This August, the CMA welcomed its new curator of decorative art, Ada de Wit. Previously the curator of works of art and sculpture at the Wallace Collection in London, de Wit now brings her wealth of knowledge to the CMA.
Studying art history in Poland, de Wit initially focused on European painting and architecture, but thanks to an inspirational professor became interested in decorative art. She found its very nature appealing: such works exist not only as beautiful objects but also as functional pieces that people can live with, use, and handle. She dedicated her first MA thesis to the field, gradually increasing the scope of periods, countries, and materials she studied. Soon after graduating, de Wit found a unique MA course in England on 18th-century French and British decorative art and historical interiors. This second MA helped her to secure a curatorial job at the Wallace Collection in London, which is renowned for its 18th-century French furniture and ceramics.
De Wit brings two main areas of specialty to her role at the CMA: wood and precious metals. Her first MA thesis was on 19th-century silver from her home city, Wroclaw (German Breslau before World War II), which used to be an important center of silversmithing. While working at the Wallace, she completed her PhD studies on 17th-century carved-wood decoration in the Netherlands and Britain. This required studying interiors of royal palaces, country houses, and churches, along with ship carving. At the Wallace, she also researched Asante gold (from current-day Ghana) and Chinese gold from the Qianlong period that involved technical analyses at the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office in London.
To gain a more practical knowledge of precious metals, de Wit completed a short silversmithing course, allowing her to appreciate precious metal items from new perspectives. Fascinated by the silver hallmarking system wherein items are stamped with tiny marks that often reveal the maker, the year, and the place where they were made, de Wit shared that “reading them is like doing detective work and I’ve always enjoyed that.”
On coming to the CMA, de Wit expressed several areas of excitement about her move: “The fact that the museum has one of the largest endowments of any art museum in the US is very attractive because in practice it means that more can be done in terms of research, acquisitions, and programming. The CMA’s collection of decorative art is of international importance; the star piece for me is the silver tureen designed by Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier. It is thrilling that now I will look after it!”
De Wit hopes to make the collection at the CMA more visible and accessible for visitors and scholars, and to establish regular international collaboration: “At the local level, I would like to make Clevelanders more aware of the treasures the CMA has and boost their sense of pride in their hometown museum. But the first step for me will be to learn about the collection, the CMA, and the Cleveland cultural scene, and I am very excited about the future.”