In addition to major collections in galleries located throughout the building, Glencairn Museum holds a number of special collections.
Raymond Pitcairn collected antique furniture. The collection is mostly European, consisting primarily of Windsor chairs, tables and storage chests. Glencairn Museum has also received several pieces of ecclesiastical furniture through donors, including a three-seat choir stall from 15th or early 16th century Spain.
NEW CHURCH ART
The theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) have influenced the thinking of a number of great writers and artists, particularly in the 19th century. Glencairn Museum's growing collection of New Church (Swedenborgian) art clearly demonstrates this influence. A plaster relief sculpture titled "Deliver Us From Evil" was made in about 1805 by the well-known British artist, John Flaxman (1755-1826). This depiction of two good and two evil spirits struggling for control of the human soul illustrates the New Church concept of spiritual freedom. Flaxman was the first artist to depict the deceased human soul as a full-bodied adult, an idea derived directly from Swedenborg. Together with "Thine is the Kingdom," a companion piece also in Glencairn's collection, this preliminary model was later executed in marble for a family tomb monument in England.
William Blake (1757-1827) was a friend of John Flaxman and another important artist whose ideas were influenced by Swedenborg. Blake was especially interested in the Swedenborgian concept of "correspondences," which sees material things as having their origin in a spiritual world. Blake's work, such as his illustrations to the Book of Job, are filled with symbolic imagery, much of it related to ideas drawn from Swedenborg.
Hiram Powers (1805-1873) has been hailed as one of the foremost American sculptors of the nineteenth century. He was also a convinced Swedenborgian ("I am a 'New Churchman,' a 'Swedenborgian' - a 'New Jerusalemite,' without any reservation whatever; and I wish it to be known"). In a letter to the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, also a reader of Swedenborg, Powers states that "the legitimate aim of art should be spiritual and not animal. A nude statue should be an unveiled soul." Swedenborg wrote that the natural body is merely a veil that covers the soul, or the spiritual body. In his sculpture of Proserpine (the Roman name for the Greek goddess Persephone), as in his other ideal sculptures, Powers was trying to reproduce a tangible image of the human soul; each "unveiled soul" attempts to convey the image of heaven as seen through the human form.
Glencairn's collection of oriental rugs numbers over 200 pieces, and includes village and tribal rugs, as well as a number of prayer rugs. The decoration of prayer rugs is rich in Islamic symbolism, including symbols from religions that existed in the ancient Near East before Islam. The "mihrab" is an arch that points toward the Holy City of Mecca. Both the rug and the worshiper praying on it are required to point toward Mecca. In Islamic tradition this arch represents the "gateway to paradise." The symbol of an arch as a gateway to paradise has its origin in ancient Mesopotamian symbolism, which predates Islam by several millennia.