Maryhill Museum: Sam Hill Collection

MPF Conservation is a full-service company specializing in conservation, restoration and preservation of furnishings of upholstered and non-upholstered objects, textiles and interior architectural elements; this page discusses the condition assessments MPFC performed on the Sam Hill Collection at Maryhill Museum in Washington.

Note: We apologize for some images in advance;
sometimes there was no space at the museum
to back up to take a photo.

Sam Hill (1857-1931), shown top right, was born in North Carolina, but raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota after his family was displaced by the Civil War.

A lawyer by training, he represented the Railroads in many successful lawsuits. The Great Northern Railway’s General Manager, James J. Hill (not a blood relative), hired him to represent his railway.

Sam married James Hill’s eldest daughter, Mary, who became Mary Hill Hill (1868-1947) (shown left). Raised a Quaker, he converted to Catholicism for his wife. The marriage was difficult. When Sam Hill moved to Seattle, Mary declined to follow.

Sam became a businessman involved in many pursuits. Not all were successful: Seattle Gas and Electric Company, Home Telephone Company of Portland, and the Deep Water Coal and Iron Company.

Unknown photographer. Left to right: Unidentified man, Sam Hill, J.C.Potter, and Amos Benson on what was the Columbia River Highway circa 1915. From the Maryhill Museum of Art Collection.

Sam became an advocate for building good roads after building the Maryhill Loop Road in 1911, the first asphalt road in the state. Though it is no longer used as a road, it winds through the hills and takes you to Maryhill.

Sam Hill was also the catalyst behind the building of the Columbia River Highway which runs along the Columbia River. This brought both commerce and visitors to the Gorge. The old road is still there!

So many of Sam Hill’s contemporaries considered his investment of political capitol and money into the then undeveloped Columbia Gorge the actions of an eccentric. A euphemism developed, still in use today, “What in the Sam Hill?”

The pieces below are from his collection.

Sam Hill’s Oak Arts & Crafts Chair circa 1890

Above, Sam Hill’s chair looks like it stepped right out of the Cotswold School, in the William and Mary / Arts and Crafts style, using simple lines, attention to the details, and use of beautiful materials. It is made from white quarter-sawn oak and oak solids with original leather and decorative nails.

Note: We have no proof of the piece as a Cotswold chair, but like the Chest shown at the bottom of this post, this is a good possibility and Sam Hill was a traveled man.

“Armada” Strong Box circa 16th Century

The Armada style strong box is either Spanish or Dutch, created in the time of Philip II of Spain.

It was created with copper cladding over oak solid planking panels and oak cross bracings, with hand-forged iron straps and hammer-tinged oval headed securing bosses. Hand-rolled iron securing rods and locking hasps with keyed internal locking mechanisms and turn keys completed the strong box. Heavy strapping leather covers the copper recessed panels with heavy leather handles secured to each side panel.

Unfortunately we were not able to open the strongbox. However, this particular historic chest is rare and should be thoroughly assessed relative to condition and historical content.

American White Oak Serving Cabinet circa 1890 (In Library)

This large chest with two doors and a long drawer sits in the library, and is in use by the librarians, but was originally used as a serving cabinet, likely for silver and linens.

While not part of the larger Maryhill formal collection, it was likely part of Sam Hill’s personal collection. It appears to be White Oak solids and hand relief-carvings.

MPFC did not turn the chest on its back to see the underside, but suggest that this looks quit like it was made by Berkey and Gay. The side carvings of the figures, and the various framing details are indicative of Berkey and Gay.

When we took images of the inside, we could not see the signature at the back of the inside of the cabinet, shown left, but saw them in the photographs when we returned to our studio!

Left, inside the drawer you can also see the plug in the top from the interior, shown from the top in the fourth image below. The chest has serious finish condition issues, including water damage, but at the time of our images was still easily reversible:

  • Eroded drawer skids have turned into deep troughs from over-loading the drawers.
  • Several make-shift repairs which should be correctly performed.
  • Plugs to mitigate erosion around knots (see image above left and fourth image below)
  • Splitting side panels.
  • Historic finish is damaged.
  • Hinges and hardware were all intact and functional.