Maryland made its first Irish connection when settlers arrived in 1634, the first group of immigrants organized by Cecil Calvert, holder of the Irish baronetcy of Baltimore, and led by his brother Leonard. It was a union of people and purpose that in later years provided power, fame and wealth to the emerging state and the burgeoning city of Baltimore.
The names, if not the connection, are familiar to anyone with a smattering of Maryland history: Charles Carroll, William Patterson, Alexander Brown, Robert Gilmor, brothers John and Robert Oliver, Hugh Thompson.
All of these men were "well-educated business people who came to establish major business houses -- and they did so successfully," says Maryland Historical Society chief curator Jennifer Goldsborough.
The 16th annual Maryland Antiques Show this coming weekend is accompanied by an exhibit on "Maryland's Irish Connections" that focuses on furniture, art, silver, ceramics and glassware owned by Maryland's "Irish merchant princes" from the founding through the Federal era.
"The Irish as a group were the single most important socioeconomic group" during that time, says curator Gregory Weidman. The exhibit focuses on "what they owned and what their tastes were -- the sort of things, made wherever, that the Irish merchant princes chose to live with."
Baltimore became the fastest-growing city in the country after the Revolutionary War ended, and its booming economy made such fortunes that Patterson, Gilmor and Brown were able to buy pretty much whatever they wanted in terms of furnishings for the mansions, town houses and country homes they were building. Furniture and table accessories came from the most sophisticated workshops in London, Dublin, and the new United States.
"In furniture we're going to be showing contrasting tastes," Ms. Weidman says. Objects include one of a pair of Federal card tables belonging to William Patterson, whom she describes as "a good example of conservative taste." The table is among the simplest such items in the society's collections, she says.
"Good functional furniture," Ms. Goldsborough calls it.
In contrast, there will be two elaborate painted pieces, one a black and gold card table attributed to the Baltimore workshops of John and Hugh Finlay, made around 1800 for Robert Gilmor, and a black, gold and red painted pier table made about 15 years later for Alexander Brown.
Notable silver objects include two cake baskets, one English in an ornate style with finials, and another Irish one made a few years later and reflecting the simplifying effect of neoclassical style.
Irish silver is particularly notable because the Irish craftsmen who settled in Baltimore brought the idea of marking silver pieces for content, Ms. Goldsborough says. "Sterling" at the time designated a superior grade of silver metal, and it wasn't until 1907 that it became law in the United States that silver had to be stamped to indicate quality. "People in Baltimore," Ms. Goldsborough says, "were always more concerned with the intrinsic value of the silver."
All the objects will be on exhibit through the antiques show, at the Fifth Regiment Armory on 29th Division Street, just west of Howard Street and north of Preston Street, near the state office complex and the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Hours of the show are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Daily admission is $10 ($8 for members), and includes a catalog. The show will include more than three dozen dealers from across the country in items such as furniture, silver, ceramics, glass, folk art, paintings, rugs, prints and jewelry.
Irish connections continue to be made in a number of events accompanying the show. At 11 a.m. Friday, Desmond FitzGerald, 29th Knight of Glin and chairman of the Irish Georgian Society, will lecture on "Irish Interiors and Their Furnishings During the Georgian Age." At 11 a.m. on Saturday, Irish author Patrick Bowe will lecture on "The Gardens of Ireland." Tickets for each event are $25, which includes show admission and catalog.
At 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St., Mr. FitzGerald will introduce a film called "The Irish Country House," which was made by the Irish Georgian Society, an organization concerned with trying to preserve Ireland's heritage houses and their landscapes. Cost is $25, which benefits the Irish Georgian Society and the Maryland Historical Society.
At 10 a.m. on Sunday, there will be a series of Curator's Show Walks, with curators from the historical society and other area institutions leading tours through the show. There are four types of tours: general interest; furniture; silver; and folk art. Tickets are $20 and include show admission and catalog.
There will also be a gala preview party at the armory from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, with music, food and open bar. Tickets are $90 per person, including show admission and a catalog.
For reservations or more information, call the Maryland Historical Society at (410) 685-3750.