Purchase Story

“Horology in Art”

The Ward Francillon Time Symposium, Boston, Massachusetts

Since 1980 the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC) has sponsored the Ward Francillon Time Symposium at sites around the country where members meet to compare clocks, view examples of interesting and historic clocks, share new discoveries, and renew friendships. National and international horologists, as well as members of the NAWCC, convened at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), October 26-29, 2017.

The theme was “Horology in Art,” and participants were treated to a garden of earthly delights in the form of illustrated lectures by some 20 art history and horological scholars, all of whom waived the honoraria. They delivered interesting and diverting facts about clocks, timekeeping, and horology’s place in art. Timekeeping in art is always by design.

Planned over three years by symposium chairman Bob Frishman of Bell-Time Clocks in Andover, Massachusetts, “Horology in Art,” the 2017 Ward Francillon Time Symposium was seamless. Frishman’s wife, Jeanne Schinto, who is also a M.A.D. colleague, lived through the symposium’s planning and described it as “Bob planning a wedding—for three years.” He gathered distinguished speakers, an interested audience, and generous sponsors, including auction houses Bonhams, Grogan & Company, and Jones & Horan, in addition to the Decorative Arts Trust.

Frishman has been chairman of the NAWCC Time Symposium since 2014 and produced the 2016 time symposium at Winterthur. He is already planning next year’s event at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan, and the 2019 event in Nuremberg, Germany. He is looking ahead to the 2020 event in New York City, which will focus on watches, and 2021 at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. So it seems that the Ward Francillon Time Symposium is in good hands for the foreseeable future. It is named for Ward Hallett Francillon (1928-2004), who is recognized by those in the know as one of the 20th century’s foremost scholars of wood movement clocks.

For more information, check the website (www.horologyinart.com), e-mail Bob Frishman <>, or call (978) 475-5001.

Catherine Pagani, Ph.D., of the University of Alabama is the author of the 2001 book “Eastern Magnificence and European Ingenuity”: Clocks of Late Imperial China. She discussed Qing Dynasty clocks. In 1582 a Jesuit missionary brought two clocks to China. When the Qianlong emperor saw them, he began his own collection; by the late 17th century, Jesuits and Chinese worked side by side in a clockmaking workshop at the imperial museum. Clocks were a status symbol at court, and there were some 3400 of them. Many were lost in the political upheavals in the 19th and 20th centuries—only about 1500 clocks and watches remain at the Forbidden City. Robert Cheney photo.

Dennis Carr, the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture, discussed American clocks and images of the same among the paintings, quilts, and other objects in the MFA collections. Robert Cheney photo.

Early arrivals had a chance to tour the MFA’s American horological collection with Lana Sloutsky of Boston University, who pointed out such gems as a girandole wall clock with convex glass made between 1816 and 1821 by Lemuel Curtis (1790-1857) of Concord, Massachusetts. Curtis patented the clock in 1816. They also viewed a Simon Willard lighthouse clock and a circa 1831 marble bust of George Washington by Horatio Greenough (1805-1852). Robert Cheney photo.

The porcelain sundial with decimal hours was made at the Sèvres factory around 1794-95 and was decorated by Gilbert Drouet (active 1785-1825) and François-Antoine Pfeiffer (active 1771-1800). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Julia Bird, Madeleine Kidder, and Sybil Wolcott.

Thomas Michie discussed the 18th-century French bisque porcelain clock with works by Jean-Nicolas Schmit made between 1785 and 1789 at the Duc d’Angoulême’s manufactory in Paris. The dial is marked with hours, minutes, days of the month, and days of the week. It entered the MFA collection in 1928. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Mrs. Frederick T. Bradbury.

Ancient Egyptian timekeeping was illustrated by Lawrence M. Berman, the MFA’s Norma Jean Calderwood Senior Curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art, in his talk “Ancient Egypt: Keeping Time in a Timeless Society.” He described newly unearthed personal sundials from 1200-1184 B.C.E. and water clocks in use in ancient times. Sundials were eventually eclipsed by such devices as water clocks, as sundials were of no use in the dark or on cloudy days. As early as 1500 B.C.E., Egyptians modeled water clocks with squatting baboons, which were believed to urinate at regular intervals 12 times each day and were associated with Thoth, the god of the moon. Baboons were also admired for their lustiness, and their feces were key ingredients in aphrodisiac ointments. The water bottle in the picture is unrelated

This painting, Winding the Clock by Winslow Homer, depicts a woman in a fashionable embroidered white dress standing on a stool with a tall clock in the background as she blows dust from the key—suggesting that the clock has not been wound in a very long time. A cello stands to the side. Stephen Caffey delineated Homer’s view of the changing role of women after the Civil War, as evinced in the painting. Freedom in all its varieties—including sexual, the loss of innocence, and assuming the roles traditionally ascribed to men—is illustrated in this piece. The act of winding the clock was also an expression of prurience for male and female alike, and each object in the picture alludes to that. Robert Cheney identified the clock as a cherry tall-case clock with an inlay made in the manner of a Roxbury clock, perhaps in central Massachusetts or the Southeast coast. Winding the Clock, circa 1881, courtesy of Bill and Irma Runyon Art Collection, Texas A&M Foundation, Forsyth Galleries, Texas A&M University.

Assistant professor of architecture at Texas A&M Stephen Caffey (left) is pictured with Princeton, New Jersey, horological expert, historian, and restorer Philip Poniz, who gave a presentation on “Art, Clocks, and Watches in Renaissance Europe.”

Amy Kurtz Lansing, curator, Florence Griswold Museum, explored the genre paintings of Edward Lamson Henry (1841-1919). His The Old Clock on the Stairs was based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem of the same name. A tall-case clock perched on the landing of the stairs instead of occupying a place of prominence in a major room illustrates the change in status of the clock as society embraced modern technology. Lansing referred to Henry’s 1867 oil on canvas The 9:45 Accommodation as pointing up the importance of accurate timekeeping as railroad schedules demanded. During the talk, third-generation clockmaker, restorer, dealer, and consultant in horology, science, and technology Robert C. Cheney of Brimfield, Massachusetts, provided background on the clocks in Henry’s work and those in the artist’s collection.

Jonathan Snellenburg, director, watches, and clocks at Bonhams, New York, focused in his talk on the decoration and styles of watch cases from the 1500s through the 1800s, revealing that the appearance of a watch was far more important than its actual performance. His talk, “Mechanical Jewels, the Art of the Watch,” covered the history of the watch ranging from the 1500 drum clock to the watch pendant. Philippe Bordes, emeritus professor of art history, University of Lyon, and adviser for the arts, Ministry of Higher Education and Research, Paris, who discussed “The Significance of Clocks in French Portraits from Boucher to David,” looks on. Robert Cheney photo.

The after-dinner speaker at the closing banquet at the Harvard Club of Boston was Gerald W.R. Ward (right), Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture Emeritus at the MFA. In his talk, “Frozen in Time: The Museum as History’s Clock,” he described how museums define our place in time: they are about memory, they protect human heritage, and they serve as a repository of cultures past and present. He illustrated his talk with images from the MFA collections, including three rooms from Oak Hill, the South Danvers, Massachusetts, home of Elizabeth Derby West. Oak Hill was designed and built between 1800 and 1801 by Samuel McIntire.

John C. Wilmerding, Ph.D., professor emeritus, collector, curator, and author, delivered the keynote lecture, “Time in American Painting,” illustrating the presentation of passing time in American art and discussing the changing ideas about time through the artistic movements from the 19th through the 20th century. He left his listeners with a challenge: what will the terms “clockwise” and “counterclockwise” come to signify as the digital age prevails? Robert Cheney photo.


Originally published in the March 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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