Ronald A. DeSilva, Authority on American Furniture and Decorative Arts Dies
Ronald A. DeSilva, an art historian, highly respected authority on American furniture and decorative arts, and long-time Garrison resident died on July 30th at 83. A graduate of Rhode Island College, he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and was recipient of a Winterthur Fellowship in Early American Culture at the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum. In 1970, he joined Sotheby Parke-Bernet, where he was Assistant Vice President and Director of the American Furniture and Decorative Arts Department, as well as the Director of the Art Nouveau Department. In the mid-seventies he operated his own antiques business in New York City, and in 1977 returned to the auction world when he was appointed Director of the American Furniture and Decorative Arts Department at Christie’s New York and Vice President of Christie’s Appraisals, Inc. In 1980 he opened offices in Garrison, NY, where he offered services as a fine arts appraiser, consultant and lecturer.
DeSilva conducted fund raising appraisal clinics and auctions for museums, historical societies and charitable organizations, earning a reputation for his keen eye, expertise and generous sharing of his knowledge. As a consultant to Johns Hopkins University, he researched and completed the furnishing plan for Homewood, the restored home of Charles Carroll, Jr. son of Charles Carroll, the signer of the Declaration of Independence. His articles on American Decorative Arts have been published in Art at Auction, Auction Magazine, Architectural Digest and The Clarion. A major essay entitled, “The Regional Schools of Early American Furniture”, appeared in the book, Art at Auction, London, 1971, He also wrote the chapter on American Furniture for Anatomy of Antiques, New York, 1974.
DeSilva lectured on a variety of topics throughout the United States and at major art museums and universities including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Institute of Fine Arts at Columbia University, The Smithsonian Institution, the Art Institute of Chicago and New York University. His subject areas included American Folk Art, American and European Decorative Arts, Buying and Selling Art at Auction, Appraising Fine Arts, The Regional Schools of Early American Furniture, 1650-1865 (a four-part lecture series), Fakes and Forgeries in Early American Furniture, and Duncan Phyfe and the New York School of Cabinetmaking. In 1994 he conducted two symposia entitled “Is It Phyfe?” as part of an exhibition of the same title at historic Boscobel. The object of each seminar was learning to distinguish the difference between the furniture of Duncan Phyfe and other New York cabinetmakers.
In the local community, DeSilva served as a member of the Board of Directors of The Chapel Restoration, the Howland Cultural Center, and Riverkeeper. He also served as Chairman of the Planning Board for the Village of Cold Spring, where he worked to create the Architectural Historic District law.
He is survived by his wife, Barbara, his son Matthew, daughter-in-law Rosemary, and granddaughter Lucia; his sister Deborah Brady and brother Stanley.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers donations may be sent to The Chapel Restoration, Riverkeeper and Winterthur Museum.
Funeral Arrangements are under the direction of Clinton Funeral Home-Cold Spring