We collect more than you see below, but here is some information for our most noted collections.
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Paintings and Fine Arts
The Western Reserve Historical Society paintings collection houses approximately 800 oil paintings that cover a wide range of topics pertaining to the history of the Western Reserve region. Genres that are strongly represented include portraiture, landscapes, cityscapes, historical paintings, and genre paintings. As individual works the paintings often provide glimpses of the people of our region and the places they have shaped. As a whole, the collection stands as a fine collection of American art, revealing in broad historical outlines the tastes and sensibilities of the individuals and communities of the Western Reserve. Some noted artists represented in the collection include Archibald Willard, Howard Chandler Christy, DeScott Evans, Henry Church, and numerous other artists and craftsmen of more local fame. Much of the collection is portraiture, but Ohio landscapes and historical subjects are also strongly represented.
The Western Reserve Historical Society decorative arts collection is comprised of about 3,500 artifacts dating from the late 18th through the mid-20th centuries. Decorative arts are here defined as artifacts of household utility and decorative function made of glass, ceramics, metal, wood, or a combination thereof. Earlier dated items through the 1870s reflect predominantly the tastes of the affluent section of Western Reserve society, but there are nonetheless many fine examples of artifacts owned and used by laborers. Later dated items late 19th through the mid-20th centuries are more representative of a broad swath of cultural and class groups. These, predictably, reflect the tastes and consumer habits of America’s growing middle class.
The collection, approximately 2,000 cataloged objects, cover a broad array of primarily utilitarian objects. In the broadest terms these artifacts could be divided between those used in the domestic sphere of household maintenance and domestic life, and those used in the public sphere of wage labor and civic life.
Costume and Textile
Western Reserve Historical Society maintains one of the largest collections of historic costume and textiles in the United States. Housed within the Society’s Chisholm Halle Costume Wing and the Bingham-Hanna house, the collection comprises some 40,000 garments, accessories and domestic textiles, ranging in date from ca. 1750 to present day. The collection is international in scope and contains both historic and contemporary designs, including mass-produced, ready-to-wear, couture and one-of-a-kind pieces.
The largest collection extant documenting the Shaker communities in the United States. It is a “must use” for any scholar conducting research on the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. WRHS contains a collection of about 800 Shaker artifacts, ranging from furniture to clothing to tourist trade items representing all known Shaker communities. The bulk of the collection was amassed early in the 20th century when a WRHS Director, Wallace H. Cathcart, began a correspondence with Eldress Catharine Allen of Canterbury, New Hampshire. Knowing that the Shaker way of life was in decline, both Allen and Cathcart sought to preserve a material record of the Shakers. Thus Allen began sending to Cathcart, artifacts and documents from the various Shaker communities. Many of the artifacts were personal mementos of prominent Shaker elders, but the bulk of the artifacts: seed packets, sewing baskets, socks, furniture, clothing patterns, demonstrate Shaker handicrafts and industry. The correspondence between Cathcart and Allen is housed in the WRHS Library along with an immense collection of paper-based Shaker material, including books, ephemera, ledgers, photographs and several spirit drawings.
The Western Reserve Historical Society is home to a very large collection perhaps 4,000 items, of artifacts related to American military history. These artifacts range from personal gear, uniforms, knapsacks, mess kits, buttons and insignia to musical instruments to arms and ordinance, horse tack, and numerous relics. Some of the collection is comprised of para-military items associated with Troop A, Cleveland’s independent militia formed in response to the labor unrest of the 1870s. Highlights of the collection include a Civil war torpedo recovered from the Tennessee River, personal artifacts belonging to Col. Orlando Risdon, who lead a colored regiment, and a trencher apparently used at Andersonville Prison