Pillow Talk: Discovering Early New England Bed Chambers

April 11, 2015 - April 11, 2015 | 8:30 am - 6:30 pm

Deerfield Community Center


Few spaces are more personal than the bedroom. In the past, bed chambers functioned as multipurpose spaces for sleeping, lovemaking, tending young children, getting dressed, washing and toileting, entertaining friends, giving birth, caring for the sick, and ultimately dying. The most important focal piece of the bed chamber was the bed and its textiles or “bed furniture.” For the very wealthy, highly decorated beds represented a status symbol. The quest for comfort and a good night’s sleep was not to be taken for granted in early America. This one-day forum at Historic Deerfield brings together a diverse group of historians and specialists who will focus on the functions and material culture of the New England bed chamber. We will discuss issues of fashion and status, comfort, privacy, sleep patterns, health, and hygiene.


Jane C. Nylander, President Emerita of Historic New England and author of Our Own Snug Fireside: Images of the New England Home, 1760-1860, will provide an overview of the New England bed chamber, and focus on sleep and repose, display and comfort, privacy and neighborliness, as well as hygiene and fashion. Dr. A. Roger Ekirch, Professor of History at Virginia Tech and author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, will speak on how sleep patterns were different before the invention of artificial illumination. Hundreds of years ago, people enjoyed two sleep sessions in one night: a first sleep and a second sleep, with as long as two hours of wakefulness in between. Amanda Lange, Curatorial Department Director and Curator of Historic Interiors at Historic Deerfield, will discuss the functions of the bed chamber through the lens of ceramics, examining such objects as chamber pots and commodes, basins and ewers, shaving bowls and ointment pots, spit pots, feeders and food warmers. Natalie Larson, owner of Historic Textile Reproductions in Williamsburg, Virginia, will deconstruct the anatomy of the best bed: the mattresses or ticks, linen sheets and pillow cases, and the bed hangings as well as different bed forms and bed foundations (e.g. sacking vs. rope). Her talk will also focus on new discoveries and recent investigations of some of the best remaining beds and bed hangings in New England. The program also includes tours of Historic Deerfield’s period houses to see examples of bed chambers from different time periods and economic levels. The day ends at the Flynt Center of Early New England Life with an informal examination of Historic Deerfield’s documented examples of bed hangings and textiles with Associate Curator of Textiles David E. (Ned) Lazaro.

8:30 – 9:25 a.m. Registration and Coffee. Deerfield Community Center.
9:25 – 9:30 a.m. Welcome. Philip Zea, President, Historic Deerfield.
9:30 – 10:30 a.m. Lecture: “Mostly Clean and Comfortable: Aspects of the New England Bedroom.” Jane C. Nylander, President Emerita, Historic New England.
10:30 – 10:45 a.m. Break.
10:45 – 11:45 a.m. Lecture: “Sleep We Have Lost: Or, Is Insomnia History?”Dr. A. Roger Ekirch, Professor of History, Virginia Tech.
11:45 – 12:30 p.m. Lecture: “Bottles, Basins, and Barber’s Bowls: Ceramics for the Bed Chamber.” Amanda Lange, Curatorial Department Director and Curator of Historic Interiors, Historic Deerfield.
12:45 – 2:00 p.m. Lunch. Hall Tavern Visitors’ Center.
2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Lecture: “Comfort and Style: A Look at American Beds 1730-1830.” Natalie Larson, 
Historic Textile Reproductions, Williamsburg, Virginia. Deerfield Community Center.
3:30 – 4:30 p.m. Guided Tours of Historic Houses.
5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Workshop: “Exploring Bed Hangings and Textiles in the Historic Deerfield Collection.” David E. (Ned) Lazaro, Associate Curator of Textiles and Collections Manager, Bartels Seminar Room, Flynt Center of Early New England Life.
4:30 – 6:30 p.m. Refreshments. Lobby, Flynt Center of Early New England Life.

Flynt Center Galleries open until 6:30 p.m.

bed chambers forum objects.jpg

Registration Information
The cost for the program is $115 ($95 for members, $125 for new members*) and includes lunch. Save $10 off your program fee when you register by February 27, 2015. For more information and registration, contact Julie Orvis at jorvis@historic-deerfield.org or (413) 775-7179. Online registration for this program is available.  You may also download a registration form and mail it.

*This registration gives you a new Individual Membership in Friends of Historic Deerfield (a $40 value) that entitles you to free admission to Historic Deerfield, 10% discount at the Deerfield Inn and Museum Store, Historic Deerfield Magazine, the members’ newsletter published twice a year, and invitations to members’ exhibition openings, lectures, and special trips. Special membership offer is not valid for renewals of current or lapsed memberships.

Lodging: A block of rooms has been reserved for this Forum at the Hampton Inn, 184 Shelburne Rd, Greenfield, MA, (413) 773-0057 at a price of $139/night, plus tax. Rooms will be released to general sale on March 10. Please mention Historic Deerfield when you call to reserve. A list of other local hotels and B&Bs is available upon request.

Cancellation Policy: A full refund of the registration fee can be obtained if you cancel before 4:30 p.m. on Friday, April 3, 2015.

Jane C. Nylander, Historic New England’s President Emerita, has been active in historic preservation in New England since the 1960s. Nylander held positions at institutions such as Old Sturbridge Village and the Strawbery Banke Museum, and was President of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) for ten years. She is the author of many books and articles on early New England life and material culture, including Our Own Snug Fireside: Images of the New England Home, 1760-1860 (1994). Ms. Nylander also co-curated with her husband Richard Nylander the exhibition, “Behind Closed Doors: Asleep in New England,” at the Concord Museum in 2014-2015.

Dr. A. Roger Ekirch is an award-winning author and a Professor of History at Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) in Blacksburg, Virginia. Raised in Alexandria, Virginia, and Delmar, New York, he graduated cum laude with highest distinction in history from Dartmouth College in 1972. Obtaining his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Johns Hopkins University, he arrived at Virginia Tech in 1977. Dr. Ekirch is the author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past (2005), a panoramic study of nocturnal culture before the Industrial Revolution. His article in 2001, “Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-Industrial Slumber in the British Isles,” in the American Historical Review, earned two awards, including the James L. Clifford Prize given by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.

Amanda Lange is Curatorial Department Director and Curator of Historic Interiors at Historic Deerfield. She has a master’s degree in Early American Culture from the Winterthur Program at the University of Delaware. Since 1994, she has overseen the ceramics, glass, and metalware collections at the museum. Ms. Lange has written two catalogues focusing on the museum’s ceramics collections: Delftware at Historic Deerfield (2001) and Chinese Export Art at Historic Deerfield (2005).

Natalie Larson, a reproduction textile specialist based in Williamsburg, Virginia, and owner of Historic Textile Reproductions, has refurnished early American bedsteads in house museums across the country, including many presidential mansions.

David E. (Ned) Lazaro is the Associate Curator of Textiles and Collections Manager at Historic Deerfield. He holds a master’s degree in fashion and textile history from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he focused on 18th- and early 19th- century clothing construction. Mr. Lazaro has lectured and published on various aspects of clothing and appearance through the lens of the Connecticut River Valley and its inhabitants.