A hand-painted English tea service, a massive German gingerbread mold and a pewter cup and charger belonging to a family imprisoned during the Salem, Massachusetts, witch trials are among the domestic treasures on display at the historic Jack House and Gardens in San Luis Obispo.
The exhibition “The Art We Eat On: Five Centuries of Tableware” opened June 3 and runs through July.
Of the more than 200 items being showcased at the home built by R.E. and Nellie Hollister Jack in 1878, about a quarter came from the Jack family’s eclectic collection, said James Papp, president of Friends of the Jack House. Five private collectors contributed the rest.
“It’s really a fun way to pull out (and display) what had just been sitting there, collecting dust,” Papp said.
He said “The Art We Eat On” exposes many of the Jacks’ possessions to public view for the first time since the city of San Luis Obispo acquired the Jack House in 1975. The two-story Italianate Victorian structure recently underwent a $44,000 window restoration project.
“The last loss inventory was 20 years ago. We haven’t done any condition reports in 40 years,” Papp said. “This is a wonderful opportunity to pull out stuff and figure out what [it is].”
For instance, Jack House docents and scholars were finally able to identify what was written on the bottom of a lotus bowl manufactured between 1862 and 1874 during China’s Qing Dynasty. The writing translates to “springtime of the immortals,” Papp said, “the equivalent of ‘many happy returns of the day.’”
They were also able to track down the home’s three-piece parlor suite, part of a vast and varied furniture collection ranging in age from the 1830s to the 1940s and varying in style from American Empire to Grecian to Renaissance Revival.
According to Papp, the items featured in “The Art We Eat On” reveal how Central Coast residents once lived. Take the turn-of-the-century linens embroidered by Eliza Tognazzini, the great-grandmother of Jack House charter docent Wendy Stockton, on her Cayucos dairy farm.
“In between milkings, apparently she did the most exquisite imaginable embroidery,” Papp said, “carving out this life of culture amongst this outback vastness.”
In addition, Papp said, the exhibition shows community members how eating habits and technology have changed over five centuries. They’ll see, for instance, how the French transformed mass-produced porcelain and stoneware in the 19th century by painting dolphins on serving dishes and wildflowers on demitasses, or how San Luis Obispo artist Jarred Pfeiffer used 17th-century Japanese glazing techniques to decorate his 21st-century ceramic shot glasses.
Papp hopes “The Art We Eat On” will attract art lovers who are unfamiliar with the Jack House, as well as those who haven’t visited it in decades.
“No one will come into a historic house more than every 10 or 20 years unless you’re doing something new,” he explained.
This exhibition, Papp added, makes “the Jack House the (only) museum in town that is showing the history of decorative art.”`
‘The Art We Eat On: Five Centuries of Tableware’
1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, through July 31
Jack House and Gardens, 536 Marsh St., San Luis Obispo
$5, free for children and Art After Dark visitors