Mary Silliman Historic High Chest to be Highlighted in Lecture by Patricia E. Kane
New Haven, Conn. (April 17, 2023) – The New Haven Museum (NHM) will host Patricia E. Kane, Friends of American Arts Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Yale University Art Gallery, for a lecture “Mary Fish Silliman: A Woman in Revolutionary America,” on Sunday, April 30, 2023, at 2 p.m. Kane’s presentation will be in memory of Gloria Arons—chair of the NHM Collections Committee from 2009 to 2019, and second vice president of the NHM Board of Directors from 2013 to 2018—who passed away in 2019.
During the lecture, Kane will illustrate a high chest of drawers on view at the New Haven Museum that was once owned by Mary Silliman and discuss its decorative features. Kane will also explore the life of Mary Silliman, whose determination and perseverance sustained her family’s business through the American Revolution and beyond.
Letters, a journal, and a reminiscence provide rich documentation of Mary’s life and were the basis of a biography “The Way of Duty: A Woman and Her Family in Revolutionary America,” by Joy Day Buel and Richard Buel, Jr. Drawing on the biography, the lecture will contextualize Mary’s world from her education in the 1740s to her first marriage to John Noyes of New Haven in the 1750s, to her second marriage to Gold Selleck Silliman in Fairfield, Connecticut in the 1770s.
When Gold, a major in the Continental Army, was captured by Loyalists during the American Revolution, Mary assumed management of the family farm in Fairfield, Connecticut. Appeals for assistance from the Continental Army and General Washington went unheeded, and Mary took matters into her own hands, hiring a privateer to kidnap a Loyalist, intending to exchange him for her husband. Gold eventually returned home but died in 1789. Mary once again assumed the role of head of the household. She managed the family finances, and sent her younger sons to Yale University, as she had done for their older brothers.
About Patricia E. Kane
Patricia E. Kane, Friends of American Arts Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG), has been at Yale University since receiving her M.A. from the University of Delaware, Winterthur Program in Early American Culture. She received her Ph.D. from Yale. Her publications include “The American Clock, 1725-1865: The Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University (with Edwin A. Battison),” “300 Years of American Seating Furniture: Chairs and Beds from the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University,” and “Colonial Massachusetts Silversmiths and Jewelers: A Biographical Dictionary based on the Notes of Francis Hill Bigelow and John Marshall Phillips.”
She is the recipient of numerous awards and has organized many exhibitions and related publications, including those at the New Haven Museum, Seattle Art Museum, Birmingham Museum of Art, and Yale University Art Gallery. She has mentored graduate students and Marcia Brady Tucker Fellows, some of whom now hold curatorial positions at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, and the Toledo Museum of Art.
Kane has directed the Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery, a study that documents furniture and furniture making in Rhode Island from the time of first European colonization in 1636 through the early nineteenth century. The results of this research are disseminated through a website and in a publication, “Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture 1650–1830,” that accompanied an acclaimed exhibition at YUAG in 2016-17 and received the Historic New England Book Prize and the Decorative Arts Society’s Charles F. Montgomery Prize. In addition to ongoing research on early Rhode Island furniture, she has collaborated with scientists at Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage to identify the different species of mahogany used in early American furniture.
About the New Haven Museum
The New Haven Museum has been collecting, preserving and interpreting the history and heritage of Greater New Haven since its inception as the New Haven Colony Historical Society in 1862. Located in downtown New Haven at 114 Whitney Avenue, the Museum brings more than 375 years of New Haven history to life through its collections, exhibitions, programs and outreach. As a designated Blue Star Museum, the New Haven Museum offers the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve, free admission from Memorial Day through Labor Day. For more information visit www.newhavenmuseum.org or Facebook.com/NewHavenMuseum or call 203-562-4183.