Room from the Hart House, Ipswich, Massachusetts

Date: 1680

Geography: Made in Ipswich, Massachusetts, United States

Culture: American

Medium: Wood, oak, pine

Dimensions: Dimensions unavailable

Classification: Architecture

Credit Line: Munsey Fund, 1936

Accession Number: 36.127

Description

A few months after his marriage to Sarah Norton in February 2, 1678, Samuel Hart cut the first timber for the new house they would share in Ipswich, Massachusetts. A second-generation New Englander, Samuel had inherited land and a house from his father Thomas Hart in 1674. For many years, scholars believed that the Metropolitan Museum's room came from this earlier house. However, recent scientific evidence using tree-ring dating—a technique called dendrochronology—has suggested that the house was actually completed around 1680. This later house was probably not dramatically different from the one inherited from the elder Hart. Nor was it dramatically different from those Thomas Hart had left behind in England in 1634. Essentially medieval in plan and decoration, Samuel and Sarah's house probably originally consisted of a first-floor hall and an upstairs hall-chamber. As the family grew wealthier and more numerous, additional rooms were probably clustered around the chimney stack.

Both the plan and decoration of Thomas Hart's hall are typical of seventeenth-century English architecture. The decoration of this room reflected the skill of the housewright, who relied on relatively simple tools to embellish the frame of the building. The decorative effect relies upon the rhythmic contrast of the dark exposed structural members against the whitewashed plaster walls. The primary timbers—the massive summer beam that spans the center of the room, and the girts that frame the tops of the walls—are embellished with chamfered edges that terminate at the ends with decorative lamb's-tongue stops. Casement windows allow in light; the small size of the panes reflects the cost and difficulty of producing larger pieces of glass.

The room's decorative focus is the completely paneled fireplace wall. This element came to the room from another seventeenth-century Ipswich-area house in the early twentieth century, before the room came to the Museum in 1936. It is typical of the period and appropriate to the economic status of Thomas Hart. The wall is paneled in pine boards that have had a simple bead applied to their edges using a woodworking plane. The fireplace opening is framed at its top with a simple decorative lintel.

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