Old Dartmouth Historical Society
This gallery introduces the more exceptional examples of our extensive collection of locally made art glass and silver, alongside furniture and paintings by resident turn-of-the-century artists.
The Old Dartmouth Historical Society
Dr. Gilbert and Frima Shapiro Gallery
Opened: July 4, 2015
Founded as the Old Dartmouth Historical Society in 1903, the New Bedford Whaling Museum focuses its collecting, programs, and exhibitions on history, culture, science, and art.
In 1906 the organization acquired its first building and by 1914 hired a curator. Over 100 years later, the institution has grown and expanded, aiming to connect with local audiences and tell global stories. “Old Dartmouth” covers the towns of Dartmouth, New Bedford, Fairhaven, Westport, and Acushnet and today has a combined population of 145,000 people.
One of the richest towns in the United States in the mid-1800s, New Bedford was “the city that lit the world” due to the use of whale oil for lighting. The Museum interprets the history of whaling and whale biology, and conveys the interlocking stories of the area and its diverse histories and cultures. Our collection of almost one million objects, manuscripts, and artifacts includes an incredible assortment from local communities and regions around the globe.
Alongside whaling, key industries that drove the regional economy included textile and decorative arts manufacturing. By 1880, two leading US firms for decorative glass and silver were in New Bedford: Mount Washington Glass Company and Pairpoint Manufacturing Company. Competing nationally with firms like Tiffany and Company, New England Glass Company, and Steuben Glass Company, they operated in the city until 1957, producing lamps, vases, and functional and decorative arts. Because of this history, the Museum has one of the leading collections of Mount Washington and Pairpoint Glass in the country.
This gallery introduces the more exceptional examples of our extensive collection of locally made art glass and silver, alongside furniture and paintings by resident turn-of-the-century artists. These pieces were made and decorated during the Gilded Age (1870-1910) by local craftspeople, factory workers, and artisans for elite clientele. Created in the same decades as our founding, objects in this gallery allow us to reflect upon issues of class and nativism, and art versus industry, and consider the origins of our institution. Who were we founded by; what stories do our collections tell; and what communities do we serve? These questions are central to our mission, guide our activities, and shape our future.