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December 5, 2006

Three exciting new exhibitions debut December 16 as DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum re-opens

Colonial Williamsburg museum guests will have the opportunity to explore three new exhibitions and enjoy returning exhibits when the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum re-opens Saturday, Dec. 16. The museum has been only partially open since March for replacement of the museum's fire safety systems.

One of the new exhibitions will be an introduction to The Museums of Colonial Williamsburg - the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum – and the collections of the two museums. In addition, the introductory exhibit will introduce museum guests to the many tours, family programs and auditorium productions of The Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. The folk art museum will re-open in its new home Feb. 3, 2007.

The two other new exhibitions that debut Dec. 16 are “Pounds, Pence and Pistareens: Coins and Currency in Colonial America,” which introduces guests to the myriad types of money found in the pockets and purses of our colonial ancestors, and “Canisters, Caddies and Chests: Fashionable Tea Containers of the 18th Century,” an exhibit that provides museum guests the opportunity to observe the evolution of tea containers and trace that explosive cultural significance of imported tea for the Orient.

Returning exhibitions include an enhanced “Masterworks” exhibit which presents a generous selection of the most important objects in the Colonial Williamsburg decorative arts collections. “Masterworks” represents the best of nearly 80 years of collecting British and American antiques and artworks. Covering the full social spectrum, the collection today includes everything from the humblest milking stool to the grandest carved and gilded furniture—some 60,000 objects in all. The selected objects are arranged in chronological order and have been chosen for their artistic merit, their historical significance, and their excellent state of preservation.

“Revolution in Taste,” another returning exhibit, displays more than 2,400 artifacts available to consumers in the 18th century. From humble wood and pewter plates to delicate and decorative porcelain cups and silver epergnes, the exhibition covers the variety of wares manufactured in the period that offered colonists a wide range of goods associated with dining, drinking and decoration.

“Lock, Stock & Barrel: Early Firearms from the Colonial Williamsburg Collection” displays military and civilian firearms from the 17th and 18th centuries, and traces the evolution of the standard British infantry musket pre-1800. Firearms were part of everyday life for 18th-century Virginians. Hunters and farmers used them to acquire meat and keep out predators. Colonial law required free white males of military age to own firearms for militia duty and finely crafted and decorated arms were a personal status symbol. A highlight is a group of guns belonging to John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, the last royal governor of Virginia.

“Artistry & Ingenuity” features an array of cooking equipment found in 18th-century kitchens. Artisans who fashioned the objects were concerned not only with function but also with appearance. Taking time to create implements pleasing to the eye but still useful to the cook, they drew on a common artistic vocabulary to add ornamentation to objects such as spoons, spatulas, pans, gridirons and skillets used for food preparation.

“The Murray Sisters: A Closer Look” reveals the steps taken to conserve a late 18th-century double portrait by French artist Bouché. The portrait of two Maryland sisters arrived in the collection in need of care. Conservators spent hundreds of hours photographing, X-raying, cleaning and repairing the canvas so that today it appears as the artist original intended. Through illuminated graphics visitors can follow the treatment steps and see the original painting fully conserved.

As guests enter The Museums of Colonial Williamsburg through the reconstructed Public Hospital of 1773, they can view an exhibition on the care of the mentally ill from 1773 when the building opened to 1885 when the original building burned. Over the century, the care of patients evolved from one of restraint to compassion. Archaeological pieces found on the site during reconstruction add a personal element to the story.

Entrance to The Museums of Colonial Williamsburg is through the Public Hospital of 1773 on Francis St. between Nassau and South Henry Sts. Operating hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Admission is by Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket, a Museums ticket, Annual Museums Pass or Good Neighbor Pass. For more information or reservations, call toll-free 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg on the Internet at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281