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February 6, 2012

New Exhibition Features Tall Case Clocks

Classic tall case clocks are the result of two distinct endeavors: clockmaking and cabinetmaking. A new exhibition at Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum explores the intricate details of building the clock mechanism and crafting the wooden case to hold the clock movement. “Keeping Time: The Tall Case Clock” opens Saturday, April 7.

Tall case clocks use weight-driven movements regulated by pendulums housed in wooden cases. Clockmakers put together the mechanical movement while specialists were often engaged to cast the brass gears for the movement and engrave decoration or the maker’s name on the clock dial. Cabinetmakers or joiners made the wooden cases while still more specialists might produce inlaid wooden elements or painted motifs and patterns to ornament the clock cases. The style and design of clock movements — especially their dials — and clock cases changed over time with new advances, evolving fashions and regional preferences.

“Until mass production of clocks began in the early 19th century, only the wealthy could afford the expensive mechanisms,” said Tara Chicirda, Colonial Williamsburg’s curator of furniture. “But most people could proceed through the day with little access to a clock. During the 18th century, many used the sun’s location in the sky, sundials or public clock chimes to regulate their days.”

As society became increasingly more dependent on time regulation, clocks became more necessary and the introduction of mass production in the 19th century made them more attainable.

The exhibition highlights the design of the movements and clock dials, and looks at the changes in case and dial styles over time in both England and America while showcasing Colonial Williamsburg’s collection of Southern tall case clocks.

“Keeping Time: The Tall Case Clock” is made possible by Martha Rittenhouse in memory of her parents, David and Evelyn Rittenhouse, and her brother, Ward Rittenhouse, and will be on view through Feb.3, 2013. A Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket or Museum ticket is required. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum is located at 326 W. Francis St. and is open daily throughout the year.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg include the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, with more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum exhibits the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670–1830.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are located at the intersection of Francis and South Henry Streets in Williamsburg, Va., and are entered through the Public Hospital of 1773. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, except 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday — Thursday through March 11. For museum program information, telephone (757) 220-7724.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural organization that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281