in the MFA’s collection.

Domestic Embroideries (on view September 17, 2011 – May 27, 2012)

During the early Colonial period, household furnishings, such as embroidered bed curtains and chair seats, were among a family’s most valued possessions. Embroidery also adorned clothing and other personal items, and the exhibition will feature aprons, stomachers, baby clothes, pocketbooks, and fans. Examples of related English domestic embroidery will be exhibited with those from Boston to show how the needlework tradition evolved into the early 18th century.