Featuring approximately 20,000 objects in all media, the Yale University Art Gallery’s collection of American decorative arts is among the finest in the United States. Its particular strengths are in the colonial and early Federal periods, due in large part to generous gifts from Francis P. Garvan, B.A. 1897. Yale’s collection of early silver is noted for superior examples from New England, New York, and Philadelphia. The furniture collection comprises outstanding examples from all periods, with particular strength in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. In addition to the pieces displayed in the Gallery, more than 1,000 examples can be seen by appointment in the Furniture Study.
Also present in the American decorative arts collection are significant holdings in pewter and other metals, as well as glass, ceramics, textiles, and wallpaper. A major addition to the collection occurred in the 1980s, when Carl R. Kossack, B.S. 1931, M.A. 1933, and his family donated more than 7,000 pieces of American silver, with particular concentrations in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In recent decades, acquisitions have focused on late 19th- and 20th-century objects, including contemporary turned wood, the John C. Waddell Collection of American modernist design, and the Swid Powell Collection.
The department has also developed a website, the Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery, as a resource for studying furniture making in Rhode Island from the 17th to the 19th century.
The permanent-collection galleries feature a chronological survey of American design from the colonial period to the present day. Thematic cases explore how issues of commerce, gender, religion, and ethnicity are integrated into the American experience.