The Painted Past:  Unseen Objects from the Strawbery Banke Collection Exhibit Opens May 1st

Portsmouth, New Hampshire (April 24, 2017) -- Strawbery Banke has collected objects since the early 1960s but many have rarely, if ever, been displayed. The museum has many items in storage, waiting for the appropriate context to introduce them to the public. This year a collection of items connected only by paint is on view in a special exhibition: The Painted Past, opening May 1st in the Strawbery Banke Rowland Gallery. As paint can be applied to nearly any surface -- furniture, architectural elements, ceramics, and other artworks -- there are many painted items from the past in the exhibit, including:

  • A Federal-era secretary, owned by Portsmouth merchant Elisha Hill, with gilded flower baskets painted on the glass doors
  • A period wall clock made by Thomas H. Tilden, a watch inspector for the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad
  • A tiny gold-framed portrait of Robert G. Mitchell, possibly created as a memorial as the date of his death is engraved with his name on the back
  • An early 1900s maple and pine chair from Portsmouth furniture maker John Gaines III painted to mimic the graining of dark exotic wood.
  • A fireboard decorated with a painted urn full of flowers, painted by Georg Doig around 1800. In 1786 he advertised the sale of watercolors, “good English linseed oil” and paintbrushes in a Portsmouth paper; and in 1813 announced that he continued to operate his shop on Jaffrey, now Court, Street, the northern border of Puddle Dock neighborhood.
  • Leather fire buckets, painted by famed Portsmouth landscape artist John Blunt for Portsmouth cooper Leonard Cotton, owner of two tenant houses at Strawbery Banke. 

Author Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Strawbery Banke’s own “bad boy” author is represented in the exhibit with items collected by his widow Lillian for the shrine she built in his memory including a painted leather helmet from the Portsmouth Fire Department, a painted cast iron child’s bank and decorative arts including a “Madonna and Child” painted on mother-of-pearl. Fellow writer and celebrated poet Celia Thaxter of Appledore Island became known for the ceramics she painted for friends and island visitors. Some include a line or two of poetry like the vase painted for Mrs. Lillian Aldrich.

Some of the most intriguing decorative paintings at Strawbery Banke are in or part of the houses preserved by the museum.  In the c.1695 Sherburne House, red and gray circles were painted on the ceiling of the first floor east room. John Blunt’s portrait of the merchant ship the Sarah Parker hangs in the parlor in the Goodwin Mansion. 

The Painted Past is included with regular museum admission from May 1 through October 31, 2017.  For more information on programs and events focusing on decorative painting, visit


About Strawbery Banke Museum (

Strawbery Banke Museum, on the historic Portsmouth, New Hampshire waterfront, is a 10-acre outdoor history museum dedicated to bringing 300+ years of American history to life through heritage gardens, historic buildings, traditional crafts, preservation programs, hands-on activities, stories told by costumed role-players and the changing exhibits that offer hours of fun and discovery for all ages.  A 501©3 non-profit, Strawbery Banke’s daily programs, exhibits, seasonal outdoor ice skating and signature special events throughout the year are made possible by members and by grants from Proulx Oil & Propane, R.M. Davis, CP Management, the NH State Council for the Arts, the NH Charitable Foundation, Lincoln Financial Group, the Institute of Library and Museum Services and many other individual and corporate donors.  For a complete calendar of events, please visit