Hiding in Plain Sight

As a registration assistant at Winterthur, I’ve walked down the sixth floor hall countless times and never really thought twice about the Williams Room. Who would believe that I would discover a connection to my family tree in that room?

I regularly inventory the 90,000 objects in the Winterthur collection as part of my job. One day my volunteer, Becky Kolpak, and I were inventorying rooms on the sixth floor. Our process involves confirming the objects in the room match with our records of what is supposed to be in that room. With objects constantly moving for exhibits, studying purposes, or loans, it is important that we check every object’s exact location.

During this morning in particular, we were in the Williams Room, which is used to showcase objects produced in the 17th and early 18th centuries, with a focus on New England furnituremakers. One of the objects is a needlework picture that is inscribed “Christian Williams 1751.”

Becky read it aloud to me, and it sparked me to comment, “My grandmother is a Williams, and we are related to William Williams, who signed the Declaration of Independence.”


Needlework picture by Christian Williams. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1965.3080

 Jokingly I told Becky, “Maybe this Christian Williams is related to me!”

Determined to finish the room before lunch, we continued on. One of the last objects on our list was a corner chair that sits in front of a desk and bookcase. Chairs are typically easy to find numbers on, but this one was proving difficult. We found two different object numbers on the chair, so we grabbed the reference book from the room to search for an answer. We discovered that the chair belonged to William Williams, “The chair is alleged to have been originally owned by William Williams (1731-1811) of Lebanon, Connecticut, and his wife Mary Trumbull, daughter of Gov. John Trumbull.”

Chair in the Williams Room. Museum purchase 1974.0001

I knew that my relative was from Connecticut and married to Mary Trumbull, the sister of the famous painter John Trumbull. Wanting to be absolutely certain, I pull up a picture of my family tree on my phone that my grandmother put together. I quickly find William Williams and confirm that he was married to Mary Trumbull.

Family Tree of author

Surprised by the connection I have just made between my family and Winterthur, I walk over to the chair and study it deeply. The thoughts start to come all at once. My ancestor possibly sat in this chair. My ancestor, who signed the Declaration of Independence, could have sat in this chair, and here I am standing in front of it. What are the odds that this chair from Connecticut would end up here at Winterthur? What are the chances that it is here at Winterthur, and I work at Winterthur? What are the odds that this chair was incorrectly numbered, so we had to do more research on it?

I desperately wanted to know more about this chair and now everything in this room. It is named Williams room after all, so what else could be related to the Williams family? My mind goes to the sampler that read “Christian Williams 1751,” and I ask Becky to look up the sampler’s information. Becky begins to read aloud information on the sampler, “This canvas work picture, dated 1751, was worked by Christian Williams of Norwich, Connecticut, using wool yarns on canvas. Christian (1738–1816) was the eighth child out of eleven, and was named after her grandmother, Christian Stoddard Williams. Her father was the highly respected and influential Reverend Solomon Williams (1701–1776) of Lebanon, who was also the first cousin of the Reverend Jonathan Edwards. Her mother was Mary Porter (1703–1787), also from Lebanon.”

I quickly go back to my family tree on my phone and see that the names match up. William Williams’s parents were Solomon Williams and Mary Porter, so this means that Christian was William’s sister. I move over to the sampler taking in its beauty, trying to take myself back in time. Becky reads through the reference book for anything else that could be related to the Williams family as I take a moment to let my emotions sink in.

Becky quickly finds more to tell me. “The woodwork is from the home of William Williams, built in Lebanon, Connecticut…” She reads another paragraph, “… the room has been installed exactly as it was in the original building, even to the reuse of the original pine floor boards.”

We reread it multiple times to make sure I am understanding this information correctly. The floor and architecture are from William’s house that he grew up in. I hurriedly study the floor and architecture, once again taking in its magnificence and nostalgia.

The Williams Room

I am completely overcome with emotions, almost to the point of tears. Half of me wants to jump up and down and tell everyone I see, “This is my ancestor’s chair!” The other half wants to call every member of my family to tell them the news. Another part of me wants to go back to my office and look through all the files to see what else I can learn about this room and our objects here at Winterthur.

As the days go on, I find the newspaper clipping from September 14, 1984, announcing the sale of William Williams’s house, along with an original photo of the house, in our room files. I find published texts explaining the William Williams connection to the chair being passed down through family members. My co-worker and ancestry guru, Daniela Bono, kindly offers to use her ancestry skills to confirm my family ancestry. Daniela is able to confirm what my grandmother had put together, and we come to understand that William Williams and I are first cousins seven generations removed.

Newspaper clipping from the Williams Room folder from the registration files

This wonderful experience and connection I found here at Winterthur reminded me to not take for granted the history behind each object. Every piece of material culture has a story and a life connected to it, and I was lucky enough that the universe connected me back to a family heirloom. Needless to say, I will never look at the Williams Room the same as I did before. Admittedly, I find myself drawn to walk past the room as often as I can to stop and admire what once was.

Post by Devon Ennis, Registration Assistant, Winterthur

Special thanks to Daniela Bono and Becky Kolpak for helping me with this discovery.

References

  1. “William Williams.” The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, May 28, 2013. https://www.dsdi1776.com/signers-by-state/william-williams/.
  2. Mooz, Peter, and Charles F. Montgomery. A Guide to and Outline of the Winterthur Museum Collections of Arts of the American Home: Including American-Made and Imported Objects, and a Study of the American Arts, with a List of Books and Articles for the Study of the Arts in Early America.. Winterthur, DE: The Museum, 1970.
Posted in antiques, Behind-the-Scenes, Decorative Arts, House, museum collection, needlework, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


What Does a Museum Scientist Do?

Ever wonder what a museum scientist does? This series of blog posts will shed light on the varied work of museum scientists and how their work impacts museum collections.

The University of Delaware and Winterthur Museum have worked together for 45 years. This partnership has resulted in the graduate-level Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. The goal of this program is to educate and to train conservation professionals. This symbiotic relationship has created additional avenues of research, training, and collaborations for Winterthur Museum and the University of Delaware alike, whether it is instrumental analyses or archival access.

The third and final post in our series is from Dr. Jocelyn Alcántara-García and Dr. Marcie Wiggins, who both work in the Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory (SRAL) at Winterthur.


Jocelyn performs dye identification using liquid chromatography, which, used in conjunction with a nondestructive analysis technique (x-ray fluorescence), can shine a light on dyeing practices.

Dr. Jocelyn Alcántara-García is an assistant professor in the Department of Art Conservation, University of Delaware. She teaches analytical techniques to WUDPAC graduate students alongside Winterthur scientists: “My primary research focuses on the study of textiles dyed with natural dyes, mostly related to the trade between the United Kingdom and United States, but I recently started to study pre-Columbian, archaeological, and Andean textiles. I am working on developing a completely nondestructive methodology for dye analysis.

I also advise graduate students who are specializing in paper, book, archaeological materials, or textiles, and I am the faculty advisor for Terrific Tuesdays, which takes place over the summer at Winterthur

Dr. Marcie Wiggins just completed her doctorate within the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Delaware under Dr. Jocelyn Alcántara-García. She will soon start a new position as a postdoctoral fellow at Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage: “With Winterthur scientists and Tsinghua University, I have studied the degradation of a common copper-based pigment, verdigris. We used imaging methods to identify pigments used in the Forbidden City and how they might have been manufactured.

Marcie uses an x-ray diffractometer to try to tell different copper pigments apart.

I started on this career track because I knew I wanted to study chemistry but I was also interested in art. Initially I thought I wanted to be a conservator; however, after some years of practical experience, I realized my interests lay more in an analysis and research lab setting.”

You can learn more about the Winterthur and the University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation here: https://www.artcons.udel.edu/

Post by Dr. Rosie Grayburn, Associate Scientist and Head of the Scientific Research and Analytical Laboratory, Winterthur, Dr. Jocelyn Alcántara-García, assistant professor in the Department of Art Conservation, University of Delaware, and Dr. Marcie Wiggins.

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What Does a Museum Scientist Do?

Ever wonder what a museum scientist does? This series of blog posts will shed light on varied work of museum scientists and how their work impacts museum collections.

The Brandywine Valley has a rich chemical heritage, starting with the founding of the DuPont chemical company. Several scientists who retired from local industries have found themselves putting their skills and expertise to excellent use in an unexpected place, a museum!

The second post in our series is from four volunteers working within the Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory (SRAL) at Winterthur.

Judy examines a cross-section from a painting by William Williams. Using electron microscopy imaging and energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) she might be able to find out which pigments he used.

Dr. Judy Rudolph retired from W. L. Gore and Associates in 2015: “As I came nearer to retiring from a long career in electron microscopy, I started considering volunteering. A friend of mine mentioned that Winterthur not only had an analytical laboratory but also had a scanning electron microscope with chemical analysis! It was a match made in heaven as I am also an amateur painter!

I now work one day a week in the SRAL. I get to look at samples from paintings, paper, textiles, ceramics, and furniture, and I hope this work will help further the understanding of these wonderful works of art.”

Chris uses a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GC-MS) to unravel molecular mysteries at Winterthur

Dr. Chris Petersen has been volunteering in the SRAL for 18 years: “After a 30-year career in research at the DuPont company, I found a way to combine a passion for art with science at the SRAL at Winterthur. I can combine chemistry and art with eager students and dedicated colleagues with both science and artistic talent.  I call it an accidental 18-year second career.

Mike uses a fiber optic reflectance spectrophotometer (FORS) to measure the thickness of coatings on Winterthur’s silver collection.

Dr. Mike Crawford retired from DuPont Central Research & Development after a 31-year career. He is also an affiliated professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Delaware while volunteering at SRAL:  “My work at Winterthur currently involves the study of nitrocellulose polymer coatings that reduce tarnishing of silver objects in the museum collection.  An optical measurement has been shown to be a convenient, non-destructive way to measure the thickness of the polymer films. This information is needed to understand and improve protection provided by these coatings.

As a lover of museums in general, and Winterthur in particular, I very much enjoy the opportunity to contribute in a small way to its success. Using my research experience in collaboration with museum staff members to address interesting problems in art conservation is both rewarding and fun!”

Mike uses his expertise from his long career at Agilent to teach conservators in Paris about identifying different types of lacquer.

Dr. Mike Szelewski retired from Agilent Technologies in 2013: “I heard lectures by Winterthur scientists years ago and introduced myself.  As an analytical chemist working at Agilent, these new-to-me application areas were very interesting.  I am interested in improving the sensitivity of the scientific instrumentation used in the SRAL and in using various software tools to provide more complete and useful information.

Together with Getty, we started a database for Asian lacquer, leveraging my experience with databases. Today we have a method for identifying lacquer using py-GC/MS.”

The next post in our series focuses on how the SRAL participates in the education of early career conservators through a partnership with the Department of Art Conservation at the University of Delaware.

Details about current volunteering opportunities at Winterthur can be found here: https://www.winterthur.org/volunteer/

Post by: Dr. Rosie Grayburn, Associate Scientist and Head of the Scientific Research and Analytical Laboratory, Winterthur, with Winterthur Volunteers Dr. Judy Rudolph, Dr. Chris Petersen , Dr. Mike Crawford , and Dr. Mike Szelewski 

Posted in Academic Programs, American Culture Studies, Art Conservation, Behind-the-Scenes, Conservation, Decorative Arts, Students & Alumni, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


What does a Museum Scientist do?

Ever wonder what a museum scientist does? This series of blog posts will shed light on the varied work of museum scientists and how their work impacts museum collections.

Within the Department of Conservation at Winterthur we are lucky to have one of only a handful of museum science labs in the entire country. The Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory (SRAL) houses 11 high tech analytical instruments and several microscopes that museum scientists use to identify the materials used in objects of art in nondestructive and minimally invasive ways in order to help conserve objects and help identify how and where they were made. They do this by using instrumentation to identify elements and molecules and matching them to known materials commonly found in works of art, or by conducting experiments to predict how art will change over time in the museum environment. Who knew that science could be applied to art in this way?

The first post in our series is from Dr. Rosie Grayburn and Catherine Matsen, scientists working within the Department of Conservation at Winterthur.

We perform materials analysis on all types of objects from the museum collection using different instrumental techniques available to us in our lab. We work with Winterthur’s conservators and curators to understand the materials present in the objects, so they can better understand how to treat the object, how it has changed over time, how it was made, or possibly, when it was made. This applied field of science is called conservation science.

Scientist Catherine Matsen places a microscopically small sample inside an x-ray diffractometer. This instrument can tell the scientists what minerals are present in a work of art.

No day is the same here in the SRAL! One day we are studying materials and method of manufacture of Winterthur’s Chinese-export lacquered objects attributed to production in Guangzhou (Canton) from the 18th to 19th centuries; the next we are finding new ways of identifying different types of plated silverware. There is an inexhaustible supply of fascinating material questions and problems to explore here at Winterthur. Recently we analyzed all 275+ looking glasses and mirrors in the museum’s collection. Before the early 20th century, most reflective surfaces were made from a tin-mercury amalgam. This material can degrade to liquid mercury thus posing a possible health risk to our colleagues who handle the mirrors. We worked with our preventive conservation colleagues to identify the elements present in the mirrors so that safe handling procedures could be determined for those mirrors containing the amalgam.

Associate Scientist Dr. Rosie Grayburn analyzes the elements present in a looking glass from the Winterthur collection using a portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometer. She is checking for the presence of tin or silver to indicate how the mirror was made.

We love applying our scientific knowledge to materials found in the museum’s collection: there is always a clear application which makes our work feel truly worthwhile. We are also lucky to work with a very diverse group of people―conservators, curators, students from the renowned Winterthur/UD Program in Art Conservation and the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, PhD students, other museums, and visiting scholars from around the world.

We are often asked how one trains to become a museum scientist. What we do is subtly different from scientists in industry because we abide by a Code of Ethics, set out by the American Institute of Conservation.  For anyone considering museum science as a career, we always advise studying science to a high level while also learning as much as you can about art, history, and material culture. Conservation science is a small, highly specialized field of science so do consider reaching out to museum professionals for advice and guidance.

Next week we will hear how retired scientists from local industries in and around Wilmington are helping out in the science lab by volunteering their time.

If you would like to learn more about the work of the Winterthur scientists, join us on a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Conservation Department on 7/3. Details can be found at https://www.winterthur.org/visit/tours/current-tours/

Post by Dr. Rosie Grayburn, Associate Scientist and Head of the Scientific Research and Analytical Laboratory, and Catherine Matsen, Scientist, Winterthur

Posted in Academic Programs, Art Conservation, collection, Conservation, Decorative Arts, museum collection, Students & Alumni | Tagged | Leave a comment


Curiosity

By Hailey Denevere

This blog post was the winning entry for our creative writing contest. The contest focused on the 100th anniversary of the National Prohibition Act, which was ratified in January 1919, and entries had to incorporate ephemera from the Winterthur Library. 

Hearing footsteps, Jimmy quickly slid in the back door of Noah’s speakeasy and locked it behind him. Cautiously eyeing the bags he carried, Elenor asked, “What’s that?”

“It’s the shine,” He flippantly answered.

A worried look washed over Elenor’s face. “That’s not the usual stuff. What happened?”

Sheet music for “Prohibition Blues” 1919 (Col. 240, 14×27.31)

Jimmy’s response was muffled by the sound of Noah’s favorite record, Prohibition Blues.

Taking his usual place behind the bar, Jimmy filled glasses for regulars and dodged his boss’s perturbed glances. Noah finally approached him clearly annoyed, “You’re late!”

Interior of a bar, 1914 (Col. 182, 98×30.14)

“I ran into a snag,” Jimmy retorted.

“This cat Bugsy is coming tonight. I need him to see that our joint is the bee’s knees. I’m very interested in doing business with him.”

“Got it,” Jimmy said twirling a teacup around his finger before filling it with a cocktail.

“Mr. Bugsy, Jimmy will see to all your needs,” Noah graciously offered, doing his best to make a good impression.

“I hear you’re alright kid,” Bugsy grinned. “How long have you been a bar keep?”

“Just a few weeks,” Jimmy said, obviously intimidated by Bugsy’s imposing stature and holstered revolver.

“Let’s see what ya got,” Bugsy laughed flipping his teacup upright. “These teacups make smart cover if anyone on the beat shows up, but I heard your boss is in good with the brass around here.”

“I don’t know what sort of deals my boss has worked out, but lots of cops stop by here on their way home from the station.”

“That’s a pretty good deal kid,” Bugsy grinned.

“What will it be?” Jimmy asked.

“Strongest you’ve got,” Bugsy challenged.

Jimmy reached under the bar and grabbed one of the new bags. With the paper still neatly wrapped around the bottle, he generously filled the cup. Bugsy took a swig and sighed loudly.

“Your boss wasn’t kiddin’…you do have some good shine.”

Noah circled back to his honored guest. “What do you think Mr. Bugsy?”

Bugsy lowered his voice and turned away from Jimmy, speaking to Noah privately, “It’s strong, but I can make stronger at a better price than Sal’s giving you.” Jimmy cleaned the bar in a feeble attempt to hide his eavesdropping. Bugsy raised a brow at him and Noah harshly whispered, “Scram kid.”

Jimmy made an excuse to go to the store room and breathed a sigh of relief when the door shut safely behind him. Elenor cautiously approached him and whispered, “Jimmy, what did you end up getting? Sal doesn’t use bottles like that, and Noah said to go to Sal’s and then head straight here.”

“I got a tip from another bar keep Ellie. Guy said he uses alcohol from the hardware store. I checked it out and he’s right. Double the proof for half the price.”

“Tell me you didn’t!” Elenor gasped in horror.

“No one has to know Ellie. If I keep getting it there, I can pocket the change to help out with ma’s bills.”

“Jimmy it’s tainted,” Elenor flatly stated. “The government puts poison in it, so people don’t drink it.”

“Impossible,” Jimmy dismissed. “They wouldn’t do that. It would be all over the papers if they did.”

“They do Jimmy!” Elenor screamed shaking him. “My uncle died that way. I watched him.”

The color drained from Jimmy’s face. “I just served it to that guy Bugsy that Noah wanted to impress.”

Elenor stared blankly at Jimmy. “What now?” she asked. Before Jimmy could respond, they heard a thud in the next room. They raced out to the bar to find Bugsy lying motionless on the floor.

Lantern slide, ca. 1880-1900 (Col. 229, 83×34.88)

Elenor cried, “Call the cops!”

“No!” Shouted Noah. He turned toward his staff and calmly added, “They’d shut us down. I’ll make a personal call. Jimmy. make the announcement.”

“Attention everyone,” he announced. “I’m sorry, but we’re closing now.”

As the final guests were leaving, two officers slipped in the back door. They stood over Bugsy and quietly spoke to Noah before approaching Jimmy. Elenor rested a hand on Jimmy’s shoulder to steady his shaking.

“Just tell the truth…it’ll be okay.” she assured him.

Looking Jimmy from head to toe, one of the officers asked, “What happened?”

Elenor blurted out, “It was an honest mistake! He had no idea!” Sobbing she added, “He wanted to help his ma pay the bills. She’s been struggling since his old man bit the big one.”

Jimmy glanced at his scuffed shoes, gathering his courage and sheepishly admitted, “It was an accident. I tried to save a few bucks by buying industrial alcohol instead of our usual shine. I didn’t realize it was tainted. I served it to this guy, since I thought it was the strongest stuff in the house, and Noah said he trying to make a business deal with him.”

“A business deal?” one of the officers asked curiously raising an eyebrow at Noah.

“That’s Bugsy O’Shea…he’s been selling shine on Sal’s turf for weeks,” the other added, glaring at Noah skeptically. “Wait here, I have a quick call to make.”

“We’re going to need you to come down to the station to answer a few questions after all,” the first officer said, roughly handcuffing Noah. “Run along home Jimmy. You seem like a good kid who made an honest mistake. Don’t let an accident like this happen ever again.”

When he reached his house, Jimmy walked over to his father’s easy chair and collapsed. His mother handed him a cup of tea and sat beside him.

 “Jimmy, your uncle Sal called and told me what a good job you did getting rid of that cat he asked you to take care of…the one that kept stealing all his meat. He said he’d like to hire you at his butcher shop…that you may be an even better problem solver than your pops was.”

“That’s great ma,” Jimmy smiled. “It seems like things are finally looking up. I told you I had a plan.”


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Giving New Life to a 17th-Century Painting of Christ as the Man of Sorrows

As a fellow in painting conservation in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, I am lucky enough to work on some fascinating projects that allow me the opportunity to collaborate with conservators at other institutions, doing a little detective work. The painting I treated in the fall is a great example of this. It depicts Christ as the Man of Sorrows. It’s painted in the style of a 17th-century Spanish or Spanish Colonial painting and would likely have hung in a church where it would have served as an instrument to connect the faithful with Christ’s suffering. Ten stations of the cross are depicted in the boxes flanking both sides of Christ.  

The painting was originally purchased in Madrid, Spain, during the Spanish Civil War—a time when religious works of art were systematically destroyed. When the painting arrived at Winterthur, the backside was covered in thick, white paste splotches that had been painted over with dark brown and red colors. The owner hypothesized that this was evidence that the painting may have survived shrapnel attack from the Spanish Civil War.  Indeed some of the paste was applied in areas that corresponded to a tear in the canvas or areas of paint loss in the front, but most were applied in areas with no structural damage.  

Regardless of the reasons for applying the white splotches on the back, it was critical for the treatment of this painting that these splotches be removed to return the backside to a smooth surface finish. Since the paste was not present for purely structural reasons, we reached out to the wider conservation community via Facebook to determine if anyone had seen paste splotches like this before. This was done in an effort to ensure that there was not cultural or historical significance attached to these splotches that should deter us from removing them. We heard from colleagues as far as Spain and Peru about traditional pastes used as adhesives, but in the end, all feedback suggested the paste on this particular painting was safe to remove. Additionally, scientific analysis of the paste suggested the binder was not consistent with the historic materials suggested by our international colleagues.  

I have now successfully removed all areas of the paste on the surface by carefully scraping the paste off with a scalpel. With the back surface now smooth, we were able to humidify the painting and subsequently apply vacuum suction under heat to fully flatten and consolidate the painting without fear of having protrusions/areas that stood out from the back, causing bumps in the front. The painting is now ready to be cleaned and stretched onto a new custom made stretcher.  

Post by Tracy Liu, Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation

Posted in Academic Programs, art collections, Art Conservation, Paintings, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment


A Yuletide Ode to Odette

Odette, as she has become known to the Winterthur staff, made her debut gracing one of the 19th-century displays in the Yuletide Tour.  She is a swan cake, En Surprise Cake in the Shape of a Swan to be more precise, an extravagant dessert described in The Encyclopedia of Practical Cookery published about 1898, which is part of our Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table exhibition. From the Encyclopedia:

A swan…”made of sugar cake covered with sugar-icing.  It is laden with choice sweetmeats and gaily decorated with a crown and garland of candied flowers. The swan is floating on a water made of jelly, lightly tinted green with spinach juice; the edges of banks are represented by sugar-rock bon-bons, candied flowers, and bulrush leaves of candied angelica.”

The illustration depicts a demure creature, floating on a pond, encircled with a baked shore lined with rocks made of candy.  She is indeed ‘laden’ with sweets, and her garland of candied flowers and tiny neck crown ensure that she is dressed for the most elegant table.

The greatest challenge with creating this faux food has come from the irony of sculpting a swan that is supposed to look like a cake, not a swan!  The sweetmeats, sugared berries, candies, and candied flowers were not hard to imagine, but the swan needed to reflect the struggles that even the most talented baker would have faced with sculpting cake into fowl, all finished with ‘sugar-icing’ that is conservation-approved for the Winterthur collection!

Last spring, artist Lance Winn and I set to work with Catherine Westbrook, research and collections assistant, to conceive the making of the creature.  Lance began with the illustration.  From a scan of the image, he created a rough 3-D model that allowed him to cut layers out of foam to create the swan form.

Once Odette’s shape was achieved, we turned to our kitchen drawers to find the right tools for applying her first layer of wood-putty icing.  A nice, flat offset spatula and a putty knife did the trick.

A few more layers of icing and some sanding, a dense coat of ivory-white paint, and Odette looked good enough to eat.  It was time to fill her with ‘sweetmeats’ and dress her for the party.

Hundreds of flowers, berries, and leaves were carefully ‘sugar’-coated with glitter and glass.

Mathew Stiles’s thoughtful guidance inspired a plan that would secure tall plant life in Odette’s pond.  Benny Terranova, Carl Borden, and Terry Herd arrived with tools in hand to perform the operation.  With the vacuum running, three holes were carefully drilled through the plexiglass and ethafoam base. 

Chiffon was layered under the plexiglass, and the spinach jelly came to life.  A rustic crust was sculpted, and rocks imported from Colorado—yes, real rocks that look like candy made to look like rocks—were placed along the shoreline with the ‘angelica’ bulrush leaves and ‘candied’ iris.  A tiny crown was found and gently secured around the swan’s neck.

Odette was finally complete. 

She was months in the making.  In that time, many of us wondered whether a swan cake had ever truly been made?  Served?  Eaten?  We might never know, but surely a creature as lovely as Odette should only be food for thought … or for Winterthur’s Yuletide!

You can see Odette in the China Hall during the Yuletide Tour at Winterthur.

Post by Mary Robertson, School Program Guide, Winterthur

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Silhouette Sleuthing: Solving the Mystery of the Weston Profile Artist (Part 2)

Group silhouette, Weston Profiles, New York, ca. 1840-50. Bequest of Mrs. Helen Shumway Mayer 2003.13.35.

In the first Silhouette Sleuthing blog post, I detailed how I discovered that one of the silhouettes in the Winterthur collection had been misattributed to artist Mary Pillsbury Weston, who was most famous for her Spirit of Kansas painting exhibited at the Columbian Exhibition. There is no evidence to suggest that she ever produced and sold silhouettes. If the Weston profiles were not created by Mary, then who created them?

I started to look through auction catalogs for other Weston silhouettes, hoping to understand the artist’s style. I found other pieces attributed to Weston, many of which are signed and contain the “Weston Profiles” label on the rear of the frame. Two types of signatures appear. The first, similar to the silhouette in the Winterthur collection, is a handwritten, cursive script with “Weston pinxt./149 ½ Bowery.” It can be found on a full-length silhouette of a woman, which was sold at auction by Northeast Auctions in 2015. (1) Other examples have a block-lettered serif signature “Weston of NY,” sometimes including the date. The two signatures could indicate that different individuals created these silhouettes under the name “Weston Profiles.”

Detail of Weston signature on the silhouette in the Winterthur collection.

Since most of the silhouettes have a “Weston Profiles/149 ½ Bowery” label attached to the back of the frame, it indicates that they have a common source. However, this does not solve the mystery of the address, since no Westons have been found at 149 ½ Bowery, as discussed in the previous blog post. Could these silhouettes be fake? Winterthur Paper Conservator Joan Irving examined the Weston profile in the frame, and there were no red flags to suggest it was not produced in the nineteenth century. However, she did note that the label appeared to have been cut down at some point. This does not mean that the silhouette is fake, it is possible the piece was reframed at some point and the label reaffixed to the new frame.

Detail of label on back of the frame.

If we accept the material evidence that these silhouettes were made in the 1840s, and there are no known Westons living on Bowery at this time, who or what was at 149 ½ Bowery? The only reference to a 149 ½ Bowery found in primary sources is J. Wilson Fancy Goods Store listed in the New York Mercantile Union Business Directory in 1850. This reference seemed promising since a silhouettist could have operated out of a fancy goods store. J. Wilson, however, could not be traced to that location prior to 1850 in Trow’s New York City Directory. Looking at what businesses worked out of 149 Bowery during the 1840s, I found a distillery, leather working, and saddlery at this location. The leather business is possibly the closest connection, since cases for miniatures, silhouettes, and daguerreotypes typically utilized leather, and I found a group of Westons who operated a daguerreotype business in the city.

This group of Westons can be found in the New York City directories during the period of production, and they include a John P. Weston, a Robert Weston, and another Mary A. Weston—all of whom were daguerreotypists. This was a promising avenue because the career jump from silhouettist to daguerreotypist would not have been surprising in the period. Silhouettes were a cheap, quick, and easy way to produce form of portraiture, some even employing the physiognotrace or pantograph machines, which are considered forerunners to photography. (2) Boundaries between what we understand as “fine artist” and “daguerreotypist” were fluid with some artists producing both artwork and daguerreotypes at the same time, and others using the technology to help with their artwork. Photography eclipsed silhouettes in the mid-nineteenth century as a more accurate and equally easy method to produce mode of portraiture.

According to the directories, James P. Weston operated in New York City as a daguerreotypist from 1842 to 1857. In 1842, James partnered with artist William Hendrik Franquinet to create a series of daguerreotype views of the city of New York and continued to work as a daguerreotypist throughout the 1840s and into the 50s. (3) Unfortunately, James P. Weston disappears from the records after 1857.

The husband and wife pair, Robert and Mary A. Weston, were also in the daguerreotype business. The 1850 Federal census lists English-born Robert Weston as an artist, while the 1855 New York Census reports that he worked with daguerreotypes. (4) Mary’s profession is never listed in either census. Possibly blood relatives, Robert Weston and James P. Weston were listed together at 132 Chatham and 192 Broadway as daguerreians through the 1840s and 1850s.

Mary Ann Weston was the daughter of British immigrant Thomas Kearsing (1774–1856), a pianoforte maker of the well-known Kearsing piano makers from the 1830s. She was born around 1812 in New York City, and she married Robert in 1839. She only appears in the directories between 1858 and 1861, where the couple were listed separately at 142 ½ Bowery. After Robert’s death in 1863, Mary continued to operate as a photographer at 392 Bowery until 1866, as seen in the U.S. IRS Tax Lists. (5) By 1866, Mary looked to move to California, posting in the New York Daily Herald:

A PHOTOGRAPH GALLERY, ESTABLISHED IN THIS city in 1839, and in a flourishing state of business, to be sold as the owner must leave for California to settle some family affairs. Apply at WESTON’S Photograph Gallery, 392 Bowery, near Cooper Institute.[v]

She eventually moved to California in 1874 to be with her siblings, where she died three years later.

The Westons operated close to the 149 ½ address. Their closest relation to this address lies with a leather factory. In 1845, James P. Weston used the address 43 Eldridge for his daguerreotype submission to the American Institute and the Mechanics’ Institute Art Fair, an address he shared with Walter S. Abbott of Abbott & Smith Saddlery. Between 1842 and 1843, Abbott & Smith Saddlery is located at 149 Bowery. Did the two men know each other? Could Weston have operated a studio out of Abbott’s shop? Did Abbott make cases for Weston?

These three Westons are the likely makers of the silhouette in the Winterthur collection. James and Robert exhibited works in the American Institute annual fairs. Robert submitted a “pen & ink drawing” at the 1846 show, (6) showing that he had the ability to produce at least the silhouette’s background. If Robert, his wife, and James were in business together, that could account for the different styles in signature and silhouettes that are found on Weston Profiles, i.e. block serif script versus cursive script. None of the silhouettes have a first name included in the signature but that is similar to the daguerreotypes produced by the Westons, which can be found in the New-York Historical Society, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and in auction houses. These pieces usually include the name “Weston” and the studio address across the bottom of the frame.

Case for Weston daguerreotype of John Snowden, MD., c. 1845–1852, Cased Image File, Item 2-289, PR 12, New-York Historical Society, New York, NY.

While research concluded that Mary Pillsbury Weston was not the creator of the Weston Profiles, another Mary Weston was most probably involved. The Westons produced silhouettes in the 1840s, and as the daguerreotype became more popular and more accessible to a larger market, they diversified by opening a daguerreotype studio. By the end of the decade and into the 1860s, they started to create photographs and carte-de-visites, continuing to stay abreast of consumer demands. They did not garner the notoriety like famous daguerreotypists Matthew Brady or Jeremiah Gurney, nor did they operate on their scale. In fact, New York City was filled with studios like the Westons’. In 1853, it was estimated that there were eighty-six portrait galleries in the city. (7) More research needs to be conducted on these smaller enterprises to get a better sense of the operations of a portrait-making and -selling business like the Westons’, and its relationship to a larger network of material production in mid-nineteenth-century New York.

You can see this silhouette and others from the Winterthur Library and museum collection in the special loan exhibition In Fine Form: The Striking Silhouette at the Delaware Antiques Show, November 9–11, 2018.

Post by Amanda Hinckle, 2017-2018 Robert and Elizabeth Owens Curatorial Fellow, Museum Collections Department, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Winterthur is very grateful for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, which has given us the ability to photograph and digitize works on paper in the collection, including these silhouettes.

(1) Northeast Auctions. Fall Weekend Auction, October 31-November 1, 2015.Portsmouth, NH: 2015. Auction Catalog. https://northeastauctions.com/product/mary-pillsbury-weston-american-1817-1894-full-length-silhouette-of-a-woman-circa-1840/

(2) Emma Rutherford, Silhouette: The Art of the Shadow (New York: Rizzoli, 2009).

(3) J Winchester, “Daguerreotype Portraits,” The New World: A Weekly Journal 5 (November 26, 1842): 351.

(4) Although not in the New York City directories until 1848, the arrival of a Robert Weston is reported in the New-York Spectator in 1837, which is backed by immigration records. “Passengers,” New-York Spectator, March 28, 1837.

(5) Craig’s Daguerreian Registry, last modified 1998, http://craigcamera.com/dag/.

(6) New York Daily Herald, March 17, 1866, 7.

(7) Ethan Robey’s dissertation titled “The Utility of Art: Mechanics’ Institute Fairs in New York City, 1828-1876,” includes an appendix listing artists who displayed their work. Ethan Robey, “The Utility of Art: Mechanics’ Institute Fairs in New York City, 1828-1876” PhD diss., Columbia University, New York, 2000.

(8) Beaumont Newhall, The Daguerreotype in America, 3rd ed. (New York: Dover, 1976), 55.

Posted in Academic Programs, American Culture Studies, antiques, Decorative Arts, Delaware Antiques Show, Events, exhibition, museum collection, Prints, Photos & Drawings, Students & Alumni, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


Silhouette Sleuthing: The Mystery of the Weston Profile Artist

Group silhouette, Weston Profiles, New York, ca. 1840-50. Bequest of Mrs. Helen Shumway Mayer 2003.13.35.

What started as simple research into a silhouette in the Winterthur collection has progressed to a three-month trek through directories, census records, newspaper advertisements, maps, artist encyclopedias, archives, and auction catalogs. The silhouette in question, a group portrait against an interior in watercolor, has proved to be fascinating, and research has discounted previous scholarship as a new story emerges.

Silhouettes were popular and cheap forms of portraiture throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century. During the period, they were referred to as “shades” or “profile miniatures,” though by the early nineteenth century they are just described as “profiles.” (1) There are various ways to produce these profiles, though the most talented artists could cut freehand, such as the most prolific nineteenth-century silhouettist Auguste Édouart.(2) Originally from France, Édouart traveled extensively through Great Britain and America creating some 100,000 silhouettes, keeping a copy or record of each one he produced. Winterthur has some examples of Édouart’s work

Other silhouettists could sketch from life or use a mechanical device like a physiognotrace to capture the profile.

While many silhouettes feature one figure, this piece contains seven cut silhouettes painted black with white and tinted highlights to delineate details on the clothing and accessories. Underneath these figures the viewer can read the names of the Dennison and Barcley family and a “Miss Lucy Dale.” In the bottom right corner, the silhouette is signed “Weston pinxt./ 149 ½ Bowery.” On the reverse of the frame, an affixed label also gives the address 149 ½ Bowery. Winterthur’s records cited Mary Bartlett Pillsbury Weston as the artist, though a letter in the records from 1957 indicated that no Weston had been found in the New York City Directory at the Bowery location in the 1840s. From here, the questions grew.

Detail of label on back of the frame.

Conducting genealogical research on Mary Pillsbury Weston, I discovered a captivating tale of a woman determined to be an artist. Born in Hebron, New Hampshire, in 1817, she was the daughter of Baptist minister Stephen Pillsbury and Lavinia Hobart. Texts from the nineteenth century recount Mary Weston’s romantic tale: a deep yearning as a child to paint and how she ran away two times in an attempt to become an artist, finally moving to Willington, Connecticut, in 1837, painting portraits of local families. While in Connecticut, she met New Yorker Valentine Weston, brother to Willington citizen Jonathan Weston. Valentine invited Mary to come to New York, where he would employ artists to continue to instruct her and help her become an artist. After three months of living in New York, Mary married Valentine in 1840.(3)  Mary Weston lived in New York until after her husband’s death in 1863.

Regardless of any tentative ties to Édouart, texts from the nineteenth century only claim that Mary was a portrait and landscape artist. There is no evidence that she ever made silhouettes and that is supported by archival research. The Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas holds the Pillsbury Family Papers, which contain Mary Weston’s outgoing letters from 1840 to 1867. While Mary wrote about painting and selling her work, she never mentions a silhouette business.

For most researchers, labels on objects are considered a gift. Other times, they only make the piece more confusing, as in the case of the Weston profile. Valentine Weston, thirty-two years Mary’s senior, appears in the New York City Directory as a blind maker, frame maker, and looking glass maker as early as 1822 and into the 1840s. His son from a previous marriage, John L. Weston, also owned a frame-making business in that same period continuing into the 1850s. Frame makers frequently sold prints and drawing in their store, thus it would not have been a leap to assume that Mary had a deal with her husband and son-in-law to create framed silhouettes for clients. However, at no point are these two men ever listed at 149 ½ Bowery, and their businesses stayed within the lower west side.

At this point, it seems unlikely that Mary Bartlett Pillsbury Weston ever made and sold silhouettes. Who was the Weston who created this silhouette? Who are the sitters? How do we know that this is even from the 1840s? These questions will continue to be pursued in part two, which will be posted on next week!

You can see this silhouette and others from the Winterthur Library and museum collection in the special loan exhibition In Fine Form: The Striking Silhouette at the Delaware Antiques Show, November 9–11, 2018.

Post by Amanda Hinckle, Robert and Elizabeth Owens Curatorial Fellow, Museum Collections Department, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Winterthur is very grateful for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, which has given us the ability to photograph and digitize works on paper in the collection, including these silhouettes.

(1) Emma Rutherford, Silhouette: The Art of the Shadow (New York: Rizzoli, 2009), 21.

(2) Rutherford, Silhouette, 29.

(3) E.F. Ellet, Women Artists in All Ages and Countries (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1859); H. W. French, Art and Artists in Connecticut (Boston: Lee and Shepard, Publishers; New York: Charles T. Dillingham, 1879); and Augusta Harvey Worthen, The History of Sutton, New Hampshire: Consisting of the Historical Collections of Erastus Wadleigh, Esq., and A. H. Worthen (Concord, NH: The Republican Press Association, 1890).

Posted in Academic Programs, antiques, Decorative Arts, Delaware Antiques Show, exhibition, museum collection, Prints, Photos & Drawings, Students & Alumni, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment


Looks Good Enough to Eat! Dishes Imitate Foods in Dining by Design Exhibition

Earthenware goose tureen, possibly John Turner factory, Staffordshire, England, about 1800. Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens at Winterthur, gift of Mr. W. B. Murphy 1996.4.32a,b

As well as studying early cookbooks, prints, and paintings, those of us who love the history of food can learn about past delicacies by studying the shapes of dishes and their ornament. In the Winterthur exhibition Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table (open through January 6, 2019), such references abound! 

Tastes regarding how prepared foods should look when they arrived at the table have changed over time. Today, for example, diners in America or Europe might not expect a cooked goose to arrive at the table complete with its head!  However, based on the tureen shown above and cookbook instructions from the 1600s onward, such a display was common on many past dinner tables. The goose tureen, originally used to serve soup or other liquid foods, additionally mimics the leafy garnishes that sometimes adorned cooked birds at the table.

In the Dining by Design exhibition, the goose tureen is just one of the treasures included in the portion of the show focusing on food acquisition. There are objects representing hunting traditions, fishing, and the raising of domesticated animals as sources of meat as well as the growing of fruits and vegetables.

Dining by Design exhibition, Acquiring Food (view 1)


Dining by Design exhibition, Acquiring Food (view 2)

Surf-and-turf motifs ornamenting the elegant silver tureen, below, suggest that a variety of foods may have been served from the dish. Two boars’ heads flank either side of the tureen body; a realistic-looking lobster or crayfish on the lid forms a handle, and the dish is supported on “dolphin” feet.

Silver tureen by John Edwards II, London, England, 1746-47. Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens at Winterthur 1996.4.237a,b

Other references to the abundance available from the sea are obvious in the Portuguese bucket-of-fish tureen, shown below. Paintings and prints from the 1600s onward show coopered wooden buckets, resembling the type forming the lower portion of the tureen as containers for different kinds of foods, including fresh fish.

Earthenware fish (cod?) tureen by the Rato factory, Portugal, 1767–71. Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens at Winterthur 1996.4.247

Hunting, of course, was another excellent source of protein and was celebrated in the shapes of and ornament on dishes. The magnificently detailed tureen and stand, shown below, not only is garnished with oak leaves from the forest but also includes the instruments of the animal’s demise! The fletching (feathers) of arrows is visible beneath one edge of the dish. Although this vessel probably was intended for soup or stew, real boar’s heads often had the skull removed; the resulting cavity was then stuffed with one of a broad range of fillings.

Porcelain boar’s head tureen and stand, Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory, London, England, 1750–60. Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens at Winterthur 1996.4.1a,b, gift of John T. Dorrance, Jr

Barbecued Fawn garnished with potato croquettes and Brussels sprouts from The Encyclopædia of Practical Cookery (Philadelphia, about 1898). Winterthur Library, Printed Book and Periodical Collection TX715 G23 v3

More than a century after the boar’s head tureen was produced in England, American diners who were served “barbecued fawn” apparently were a bit squeamish regarding the dish. The cookbook’s author tells us,

The young deer does not often find its way into the kitchen; hence cooks are not very profuse as to its mode of treatment. When very young the suspicion arises rather too naturally that it has not been specially slaughtered for the occasion, and this idea creates a prejudice against what is otherwise a very savoury dish.

The author then merrily proceeds to provide two recipes, one for barbecued fawn and another for roasted saddle of fawn.

Man (and woman!) cannot live on meat alone, however, and throughout history vegetables and fruit have formed an important part of the dining experience. Some wealthy consumers raised their own produce or bought imported or hot-house-grown vegetables or fruits, such as oranges, lemons, limes, mangoes, or figs. Private orchards and vineyards—such as at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia—also experimented with new types of fruits and vegetables. Most urban shoppers, however, bought produce from street-sellers, local shops, or market gardeners, some of whom grew their stock in enclosed plots or greenhouses within the city limits.

Tureens in the form of melons featured leaf-shaped stands, and some perhaps celebrated the increased availability of a broader range of fruits. Such vessels were used during any course of a dinner, whether for serving sweet or savory foods. The large white melon tureen shown here most likely served soup at the first course of a dinner.

Stoneware melon tureen and stand, Staffordshire, England, about 1760. Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens at Winterthur 1996.4.226a-c

Foods such as rhubarb were introduced to Europe from Asia, along with valuable silks and spices. Although the leaves of the plant are considered to be poisonous, the tart stalk has long been valued as a food. In the kitchen, rhubarb—though actually a vegetable—is commonly sweetened and prepared as if it were a fruit.

Earthenware dinner plate with rhubarb, Wedgwood Etruria factory, Staffordshire, England, 1870–72. Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens at Winterthur 1996.4.278

The cultivation of leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce dates back thousands of years, although some (such as the cos lettuce, which appeared during the 1600s) are more recent innovations. Such food was easy to grow and eventually was affordable by all levels of society.

Porcelain sauceboat in a cabbage leaf pattern, Longton Hall factory, Staffordshire, England, about 1755. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Mayer 1982.160

Porcelain sauce tureen in the shape of cos (Romaine) lettuce, Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory, London, England, 1752–58. Bequest of Mrs. Helen Shumway Mayer 2003.13.109a,b

Ultimately, though, all of these wonderful dish designs were just the tip of the iceberg…lettuce. (Sorry, couldn’t help it!) Come and see for yourself at Winterthur, when you visit Dining by Design: Nature Displayed at the Dinner Table, open through January 6, 2019.

Post by Leslie B. Grigsby, Senior Curator of Ceramics & Glass, Winterthur          

Posted in antiques, Ceramics, collection, Decorative Arts, Design, dining, exhibition, galleries, museum collection, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment