Annie Kemerer’s Dining Room Table Comes Home
No one at Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites knew where the dining room table of Annie Kemerer, a key donor who bequeathed her collection to start the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts, was until about seven months ago. Before then, the only record of its whereabouts were a few photos and a story.
A photograph of Annie S. Kemerer’s dining room table, set for a formal dinner, is featured prominently at Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts. Visitors often ask where the table is now, and for over five decades, the table’s location was a mystery.
Annie’s table was sold during the dissolving of Annie Kemerer’s estate in 1951, after her death. According to a story passed down over decades, the executor of Kemerer’s will and a few friends sat at the table to discuss what should be set aside for the future museum and what could be sold. At the end of the process, the table was left, and those involved opted to sell it. It was purchased for $25 and taken out west.
About seven months ago, Ray Austin Jr. contacted Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites. It turns out that Annie Kemerer’s table has resided in California for the last 40 years. The table was originally purchased from the Annie S. Kemerer Estate by Ray Austin Sr. cofounder of Austin Bros, electrical contractors who were located south of the Hill to Hill Bridge from 1946 through the 1980s. Upon Austin’s gifting back the table to the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts, the shipment across country took a little over a month to get from California to Historic Bethlehem.
“We are excited not only to display the table among the rest of Annie’s collection, but also to tell the story of how it came home,’ says curator Lindsey Jancay. ‘I look forward to incorporating the table into upcoming exhibitions and events at Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites. As Hunt, Wilkinson & Co has stated: ‘A good gift lives a long life.’ By giving Annie’s table to The Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts, the Austin family has not only ensured that it continues to live ‘a long life’, but has also enabled us at Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites to continue to keep Annie S. Kemerer’s story alive through the objects she collected and loved.”
The table is on permanent display in the first floor vault at The Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts, where visitors can admire the quarter sawn oak patterns and its cabriole legs, ball and claw feet and rope edging. With eight leaves in place, the table measures 12 ft, 4 in. Annie Kemerer’s table likely joined her collection around the time of her marriage in 1880. The twelve leaves are stamped with numbers and the leaf case features the label of Hunt, Wilkinson & Co.—a manufacturer and importer of furniture and decorations—at their Market Street location in Philadelphia. The store was destroyed by a fatal fire in 1901.
For its unveiling, half of Annie Kemerer’s table is set similarly to the 1951 photograph on display in the museum, with a selection of Annie’s possessions—including the wedding china Mae Erdman hand painted for her. The other half is left uncovered to reveal the craftsmanship of the table.
In her will, Annie Kemerer wrote, “I have long felt a desire to see established in the City of Bethlehem a museum building devoted to the housing and display of antiques and historical objects significant in and illustrative of the history of Bethlehem and its people”. The Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts is grateful to house the table at which Annie and her Bethlehem guests ate and socialized. As Jancay states “the dining table is a gathering place. A place of sustenance, of style, and of companionship. It is exciting to think of all the people who were guests at Annie’s table, and to realize that visitors to the museum will continue to add to that “guest list”.
Visitors can peak inside history at the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts located at 427 North New Street and learn more about Annie and her collections by scheduling a custom tour Monday through Thursday or public visitation on Friday through Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Call 1-800-360-TOUR or visit our website, www.historicbethlehem.org.
All proceeds from this exhibit help Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites to maintain 20 historic landmarks in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.