The Biggs Museum in Dover, telling Delaware’s history through its craftspeople

One Delawarean’s collection became museum dedicated to telling the story of the Fist State through its craftspeople.

The Biggs museum in Dover tells the story of the First State through the work of its craftspeople. Antique furniture, glassware, silver and art are just some of the objects you will find on a visit. All these items have one thing in common; they were made by Delawareans, or as is the case with the portraits on display, were painted of a Delawarean.

The story of The Biggs museum in Dover starts with the museum’s founder Sewell C. Biggs. He collected those items for about 60 years. Eventually he was invited to display these wares at what was 20 years ago a visitor’s center in Dover. The museum became its own entity and took over the entire building at 406 Federal Street, and that is where the museum is today.

“American art and the interpretation of American art is our number 1 mission”, says Ryan Grover, Curator of the Biggs Museum.

The museum is laid out in an interesting manner. Every gallery moves the timeline forward about 20-30 years. Items date from about the 1740’s up through today.

There are many interesting things to discover in the museum, even the wallpaper on display in the various galleries are historical reproductions of wall paper used at the time, and many tell interesting stories themselves. Some are patriotic in nature; some just reflect the styles of the day.

The Biggs has some of the earliest pieces of furniture that could be found that were created by Delaware craftsman. Some of these pieces had been located in the Vincent Lookerman house in Dover. Vincent was a local merchant who owned a home in Dover in the 1740’s. There is a huge suit of that furniture on display.

Another great collection is the silver. Apparently Delaware created a lot of silver items. Tea services, pitchers, silverware, watches… you name it. “It’s one of the best silver collections of Delaware silver smiths anywhere in the country” says Grover.

Ever heard of Frank Schoonover? He was a student of famed illustrator Howard Pyle. Schoonover had a studio in Delaware and taught art as well. “He was a rock star of the printing industry in the first part of the 20th century”, says Grover. Schoonover produced over 3000 illustrations during his career, and The Biggs has one of the largest collections of his work in North America.

The Biggs is a very personable museum, you can get very close to the exhibits, almost nothing is roped off and the staff are always available to answer questions. It really doesn’t feel like a museum.

Says Grover, “You’re really going to have a very intense, very personal, intimate sort of experience within the museum”.

If you love antiques, art, or Delaware history, do yourself a favor and check out The Biggs.

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