Beyond Wellesley: Peabody Essex Museum’s Carolyn & Peter Lynch exhibit

Carolyn and Peter Lynch — Marblehead residents, travelers, philanthropists, and powerhouse American art collectors — lived among  historic and beautiful objects every day, antiques they went on the hunt for together, brought home, then used and enjoyed. The couple, their three daughters (Mary, Annie, and Elizabeth), and family and friends ate meals around the vast Sam Maloof dining room table, glanced at their reflections in the Girandole mirror, and moved among paintings by Winslow Homer and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Peabody Essex Museum
Welcome to the Peabody Essex Museum. For many years Carolyn Lynch served as PEM Trustee and Overseer. She also helped fund the museum’s American Decorative Arts Committee.

The furniture, paintings, ceramics, and textiles the Lynches’ collected are outward expressions of  a life well lived, and that life is currently on display  at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) through December 1, 2019. The exhibit, titled “A Passion for American Art: Selections from the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Collection,” is so much more than just its 120 works of decorative art; 76 pieces of furniture; 35 paintings and sculptures; and 10 Native American artworks. The show is an intimate look at how the Lynches  visually mixed and lived with three centuries of creative works. The mediums they collected vary, but the message is the same: American art matters and has an important place in the world.

The Lynches’ had their separate interests, to be sure. He ran a little mutual fund at Fidelity called Magellan (just the best performing mutual fund in the world), she won a couple of bridge tournaments here and there (the Grand Life Master bridge player was a five-time national gold medal world champion). Carolyn died in October 2015 at age 69 from acute myeloid leukemia, leaving Peter, their daughters, and six grandchildren. This exhibit is something of a labor of love as Peter not only helped the PEM put it together, but donated three major artworks to the museum, all on display now, in his late wife’s name.

If you want to know how to collect and decorate like a financial genius and a bridge maven, here’s how it’s done, folks.

Peabody Essex Museum
“The March Into Boston from Marblehead, April 16, 1861: There Shall Be No More War,: circa 1925, by Marblehead folk artist J.O.J. Frost. This painting captures Frost’s childhood memory of watching his father and other Marblehead men depart on foot to march the 16 miles to Faneuil Hall in Boston to enlist in the Civil War. This painting is one of three Peter has donated to the PEM in memory of Carolyn.

 

Peabody Essex Museum
As you move through the exhibit, simply admire the classic elegance and good taste on display in every corner. It’s all meant to evoke America’s place in history. The Lynches were big on tablescapes, such as this one. The painting is “East Headland, Appledore, Isle of Shoals,” by Childe Hassam, 1911, and is one of the three paintings Peter donated to the PEM in memory of Carolyn.

Peabody Essex Museum
As you go through the exhibit, you don’t have to look the art with your head turned sideways, trying to figure out what it is you’re looking at. You know what you’re looking at in this exhibit. You’re looking at art. Behold, I give you “On The River,” by Frederick Carl Frieske. There may be more happening here than a woman in a boat on the river, but I don’t care to parse it. For deep thinkers, I’ll just pose these questions: How dare this young woman be on the river alone, in 1908 of all times? Why is she not chaperoned? Isn’t there some needlepoint project she should be attending to that needs…pointing? A rebel, indeed.

 

Peabody Essex Museum
Throughout, the exhibit is very New England  and extremely tasteful. The wood gleams and the hardware is polished. These are objects that the Lynches not only used, but tended.

Peabody Essex Museum
“Grace Hoop,” by Winslow Homer. The girls are playing with a hoop, which is meant to symbolize the fleeting moment in time between their lives as children and their presumed future as mothers. As they used to say at Wellesley College back in the day, “Ring by Spring!” Woe to the co-ed who had not by graduation snagged a Harvard man, or an MIT grad, or if worst came to worst, a Yalie. In Wellesley’s well-known annual hoop rolling contest, lore had it that the first across the finish line would be the first to wed. Today, it’s said that the winner will be the first to achieve happiness and success, whatever that means to her.

 

Peabody Essex Museum
“Orchid and Hummingbirds near a Mountain Lake,” by Martin Johnson Heade, about 1879-90. In 2014 The Lynch Foundation created an endowment for the PEM’s changing exhibition program. They foundation was established in 1988 to support nonprofits in the greater Boston community .

Peabody Essex Museum
“Circular Split Disc with Eye,” Otto Natzier, 1984. In addition to their primary home on the coast of Marblehead Neck, the Lynches maintained residences in Boston and Scottsdale Arizona (the Scottsdale home was sold in 2010). The places they lived informed their collecting, as they sought out pieces that reflected the evolving artistic expression of American artists. Some artists they collected were born in the US, others, like Natzier, came to their American identity through immigration and eventual citizenship.

Peabody Essex Museum
The pedestal side table is by Sam Maloof, 1991; the yawning tiger is by Anna Hyatt Huntington, about 1917. Their broad-ranging furniture collection also includes mid-century modern pieces as well as spectacular, classic pieces from Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

Peabody Essex Museum
This arrangement of Native American art and mid-century modern American furniture dominated one wall in the Lynches’ master bedroom in Scottsdale. The wool textile is by a Navajo artist, about 1920-1930. The chest of drawers is by George Nakashima, about 1950.

Peabody Essex Museum
“Cedar and Rd Maple, Lake George,” by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1921. This depiction of the late-fall seasonal color shifts in Lake George, New York is one of the three paintings Peter donated to the PEM in memory of Carolyn.

Peabody Essex Museum
The Atrium cafe is a bright spot to stop for a bite to eat. They have sandwiches in plastic containers in coolers, and hot specialties to order. If you’d rather take your lunch off-site, there are plenty of  places just outside the front door up and down Essex Street. There’s also a nice park across the street where you can picnic.

There’s much more to see at the exhibit, which runs through December 1, 2019. The way the Lynches’ amassed their collection itself evokes artistic expression. Pulled together as it is, the assemblage speaks of travel, exploration, curiosity, and an appreciation of American art as a living, evolving legacy.

Peabody Essex Museum
Deborah Brown is Swellesley’s arts and culture writer. She is a collector of odds and ends from the Wellesley RDF, which she arranges artfully on her dining room hutch. Hutch by Jordan’s Furniture, historic route 9, Natick, circa 2002.

MORE MUSEUM VISITS:

Sneak peek at the renovated Hood Museum at Dartmouth College

New Bedford Whaling Museum and lunch at Whaler’s Tavern

Wellesley garden clubs represent at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts