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Barry R. Harwood.

Barry R. Harwood (1947–2018)

Barry R. Harwood, who spent the last three decades shaping the Brooklyn Museum’s decorative arts collection as its curator, has died. Since joining the museum in 1988, Harwood organized exhibitions like “Tiffany Glass and Lamps” (1991); “From the Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith” (2008–11); and “The Furniture of George Hunzinger: Invention and Innovation in Nineteenth-Century America” (1997–98), which received the Publication and Exhibition Award from the Victorian Society in America. “I’m responsible for 25,000 objects that were made in the West,” he once said in an interview with the Awl. “The earliest objects we have are medieval ones from the fourteenth century and we go up until tomorrow.”  

Born in New York in 1947, Harwood spent his childhood visiting museums, but not the one he would eventually work at for thirty years (“Back then nice people didn’t go to Brooklyn,” he remembers his mother once telling him). He earned his undergraduate degree at Brandeis University and his master’s and doctorate degrees from Princeton University. It was only when he was studying at Princeton that he visited the Brooklyn Museum, during a field trip, for the first time. In addition to his career at the museum, Harwood taught as an adjunct professor in master’s program in the decorative arts at the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Last month, the Magazine Antiques published a guide to his Victorian house in the Hudson Valley, which was attentively styled in the manner of the aesthetic movement and he shared with his husband, Joseph. “For every successful period room interpretation, the curator has to invent a backstory for those who lived there,” he wrote. When asked once about his favorite piece in the Brooklyn Museum’s holdings, Harwood highlighted not a specific armchair or vase, but an entire parlor room from 1880. “It’s very exotic and very dense, pattern on pattern, color on color,” he said. “Even though it’s a whole room, that as an object is my favorite in the collection.”  

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