Two from the Vault

Art handlers brought two NCMA works out of hiding today for a special group of students from Perry Harrison School in Chatham County. Thomas Sully’s portrait of Udney Maria Blakely (1830) and the silver tea and coffee service (1818-19) made for her by silversmith Anthony Rasch have been off view since the American galleries were closed last year, in preparation for the new building.

We worked with Registration to bring them out of storage because seeing art objects in person can make a huge impact on students. Reproductions of works of art sometimes can seem like illustrations that accompany a larger story. By seeing the works of art “in the flesh,” students realize that these objects have a life and history unto themselves; they become the story. These students have been studying early American history through works of art and other primary sources.

The students and their teachers are participating in the Art of Collaboration, an NCMA project that helps non-art teachers integrate the visual arts into their instruction.


  1. Helen Rowe
    Posted September 7, 2009 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Udney Maria Blakely is a sort of distant relative of my husband’s. She married Joseph von Bretton, but she then died in childbirth or shortly afterwards the year after the marriage. Her baby daughter also died. However, some years later Joseph remarried, and he named his first born after his first wife (Udney Maria Blakely von Bretton). In researching the family history I had come across her story, and was therefore quite amazed to think that her portrait and the tea/coffee set have survived. Are they on show to the public? Is there any way of getting reproductions (e.g. postcard sized photos)?

  2. John Coffey
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I have always had a soft spot in my heart for dear Udney Maria. She never knew her naval hero father, but a grateful North Carolina made sure that the girl was brought up genteelly with funds provided by the public treasury. Thomas Sully’s adoring portrait, painted when the girl was fifteen, testifies to Udney Maria’s beauty and charm which would soon capture the heart of a Danish aristocrat. I love the story of the origins of the Blakely silver: in honor of her father’s gallantry, the State of North Carolina wished to present the Udney Maria with a ceremonial sword. However, her sensible mother convinced the State that a coffee and tea service was more appropriate. And you have to marvel at the equanimity of the second Baroness von Bretton in acquiescing to the naming of her first child for her deceased predecessor. Udney Maria must have been an extraordinary young woman.

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