About the MESDA Object Database

objectdatabase03The purpose of MESDA Object Database is to record and make accessible images and data about objects made and used in the South before 1861.

The long-term research program at MESDA was designed by Frank Horton, Bradford Rauschenberg, and Carolyn Weekley to explore and document the heritage of decorative arts surviving in the South. The program had two elements: objects and artisans. That first element, to locate and record surviving examples of southern material culture, has evolved to become the MESDA Object Database.

MESDA began recording objects in private and public collections in June 1972 with the help of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. This field research continued until 1985 with MESDA representatives visiting over 11,000 homes and documenting 15,000 objects. The program continued on an ad hoc basis over the ensuing thirty years. 

In 2014, MESDA received a grant from the MARPAT Foundation to digitize and make the MESDA Object Database available online. With that goal accomplished two years later, the MARPAT Foundation has funded an initiative to ensure that the Object Database continues to be a dynamic and relevant resource. In 2017, with funding from the MARPAT Foundation, MESDA will launch a modified field research program to record surviving examples of early southern decorative arts in private collections. MARPAT funding also provides for exploration of ways to harness 21st-century technologies in adding new records and images to the database.

As a result, new material will be regularly recorded and added to the MESDA Object Database, creating a living archive of the material landscape of the early American South.