Restoration of the Curwen Bed
The Peabody Essex Museum undertook a project during 2009-11 to preserve, conserve, document and reinterpret a rare, complete set of bed hangings and associated bed from early 19th-century New England.
At the time of construction, the mahogany bed and its complex set of bed hangings represented luxury furnishings for an American home. The bed hangings and the bed frame reflect the influence of Neoclassicism, a reinterpretation of the art and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome that was fashionable in Europe and the United States during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Made from colorful block-printed cotton fabric, probably imported from England, the bed hangings' uniform stitching and construction details suggest the work of a professional upholsterer. The set consists of 40 objects; 34 bed-hanging pieces and six items of bedding and under upholstery.
The bed and bed hangings descended in the Curwen family of Salem, Mass., and entered the museum’s collection in 1900 through the bequest of George Rea Curwen (1823–1900). The museum displayed the bed along with other furnishings from the Curwen collection in the Dow Period Rooms in the Phillips Library, among the earliest period rooms in an American museum. The bed hangings were periodically evaluated and measures implemented to limit light exposure and improve environmental conditions. The increasing fragility of the textiles, however, prompted museum staff to plan a large-scale conservation, documentation and reinterpretation project to address the needs of these important objects.
The project involved a multi-departmental team of museum staff, specialists and consultants who researched, de-installed, documented, conserved, photographed, filmed, re-cataloged and stored the original Curwen bed-hanging set. The museum commissioned reproduction fabric from a Massachusetts firm that uses digital printing technology to recreate historic fabrics. A local seamstress, working in conjunction with the textile conservator, created and re-installed a reproduction set of bed hangings that returned the bed to its original appearance. For the re-installation of the reproduction bed hangings onto the bed frame, the textile conservator used conservation upholstery techniques and methods that involve the least amount of intervention with the bed frame and other original materials so historical information was not lost or compromised.
Generous support for the Curwen Bed-Hanging Project provided by The Coby Foundation Ltd. Additional support from the Fund for American Costumes and Textiles, given in memory of Anne Farnam by her mother, Nancy Forgan Farnam.