You may have heard of the New York Historical Society. But you probably didn’t know that this is the oldest museum in New York City (it was founded in 1804), and it houses over twenty-five hundred American paintings from the colonial period through the twentieth century. It also holds one of the country’s leading collections of Hudson River School landscapes. Their permanent collection also includes some 800 sculptures and over 8,000 drawings. These cover the beginnings of American art when it was dominated by European artists, up through the 1860s.
This week I went to see “Bill Cunningham: Facades,” and “Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War,” two current exhibits. They were both very interesting and so different. I happen to be there just as a free guided tour began. I took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the permanent collection and discovered the greatest reason of all to visit NYHS: The Luce Center
Located on the 4th floor of the Society, The Luce Center is home to nearly 40,000 objects from the New-York Historical Society’s permanent collection. You can see art and artifacts spanning four centuries, from the nation’s premiere collection of Tiffany lamps, to “historical touchstones such as the draft wheel that played a role in one of the worst urban riots in United States history. “
I only got to see a small part of the collection. One of the objects that stood out was a horse-drawn carriage from the late 1770’s. Owned by the Beekman family (of “Beekman Place”); it is one of only three such 18th Century American coaches to survive in original condition. There was also a whole case devoted to artifacts from Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue founded in 1654. One of the funniest objects I saw was a ceramic cockroach trap from 1840.
It’s worth going to NYHS just to see this collection but hurry; it’s undergoing a massive renovation beginning in July 2014.