February 11, 2007
“SOUTHOLD HISTORICAL SOCIETY PRESENTS THE
WINTER EXHIBITION ‘VIRTU’ ”
SOUTHOLD, NY. The Southold Historical Society is pleased to announce the opening of its new winter exhibition entitled “Virtu.” The exhibition will feature finely crafted objects from the Society’s collection of over 25,000 collection items.
The term “virtu,” also spelled “vertu” has come to encompass small, finely crafted items, often including silver, jewelry, miniatures, and other types of decorative arts. The Society has decided to interpret the term broadly and has included other items, including fans and scrimshaw, in the exhibition.
Some of the more elegant items in the exhibition include a wood and ivory jewel case by Southold and Sag Harbor whaling captain, Henry Green. Green is best known as one of the men who discovered the Amistad, the ship of escaped slaves which helped to foster the cause of abolitionism in the United States. The small case, which was made by the captain for his wife, includes inlaid wood and ivory, a cabochon jewel, incising with ink decoration, and other artistic details. The box was one of many items used or made by Captain Green which are held in the Society’s collection.
Another object is a fine silver and crystal Edwardian pendant. Long hidden in a dark room, it is one of several pieces of 19th and early 20th century jewelry that are part of the display. “One rarely gets the ability to show off jewelry in an exhibition because of its size and limited usability,” stated Geoffrey Fleming, Director of the Society. Other pieces of personal adornment include jet and hair mourning jewelry, as well as some elegantly painted fans.
Many today have never heard of jet or even know of what it is composed. Jet is actually a black fossil coal or wood that can be easily carved into jewelry. Some jet is polished while other types have a more opaque appearance. The material became fashionable for all types of mourning jewelry in the nineteenth-century when the British monarch Queen Victoria went into mourning after the death of her husband, Prince Albert.
Silver plays an important part in the exhibition. There are several pieces of 18th and early 19th century English silver, including a finely engraved tea urn as well as a pair of sugar shakers, also known as casters. A set of Tiffany sterling flatware, housed in its original purple boxes, are also on view. “The Tiffany & Company service is one that we are never able to display properly. This exhibition gives us a chance to show it off properly for the first time in decades,” continued Fleming. The service was custom ordered for a local family on the North Fork shortly after the Civil War.
A series of detailed portrait miniature portraits add an artistic element to the exhibit. Miniatures have been treasured for hundreds of years by discerning collectors, and those included here are good examples of the variety of miniatures that can be found across America. One on display features a portrait of a typical mid 19th century woman shown with a magnificent tortoise shell comb in her hair. Like the previously mentioned jewelry, the miniatures were not easily accessible prior to this exhibition.
“We organize so many shows and exhibits that include mainly loaned materials that it is a nice change to be able to feature some of our more interesting collection items that would not otherwise be out on display,” continued Fleming.
The exhibition will be on view beginning Saturday, March 1st and will close on Sunday, May 4th, 2007. It will be open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays (except Easter Sunday), from 1-4pm at the Society’s Ann Currie-Bell House, located on the corner of Maple Lane and Main Road in Southold.
For further information, or images, please contact the Society at (631) 765-5500 or visit us on the web at www.southoldhistoricalsociety.org.