After more than three years of meticulous planning and consultation with museum design professionals and architects, the recently renovated barn at Rock Ford Plantation will open to the public on June 20, 2020. The beautifully designed gallery will showcase a one of a kind collection consisting of over 230 objects by Lancaster County artisans including tall case clocks, silver, furniture and portraiture created during Edward Hand’s residency in America and the period interpreted at Rock Ford (c.1765-1810). The grouping represents one of the largest and most significant collections of early Lancaster County decorative arts ever assembled and came to Rock Ford as a bequest from noted antiquarian John J. Snyder, Jr. The objective of the new gallery is to not only showcase the exquisite creations of Early Lancaster County craftsmen but also the diverse population that supported them.
The donor, John J. Snyder, Jr. was an outstanding collector and scholar of early Pennsylvania decorative arts. A graduate of Dickinson College and a Fellow of the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture, he authored, co-authored or edited dozens of books and articles on early American architecture, furniture and clocks and was frequently called upon by some of the most prestigious American auction houses to research and authenticate pieces. In one very notable case, John was the key to establishing the provenance and significance of the renowned Cadwalader Easy Chair described as “one of the rarest and most remarkable examples of 18th-century furniture in existence.” The chair which sold at auction for a record breaking price in 1987 is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
While the Snyder Collection will comprise the core of the Gallery, it will be supplemented by the Kauffman Collection of over 20 Lancaster County Pennsylvania long rifles as well as periodically rotating focus exhibits of thematically connected objects. These focus exhibits will allow visitors to explore the stories of both the artisans who created the objects and the persons who owned them. The clock makers, silversmiths, portrait painters and furniture makers who worked in Lancaster County during the era of the Early American Republic were the artists of their day; their work deserves to be seen by the public and appreciated as such. The Snyder Gallery of Early Lancaster County Decorative Arts will therefore represent a melding of both the historic and the artistic life of early Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Mr. Snyder served multiple terms as a trustee and board president of the Rock Ford Foundation. He also served as chair or co-chair of the Collections Committee for many years until the time of his death in late 2013. In 2014, Rock Ford learned that he had bequeathed his personal collection of Lancaster County decorative arts dating from the era that has been interpreted at Rock Ford since its opening as a museum in 1960 and a period that Mr. Snyder once referred to as “the Golden Age of Lancaster County artisanship.” In early 2018 the Rock Ford Foundation launched a capital campaign to raise funds to renovate the existing second level of Rock Ford’s re-constructed 18th century bank barn (which had been home to the Henry J. Kauffman Collection of American folk art and artifacts from 1976 until circa 2000) and to construct an architecturally harmonious addition to the structure which would collectively become the John J. Snyder, Jr. Gallery of Early Lancaster County Decorative Arts. Construction commenced in the summer of 2019 with an anticipated opening of the gallery in the early summer of 2019. The Wholsen Construction Company, which lead the original restoration of the Rock Ford Mansion in 1957, was once again engaged as general contractor.