With approximately 3,500 objects representing half of the entire permanent collection, Telfair’s decorative arts holdings are an area of strength that aligns closely with the museum’s historic sites and Savannah’s history.
Telfair’s decorative arts collection spans the mid-18th century to the late 19th century, with a few items dating to the early 20th century. Most of the collection originated in America, with some representation of English wares and fewer examples from Europe and China. Particular strengths include the sub-collections of silver and furniture. The collection also includes textiles.
The decorative arts collection is exhibited extensively in two formats: period rooms and special exhibits. With rare exceptions, displays in the period rooms at the Owens-Thomas House are designated to the early 19th century, specifically the 1820s and 1830s. Period rooms at the Telfair Academy can be interpreted from 1820-1875. Specialized exhibitions feature decorative arts in gallery spaces and are geared towards the artistic and historic merits of individual objects.
The Telfair’s silver collection includes a strong core of Savannah-made or Savannah-used objects. A collection of more than 400 pieces of English and American silver donated by Dr. Frank Rizza in 2012 significantly increased the size of the silver holdings, making this medium the Telfair’s largest sub-collection with more than 1,000 pieces.
The decorative arts collection began with furniture left to the museum by Mary Telfair. The strength of the furniture collection comprises objects created between the years 1815-1840, reflecting the homes originally owned by the Telfair and Richardson/Owens families. These objects are usually featured in the period rooms at the Telfair Academy and the Owens-Thomas House.