Gibbes Museum of Art benefits from gift by John M. Rivers

Collector gifts 44 objects from private collection of Charleston-made furniture, silver

The Gibbes Museum of Art, home to the foremost collection of American art that incorporates the story of Charleston, has received a donation of 44 objects from the private collection of John M. Rivers.

The Rivers Collection of Charleston-made furniture and silver is one of the most prestigious and comprehensive collections of its kind in the world. The gift includes extraordinary examples of grand, eighteenth-century case furniture and silverworks. These pieces are currently on view for the public, prominently featured in the museum’s Kim and Jim Pallotta Gallery.

John M. Rivers Jr., whose family has been in Charleston continuously since 1670, began forming the Rivers Collection in 1988. Recognizing that significant examples of Charleston furniture and silver were dispersing outside the Charleston area, Rivers made it a personal mission to preserve these exquisite works for display in his home city. Over the last 30 years, The Rivers Collection has grown steadily, and since 2016 Rivers has generously lent objects to the Gibbes Museum of Art, introducing Charleston’s rich history of craftsmanship to all the museum’s visitors.

“We couldn’t be happier that Mr. Rivers made this incredibly generous decision to gift 44 objects from his renowned collection to the Gibbes,” said museum Board Chair Spencer Lynch, who worked closely with Rivers and others on the Gibbes’ board of directors to bring this donation to fruition.

These objects were first exhibited at the Gibbes in 2007 in the exhibition Southern Masterpieces curated by then chief curator of the Gibbes and now president and CEO Angela Mack. Displayed alongside objects from Colonial Williamsburg and the Museum of Early Southern Decoratives Arts, the exhibition and collection were recognized in an article by the New York Times.

The gift includes a secretary press attributed to cabinetmaker Jacob Sass who was born in Germany in 1750 and immigrated to Charleston in 1773. Sass operated one of the busiest and most successful cabinet shops in Charleston. Craftsmen working in shops like Sass’s included enslaved Africans and African Americans as well as immigrant European journeymen. The fine craftsmanship in major furniture pieces like the secretary press and the inlaid mahogany stage-top sideboard demonstrate the sophisticated artisan skills present in 18th and 19th-century Charleston. These works are accompanied by examples of metalworks including silverworks by known Charleston silversmiths John Ewan and John Mood and works by London silversmiths such as a domed sterling silver trophy cup by William Fountain. The trophy cup was awarded to Revolutionary War General John McPherson after his horse “Roxana” won the Jockey Club Purse at the Washington Racecourse (now Hampton Park) in Charleston.

Many of these objects were also exhibited at The Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, Florida, in an exhibition titled An Eye for Opulence: Charleston through the Lens of the Rivers Collection in 2015. This exhibition was a collaboration between the Society of the Four Arts, Gibbes Museum of Art, Historic Charleston Foundation and The Charleston Museum.

For images, visit For more information about the Gibbes Museum of Art,