Monday, January 15, 2024

Research: Old Berwick Historical Society, Counting House Museum

 By Kimberly Alexander, Director of Museum Studies

At the end of the fall 2023 semester, I organized a special tour for UNH Museum Studies class and the Flax Team to the Counting House Museum at the Old Berwick Historical Society. The tour was led by the OBHS curator, Ruth Greene-McNally, and guest curators, renowned material culture and historic textile specialists, Peter and Nancy Cook. The OBHS staff and exhibition team were extremely generous with their time and knowledge. We hope to return during the spring 2024 semester. 


About the exhibition: 

Material Culture: Domestic Cloth-Making in 18th Century New England


The Counting House Museum's 2022 exhibit explores the material culture of early domestic textile arts and the tools used to produce linen and woolen cloth in rural New England homesteads. Material goods provide a window into standards of living, self-sufficiency, economic diversification, and the transition from frontier life to settled communities. The specialized tools used to process flax and wool, and the spinning wheels and looms on display, reveal the necessary individual skills and the collaborative family roles in creating yarn and cloth. 


Loans from the collection of Guest Curators Peter and Nancy Cook and selections from the permanent collection of the Old Berwick Historical Society reflect the art of creating homespun textiles in common use throughout the 18th century. This exhibit will be on display for the 2023 season, with a possible extension into 2024.


Bartlett Bed Hangings, Five Valances, and Headcloth

 Unidentified maker, Londonderry, NH

18th century

Linen cloth and fringe

Courtesy of Peter and Nancy Cook 

Miniature Pencil Post Bed

Unidentified maker (bed)

c. 1770-1800

Maple, pine, and iron

Courtesy of Peter and Nancy Cook

Miniature Bed Curtains

Nancy Cook 

Linen, woolen, and cotton cloth fragments

Courtesy of Peter and Nancy Cook

The bedding and curtains for this miniature pencil post bed were made by Nancy Cook, c1985

 from fragments of materials pertaining to the period.

The OBHS Board of Directors gratefully acknowledges the support of several individuals for their contributions to the development of Material Culture: Domestic Cloth-Making in 18th-Century New England:

Hollis Brodrick, Lender 

Randi Ona, Lender

Paul and Pat Boisvert, Lenders 

Melody English, OBHS Archivist

Harrison English-Yonan, OBHS Archivist

Norma Keim, OBHS Archivist and Office Manager

Wendy Pirsig, OBHS Archivist and Board President, Emeritus 

Jane Orr, OBHS Board Treasurer, Proofreading 

Jane McDonnell, Gallery Renovation 

George McNally, Gallery Renovation 

Rich Cunningham, Gallery Renovation 

Dave Lurvey, Gallery Renovation

Philip C. Carling, MD, Custom Rare Book Boxes and Cradles 

Andy Ritzo, Trompe l'oeil faux finish 

Christina Nancarrow-Wilson, OBHS Archivist, Curatorial Assistance 

Jessica Elsmore, Photography

Rachel Zoll Schumacher, Graphic Design

Larry Hayden, Preparator

John Demos, OBHS Archivist, Gallery Renovation and Installation 

Ruth Greene-McNally, OBHS Curator



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