An Extrodinary Gift

In 1989, Strawbery Banke Museum received an extraordinary gift.  After years of working with the Wendell family, then museum president Jane Nylander facilitated the gift of more than 200 objects including Portsmouth furniture, decorative arts, house hold objects and personal items owned by members of the family. 

30 years later, in 2019, Strawbery Banke received even more Wendell family objects.  Ron Bourgeault, antique master extraordinaire and current owner of the Wendell House, gifted the museum dozens of family objects. 

Featured in last year’s exhibition, The World of Wendells: Sea, Commerce and Preservation, Bourgeault lent dozens of family related objects.  They are now being accessioned into the museum collection.  Items like Jacob Wendell’s c.1820 mail bag (pictured left) help to inform how the Portsmouth family was conducting business.  The society medals, mourning jewelry, eye glasses and book plate cards, all collected in a rosewood and ivory box (pictured below), give us a glimpse of the organizations family members belonged to and causes they found notable. 

The objects acquired in 1989 mostly date from 1760-1820.  Jacob Wendell purchased the Pleasant Street house (P1423-77) for his family in 1815 and set about furnishing it with the latest Federal period furniture.  (His family continued to live in the house for four generations, until 1988, effectively creating a unique family archive.)  Though there are many important examples, of particular note is a tea, or china, table.  The mahogany table is one of six known examples of similar form, attributed to Portsmouth furniture master Robert Harrold.  Family tradition notes that John Wendell, Jacob’s father, purchased the table at the auction of Sir John Wentworth’s belongings.  John Wentworth, New Hampshire’s last royal governor fled the City of Portsmouth in 1775 at the outbreak of the American Revolution, when what was left of his estate was sold.  Another example of a Harrold tea table is part of the Carnegie Institute collection. The Carnegie table is known to have been owned by Stephen Chase, of Portsmouth. The Wendell example is now on permanent display in Stephen Chases’ home at Strawbery Banke.  The majority of Wendell family furniture is on display in the Chase House and can be viewed when the museum opens later this year. 

Ron Bourgeault’s recent gift will help to further furnish the Chase House with Wendell objects.  Silver fruit baskets and a pair of English red lacquer papier mache wine coasters will be added to the dining room, a liquor chest (pictured above) filled with blown glass and gilded bottles will contribute to the mood in the family parlor and family silhouettes can be displayed. 

Bourgeault’s gift also gives us greater knowledge of the nineteenth and twentieth century residents of the house, including photographs, a set of flatware and a pair of champagne flutes (picture above).  The flutes come with the bonus of possibly having been used at the 1922 wedding of Catherine Wendell, who happened to marry the 6th Earl of Canarvon of Highclere Castle. 

Even before this generous gift, Bourgeault has been dedicated to furnishing the Chase House.  Many important objects in the house have been on long term loan, and have provenance to the Wendell Family.  Today, these two Portsmouth families will be linked forever through the preservation of the Puddle Dock neighborhood, and the vast generosity of the Wendell Family and Ron Bourgeault. 

As the new objects join those accepted in 1989, Strawbery Banke will continue to steward this remarkable collection of objects spanning four generations of one Portsmouth family, and the home of another.

E.Farish 4/1/2020