Gould on the go

Until the discovery of Nathaniel Gould’s 18th century account books at the Massachusetts Historical Society in 2009, many of his pieces were mis-attributed, or listed as “unknown cabinetmaker, Salem.” Now, over 20 pieces have been firmly attributed to Gould’s shop, and PEM will hold the first-ever exhibition of the furniture of Nathaniel Gould in the fall of 2014.

Because many of these pieces are privately owned or newly-attributed, no photography of them existed for PEM to use in our exhibition catalog. For the Gould project, PEM hired Dennis Helmar, who also photographed many wonderful objects for us in our 2007 Samuel McIntire catalog. But hiring the photographer is only the first step. We also had to schedule the venues and studio space, hire art handlers to move the furniture, and of course secure permission and loan agreements from the collectors. In total, we photographed 24 objects at 7 locations around New England.


A Gould drop-leaf table (1760-1770) in position on the photographer’s backdrop.
All photos by Claire Blechman

The photoshoots lasted all day. Dennis and his assistants first shot a large catalog “plate” showing each object in full. Even in studio conditions, lighting and positioning these objects so that they look their best can take up to two hours (and a lot of camera equipment).

gould_chair shoot

Shooting a full page plate of one of PEM’s Gould chairs. This chair is based on a Manwaring design and was made between 1763-1780.

gould_professional handlers

Professional art handlers are key on any shoot, to move and reposition the objects safely.

Once the overall plate photo was complete, we moved on to photographing furniture details.  Our author Kemble Widmer was on hand to point out which features of Gould’s work were of particular interest and importance.


Kem points out construction details for Dennis to photograph on the underside of a Gould drop-leaf table.

The key to this Nathaniel Gould story is the rediscovery of his ledgers. We went to the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston and photographed the books as art objects. Dennis also took photos of individual pages that highlight notable orders in Nathaniel Gould’s career.


Dennis gets up close to shoot Nathaniel Gould’s account book at the Massachusetts Historical Society.


The title on Gould’s account book. The cover has such beautiful, interesting texture.

One of our goals in publishing The Furniture of Nathaniel Gould of Salem 1758-1781 is to produce a catalog with an attractive, modern design that shows the enduring beauty of these pieces of antique furniture. To this end, we did three days of “editorial” photoshoots where we photographed Gould furniture in situ at historic houses. We chose the Jeremiah Lee Mansion in Marblehead, and the Derby house and the Crowninshield-Bentley house in Salem. Both Jeremiah Lee and the Derbys were important customers at Gould’s shop. The Gould pieces worked in excellent harmony with the architecture.


PEM’s Manwaring design Gould chair in situ at the Derby House.


Kathy Fredrickson, director of publishing at PEM, on site to art direct a photo of a PEM Gould kitchen chair in the front hall at the Crowninshield-Bentley house.

Now that the photoshoots are over, there is still much to do. Our photographer will do post-production work in Photoshop. Our designer will incorporate all of the plates, account book pages, and editorials into the layout and design of the book. Meanwhile, we must order and license all of the other images of Gould furniture and other art figures that are in collections at other museums around the country.

Shooting publication-quality photography is a huge endeavor, but all of our efforts will be more than worth it when we publish a gorgeous new book of Nathaniel Gould’s Salem furniture.

gould_dennis and assistant

Dennis and his assistant Alex photograph the Gould ledgers at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Thank you to everyone who has helped to make these photoshoots such a success, both at PEM and on location!

Editor’s Note: PEM’s Nathaniel Gould exhibition is just one of the many featured events taking place as part of the Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture initiative. To learn more, visit www.fourcenturies.org or the recent Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture feature in The Boston Globe found HERE.


  1. Johnny Brungis says:

    You can hire people specifically to handle art? Where does one find people like that?

  2. Claire Blechman says:

    Hi Johnny – The handlers you see above are from PEM’s Collections department. But we also contract with many outside art handling agencies. Some examples are Fine Arts Enterprises (FAE), Artex, and USArt.

  3. Johnny Brungis says:

    Ah, I see, I wondered why they were the only folks whose names or titles were not given. Nonetheless, I look forward to the catalog!

  4. Ron Christensen says:

    Will the ledgers be included in the book ?

    The Samuel McIntire publication is a masterpiece ! I anxiously await the opening of the exhibit.

  5. Claire says:

    Hi Ron – There are some images of the ledgers and individual pages in the book, but all the information from the ledgers is transcribed and edited in the appendices. For more information on the production, see my post here http://connected.pem.org/the-making-of-an-exhibition-catalog/

    And the books are here now so feel free to come down to the museum shop and see it in person if you’re in town.

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