This exhibition showcases the work of three eighteenth-century Newport clockmakers: William Claggett, his son-in-law James Wady, and his assumed relative Thomas Claggett. Their work, in concert with that of the master cabinetmakers who made the cases, forms the pinnacle of early American decorative arts.
Tall case clocks are complex objects, and their fabrication required the skills of several craftsmen. The maker of the movement (clockmaker) and the maker of the case (cabinetmaker) were trained in entirely different trades. Brass founders cast the parts that the clockmakers cut and filed into the finished movements. The brass dials (clock faces) were constructed with several individual components. A glass maker, and in some instances a finisher, also contributed to the finished product.
Made at a time when society was dominated by a small minority of elite merchants eager to project wealth and taste, clocks were among the most expensive household objects, luxury items within reach of only the wealthiest citizens. As such, they are signal products of an emergent American style in contrast to European fashions. As well, they offer a perspective on the history of style in Newport, and on its role in shaping American taste. Carefully preserved by Rhode Island families—some for nearly 300 years—the original owners of several examples are documented, while early family histories are known for others. Of the thirty-five clocks exhibited here, all but three are privately owned, and most have never been shown publicly.
William Claggett (1694-1748) Rhode Island’s earliest clockmaker, and the most prolific in pre-Revolutionary New England, the arc of Claggett’s career coincides with Newport’s rise as an American Colonial center. The sixty-eight of his clocks that are known to exist, twenty of which are presented here, trace an evolution in technical and decorative elaboration—from early square dial clocks to those featuring tide indicators—that reflects the increasing sophistication of Newport’s prosperous merchant class.
James Wady (ca. 1706-1759) As a journeyman in William Clagget’s workshop, Wady’s clocks often use similar cases, movements, and dials, including the same complex tide functions unique to the two men. Only eleven of his clocks are known to survive, three of which are presented here, although his output is surely much higher if one includes those made under William Claggett’s name.
Thomas Claggett (d. 1797) Even as he endured the challenges of the Revolutionary era, Claggett managed a distinctive range of clocks, of which twenty are known. Some feature quintessential Newport clock cases with convex “block and shell” pendulum doors and arched pediments with carved urn and flame finials. He also built chiming clocks, musical clocks and smaller dwarf clocks, examples of which can be seen in the present exhibition.
Co-Curators: Gary R. Sullivan and Benedict Leca
Of related interest:
“My small Ability,” the Life and Work of William Claggett
William Claggett was a master clockmaker in mid-18th century Newport. But the story of his life tells us about more than clock-making. By looking at what we know about Claggett, we can discover a great deal about Newport in the mid-18th century. Trade, artistry, aesthetics, science, religion, and culture can all be examined through the story of this exceptional man, in this exceptional city.
As Claggett participated in the market for Newport luxury goods, which served a growing cohort of wealthy Newporters and an active national and international trade, he also studied “natural science” and theology, and designed dramatically beautiful graphic elements that stand the test of time.
Join us as we look at what life in Newport, c. 1740, looked and felt like as we celebrate the creation of some incredible timepieces that are also works of art.
December 13, 2018 – September 2019
Ingenuity and Invention:
Women Illustrators of the Golden Age
An exhibition celebrating women artists who emerged as significant illustrators and graphic artists during the 'Golden Age of Illustration' (1880-1920.) Drawn from the Redwood's Special Collections, the exhibition features examples of this ground breaking work.
Curator: Michelle Farias
Peirce Prince Gallery
This exhibition is on display from November 8, 2018 - March 28, 2019.