In The Patriot, a forthcoming Columbia TriStar film starring Mel Gibson, the Revolutionary War-era sets were meticulously crafted, right down to the 18th-century decorative objects in the period rooms: prints like William Hogarth's O the Roast Beef of Old England, curvy English wine bottles, even a Staffordshire-style agate cream jug. The truth is that these items are even younger than Gibson—they are reproductions created by Period Designs in Yorktown, Virginia.
"You have to discover period techniques to be able to reproduce them," says Robert Hunter, one of Period Designs' three partners and an unofficial adviser to the film team. A former historical archeologist and a curator of ceramics and glass in the Department of Collections at Colonial Williamsburg, Hunter spent more than two decades excavating and studying 17th- and 18th-century objects before applying his expertise to his own antiques and reproductions business. Hunter counts the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the British Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution as clients, he lectures frequently at institutions such as Winterthur, and he's recently become executive editor for the annual Ceramics in America, which will launch in May 2001. Hunter is a man you could indeed trust to commission a spot-on reproduction.
The Period Designs shop is based in the Mungo Somerwell House—a tidy ca. 1720 brick structure in Yorktown's Colonial National Historical Park. One part of the shop holds Hunter's antiques section, which features 18th-century wood-and-glass cabinets filled with Dutch and English pottery, creamware, and pearlware, as well as antique German and American stoneware pieces, among them a rare 1607 slipware firecover and an equally rare ca. 1690 delft charger. In the next room are partner and potter Michelle Erickson's reproduction delft pieces, $75-$3,500. ("She's a window to the eighteenth century in her use of slip and throwing techniques," says Hunter.) Former Colonial Williamsburg prints and maps curator Virginia Lascara is the third Period Designs partner, contributing reproductions of Mark Catesby's stunning bird and botanical prints and the bawdy scenes of Hogarth ($25-$225), as well as antique prints by these artists and others, including Alexander Wilson, the founding father of American ornithology. Original prints range from $75 to $14,000.
"Our re-creations of eighteenth-century drinking glasses, table glass, and garden bell jars are made from soda glass, not lead crystal, as the originals were," Hunter says, showing us the sturdy, beautifully handblown tumblers and goblets. In yet another corner are German bellarmines, stoneware bottles used before glass became common ($35- $250). Hunter and his partners commission reproductions from a cast of international craftspeople, such as Rhine Valley artisans who have been producing stoneware for more than 600 years.
"We use archeological and documentary evidence to give our pieces historical accuracy," Hunter explains. "They please the contemporary collector and the purist."
401 Main Street, Yorktown; 757-886-9482; fax 757-877-9068. 1 $www.perioddesigns.com 401 Main Street, Yorktown; 757-886-9482; fax 757-877-9068.
$ Estabishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than American Express.