Tales from the bedroom
Thomaston — Last month, the General Henry Knox Museum hosted noted American antiques expert Leigh Keno on a tour of Montpelier, the big white house at the turn to St. George. Keno's visit served to highlight the $30,000 Bedfellows project currently underway to conserve the General's original Frothingham bed, including having appropriate cotton dimity bed hangings reproduced and a new lightweight reproduction mattress that will greatly lessen the pressure on the original sacking bottom. The museum is at almost two-thirds of its fundraising goal for the project.
Consulting curator Laura Sprague, upon whose research the ongoing recreation of a period bedroom that "Henry and Lucy Knox might have known" is based, employed the highest standards of historical research, scholarship and museum practice to set the room's target date at 1800, approximately the middle of the General's 1796 to 1806 residency at his original riverside home. Sprague supported her selections of paint color and reproduction wallpaper through researching primary sources, especially Knox's manuscripts and probate inventory; microscopic paint analysis; and consultation with leading professionals in the fields of American interiors and decorative arts.
The re-plastered, painted and wallpapered bedroom that Sprague supervised was completed earlier this summer, just in time for Keno's Aug. 1 visit. He was very much taken with the bedroom and particularly with the General's bed. Attributed to Benjamin Frothingham of Charlestown, Mass., and made in 1796, the bedstead is one of the best-documented Federal-period examples to survive in an American museum.
"You actually have Knox's receipt for it?" Keno asked museum executive director Ellen Dyer, closely examining the mahogany four-poster with its bowed and painted cornice, turned posts with fluted foot posts and ribbon-pierced head and foot boards all supported on square feet.
"We do," Dyer assured him.
It was that painted cornice that really caught textile design consultant Natalie F. Larson's eye on her recent visit to Montpelier from Williamsburg, Va.
“Few American beds have their cornices intact," she instructed collections manager Matthew Hansbury and members of the museum's collections committee. "Cornices tell you how the curtains were hung, a possible color scheme and, sometimes, when they were covered in fabric, what the fabric was on the bed."
Larson knows her subject well, having worked on five American presidents' beds, along with many others of the founding fathers.
"So many American beds have been altered, or their family use lost," Larson said, "but what the General Henry Knox Museum has is a nearly complete story — owner, house, all the bed parts and documentation about the cabinet-maker and possible upholstery."
She concluded with Sprague and Keno that General Knox's bed is "rare and important." The General's bed and bedroom may be viewed on guided tours of Montpelier that continue Tuesdays through Saturdays through Columbus Day weekend. For more information, call 354-8062 or send email to email@example.com.
Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.