Skip to main content

The Preservation Society of Newport County

The grand facade, Rosecliff


Gilded Age Newport in Color

March 15 – June 30, 2024

The story of Newport, Rhode Island in the Gilded Age (1865-1915) is anchored by the economic, social and civic achievements of many of America’s wealthiest individuals and families, notably the Vanderbilts, Astors, Belmonts, Oelrichses and Berwinds. These names represent the critical economic and cultural growth period of late 19th- and early 20th-century America.

Newport also was home to many important African heritage business entrepreneurs who would leverage their commercial enterprises to promote economic security and build wealth to invest in and advance civic, recreational, social and political interests. Newport’s earliest African heritage doctors, dentists, teachers, hospitality entrepreneurs and elected officials appeared during the Gilded Age.

This exhibition explores a largely unknown but important chapter in American history in which African heritage families could come together and promote their economic and social well-being through self-reliance, entrepreneurism, political advancement and cultural interchange.

More than 150 objects from the collections of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, The Preservation Society of Newport County and other institutions will be featured, ranging from photographs, handbills, business cards and news clippings to furniture, clothing, jewelry and ceramics. All represent the experiences of African heritage Newporters who were active members of a new type of urban setting – the resort community. Men, women and families would travel to Newport from Providence, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington to take part in a rare opportunity for persons of color at the time to engage in uninhibited social and cultural interchange.


Canton Harbor Scene, attributed to Yeuqua (Chinese active 1850-1885)


The Celestial City: Newport and China

September 1, 2023 – February 11, 2024

Since Newport’s beginnings as a colonial seaport, generations of its citizens have looked to China for knowledge, beauty, fortune and freedom. In turn, many different people of Chinese heritage, including artists, merchants, immigrant entrepreneurs and women suffragists, shaped all aspects of life in Newport. Their stories are at the heart of this exhibition.

The Celestial City explores China’s deep influence on Newport from the 18th century through the Gilded Age (1865-1915), when the city emerged as America’s premier summer playground and the fall of China’s last imperial dynasty transformed the ancient nation.

The extraordinary objects on display include more than 100 works from the Preservation Society’s collection and other institutions in a range of media, from paintings, sculptures, prints and photographs to fashion, ceramics, lacquerwares and lanterns.

Highlights include treasures of Chinese art collected by Newport merchants and industrialists; photographs and stories from Newport’s early Chinese community; and the writings, portraits and family heirlooms of Chinese women suffragists who inspired American women’s rights leaders including Alva Vanderbilt Belmont of Marble House. Contemporary artworks by Yu-Wen Wu and Jennifer Ling Datchuk will illuminate Chinese contributions to Newport as well as hidden connections between the Newport mansions and the Chinese American experience.

To view more pieces from the exhibition, click here.

Related Past Program
The Celestial City: Newport and China Zoom Webinar with Asia Week New York
September 12, 2023

In cooperation with Asia Week New York, we explored the dazzling artworks in the exhibition and learned about the many ways life in Newport and America was influenced and enriched by people of Chinese heritage.

Presented by Dr. Nicole Williams, Curator of Collections at The Preservation Society of Newport County and Dr. Bing Huang, Assistant Professor of Art History at Providence College, Rhode Island, and moderated by Lark Mason, Jr., founder of iGavel Auctions, Emeritus President of the Appraisers Association of America and former Chairman, Asia Week New York.

To view the webinar online, click here.

The Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island, is a nonprofit organization accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. It is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the area’s historic architecture, landscapes, decorative arts and social history. Its 11 historic properties – seven of them National Historic Landmarks–span more than 250 years of American architectural and social development.