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 Joel's Blog

A Visit to the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages


When woodworkers talk about unusual tools in history the conversation invariably turns to the carriage trade. Wooden carriages have the distinction of having to be light, strong, weather resistant, and most important, full of complex frames, moldings and curves. Nothing is square. Over the centuries a myriad of highly specialized carriage-makers tools were developed, However, in this day and age it is rare to get a chance to see the results of these tools.

On Labor Day a month or so ago I had the opportunity to visit out in Stonybrook, Long Island, NY. As you may have noticed I like to write about small museums. And they are so much fun to visit. The Carriage Museum, which is an affiliate of the Smithsonian, has the largest collection of carriages in the country. For me it's the first time I really had the chance to see a really great sample of all sorts of carriages, sleds, private surreys, giant bus transports, and everything in between.

The museum is actually a consolidation of several museums and also had an exhibit of carved duck decoys, and one on the Long Island mansions that used to dot the island. While the mansions are mostly all gone, some of the relics show wonderful woodwork.

I don't really have a larger point with this blog except maybe that whenever you are traveling, even a short distance, visiting the local museum can be a really wonderful surprise. In the case of this museum even more so because unlike a large museum in a big city the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages relies on a small group of patrons, visits from locals and school trips, and doesn't have the mass of tourists that keep the big boys afloat. But, nonetheless, and in spite of the expense and difficulty in maintaining such a collection, the entire museum had exhibits worthy of the best of what the Smithsonian could offer. For example the tools of the carriage maker aren't that strange to me and piece of a production shop, an outdoor shop, and a carriage maker's tool chest are all on display, what I have never ever seen before is a carriage maker's paint and finishing kit, complete with brushes and paints, and a few specialized tools. The brush geometries alone are new to me and who knows, might have application for finishers today. The point is - I learned stuff - and that's always valuable. Here are a few pictures I snapped with my phone. The little lion headed sled is BTW from about 1790.
I urge you all to visit.

Join the conversation
11/11/2015 Paul Butler
That is a very cool museum - will have to check it out next time I am up in the area. One day you should head SE and check out the Mercer Museum in Doylestown - its another of these interesting local museums, but the collection is surprisingly huge.
11/11/2015 Doug Brown
Years ago, visiting my wife's family in NW Missouri, we got to cross the branch on a local farm to explore a 19th century barn, no longer accessible except by foot, that was filled with old wagons and carriages of all types, covered in dust, a museum in waiting. This one on Long Island must have been the twin, except all restored. I still wonder what was to become of that barn's contents. Long Island is a long ways from New Mexico, but I would love to visit this museum. DRB
11/11/2015 STAN King
About 25 years ago I attended an off-road horse carriage race and new carriage show in New Jersey. Basking Ridge area I think, definately estate country with space for the race through woods, meadow, and creeks. New carriages, mostly made in Europe I recall, were on a grassy knoll for sale costing more than most automobiles. Point is, there still was a demand for extremely fine craftsmanship on functional carriages. A very few still manufactured for the elite "Carriage Trade."
11/12/2015 Don Ripperger
While on a trip around the British isles on our 25 anniversary 28 years ago. We did exactly as you describe. We talked with the local chamber of commerce in each town to find interesting small museums and highlights and places to stay. I was interested in woodworking and my spouse in anything needlework related. What a treasure trove of small places. As soon as the people found you were interested they would go out of their way to talk about what they loved. Some places had weird hours, Tues. afternoons from 1:00 to 1:30 Etc. or simply a phone number if you were interested to touring the museum. We saw how air Balloon baskets were made. Toured a knitting frame museum complete with history back to hand knitting the Queen's socks, lace making,watched swill basket making. One of the B&B we stayed at the owner was restoring a pony carriage for his grandson. One museum Docent, a 85 year old woman, even offered to give us a felting needle off a knitting machine on display. We graciously declined but were enthralled with the elderly ladies recollections of her childhood remembering s. Great trip recommend it highly. Friendly patient people that simply stop and wait until the idiot tourists from the states realize they are driving on the wrong side of the road.:0)
What a great find! I just emailed the inlaws (in Glen Head) about this. Next time my wife and I come back to New York we'll be heading to check this place out. I'm also hoping to check out your retail location as well.

11/13/2015 Charles Johanesen
Love the shadowbox of brushes. The top row includes squirrel hair lettering quills, sword stripers, and banding brushes. All of these are still in use today by sign painters, pinstripers, and decorative painters who still practice these old techniques.

thanks for posting
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