The Chipstone Foundation, or Chipstone for short, sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood in the town of Fox Point, just a few miles north of the city of Milwaukee. Driving by one might not realize that the colonial revival house is a limited access museum and home to an exemplary collection of decorative arts objects that include, among other things, colonial American furniture, as well as 17th and 18th British ceramics.
Upon reading this you might be wondering, what does the name Chipstone have to do with decorative arts, and why is this collection in Milwaukee? In order to answer that I need to go back to Chipstone’s beginnings. Chipstone was founded by Stanley and Polly Stone, both of whom were based in Milwaukee. They bought their first antique, a circa 1815 Salem secretary and bookcase, in 1946 during a trip to New York City. This acquisition awakened a passion for collecting that led to one of the premier collections of early American furniture, American historical prints, as well as seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth century British ceramics. In the four years following this initial purchase, the Stones acquired twenty-eight additional pieces. Mr. Stone looked back on those initial years writing: “My prize remark to my wife one day in 1946 was ‘Polly I like this stuff; I may put as much as twenty-five or thirty thousand dollars into it.” Needless to say, the Stones invested much more than that. This desire to continue collecting led Polly and Stanley Stone to describe themselves as “poor deluded victims” who failed to realize that they had been stricken with the “virus antiquarium”.
By the early 1960s the Stones’ collection was impressive and well-known enough to intrigue Charles Montgomery who was at that time the Senior Research Fellow and former director of the Henry Francis DuPont Winterthur Museum Pottery. He became an advisor of sorts, and also encouraged the Stones to set up a foundation. The Chipstone Foundation, named after Mr. Stone’s pet name for Mrs. Stone- chipmunk- was thus created with the dual purpose of preserving and interpreting the collection, as well as stimulating research and education in the decorative arts.In 1999 Chipstone joined forces with the Milwaukee Art Museum– curating their decorative arts galleries, which included objects from Chipstone’s collection, the Layton Art Collection and the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collection. This partnership provided us with the opportunity to craft creative exhibitions centered on a variety of subjects. An example is To Speculate Darkly: Theaster Gates and Dave the Potter, an installation in which Theaster Gates responded to, as well as embodied, the well-known South Carolina enslaved potter Dave Drake (to watch a video of Theaster Gates and his choir performing at the Milwaukee Art Museum, please click here.)
In the past years, Chipstone has expanded its collection to include objects that are outside of what the Stones would have collected, yet are incredibly rich in interpretative value. Two areas that Chipstone curators have concentrated on recently, aside from colonial American furniture and early British ceramics, are contemporary craft and antebellum Southern ceramics. Former curators Glenn Adamson and Ethan Lasser both curated, researched and wrote about contemporary craft artists looking back at the past for inspiration.One of these artists is potter Michelle Erickson whose Green-aide Squirrel, based on Moravian squirrel bottles, resides at Chipstone.
Chipstone continues to collect and care for the existing collection. In addition, we strive to fulfill the Stones’ education mandate by publishing scholarly works, doing research, leading think tanks, hosting student workshops, teaching, as well as creating innovative exhibitions and digital projects. Most of our collection can be accessed online as part of the University of Wisconsin- Madison’s digital library for the arts and material culture. Chipstone welcomes both scholars and art enthusiasts alike to experience the wonder and beauty of our pieces, while expanding an understanding of the decorative arts in our collection and their makers. A visit to Chipstone will demonstrate that all of the objects in our collection have the same things in common: they are prime examples of their form and they tell a great story.