The American Museum: Its History & Collections

Talk chaired by Don Lovell

Christina Parker

Educational Officer, American Museum

8 July 2004

Why is there an American Museum in Bath? The initial idea came in 1956 when New Yorker Dallas Pratt and his friend, British born but naturalised American, John Judkyn, decided that they wanted to show the achievements of Americans in the decorative arts in order to combat many of the stereotypes surrounding the United States and its people and to promote Anglo-American understanding. They had the money and the connections to make their dream a reality.

But why Bath? They had already purchased Freshford Manor, close to Claverton on the outskirts of Bath, as a base for restoration and shipping of antiques to the States. They decided to look in the same area and the Claverton manor estate came on the market at the right time. It was perfect – enabling development of the grounds as a feature worthy of a visit in itself and also enabling future expansion.

Claverton Manor was built c.1820 for John Vivian. The architect was Jeffry Wyatt; later to become Sir Jeffry Wyatville who worked on alterations and additions to Longleat, Badminton and Windsor Castle.

Influenced by museums in America, Dallas Pratt and John Judkyn chose to display the decorative arts in context –in period room settings in chronological order. They went on buying trips to the States but they had many of the top antique dealers and collectors on the look out too and items were also donated by Americans enthused by their dream. They were also able to acquire architectural elements of historical houses that were being demolished. The museum opened its doors to the public on 28 June 1961. There have been additions and alterations over the years but the core remains as envisaged by the founders.

The visitor journeys through period rooms that show how life changed for European settlers between the late 17th century and mid 19th centuries in locations ranging from Massachusetts to New Orleans. The museum is also renowned for its collection of American textiles, particularly its quilts. There are exhibits devoted to North American Indians, a wonderful collection of maps, and a Folk At Gallery. Each year the museum has a temporary exhibition in addition to an exciting programme of events such as Civil War re-enactments, talks, craft workshops, activities for children, and the popular Christmas at Claverton. The museum is set in beautiful grounds that include a reconstruction of George Washington’s garden at Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Christina Parker

Further information: 01225 460503

[email protected]