Solved: The Mystery of the Unknown Cabinet Maker
A slew of tantalizing questions surround this 18th Century furniture maker. First, was this the same Porter Clay who made the Taft Museum of Art’s early Kentucky sideboard? If so, where did Clay run off to? Was he captured? When did he come back to Lexington? Finally, did he avoid a jail sentence, and, if so, how? Such questions abound in an intriguing story featuring a runaway furniture maker, spiked with notes of nepotism and Kentucky luxury.
When an art object is going to be photographed for publication, it needs to look its best. One of the Taft’s treasures, the splendid but badly tarnished 17th-century Two-Handled Covered Cup, was brought to the Museum’s conservation lab to be cleaned and stabilized prior to photography (The Taft has a lab on site for the use of different contract conservators, each of whom specializes in certain kinds of art objects.)
Oz Visits the Queen City
In 1900, L. Frank Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the following year he began adapting the book as a musical for adults. The show premiered in Chicago in 1902, became a smash hit, opened on Broadway, and then toured until 1909. The Wizard of Oz opened in Cincinnati at the Grand Opera House on New Year’s Day, 1905.
The Power of Landscapes
In 1757, Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke published On the Sublime and the Beautiful, which defined two different emotional responses to landscape in nature and in art. Burke stated that the beautiful is comforting and fosters pleasant and calm feelings—a placid lake, a perfectly formed seashell, a clear blue sky. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the sublime overwhelms with awe, terror, or danger—a steep precipice, a thunderstorm, a crashing waterfall. Burke explained that when experienced at a distance, such as translated through art, the sublime generates delight.
Limoges Enamels during the Reformation
Small and shiny, Limoges enamels glow like jewels in the Taft Museum of Art’s Medieval and Renaissance galleries. Workshops of skilled artisans in Limoges, France, produced these decorative objects by delicately fusing layers of vividly colored glass to copper. By the 16th century, influenced by the Italian Renaissance and aided by a newly developed enameling technique similar to painting, enamellers replaced medieval modes of decoration with dynamic storytelling.
“Life in quietness & ease”: Thomas Gainsborough’s Landscapes
Two paintings by Thomas Gainsborough hang opposite each other in the Taft Museum of Art’s Music Room. On the south wall, two boys dressed in finery look out from a canvas measuring nearly seven feet high. On the north wall, a more modestly sized painting features livestock and rustic peasants dramatically lit within a shadowy copse of trees. This pastoral scene embodies Gainsborough’s true passion: the landscape of England’s countryside.
Cincinnati and the Tafts in the 1880s
In 1888, the city celebrated its 100th birthday with the Centennial Exposition, held in Music Hall and in two temporary structures built especially for the occasion. In that year, at least 6,000 manufacturers in the city employed 93,500 workers. Cincinnati was a world leader in soap production, carriage manufacturing, beer brewing, whiskey distilling, and lithographic printing. In Over-the-Rhine, hundreds of small businesses flourished, each employing a handful of skilled craftsmen who made fine products—including musical instruments, wood carvings, and blown glass—many in the space of their own homes. The city had also become a center for the arts and art education.