A labeled Adolph Kempen writing desk and approximately 150 pieces of early Texas pottery have been given to the Bayou Bend Collection in Houston, Texas, by philanthropist and collector William J. Hill.
"For decades, Mr. Hill has been a major advocate and benefactor for making the Bayou Bend collection a leading center for the exhibition and study of early Texas decorative arts, expanding our commitment to reflect the diversity of our culture and history," said Bonnie Campbell, director of Bayou Bend.
Hill's inaugural gift to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and Bayou Bend in 1980 was six photographs. Since then, he has added some 800 pieces to the MFAH, 120 of which were specifically for Bayou Bend.
"These pieces are important in telling the story of how people in Texas lived," said Hill.
Adolph Kempen's walnut and maple writing desk, 1870-80, is widely regarded as a masterpiece of early Texas furniture and is one of the few documented by its maker. It appeared on the July 2, 2012, episode of Antiques Roadshowwhere Leslie Keno of Sotheby's appraised it at $8000/12,000.
In 1867 Kempen joined the great migration of Germans to America, arriving in Galveston, Texas, where he established himself as a joiner. By 1870, he was in Austin, Texas, one of the principal furniture-making centers in the state, where he worked until his death.
What is unusual about Kempen's desk is its contrast to other early Texas furniture made by his immigrant artisan peers. "Blending elements of the Rococo, Gothic, and Renaissance revivals into a unique American expression, his inspiration was likely the furniture of the midwestern manufacturers, which was being disseminated throughout the state and ultimately forced many Texas cabinetmakers out of business. Perhaps Kempen wrought this stylish piece in response to the transformation that he was witnessing and as a testament to the quality of craftsmanship that could still be obtained locally," explained Bayou Bend curator Michael K. Brown.
Hill also has gifted Bayou Bend with his extensive collection of early Texas pottery, representing 24 stoneware makers, 15 of which are new to Bayou Bend.
"Overall, the Hill gift dramatically expands Bayou Bend's Texas stoneware collection. For example, the museum's twelve coveted examples produced by the African-American Wilson potters outside of Seguin now total thirty-eight. Overall, the collection has grown exponentially from twenty pieces to approximately one hundred seventy pitchers, jars, jugs, and churns," added Brown.
Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2012 Maine Antique Digest