Joyous Memories and Dining by Design

Suki and the Hundred Butterflies pattern dish set

Among the greatest joys an exhibition curator can experience is seeing the pleasure with which guests respond to their displays. Very high on my list relating to Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table (open through January 6, 2019) was the recent visit by my friends Suki and Tony, owners of Lily Asian Cuisine, a highly-rated local favorite in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The couple brought along their two charming daughters, so I could show the whole family how we much we westerners have admired Chinese wares over the centuries.

We spent about an hour viewing the exhibition. We talked about how dinnerware and foods were acquired from the 1600s onward and then looked at dining traditions, setting the table, folding napkins, and the like.  Eventually, we arrived at the area focusing on dinnerware with nature designs in Western styles, such as portrayals of Aesop’s Fable animals and soup tureens in the forms of rabbits and turkeys.

Just before we left that space, Suki came to a halt and said, “I have to tell you a story about dishes!” With sparkling eyes, she reminisced that when she was young she often went with her siblings and cousins to have dinner at their grandparents’ house. “Of course, we were never allowed to start the meal before Grandfather came home.” Just before he was scheduled to arrive home, Suki’s grandmother would bring out a special, covered lacquer box.  She would place it, somewhat ceremoniously, on the center of the table and then slowly lift the lid to unveil an enticing display of little dishes, all fitted together and filled with treats such as nuts, pickled fruits, and the like.  The children selected their favorites, munching on them as they awaited their grandfather’s arrival. “Ah, that is such a happy memory,” said Suki, sighing.

The Moon Gate portal, through which one enters the world of Asian designs inspired by nature

So now, I was filled with suspense as I had an inkling of just what sort of dish she might be talking about. As we were about to pass through the exhibition’s Moon Gate to enter the gallery of nature designs in Asian styles, I rushed ahead and whipped out my phone. The result? Well you can see Suki’s expression in the picture, above.  The butterfly dishes on display in the exhibition were much like the ones her grandmother served treats in.

Tony provided fascinating insights into Chinese meanings of symbols on the displayed tableware.  He told me that the number associated with the dish set Suki admired was meaningful.  The set has nine little dishes, which is a number connected with couples and good things, and when added to the box, the number becomes ten, which is a number associated with the whole family and many good things. What a wonderful concept to be able to share with their family, my own, and yours, too, of course!

See more Dining by Design blogs.

Suki and Tony at Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table

By Leslie B. Grigsby, Senior Curator of Ceramics & Glass, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Posted in Ceramics, China, chinese export porcelain, Decorative Arts, exhibition, Exhibitions, museum collection, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


Calling Santa Claus

Maxine Waldron Collection of Children’s Books and Paper Toys
81×481-49m, Winterthur Library

It’s hard to imagine a time when telephones were not a part of everyday living. Today, phones are found in our homes, offices, and even in our pockets—modern life would shut down without them. In the late nineteenth century, however, some consumers questioned the value of owning a telephone, seeing them as either a luxury item for the wealthy or as a disruptive and unpredictable nuisance. Winterthur’s collections contain a number of items relating to the evolution of those concerns, including a rare children’s book in the Saul Zalesch Collection of American Ephemera.

Maxine Waldron Collection of Children’s Books and Paper Toys 81×481-49b, Winterthur Library

Hello! Santa Claus! Or, How a Telephone Upset Christmas was written by Mary Bissell Waterman in 1886, only ten years after Alexander Graham Bell patented his telephone. Waterman, a Utica-based children’s author and poet, explored some of the popular anxieties surrounding the new invention. Her tale opens on a noisy Christmas Eve in the Claus household, which had been flooded with nonstop calls ever since Santa decided to install a phone. To make matters worse, all of the calls were from spoiled rich children whose families could afford the new device. Following a chat with a girl on Fifth Avenue asking for a gigantic diamond ring, Santa finally lost his patience—he screamed at the child, quit his job, and ran off to his room determined to sleep through Christmas.

The story continues with a poor girl calling on a borrowed phone asking for a blanket. Mrs. Claus then decided to steal Santa’s sleigh and deliver his gifts to poor neighborhoods, hospitals, and orphanages. When Mrs. Claus returned home and told Santa what she’d done, he was aghast at the thought of dealing with angry phone calls from rich children about their missing toys. On Christmas morning, however, the phone calls were from wealthy children happy at the joy their gifts brought to others.

The ‘Santa Claus on the phone’ trope remained popular for several more decades. As telephones became more affordable and widespread, however, themes of sentimentality and consumerism overshadowed most traces of social criticism related to phones. Two cards in Winterthur’s Maxine Waldron Collection express this development.

A 1907 Christmas card illustrated by Ellen H. Clapsaddle shows Santa and a child on the phone, separated by a partition bearing a line from Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. The two are speaking on a wall telephone, possibly the Western Electric Model 1317. An undated card from the turn of the century shows Santa reaching for a similar style phone.

The Model 1317 remained in production all the way up until 1937 when technological changes finally made its design obsolete. The well-known Western Electric model 302, which exemplified the trend toward more compact designs, was introduced the same year that the Model 1317 was phased out.

US Forever Postage Stamp crediting the 1937 Western Electric 302 desk telephone design to Henry Dreyfuss, ca. 2011, US Postal Service.

In the Winter 2017 issue of Winterthur Portfolio, authors Russell Flinchum and Ralph Meyer look back at the Model 302 in their exploration of twentieth-century telephone design and the firm of Henry Dreyfuss. “Henry Dreyfuss and Bell Telephones” sheds new light on the histories of iconic models like the 302, the Princess, and the Trimline. Flinchum, a professor of design history at North Carolina State University and former archivist at the Dreyfuss firm, and Meyer, a physicist and expert on Bell System telephones, challenge accepted knowledge about Henry Dreyfuss and telephone design, including their own earlier work. Through July 1 this article can be accessed free of charge. Click here for access to the article. 

Winterthur Portfolio 51, no. 4

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A Whimsical Walk through Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table

Porcelain water buffalo or ox-head tureen and stand, China, 1760–80. Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens at Winterthur 1996.4.234 a-c

We need more whimsy in this world. For me, ever the fan of anything bovine, that whimsy struck as I turned to enter the final room of the Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table exhibition and was met with the exuberant gaze of an 18th-century soup tureen in the shape of a water buffalo’s head drawn from the Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens at Winterthur. In his contemporary usage, the top of his head would be removed so that the bottom half of the tureen could house hot soup, and once the top was replaced, plumes of steam would have risen from his open ceramic nostrils; ever the diversion then as now.

This tureen is only one of approximately 560 objects in Dining by Design, and museum-goers will surely find that particular object that piques their own curiosity. Naturally I hope that our bovine friend will achieve his own celebrity, but there is a veritable range of objects on display here. Similar tureens in the shape of geese and rabbits occupy their own cabinet, while examples of more traditionally ornate and decorative examples of tureens—including one gilded in its entirety with brass—form a distinctive pyramid of objects as one immediately enters the exhibition. There is no shortage in the range of designs that decorate the surfaces of plates, dishes, and bowls, including architectural drawings upon 18th-century Worcester ware, the botanical drawings of Hans Sloane ware, and moralized depictions of Adam and Eve from as early as 1601, among many, many other designs. All of these objects are on display across three spacious rooms in the upstairs galleries. The first room is an exceptionally light and airy space showcasing the range of object types in the ceramics collection. Moving on, guests walk through a more distinctively European collection that captures the different types of representation these objects could achieve before arriving at the end of the exhibition where a room of Asian objects is punctuated by its own pagoda.

Porcelain plate with classical ruins in landscape, Worcester Porcelain Factory, Worcester, England, 1770–75. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Mayer 1977.86

It’s in this first room that some of the most powerful displays are located. A set dining table is displayed against a mirror, which makes it emphatically clear that the material extent of early modern dining accouterments was as important as the precision and care with which they were constructed, composed, and consumed. Placing these objects in the physical settings of their original use reinforces one of the central messages that this exhibition communicates: dining was an everyday act, but it was also a heavily performative and skilled one. Visitors may see up close a collection of flatware: spoons, knives, and forks all made of ceramic, or with a ceramic component. The agate-esque handles of a collection of knives illustrate the trickery that producers were able to employ and the skill with which they transformed their materials to resemble something entirely different. Furthermore, the floral designs that embellish the handles and bodies of these ceramic spoons show how the designed motifs of dining extended beyond the plates and dishes which held consumers’ food and were an integral part of the key objects that they handled.

Finally, there is a vertical wall display comprising 27 individual dishes and plates, arranged in a typical 18th-century table layout. There is something almost disconcerting seeing these objects laid out in this way. When table layouts and the precise positioning of ceramic pieces are typically displayed in museums and heritage properties, they are usually placed on top of a dining table by way of a re-creation – complete with sad plastic grapes. It is easy to appreciate the perspective that this comes from, attempting to educate visitors in the full swathe of objects that formed the material culture of dining in homes. But by extracting the table from this equation, and affixing the display of ceramic dining ware to the wall, so that it sits alike a canvas in a gallery or graffiti on a building, guests are able to see how thoughtfully put together such dining tables were. The attention to symmetry is striking, but so is the sheer expanse of space that these objects occupy. On a table they may seem more in place, but displayed in this way they speak for themselves. Elizabeth Raffald, upon whose 1769 The Experienced English Housekeeper this display is based, would be excited to see such a use of dining ware.

There is far more to see than a blog post could seamlessly tie together, and one strength of an exhibition curated of such a large number of objects is that it enables the museum-goer to draw their own connections between different corners of the gallery. For others the buffalo tureen will not be the main event—he may be a starting point or a waypoint on an individual’s itinerary through the exhibition. It seems almost blasphemous to say that some attendees may not be interested in the buffalo at all. Either way, Dining by Design makes a very interesting comparison to the Treasures on Trial exhibition which preceded it. Both are thought-provoking displays, but while Treasures on Trial encouraged museum-goers to play Columbo with things and assess authenticity, Dining by Design asks its viewers to be imaginative and immerse themselves in an almost alien culture. It illustrates a very important role of the museum to preserve heritage, provide escapism, and present splendor. If Elizabeth Raffald would have been excited by the exhibition, so too would the museum’s founder H. F. du Pont.

Post by Tom Rusbridge, a Ph.D. student from the University of Sheffield and former visiting scholar at Winterthur

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


Powered by Portfolio: Teen Activist Inspired by Journal Article

Desmond Herzfelder didn’t set out to make history, but he did. On February 1, 2018, the first day of Black History Month, the Massachusetts high school student was on hand as Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke journeyed downstairs in his own department’s building to honor a mural.  There, Mitchell Jamieson’s 1940–1942 An Incident in Contemporary American Life received the first-ever designation as a site in the new African American Civil Rights Network.  With time, this network of monuments will preserve and interpret sites associated with the civil rights movement.  

The New Deal-era mural that Zinke recognized recalled African American contralto Marian Anderson’s stirring 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial, an event that historians have identified as a seminal moment in the modern civil rights movement. Yet the painting was not simply a monument to one of the movement’s successes nor a celebration of an accomplished mission, but instead an active instrument in the campaign for social justice of that moment.  It applauded contemporary advocates and activists for the cause.  It looked to the future even more than the past.  It was a call to action; a summons to a commitment to a goal not yet reached.  And it remains that today.

Mural (detail) An Incident in Contemporary American Life by Mitchell Jamieson at the Department of Interior, Washington, D.C.; Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Program from designation ceremony, February 1, 2018

Photo of Marian Anderson from designation ceremony program, February 1, 2018

Marian Anderson mural dedicated. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-DIG-fsa-8b07840

Herzfelder’s campaign to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the 1943 dedication of the mural began with a high school history paper assignment, which led him to Sara Butler’s 2005 article “The Art of Negotiation” for Winterthur Portfolio, a journal of American material culture produced by Winterthur Museum. Herzfelder credits the article as having “inspired me to pursue the celebration in the first place.”  Little did he know what an extended journey it would end up being.  Along the way Herzfelder approached the Interior Department about his plan, pressed forward with an op-ed in The Washington Post, and wrote letters to Zinke, various members of Congress, and Oprah Winfrey, among others.  He was the spark plug who pushed the project forward.  We never know where our work will lead, but we are proud to have played a small role in this effort to honor a brave voice in the civil rights movement. 

Winterthur Portfolio: A Journal of American Material Culture is available for subscription through the University of Chicago Press https://www.jstor.org/journal/wintport . Winterthur members at the Patron level and above receive a 20% subscription discount. To learn more about the journal, subscription information, or submission guidelines, click here.

Post by Sara A. Butler is professor of art and architectural history at Roger Williams University and contributed three articles to the Winterthur Portfolio: “The Art of Negotiation: Federal Arts, Civil Rights, and the Legacy of the Marian Anderson Concert, 1939–43” in 2005; “Groundbreaking in New Deal Washington, D.C.: Art, Patronage, and Race at the Recorder of Deeds Building” in 2011; and “A Plant Hunter’s Legacy: Japanese Trees in a New England Landscape, 1870–1930” in 2016.

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Celebrating a Milestone: A Lithograph Honoring the Fifteenth Amendment

“The Fifteenth Amendment, Celebrated May 19th, 1870.” James C. Beard (designer), Thomas Kelly (publisher), 1870. Winterthur Library 1973.0568

A lithograph in the Winterthur collection depicts a grand parade on May 19, 1870, in Baltimore, Maryland, celebrating the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African American men the right to vote. Published by Thomas Kelly and based on a painting by James C. Beard, the print shows a central parade scene framed by portraits of individuals important to the cause as well as scenes that display hope for the possibilities of a brighter future—although the fight for equality and full citizenship would be a long road.

Center detail

While we do not know if Beard attended the parade or if he read an account in the newspaper, it is clear that his work draws on the scenes and speeches reported in newspaper articles from the day. The center vignette depicts the celebration in Baltimore. Described as an “Imposing Procession of Civil, Military, Trade and Beneficial Associations” by the Baltimore Sun, black and white spectators thronged to the streets to watch the grand procession. Leading the crowd was a large chariot drawn by four horses and mounted with a large bell and a banner proclaiming, “Ring out the old, ring in the new, ring out the false, ring in the true.” The chariot was followed by a procession of distinguished guests and speakers including famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Other members of the parade comprised various social organizations, clubs, schools, work associations, political societies, and more from the Baltimore area, all on display in their finery and with eye-catching contraptions. A rigged ship sits in the background of the center scene of the print, which the Baltimore Sun’s article mentioned accompanied the Good Intent Club, Caulkers’, and Live Oak.

Bottom left

Bottom right

The parade ended in Monument Square, where spectators gathered to hear the speeches given by Isaac Meyers, the president of the organizing committee; H. J. Brown, who read a letter from abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison; Howard University Dean John M. Langston; John A. J. Creswell, Postmaster General; Frederick Douglass; Judge Hugh L. Bond; F. A. Sawyer, senator from South Carolina; and many others. Speakers quoted the Declaration of Independence, which appears on the print, believing that the country now fulfilled the statement that “All men are created equal.” Other themes that the orators professed made their way into Beard’s rendition. They gave credit to the brave African American soldiers who fought for the Union. They celebrated the autonomy in their work and their ability to marry at will and form a family unit without the danger of being sold and separated. Most frequently, they celebrated and promoted education with Frederick Douglass entreating parents to send their children to school in order to “show that besides the cartridge box, the ballot box, and the jury box you have also the knowledge box.”

Top center

The individuals featured on the lithograph were celebrated that May day because they were important to the abolitionist cause. At the top of the lithograph, three men are pictured: Martin Robison Delany, the first African American field officer in the U.S. Army, who served as a Major in the 52nd U.S. Colored Troops Regiment; Frederick Douglass, famed abolitionist, orator, and publisher of The North Star; and Hiram Rhoades Revels, who served as the first African American senator in 1870, filling the seat left vacant by Jefferson Davis in 1861. In addition, Ulysses S. Grant and Schuyler Colfax appear opposite of each other in the top corners. Grant, who had served as the General of the Union Army, was President of the United States at the time of ratification and pushed for the passage of the amendment. Vice President Colfax opposed slavery and helped found the Republican Party—which was celebrated that day as the party that brought freedom and rights to African Americans. Abraham Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator,” and John Brown, who led the Harper’s Ferry slave rebellion, also appear on the print as martyrs for the rights of African Americans.

While the print may be a sign of optimism for the future, its publication was very much rooted in entrepreneurial acumen. Publisher Thomas Kelly had worked with his father John Kelly in Philadelphia before establishing his own firm in New York in 1863. The earliest Kelly prints focus on Civil War themes, publishing images marketed toward the North and the South. In fact, Thomas Kelly published two lithographs in 1865: President Lincoln and His Cabinet and Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet. Such choices indicate Kelly’s opportunistic business practices more so than any political beliefs. James Carter Beard had moved to New York City as a staff artist for D. Appleton & Co. and for Charles Scribner’s Sons, but he also worked as a freelance illustrator.

In understanding Beard’s rendition, it is important to acknowledge the complicated and often negative feelings toward African Americans. The Fifteenth Amendment was not widely popular, and in order for former Confederate states Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, and Georgia to be readmitted to the Union, they had to ratify the amendment. Not all white citizens felt the same enthusiasm represented in the lithograph. The Baltimore and American Advertiser reported:

“It was a noticeable fact yesterday that while the procession was wending its way through the streets many dwellings were shut up, presenting the appearance ‘that nobody was in,’ and a curious inquiry revealed the fact that out of fifteen of those houses closed twelve of them were occupied by persons who refused to witness the procession, they declaring they could not gazed upon such a humiliating scene.”

While much progress had been made to free African Americans and amend the Constitution to acknowledge their rights as citizens, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would see restrictions and attempts to circumvent those rights including poll taxes and literacy tests. It would not be until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which aimed to prevent racially discriminatory legal barriers to voting, that African Americans would truly obtain the right to vote. This lithograph represents America’s complicated history, allowing us to reflect on a moment that celebrated a brighter possible future.

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

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

 

1. Edmund T.K. Delaney, The Kellys: Printmakers of New York and Philadelphia (Chester, Conn.: Connecticut River Publications, 1984), 5.

2. Jeffrey Weidman, Artists in Ohio, 1787–1900: A Biographical Dictionary (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2000), 60.

3. “Lithograph Celebrating the Fifteenth Amendment, 1870,” Shaping the Constitution: Resources from the Library of Virginia and the Library of Congress, Education @ Library of Virginia, accessed March 6, 2018, http://edu.lva.virginia.gov/online_classroom/shaping_the_constitution/doc/celebrating_fifteenth

4. “The Fifteenth Amendment,” Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser.

 

 

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Pushing Buttons (Into New Storage Housing)

The first year of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) begins with a block on Preventive Conservation taught by Dr. Joelle Wickens. This specialty addresses an object’s environment and aims to prevent or reduce degradation of entire collections and therefore is a fitting introduction to our graduate program. Preventive conservation is relevant to all conservation specialties. The concepts discussed are crucial to an ethical understanding of interventive treatment approaches. What began as a preventive conservation project became a valuable lesson in fully understanding the historical context of the objects we conserve and not just their physical characteristics.

One of my projects in the class began as a straightforward re-housing assignment—creating a protective box for an object in the Winterthur Library—but quickly evolved into interesting discussions about more than just the object and its materials, pushing me to think more deeply about my work as a conservation graduate student.

 The object I chose to re-house is a double-sided, pin-backed George Washington ribbon and button, consisting of a silk ribbon and a metal-backed celluloid button. I was immediately drawn to this object because of my previous experience with Washington-related artifacts as well as a desire to work with a variety of materials. The ribbon was in need of a better housing to safely display the fragile components. After a discussion with Laura Parrish, librarian in the Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, to which the ribbon belongs, we determined that the ideal housing would be minimal in size and would display the “In Memoriam” side. Laura generously offered to help research the cultural context of the ribbon, such as who would have worn such a ribbon and why. Our joint research and the entire project, in fact, proved to be an invaluable experience in approaching and discussing complex artifacts.

Before re-housing. Recto with a celluloid button hanging from a ribbon overlay (left) and verso showing the In Memoriam side (right).

My new housing for the ribbon consisted of a modified sink mat with front and back covers so that both sides could be accessed, with the pin nestled into a protective foam-lined insert. A piece of Mylar was placed behind the ribbon to support it between the mat boards while providing verso visibility.

After re-housing. Recto (left) with Tyvek padding on the front cover to prevent the ribbon from shifting during handling and verso (right) with the In Memoriam side visible through Mylar.

The materials used to create the sink mount were carefully chosen so as not to interact with the materials of the ribbon and button. As mentioned, silk and metal-backed celluloid were identified as the primary materials of the object, both through visual examination and by researching the manufacturer. An inscription on the verso of the button tells us it was made by Whitehead & Hoag, the largest advertising novelty manufacturer in the 1890s through the 1910s and the first company to produce pin-back buttons (Gold 1987). The company’s patent history confirms silk and celluloid were the primary materials used. My housing therefore included a rare earth magnet (the strongest type of permanent magnets) to hold in place the metal-backed celluloid button and sink cutouts in the acid-free, buffered mat board that were lined with acid-free Tyvek to prevent dye-bleed from the silk.

With Laura’s help, I soon learned more about the ribbon than just its material makeup. The ribbon was made for the Patriotic Order Sons of America, an organization founded in 1847 by Dr. Reynell Coates of Philadelphia. The order was formed during fractured political times in the United States and adhered to an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, and pro–native-born American platform. Learning this, I could not help but think of anti-immigration sentiments felt widely in today’s political landscape.

Commemorative ribbons from Larksville, PA. Courtesy of POSOFA.org

This particular ribbon was issued by the order’s Washington Camp No. 47, based in Penn’s Grove, New Jersey, and would have been worn for a variety of public functions. The red, white, and blue side would have been displayed when the organization participated in national or local events such as marching in parades. The black “In Memoriam” side would have been worn at the funeral of one of its members.

Member George Bohner in P.O.S. of A. uniform with ribbon, 20th century. Courtesy of B’s Books and Curios

The image on the button reflects the pride of the P.O.S. of A. in helping the Valley Forge Centennial and Memorial Association raise money to preserve the house used by George Washington as headquarters during encampment at Valley Forge. The button portrays a common legend about George Washington kneeling in prayer beneath an oak tree during the winter encampment at Valley Forge.

The Prayer at Valley Forge, painted by Henry Brueckner and engraved by John McRae, 1889. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

An early form of what is now a ubiquitous object may be of interest to those studying American manufacturing or novelties, but this particular ribbon also has a cultural context that is still relevant today. Partnering with Laura in researching the ribbon, I realized my initial approach was entirely materialistic and that I did not consider the other stories this ribbon had to tell. My preventive conservation assignment presented me with additional ways of seeing an object. Is it ethical to treat an object without knowing all of its contextual information? Conversely, is it ethical to consider such information when it may oppose my own moral beliefs? These questions have become constants as I continue to work with a variety of artifacts in my first year of study.

In writing this blog post, I struggled with how to discuss the ribbon’s connection considering today’s political environment and discussions surrounding immigration. In an engaging lunchtime conversation with interdepartmental museum professionals, what became clear is that being able to ask and discuss these questions may be just as, or even more, important than answering them. May the conversation continue…

Post by Joanna Hurd, Graduate Student in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation      

 

References

Gold, Anita. 1987. “You Can Make More Than Pin Money With The Right Button.” Chicago Tribune.

Hake, Ted. n.d. Whitehead and Hoag Company History. Accessed 10 1, 2017. http://www.tedhake.com/viewuserdefinedpage.aspx?pn=whco.

Trotter, G. 2007. Valley Forge Issue. Arago. Smithsonian National Postal Museum, Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

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Mass-Produced Relics: The Story of a Mount Vernon Gem

Memorial to Washington mounted on wood from Mount Vernon, James Crutchett (manufacturer), American Bank Note Co. (engraver), and Hammatt Billings (designer), 1859. Anonymous donor, 1977.0586 A.

This past President’s Day there was much love for, and celebration of, our first POTUS, George Washington. This sentiment was widely shared by our mid-19th-century compatriots, who were enamored by the story and glorification of George Washington. Winterthur has a large collection of objects depicting the “Father of His Country,” including paintings, statues, printed textiles, clocks, glass flasks, ceramics, and more. But one item in particular, a framed engraving representing a medal of Washington in front of Mount Vernon and his tomb, highlights the exceptional Washington fervor of the 1850s. Beyond the antebellum idolization of George Washington, this delicate 3.3 inch engraving and its frame tell us a story of cultural entrepreneurship in the mid-19th century.

On the back of the medallion, a plethora of information is provided.

The very bottom portion contains information from similar pieces:

“THIS BEAUTIFUL GEM,

framed in Mt Vernon Wood,

can only be had, wholesale

and retail, at HORACE BARNES & CO,

123 WASHINGTON STREET, BOSTON

or their agents throughout

the United States.”

Rear view of the medallion.

The story of this memento starts with James Crutchett, the English-born civil engineer responsible for installing a large gas lantern on the dome of the Capitol. In the early 1850s, Crutchett set his eyes on Mount Vernon, which had become a pilgrimage for patriots. The current owner at the time, John Augustine Washington, was struggling to fund the plantation. Capitalizing on the George Washington fervor and the monetary problems of Mount Vernon’s owner, Crutchett approached John Augustine with a business proposition. Around 1854 the pair signed a deal, which Crutchett characterized as allowing him to purchase the “many thousand trees around the mansion and tomb, and all on the estate of the homestead at Mount Vernon, the sacred home and resting place of the immortal George Washington,” (1) with the purpose of manufacturing canes and wooden souvenirs. News of the sale was met with some consternation. The Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, MA) reported the deal in 1858, commenting, “We hope the bones of the ‘Father of his country’ will not be dug up to be manufactured into toothpicks.” (2) Regardless, Crutchett’s enterprise moved full steam ahead.

Crutchett first focused on manufacturing canes. He established the Mount Vernon Cane Manufactory near the Baltimore and Ohio depots, and used steam machinery to speed up production. (3)Crutchett quickly turned to other forms of Mount Vernon mementos, including pictures frames, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, goblets, and more—all using the Mount Vernon wood. On August 1, 1860, he posted an advertisement for one specific souvenir:

PATRIOTS AND LOVERS OF WASHINGTON can now be supplied with engravings representing Mount Vernon, east and west fronts, the Birth-place and the Tomb of Washington. Each are neatly set in a glass crystal, and framed in circular frames of wood grown at Mount Vernon, from three to four inches in diameter; each frame is stamped, polished, and warranted, and accompanied with the certificate of Mr. Crutchett, the publisher and proprietor of the Mount Vernon factory. These will be sent by mail free of postage in any part of the Union on receipt of 5[?] cents each, (where 3-cent postage prevails,) or $1.50 for the set of four. (4)

Out of many of the other items Crutchett claimed to have sold, this one seems to be the most enduring and these “Mount Vernon gems” can be found in the collections of the National Museum of American History, Historic New England, and private collections. The Winterthur collection has three! Crutchett believed that his customers were “Patriots, collectively and individually, and all who admire the memory and virtues of the late Gen. George Washington,” and he believed that they would be “neat, pretty presents, and rewards for societies, schools, &c.” (5) Though it is unclear exactly how the souvenirs in the Winterthur collection were initially acquired or used, at some point an attachment was added to two so that they could be mounted. Others on the market have also been fixed with a hanging attachment, all of which seem to be unique and probably done by the owner of the memento, while also giving a hint as to how these pieces were enjoyed.

James Crutchett (manufacturer), American Bank Note Co. (engraver), and Hammatt Billings (designer). Memorial to Washington mounted on wood from Mount Vernon, 1859. Anonymous donor. 1977.0586 B.

As Crutchett worked to produce his Mount Vernon mementos in various formats, he partnered with other entrepreneurs. Along the top perimeter of the print, an inscription claims, “DESIGNED BY H. BILLINGS, ENGRAVED BY THE AMERICAN BANK NOTE CO.,” and around the bottom half, “Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1859 by H. Barnes in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.” Horace Barnes was a Boston merchant who sold looking glasses and picture frames. Advertisements from the period indicate that he would sometimes exhibit works of art by local artists in his shop windows to sell, so it is entirely possible that he commissioned famous Boston architect, illustrator, artist, and designer Hammatt Billings, who also completed the original illustrations for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the design for that National Monument to the Forefathers at Plymouth. Crutchett may have known Barnes from his gas lighting business, since the Boston man was listed as the president of the East Boston Gas Light Company during this time in the Boston City Directory. It is likely that the two went into business together on the mementoes with Barnes focusing on the prints, and Crutchett focusing on the frame.

Close-up of the memento.

Even though Crutchett aimed to capitalize on the Washington craze sweeping the nation, he seemed concerned that these mass-produced relics would be perceived as exploitative. He attempted to paint his endeavor with a noble brush, dedicating a portion of his sales to “ultimately [aid] the building of the ‘Washington National Monument,’ and also the purchase and restoration of the ‘Home of Washington.’” An 1860 Boston Courier advertisement explicitly stated that one-tenth of the proceeds would go to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, and Crutchett bragged in 1861 about the multiple thank-you notes he received from the Washington National Monument Board and Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association for his contributions.

The Mount Vernon Cane Factory after it was turned into a Soldiers Rest. Soldiers Rest, Washington, D.C., Charles. Magnus, 1864. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2011647024/.

George Washington’s popularity soared during the antebellum period as people tried to use his image to unify an increasingly divided country, but as the Civil War broke out, the focus on Mount Vernon and George Washington waned. In 1861, the Union army seized Crutchett’s house and factory, converting the house into a headquarters for the officers and the factory into a soldiers’ retreat. The army maintained control of the property for five years, during which much of his material was “used, destroyed, and taken away, and the larger portion, which has required the longest time and the largest outlay to prepare for final use, […] rendered unfit and valueless.” (6) During his deposition against the U.S. government in 1871, Crutchett grumbled that this loss made him unable to “resuscitate and revive his former business.” (7) He attempted to sell his mementos again in 1881, though he was not as successful since the popularity for cheap, mass-produced Washington mementos had declined.

While the “Mount Vernon gem” highlights the enduring popularity of George Washington, it also provides a window into the spirit of antebellum America. Manufactured on the cusp of the Civil War, the memento celebrates the unifying “Father of His Country,” who fought a war to create the nation that was about to be torn in two.

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 souvenirs.

References

O’Gorman, James F. Accomplished in All Departments of Art: Hammatt Billings of Boston, 1818-1874. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Rotenstein, David S. “The Civil War, George Washington, and the Mount Vernon Factory.” History Sidebar (blog). July 18, 2011. http://blog.historian4hire.net/2011/07/18/mount-vernon-factory/

1.  Crutchett, Appeal.

2. James Crutchett, Before the Joint English and American Commission: James Crutchett (British Subject) vs. The United States (Washington, D.C.: National Republican Office Print, 1871), 4.

3. James Crutchett, Appeal of James Crutchett to the Government of the United States for Property They Forcibly Seized and Destroyed. Washington, D.C.: 1861.

4. The Lowell Daily Citizen and News, January 2, 1858, 2.

5. “Washington Canes,” Farmer’s Cabinet, Jan 5, 1858, 2.

6. “Mount Vernon Mementoes,” Daily National Intelligencer, Aug 1, 1860.

7. “Mount Vernon Mementos, Mount Vernon Mementos, Mount Vernon Mementos!” Daily National Intelligencer Feb 26, 1859.

Posted in antiques, collection, Conservation, Decorative Arts, George Washington, museum collection, President's Day, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


The Many Faces of George Washington

First page of Rembrandt Peale’s “Washington and his Portraits” lecture. Collection 396, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library.

Late in life, artist Rembrandt Peale (1778–1860) embarked on a mission to introduce a new generation to George Washington, a person he felt a certain affinity with since they shared a February 22 birthday, albeit 46 years apart. Washington certainly loomed large throughout Peale’s long, productive career as a frequent subject of his numerous original works and of copies of portraits by other artists, a common practice for earning additional revenue streams. By the late 1850s, Peale, the last remaining artist who painted Washington from life, traveled the lecture circuit with his talk “Washington and His Portraits.” The lecture stands as a unique primary source for details and reminiscences of the Founding Father and the artists who painted him.¹ 

Ticket to Peale’s lecture. Collection 66, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library.

Early in his talk, Peale provided a description of Washington: “six feet one inch in height – in his boots, six feet two – His weight about two hundred & twenty pounds – his complexion was florid – Eyes of the deepest blue – and hair a dark brown.”  Yet more importantly, he was interested in whether the subject’s personality and character shone through in the portraits. Using his copies of a number of paintings, Peale offered his opinions on their successes and failures. Did he believe that any artist captured the full essence of George Washington during the many stages of his life—soldier, statesman, president?

George Washington sat for his first portrait in 1772 for Rembrandt’s father, Charles Willson Peale, the only painter he used for nearly 20 years. Seven years later, the elder Peale painted the first full-length portrait of Washington, which depicted the 1777 victory against the British at Princeton, as a commission for the Pennsylvania State House. The artist, capitalizing on the hero’s popularity even abroad, sent one of his many copies to Benjamin West in London who handed it over to others to be engraved for sale on the lucrative secondary market. The resulting print, readily available to more households than any painting, shows many modifications in Washington’s face, figure, and positioning.  Commenting on these two paintings by his father, Rembrandt Peale noted that they “represent him with short neck & broad, sloping shoulders” and “sometimes wanting energy of expression, with noses & eyes defectively small, ” but still depicted a “majestic” figure. 

Print based on Charles Willson Peale’s painting General Washington at Princeton, original at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Drawn by Thomas Stothard and engraved by Valentine Green, 1785. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1954.0501

By 1790 Charles Willson Peale’s monopoly ended as the growing demand for images of the newly elected first president of the nation created opportunities for many more artists. One new artist, John Trumbull, had served as Washington’s aide-de-camp in the early years of the Revolution. With his first-hand knowledge of his subject as a soldier, Trumbull chose to commemorate the 1782 review of the French troops at Verplanck’s Point in New York and later adapted this into a full-length copy for New York City Hall.

Washington at Verplanck’s Point, painted by John Trumbull, 1790. Gift of Henry Francis du Pont 1964.2201

Trumbull again modified this painting two years later, maintaining Washington’s “heroic military character” in an earlier moment at Trenton after crossing the Delaware River in 1776.  Instead of responding to Trumbull’s intended noble representation of Washington, Peale found the latter work exuded a “graceful elegance” but wanting “the peculiar dignity of Washington” and stated that although the artist preferred this one, he found the earlier work a better likeness. 

In his recollection of the autumn of 1795, Rembrandt Peale described both he and Gilbert Stuart simultaneously painting Washington for their first time, with Washington unable to return the following day for a second sitting with him as he had already promised to sit for Stuart that day. While this portrait was Peale’s only one done from life, Stuart was granted sittings for more portraits soon after. Peale correctly noted that Stuart’s second portrait became the standard one, later reproduced on America’s one-dollar bill. Stuart found his sitter “difficult to engage in conversation,” unaware of the cause until later—a new set of teeth that made speaking painful. Stuart was dissatisfied with his first portrait, whereas Peale considered it better in the lower portion of the face than the second one for the same reason.  

One of Gilbert Stuart’s many replicas of his first Washington portrait, also known as the Vaughan portrait, 1795-96. Gift of Henry Francis du Pont 1957.0857

How successful were artists in capturing Washington? According to Rembrandt Peale, Washington’s “family & Friends lamented that they possessed no Portrait of him which they considered entirely satisfactory.” Peale agreed, although admitted that each “possessed some peculiar merit.” He himself struggled to create a worthy portrait, but was finally convinced he had achieved success with his 17th painting of Washington, Patriæ Pater (1823–24), now owned by the U.S. Senate. 

Despite various deficiencies, interpretations, and distortions evident in all the arts works portraying George Washington, the works themselves and the sheer number and ubiquity of them have forever embedded George Washington in our minds as the Father of our Country.

Post by Jeanne Solensky, Librarian, Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Winterthur Library

Further reading:

Howard, Hugh. The Painter’s Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art. New York: Bloomsbury Press. 2009.

Staiti, Paul. Of Arms and Artists: The American Revolution through Painters’ Eyes. New York: Bloomsbury Press. 2016.

¹Variants of this lecture exist in other repositories.  The copy in Winterthur Library’s Peale Family Papers (Collection 396) is the basis for quotes and information in this post. 

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Making a Meal of it—Preparing for Winterthur’s Upcoming Dining Exhibition

Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table, opening April 1, 2018, takes a fresh look at the history of dining and dinnerware from the 1600s through modern times and celebrates how hosts and hostesses have brought the natural world into their dining rooms over the centuries. Everything from painted butterflies and hand-modeled flowers to tureens in the shapes of the foods served in them will be on view, set among a fascinating range of ceramic and silver tableware. 

Plate from dinner service ordered by Ulysses S. Grant and his wife. Porcelain, China, 1879. Gift of Daniel and Serga Nadler 2014.16.234

The show will feature more than 500 objects, requiring more than 50 staff members and contractors to be involved in the project! Setting up an exhibition is more complicated than you might realize. Take, for instance what’s involved in creating a single display for this show, such as the 1700s table plan, which will be displayed hanging on a wall.

Consider the fact that for centuries, elegant dinner tables have been laid out in formal, bilaterally symmetrical (mirror-image) arrangements. Many early cookbooks not only provided recipes but also included table plans illustrating how to lay out the dishes. After reviewing many such plans, I settled on one showing a first course for a banquet from Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper.  Although Winterthur includes the book in its library, Kansas State University has one in better condition and is letting us borrow an image. 

First course of a banquet, from Elizabeth Raffald’s Experienced English Housekeeper (Manchester, England: 1769). Courtesy Kansas State University

Besides being an excellent example of such table plans, this one has the right dish shapes to match Winterthur’s assembled Chinese export porcelain dinner service in the German or Saxonian floral pattern.

Plates in German or Saxonian flower pattern. Porcelain, China, 1760–80. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1966.566.184 (front-facing plate)

Twenty-five plates and dishes were needed to reproduce the table plan. Fortunately, the service includes more than 250 objects. Unfortunately, they are dispersed throughout display and storage areas in the nine-floor museum building.  So joined and assisted by graduate student Becca Duffy from the University of Delaware/Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, I headed off on a quest.

Ceramics from the service on display in The China Shop at Winterthur

Examples of plates from the storage areas

In addition to narrowing down the choices to objects that were of the right proportions and were not in need of conservation, we looked closely at the colors painted on each plate and dish.  As is true of other patterns, German or Saxonian floral designs were popular and were created over many years. During a period when colors were mixed by the batch, shades might differ dramatically on dinnerware produced at different times.  The full Winterthur service for example, has some shades of purple that are quite pink, while others have bluer tones. For the display, we wanted to select pieces with closely matching colors.

Once a likely group of about 50 objects was selected, we gathered them together in the Ceramics and Glass Study so we could narrow the choices down to 25 objects. A space approximating the size of a mid-1700s dinner table was taped off on the floor, and we began laying out the pattern.

Curator Leslie Grigsby and graduate student Becca Duffy select dishes for the table layout

The completed arrangement

After the arrangement was finally completed, it was photographed.  Then the accession (collection) number was listed, and measurements were taken for each object.  These were reproduced on a sketch that showed the placement of each plate and dish. 

Superimposed on the 1700s table plan, this numbered sketch includes measurements of each plate and dish in the display

The sketch was then shared with the exhibition designer, Doug MacDonald, so that he could complete the measured elevation view that will be so important when exhibition installation begins in March.  Hats off to Doug, who had an even greater involvement in the placement of all of the other hundreds of objects in the show! 

Designer Doug MacDonald’s elevation (wall) view of the dinnerware installation

And is all the work for this one display done, yet?  No way! Special mounts will be made for each plate and dish, and it all will be installed on a purpose-built backdrop, approximating the size of an early dinner table. But that’s a story for another day.

Be sure to join us for Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table at Winterthur, April 1, 2018, through January 6, 2019!

This is the first in a series of posts about the making of the Dining by Design exhibition.

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

Posted in Academic Programs, Behind-the-Scenes, Ceramics, chinese export porcelain, collection, Decorative Arts, exhibition, Exhibitions, galleries, museum collection, Students & Alumni, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment


The Precarious Profession of Painting

John Lewis Krimmel, Sketch of bill collectors confronting artist, 1813. Collection 308, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

Early in his career, painter John Lewis Krimmel sketched a scene of two men demanding payment from a distraught artist seated at his easel, wife and children helplessly witnessing his shame. Krimmel may have been practicing his compositional skills in this drawing for the well-populated genre scenes he later excelled in, but the subject matter remains intriguing. To what extent did this young artist worry about his future?

Krimmel arrived in Philadelphia from Ebingen, Germany, by way of England around 1809, joining his older brother George who emigrated two years earlier. Mostlyself-taught, he most likely had some prior watercolor instruction while working in England before enrolling in classes and exhibiting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in the early 1810s. Philadelphia in the early republic was a budding artistic center, and here he rubbed shoulders with fellow painters Thomas Sully and Rembrandt Peale. Throughout the decade, he stayed busy painting landscapes and people of different ages, classes, and races, and exhibiting at PAFA. His career seemed to be gaining traction with his election as president of the Association of American Artists in 1821. Tragically, only several months later, Krimmel drowned in a mill pond in Germantown, Pennsylvania, at age 35. This sketch of a poor artist was never rendered in oil on canvas, but was somewhat prophetic as the 18 paintings listed in Krimmel’s probate inventory were sold to pay off his debts.

Krimmel had every right to worry as factors beyond an artist’s control made painterly pursuits an unstable career choice. Artists depended on physical attributes—mobility, steadiness of hand, acuity of vision—that could easily be damaged and definitely diminished over time. Additionally, changing tastes and fickle patrons could easily cause painters to fall out of favor. More successful painters possessed a good business sense and savviness to help them manage expenses, navigate distribution networks, and attract and retain wealthy patrons.

Even a noted painter like Benjamin West encountered patrons who were lax about payment. West himself enjoyed a long and successful career in London beginning in 1763 with accolades and patronage coming easily. He was appointed historical painter to King George III in 1772 and later served as president of the Royal Academy. Enormously influential, he trained numerous artists in his studio. However, while working on a portrait of Sir John Sinclair, West wrote under the guise of the need for another sitting “to assist…with the price of that portrait” as he had “considerable demands…in the course of this week.” Sinclair of Ulbster, First Baronet, was a Scottish politician, financier, economist, and author of several books who perhaps simply overlooked a promised payment to West amidst his busy schedule. West knew to tread carefully so as not to be left with an unpaid canvas by offending his notable client who could easily disparage him to potential clients. The letter apparently worked and accounts settled as Sinclair’s portrait was finished. It currently hangs in Wick Town Hall in Scotland.

Benjamin West, Letter to Sir John Sinclair, 1801. Collection 394, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

Not all issues between artists and patrons were resolved to mutual satisfaction. George Hite, a portrait and miniature painter, wrote to Elisha Wilcox in 1854 enclosing a bill for $40 due for a miniature. Interestingly, he mentioned his usual practice of painting from a daguerreotype of a sitter to save on time-consuming sittings. The first miniature “failed to suit the whim,” causing a second attempt from the same daguerreotype due to the “great press of business” on Wilcox’s time. Although Hite wasn’t fully satisfied himself with his effort, he “completed the experiment” and doubly appealed to the reluctant patron from a “business point of view” and a “point of Honour” for compensation. Wilcox immediately responded upon receipt of Hite’s letter. He took offense at Hite’s remark regarding honor and stated he was ready to fulfill his part of the contract, but only if the work was satisfactory. He refused to pay for “miserable execution.”

George Hite, Letter to Elisha Wilcox, 1854. Collection 361, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

George Hite, Letter to Elisha Wilcox, 1854. Collection 361, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

Elisha Wilcox, Letter to George Hite, 1854. Collection 361, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

Elisha Wilcox, Letter to George Hite, 1854. Collection 361, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

The trail stops there and whether a compromise was reached remains a mystery. A search through New York City directories offers additional information on the client. Wilcox was a dry goods merchant who moved his home and business several times in the 1850s. His store, located either on or just off Broadway throughout the decade, moved steadily northward, reflecting the quick settlement uptown of the time. Wilcox must have been keeping apace with that trend to capitalize on business opportunities. As he was becoming more successful or aspiring to greater heights, having his portrait painted, even in miniature, symbolized his growing status. An astute businessman could easily detect quality—was Wilcox sincerely unhappy with Hite’s work or was he merely reluctant to pay?

Now immortalized through their paintings, artists’ personal lives and struggles are often overlooked. Their sketches and letters help to remind us of those details and bring them to life, adding dimensions to the artworks beyond a surface appreciation for them.

Post by Jeanne Solensky, Librarian, Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Winterthur Library

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