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Art: Review: Jewels of Time

Celebrating the art of time at the Taft Museum

By Angela Kilduff · January 9th, 2008 · Visual Art
  �Triple Case Watch� is one example of the minute works of art on display in the Taft Museum�s Jewels of Time.
Taft Museum of Art

�Triple Case Watch� is one example of the minute works of art on display in the Taft Museum�s Jewels of Time.

Time is likely on your mind as another year begins. For one more gorgeous reminder, take a look at the treasure trove of timepieces on display at the Taft Museum of Art in the exhibition Jewels of Time: Watches from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute.

Included here are watches produced between the late 16th and early 20th centuries. Each is a stunning example of decorative art, remarkable for its intricate detail and fine craftsmanship and for its indication of an era's fashion.

Exhibition curators chose 80 watches from a collection of 300 that once belonged to brothers Thomas and Frederick Proctor of Utica, N.Y.

The brothers and their wives, Maria Munson Williams and Rachel Williams respectively, collected timepieces during their extensive national and international travels. The Proctors' bequest provided the foundation for the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute and included the watch collection, which is still regarded as one of the most important in the United States.

The Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute organized Jewels of Time. Curatorial Assistant and Exhibition Coordinator Tamera Muente, the on-site curator for the exhibition at the Taft Museum, says that the Taft is the last venue before the show returns to the Munson-Williams-Proctor. "When it was offered to the Taft, Chief Curator Lynne Ambrosini knew it was a perfect fit," Muente says, "given the Taft's collection of 49 17th- and 18th-century watches (which are located in the Keystone Gallery) and Cincinnati's history of watchmaking."

It's an elegant exhibition: The gallery walls are a rich shade of purple, and the watches are set in display cases around the room. From the earliest pieces, with only a single hand indicating the hour and half hour, to highly ornamental later works encrusted with gems and adorned with enameling and engraving, these timepieces are captivating despite their small size.

The eccentric pieces in the collection are some of the most interesting works. The most intriguing include a travel sundial, a snuffbox with a concealed clock, a sector-watch and a clock disguised as a silver skull.

The artistry of these minute works of art is remarkable and worthy of examination. As museum visitors made their way through the exhibition, many leaned in for a closer look.

Muente and the other Taft curators arranged these distinctive objects categorically -- rather than chronologically -- throughout the gallery. Lengthy wall text explains distinctions in style or material. Combined with the label information for each work, this verbage certainly makes the show text-heavy; but as exhibitions of this sort are as rare as the collection itself, the decision to include more rather than less background material makes sense.

Unlike conventional examples of fine art with a single artist, the timepieces are the work of many artisans, enamellers and technicians. The supplemental text emphasizes the collaborative nature of their manufacture as well as connections in imagery, style or use to art, history, other decorative art forms or other pieces in the Taft collection.

Critic's Pick

JEWELS OF TIME continues at the Taft Museum of Art through Jan. 27. Check out the accompanying lectures "Wrist Candy: High-Design Women's Watches" on Thursday and "Cincinnati's Watchmaking History" Jan. 24. Check out museum hours/admission and find nearby bars and restaurants here.



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