SALEM — When Peter and Carolyn Lynch were newlyweds, they bought a house in Marblehead and discovered that classic antique furniture often cost less than new furnishings. Peter, who would go on to great acclaim as manager of Fidelity’s Magellan Fund, bought Carolyn, who passed away in 2015, an antique rocking cradle for her first Mother’s Day.
That started a passion for collecting American decorative art, paintings, sculptures, and furniture. Later, they bought the 1938 Howard A. Colby House on Marblehead Neck and, before they knew it, their home was filled with furniture from Boston, New York and Philadelphia, and paintings by such esteemed American artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent.
Much of their collection is on view at the Peabody Essex Museum, starting on Saturday. The new exhibition, “A Passion For American Art,” coincidentally opens on what would have been the Lynches’ 51st wedding anniversary. “That this date was selected as the opening day of the exhibition was pure serendipity,” said Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM’s deputy director. The show continues through Dec. 1.
The Lynches fell deeply in love with Marblehead, and that’s evident in this outstanding display of some 200 items. The first thing museum-goers will see is J.O.J. Frost’s stunning folk art oil painting “The March Into Boston From Marblehead, April 16, 1861.” The painting captures Frost’s childhood memory of watching his father alongside other Marblehead men depart on foot to Faneuil Hall in Boston to enlist in the Civil War. Frost, a hardworking Marbleheader, started painting at age 70 when his wife died and produced some 200 paintings that established him as the town’s unofficial historian.
This Frost painting is one of three Peter Lynch donated to the museum in Carolyn’s memory, along with Childe Hassam’s “East Headland, Appledore – Isle of Shoals,” the first major American impressionist picture, and O’Keeffe’s “Cedar and Red Maple, Lake George,” a vibrant modernist masterpiece.
There are also several examples of Marblehead Pottery, dating back to 1904. Marblehead Pottery originated to teach ceramics as a convalescent therapy to sanitarium patients and grew into one of America’s most sought-after and respected small studio potteries of the 1900s.
Two examples of light-splashed maritime scenes by Gloucester painter Fitz Henry Lane are standout artworks. Winslow Homer’s “Grace Hoops” is a fun portrait of two girls playing. Nature paintings by Alfred Bierstadt, Sargent and John F. Kensett’s “On the Beverly Coast” command attention.
Works by modern furniture maker Sam Maloof are remarkable, especially an enormous dining table that was crafted from one piece of walnut that Maloof saved for 25 years until the perfect project arrived.
The Lynch family is quiet but dedicated philanthropists, especially on the North Shore, through The Lynch Foundation. Carolyn served as a PEM trustee and helped found the museum’s American Decorative Arts Committee.
This exhibition shares a rare glimpse into the Marblehead Neck home, plus Lynch residences in Boston and the Arizona desert. “Period rooms” with classic furniture, themed paintings, and distinctive lighting have been re-created here, using 18th century woodwork, antique hardware, and wide-board flooring supplied by architectural salvage companies. The “East Room” and “Keeping Room” are particularly beautiful, with Frost’s circa 1925 “A View of Marblehead Massachusetts” dominating the space in the latter.
“You get a sense of what you might see walking through their house,” said Dean Lahikainen, PEM’s Carolyn and Peter Lynch curator of American Decorative Art. “In so many ways, this remarkable collection speaks to the personal and singular collecting journey the couple shared for nearly a half a century, exploring and embracing many aspects of American artistic creativity.”
Carolyn Lynch’s mantra was “Discover where your passions lie. Act on it. And you will accomplish great things.” This collection shows she and her family clearly embraced that philosophy.