Reviews / Comptes rendus - Gregg A. Finley, (ed.). The Loyalists

Reviews / Comptes rendus

Gregg A. Finley, (ed.). The Loyalists

Kathy Kuusisto
Halifax, N.S.

1 "United Empire Loyalists". Those three words conjure up a great many images in my mind, images depicting wealth, power, authority and conservatism. Rarely do they include the picture of refugees fleeing an oppressive political system with what few possessions they could quickly gather on a wagon or in a sloop. This recent publication from the New Brunswick Museum confirms some of my biased images of the Loyalists but makes me question other assumptions about them.

2 The Loyalists is the first in a series of catalogues to be published on the collections of the New Brunswick Museum. The Loyalist Collection was the first group of holdings to be assembled in this manner, a logical choice given the current Bicentennial Celebrations in the land to the south of us and the recent founding of the Loyalist Studies Programme at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

3 The catalogue begins with a brief overview of the Loyalist situation in America following the Revolution: the decision as to whether to go or stay, where to go, how to go, and the reality of what they found as opposed to what they had expected. Following this introduction are photographs of Loyalist artifacts from the New Brunswick Museum collection. The photographs, both black and white and colour, are excellent and serve the artifacts well. Interspersed throughout are quotations from Loyalist diaries and papers.

4 The objects depicted in The Loyalists confirm my feelings that they were indeed a very wealthy and powerful group. There are pieces of fine furniture, including Queen Anne, Hepplewhite, and Chippendale styles. There is a beautiful collection of Loyalist silver made by colonial silversmiths, a celestial globe, plus several oil paintings and miniatures. If these were some of the items the Loyalists managed to take with them, imagine what they must have left behind! In the introduction Gregg Finley notes that the "backbone of Loyalist society in New Brunswick" was the ordinary labourer, the soldier, the farmer, common people who had "little or no fine furniture and silver". However, as is often reflected in museum collections, the objects of these people are rarely preserved. Their possessions were well used and then discarded, too common to merit saving. There are a few utilitarian objects depicted in the catalogue — a pair of eyeglasses, a spinning wheel, a brass kettle and a pair of simple pewter candlesticks.

5 Accompanying each artifact is a brief description which usually identifies the original owner, place of origin and place of settlement and supplies the dimensions of the object. The editor states that the artifacts have been "painstakingly documented". The identification of ownership certainly attests to that. However, why is there not further mention of the materials of construction or design. For example, there is a fine illustration of a chair identified as an "unusual country Windsor chair". The expert will recognize the uniqueness of the chair, but will the layman?

6 Overall, the publication is a delight. It is an ideal way to present a collection — in the context of a people or a tradition. I heartily recommend that other museum curators interested in putting together a publication about artifacts in their collections consider the format devised by the New Brunswick Museum. It is a glossy publication, well designed and laid out, with the one small exception that the gothic script used for the title seems inappropriate.

7 I look forward to future Collection Catalogues from the New Brunswick Museum. Such catalogues are sorely needed. How better to learn about the traditions of the people who settled and shaped this land, and thus about ourselves, than through their possessions and products? The Loyalists sets a standard for future publications about collections in museums throughout Canada.

Kathy Kuusisto
Halifax, N.S.