“Equal in Goodness”: Discovering Examples of Early Ohio Decorative Arts in Lancaster and Columbus Alike

Thanks to a tip from my aunt, we took a Sunday drive to Lancaster to see a new exhibition at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio. “Equal in Goodness: Ohio Decorative Arts 1788-1860” takes a look at the furniture, textiles, ceramics and other decorative objects that were made in Ohio by the state’s early settlers.

After climbing the staircase of the Reese-Peters House, we beheld Elisabeth Hofstetter’s magnificent handpainted Schrank, or wardrobe, waiting for us on the landing. What lay ahead in the next four galleries and hallway was equally fascinating. Organized to reveal examples of furnishings created in each quadrant of the state, the rooms are a tribute to the cultural contributions these pioneers made to Ohio’s history.

It’s no surprise that the samplers on display would be first on my list of favorites, but the exhibit also reunited me with some other familiar pieces. I’d read about the circa-1845 painted window shades from the Western Reserve Historical Society’s collection, and I tested my German by reading the many lovely examples of Fraktur, or illuminated Pennsylvania Dutch folk art. But the exhibit also introduced me to some fascinating new objects, such as a set of graduated poultry waterers, numerous kraut cutters and a “show towel.” The award of merit from Tiffin, an 1840 paper creation of hearts, tulips, birds and a handwritten message from a teacher to a student, is one of the prettiest pieces of ephemera I’ve seen.

Today, I was still thinking about the coverlets, Hester Stephenson’s quilt and lighthouse clocks that I saw yesterday, so I trekked over to the Statehouse during my lunch break to see if there might be other examples of early Ohio decorative arts on display. There, I discovered a circa-1845 stoneware water cooler from the American House, a hotel once located at the corner of South High and State Streets in Columbus; an original desk and replica of an Ohio Eagle weathervane from the first Ohio Statehouse in Chillicothe; and a lintel stone from the first Columbus Statehouse, all from the collections of the Ohio Historical Society.

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