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Nonie Gadsden

The Saturday
Evening Girls

Monday, December 12, 2022

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Sponsored by Ellen Brennan-Galvin

Tile featuring Paul Revere, decorated by Sara Galner (1894-1982) and produced by the Paul Revere Pottery (Boston and Brighton, Massachusetts, 1908-1942), earthenware, February 1917.  Dims. 6 1/4 x 4 1/4 x 1/4 in. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of Dr. David L. Bloom and his family, 2007.374.  Photo: courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 

The Saturday Evening Girls' club was established in 1899 to provide cultural activities for Italian and Jewish immigrant girls who lived in the tenements of Boston's North End. In 1908, the reform-minded club leaders founded a pottery to provide the girls with a clean and educational venue in which to earn money. They named the enterprise the Paul Revere Pottery in honor of the patriot's home which stood near their clubhouse, and to emphasize their own desire to be seen as Americans, not foreign immigrants. The Pottery exemplified the ideals of the early twentieth-century Arts and Crafts movement, a design reform movement which sought to alleviate the negative social effects of industrialized society by promoting hand craftsmanship, the integration of art into everyday life, and healthy working conditions for artisans.

The SEG created a range of table and display wares, all decorated using the cuerda seca (dry cord) technique that imparted dark black outlines that well-suited their children's book illustration style. The playful ceramics feature barnyard animals, native flowers, and rural landscapes in the stylized manner of the Arts and Crafts style. Nonie Gadsden will tell the remarkable story of the SEG and their Pottery through the life of Sara Galner, a young Jewish immigrant from eastern Europe. The lecture follows Sara's life and career, offering a unique, personalized view into the pottery, the Arts and Crafts movement and immigrant life in America in the early twentieth century.

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Cover of Art and Reform: Sara Galner, the Saturday Evening Girls, and the Paul Revere Pottery by Nonie Gadsden. Photo: Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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Nonie Gadsden is the Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). She earned her B.A. from Yale College and her M.A. from the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture at the University of Delaware. At the MFA, she is responsible for a wide range of artwork including decorative arts and sculpture from North, Central and South America from ancient times through the 20th century. She played a key role in the planning and installation of the MFA's award-winning Art of the Americas Wing comprised of 53 galleries featuring the arts of North, Central and South America (opened 2010). Her recent work at the MFA includes serving as lead curator the "Women Take the Floor" (2019-2021), a reinstallation of the Art of the Americas Wing 20th-century galleries that highlighted the work of under-recognized women artists; co-leading the creation of a museum-wide Folk Art Initiative, and mounting an exhibition that starts to question the collecting category of folk art, "Collecting Stories: The Invention of Folk Art (2021); developing new 20th century galleries, including "Art and Jazz" and "Folk Meets Modernism" (opened 2022); and publishing a book based on the MFA's collection of American modern design, America Goes Modern: The Rise of the Industrial Designer  (2022). Gadsden heads the Collections Committee of the Nichols House Museum on Boston's Beacon Hill and serves as a Governor for the Decorative Arts Trust.

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