Wall Art: Painted Interiors and Decorative Woodwork

William Hosley, Terra Firma Associates

Tuesday, July 12, 2011Mini-exhibit: 7:15pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
Wetmore Parlor, ca. 1760, Middletown, CT

Wetmore Parlor, ca. 1760, Middletown, CT, Wadsworth Atheneum period room

Phelps-Hatheway House, 1795, Suffield, CT

Phelps-Hatheway House, 1795, Suffield, CT

What to do with our walls? This is a question that has beguiled home owners since the time of cave dwellers. The art of early America was domestic art — furniture, silver, ceramics and textiles. The uses of paint for decorative purpose and embellishment, above and beyond the plain surface coatings used to protect or conceal the surface of inexpensive domestic woods, emerged steadily during the 18th century, blossoming into ornamental traditions that were complex, diverse and often astonishing.

Bill Hosley’s presentation honors the legacy of two early New England preservationists and contemporaries William Warren (1912-1998) and Nina Fletcher Little (1903-1993), who preserved, documented publicized and collected evidence of an important but then largely unknown aspect of American art. (Philip Zea spoke to the Forum about “Collecting Country Arts: Nina Fletcher Little and the Connoisseurship of Anonymity” in June, 2005.) Bill hosley’s talk will survey the remarkable range of interior wall treatments practiced by early New England’s artisan decorators; highlight important new work in the technical preservation of decorated walls; and conclude with a survey of wall treatments during the 19th and 20th centuries leading up to the resurgence of custom wall art and ornament in contemporary life.

Bill Hosley earned a bachelor’s degree, in economics and New England studies, from Middlebury College. He then obtained a master‘s degree from the Winterthur program in early American culture. While he was curator of American decorative arts at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, he attended the museum management program at the University of Colorado. After serving as the director of Connecticut Landmarks in Hartford and the New Haven (Connecticut) Museum, he started Terra Firma Associates NE, a consulting organization to assist communities, museums and historical associations to develop ad maintain historical resources.

Mr. Hosley’s publications include Colt: The Making of an American Legend (1996) and The Japan Idea: Art & Life in Victorian America (1990). He spoke to the Forum about “The Japan Idea: Art and Life in Victorian America” in March, 1992 and “Japonism in Victorian America” in August, 2002. He also co-edited and contributed to The Great River: Art & Society of the Connecticut Valley, 1635-1820 (1985). Mr. Hosley’s August, 1986 presentation to the Forum was “Furniture and Woodwork of the Connecticut River Valley.”

7:15pm mini-exhibit

Domestic interior scenes depict decorative arts, as they existed and were used, within the context of past family life. Paintings, prints and photographs provide varying degrees of verisimilitude of home life.


Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance.