A Storied Past: Collections of the Historic Odessa captures the historical character and significance of two important late-18th-century houses, each of which retains a high percentage of original furnishings and locally made objects. Over the past several years, the collections have undergone careful examination and interpretation. One hundred are published along with four interpretive chapters. Relatively few historic sites have received this level of investigative treatment. Additionally, several of the hitherto-unpublished objects relate to others already in the decorative and fine arts lexicon.
Using rich archival and genealogical sources, Philip D. Zimmerman brings to light here for the first time an extraordinary array of decorative and fine arts from the collections at the Historic Odessa Foundation. This well-documented group of family objects provides an intimate glimpse into the daily life of members of the Corbit and Wilson families in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and also sheds light on the history of Odessa, Delaware, and the larger region. Particularly strong holdings of furniture made by John Janvier and his talented sons and nephew allow informative contrasts with products made in Delaware, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. Needlework and other textiles made by Corbit and Wilson women characterize their handiwork. Other objects tell other stories. Some, labeled by their nineteenth-century owners for posterity, document evolving trends in early collecting and historic preservation. The richly illustrated book includes more than 200 photographs, including many details and historic images, along with careful physical descriptions and historical documentation. Meticulously researched and elegantly written, A Storied Past illuminates a wealth of furnishings, works of art, and artifacts with common provenances and interlocking histories and places them into the artistic, social, and historical contexts of their time.
The collections documented here furnish the Corbit-Sharp (1774) and Wilson-Warner (1769) houses, built on adjoining lots by a tanner and a merchant and now maintained by the Historic Odessa Foundation. Subsequent generations valued and preserved the two houses and many furnishings. The Wilson house opened in 1923 as the first historic house museum in Delaware. The Corbit house remained in family hands until H. Rodney Sharp bought it in 1938 to preserve it. Furniture owned in the family of John Janvier, the noted cabinetmaker in Odessa, was added in the 1970s, and the Foundation has continued to acquire Corbit and Wilson family furnishings as well as locally made furniture in the years since.
Those interested in historic houses and late 18th and early 19th century life, American antique collectors (especially of furniture), and those with local interests will find this book interesting.
Philip D. Zimmerman is a museum and decorative arts consultant based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A prolific author, teacher, and lecturer, Zimmerman is a nationally recognized authority on early American furniture. His publications include Harmony in Wood: Furniture of the Harmony Society, Delaware Clocks, American Federal Furniture and Decorative Arts from the Watson Collection, and numerous essays and articles in books and periodicals such as American Furniture, The Magazine Antiques, and Winterthur Portfolio.
Before forming his consulting business, Zimmerman was director of the museum collections division at Winterthur, executive director of the Historical Society of York County, and curator of the Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH.
A Storied Past: Collections Of Historic Odessa not only shines a bright light onto Historic Odessa’s rich collections but elevates the level of scholarship through Zimmerman’s methodology of relying on the surviving historical documentation, with profuse footnotes throughout.