Raid the Icebox Now with Beth Katleman: Games of Chance, 2019

Since antiquarian Charles Pendleton’s death, rumors have persisted about an unusual porcelain room that might shed light on his secretive private life.

In 1904, Pendleton donated his prized collection of decorative arts to the RISD Museum, honing his image as a gentleman for posterity. His personal reputation, however, was less than gentlemanly. His scandals included compulsive gambling and an unnamed “indiscretion with a female” that caused his expulsion from Yale.

During the 2017 renovation of the RISD Museum, a miraculous discovery came to light. An HVAC contractor inadvertently demolished the wrong wall and uncovered a storage room not listed on the building floorplan. Inside he found box after box labeled “Games of Chance Room, CL Pendleton,” along with a set of blueprints. The curators recognized it immediately as the contents of the long-lost porcelain room. Experts have spent the past two years reassembling the room at the RISD Museum, piece by piece.

Above the entrance door, the blindfolded figure resembling a young Marilyn Monroe is the fickle goddess Fortuna, who serves as the muse for the room. She presides over paradise on the east wall and a shipwreck on the west. The bearded gentleman with the cane is Pendleton himself, though some have noted an uncanny likeness to KFC founder Colonel Harlon Sanders. The dice, playing-card, and roulette-wheel motifs throughout recall the lavish game room in Pendleton’s Manhattan mansion, where he often held exclusive gatherings for the purpose of card play. The paradise mirror shows young nymphs engaging in various amusements, with Pendleton at the bottom representing Bacchus. A sailboat on the shipwreck side bears the Yale insignia.

Experts believe this room may shed light on the indiscretion that led to Charles Pendleton’s early dismissal from Yale. Opened to the public for the first time in 2019, the Games of Chance room may hold the key to the inner life of one of the most misunderstood geniuses of the antiquarian world.

Raid the Icebox Now with Beth Katleman: Games of Chance, 2019 Porcelain, wire, mirror 132 x 204 x 92 inches

Photos by Erik Gould