H. F. du Pont’s Chestertown House

Chestertown House, from the water, 1937

Chestertown House, from the water, 1937

It’s 1919, and you have a one-year-old daughter. Wilmington summers can be oppressive, and in these days before widespread air-conditioning, there is not much relief. Where do you go to escape the heat? Fortunately at that time, if you were wealthy, you had many options—the beach, the mountains, or a European trip. I wonder about the conversations between Henry Francis du Pont and his wife Ruth when they were discussing the possibilities. People in the du Pont’s social circle in that era tended to congregate in familiar places with friends and family. In some cases, it was as if you transported the elite of a city en masse to these retreats. Philadelphians favored Northeast Harbor, Maine, Jamestown, Rhode Island, or the Poconos. Many New Yorkers relocated to the Hamptons or the Adirondacks. Families from Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Cleveland often summered in places like Hyannis Port or Osterville on Cape Cod or the Great Lakes resorts or Canada.

The du Pont family had no single destination, but Rehoboth Beach, the Chesapeake, Maine, and Fishers Island, New York, all had their devotees. H. F. and Ruth du Pont made a different choice—Southampton on Long Island. Winterthur may have produced the happiest moments and memories for H. F., but for Ruth it was Southampton where she had summered as a girl. Both her grandfather, Salem Howe Wales, and her uncle, Elihu Root, enjoyed shingle-style houses with wide porches and lawns. So in 1919, the H. F. du Pont and family joined the summer colony, renting a house for the season. In 1924 they decided to build, buying a choice piece of land along the dunes of recently opened Meadow Lane.

Having visited the Webb’s Shelburne in Vermont the previous year, H. F. was set on an American-style house. He picked the architects who designed the Webb’s “The Brick House”—the firm of Cross & Cross of New York. Henry Davis Sleeper would help create the interiors while Marian Coffin would create the landscape. In 1925 H. F. du Pont purchased woodwork from an 18th-century house in Chestertown, Maryland, thus inspiring the name of his new summer residence. He never did things in a small or lackadaisical way. Every detail, every piece of furniture, each window treatment, was carefully chosen with regard for color, symmetry, and overall effect.

Chestertown House porch, 1927

Chestertown House porch, 1927

On August 4,, 1926, the du Ponts moved into their new summer house, although since July they had been making the best of temporary quarters at the large, new garage—not as uncomfortable as it might sound! Chestertown House with fifty rooms, including nine bedrooms and eleven full bathrooms, was not your typical seaside home. Photos of the interiors and the terraced lawn looking out to the Atlantic, seem completely in keeping with H. F.’s style, overlaid with Ruth’s desire for a less-formal house than Winterthur.

Chestertown House terrace, Henry Francis du Pont, Ruth Wales du Pont, Pauline Louise du Pont, Ruth Ellen du Pont, ca. 1930

Chestertown House terrace, Henry Francis du Pont, Ruth Wales du Pont, Pauline Louise du Pont, Ruth Ellen du Pont, ca. 1930

I look at the images of the rooms and they remind me of many other summer houses of the du Pont’s social set. Less high-style furniture and ceramics and more simple pieces of pine or maple, hooked rugs, ship models, quilts, brightly colored ceramics, and pewter. The ornately carved Philadelphia Chippendale and elaborate Chinese Export porcelains would come later. It has often been said that Chestertown was his incubator house, where he first experimented with decorating with American objects and an innovative use of color. It became the foundation for Winterthur, and he even considered that someday it might also be a museum. But in 1931, after the major expansion of Winterthur, H. F. began to move some pieces to his Delaware house and eventually, even elements of historic architecture. Now Chestertown could remain more of a family home—Ruth’s place to get away and relax with her daughters and then grandchildren.

Chestertown House living room, note the pine and maple furniture and hooked rugs, 1927

Chestertown House living room, note the pine and maple furniture and hooked rugs, 1927

So what became of Chestertown House? Despite a brief consideration of selling it in 1933 as the Depression weighed heavily on family finances, they kept it. The house meant summer to several generations of this branch of the du Pont family and is remembered fondly by current members. With H. F.’s death in 1969, some objects came to Winterthur, many went to his daughters, and others were sold. The fate of the house itself is not a happy tale. After brief notoriety when it was owned by Andy Warhol’s inner-circle member Baby Jane Holzer in the 1980s, it mutated into Dragon’s Head, a turreted castle complete with basement shark tank. Obviously the new owner, Barry Turpin, had a rather different idea than H. F. about what made an attractive summer house. Stripped of most of its historic interiors, it continued to change under subsequent ownership and renaming, eventually named Eylsium. For more see http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/01/nyregion/long-island/01colli.html.

When fashion designer Calvin Klein purchased it in 2003 (now a long way from the original Chestertown House stylewise), he used the house occasionally but it clearly did not meet his needs. Architect Michael Haverland designed a new house referencing mid-century style, looking out over the dunes. The soon-to-be-demolished house was such a far cry from H. F.’s elegant residence that it was not hard for many of us to see it go, just a bit wistful to recall what it once had been. Happily, some of the few intact elements of historic paneling were removed before the demolition, and an architect working in traditional styles incorporated them into a new house.

So in these hot summer months, play a little game. Give yourself a nearly unlimited budget to buy a summer place and decide—where would I choose?

To learn more about Chestertown House see “H.F. du Pont’s Chestertown House, Southampton, New York,” by Joshua Ruff and William Ayres in The Magazine Antiques, July, 2001

Post by Jeff Groff, Director of Interpretation & Estate Historian, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Posted in Decorative Arts, Du Pont Family, House, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


The New South: Reflections on the Future of the Past

The Winterthur Program in American Material Culture (WPAMC) took our annual southern studies field trip recently. Since the last trip occurred, Catharine Dann Roeber has taken over as assistant professor of Decorative Arts and Material Culture, and I have stepped into the manager and instructor position in Academic Programs.

In organizing this year’s trip, Catharine and I tried to pay homage to the hallmarks of the traditional southern trip while broadening its scope with new destinations, perspectives, and themes. This meant continuing our pilgrimage to Savannah, Charleston, Columbia, and Winston-Salem while also visiting new locales such as: Asheville, North Carolina, to see Biltmore, the Grove Park Inn, and Black Mountain College; Cherokee, North Carolina, to visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian; Greensboro, North Carolina, to visit the International Civil Rights Center and Museum; Luray, Virginia, to see the caverns and historic museum; and St. Helena Island, South Carolina, to learn more about Gullah culture.

Although Columbia, South Carolina, has been a stop on the WPAMC’s southern journey before, new developments at Historic Columbia provided an incredible experience for our emerging scholars. A new interpretative framework at the Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home showcased the shift from period rooms to telling the broader story of Columbia during the tumult of Reconstruction—an era which profoundly shaped the worldview of the future president. This change was sparked by a new generation of staff members at Historic Columbia. One of them, our guide and director of education James Quint, explained that the lack of original furniture and documentary evidence of Wilson’s brief time in Columbia resulted in a stale and largely speculative experience for guests. Taking cues from recent scholarship, especially Frank Vagnone’s controversial but acclaimed book The Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums, Historic Columbia preserved the few items of decorative art that definitively belonged to the Wilsons in order to facilitate the telling of a larger story: the rise and fall of Reconstruction in Columbia. Our students were inspired by seeing the lessons of their museum studies classes brought to life in the field.

Trevor Brandt and Michelle Fitzgerald admire the famed “Eight Foot Clock” made by the Roycrofters for the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC

Trevor Brandt and Michelle Fitzgerald admire the famed “Eight Foot Clock” made by the Roycrofters for the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC

One way in which we gave the classics a new twist was by making new connections. At the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA), we toured their incredible collections and were able to talk with students and faculty in their Summer Institute in order to exchange ideas and forge personal bonds, which greatly strengthens the field of material culture.

Historic Columbia has reinterpreted this former period room at the Woodrow Wilson Boyhood home to tell the story of faith and religion in Reconstruction Columbia, SC

Historic Columbia has reinterpreted this former period room at the Woodrow Wilson Boyhood home to tell the story of faith and religion in Reconstruction Columbia, SC

The idea of passing the torch to a new generation was a common refrain on this trip—unmistakable to the ears of instructors. At nearly every stop, our guides and guests stressed the importance of preserving the past by passing it on to present and future generations. In many ways, these men and women were giving our students the gift of their knowledge of the past and entrusting the students with their life’s work.

WPAMC students exploring the collections at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, NC

WPAMC students exploring the collections at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, NC

This was brought to the forefront during our overnight stay on St. Helena Island off the coast of South Carolina. Here we visited the historic Penn Center—the first school established specifically for the education of newly freed slaves. Since its founding, the Penn Center has been a bastion for the preservation of Gullah (descendants of enslaved Africans who lived in the low country of Georgia and South Carolina) culture and a hub for advancing the rights of African Americans nationwide by promoting initiatives for land retention, environmental stewardship, public health, and civil rights. As our students walked along the paths, sat on the dock, swam in the ocean, and slept at the same place where Martin Luther King, Jr. first drafted his “I Have a Dream” speech, they not only learned about this history but the importance of this place to the surrounding community.

WPAMC Class of 2017 relaxing on the dock at the Penn Center, St. Helena Island, SC

WPAMC Class of 2017 relaxing on the dock at the Penn Center, St. Helena Island, SC

This theme carried on to dinner at Gullah Grub, a restaurant specializing in Gullah cuisine. Here, our guide, chef, farmer, woodsman, and Gullah expert, Bill Green brought this culture to life through food. Like the folks at the Penn Center, Bill has turned his focus to the future by bringing on an increasing number of young staff members to learn the ways of Gullah culture: its foodways, its sensibility, and its traditions—on that night, this included the WPAMC class of 2017.

Elsewhere historians, agricultural scientists, chefs, and farmers are preserving the past by bringing it to life. While in Charleston, we visited with Professor David Shields and Dr. Brian Ward at the Clemson Coastal Research Education Center and dined at Chef Sean Brock’s restaurant, Husk. These three men are preserving the past and passing it to the next generation by rediscovering southern foodways. They research historical recipes, account books, and inventories to find plants such as Carolina Gold Rice, the Bradford Watermelon, and other heirloom crops and replant them in the places where they once grew in abundance. Their bounty ends up on the plates of guests in restaurants to help preserve the culture of the past in a delicious way.

The fellows watching Bill Green cook up a delicious Low Country Shrimp Boil at Gullah Grub on St. Helena Island, SC. The secret to good food: smiling while cooking!

The fellows watching Bill Green cook up a delicious Low Country Shrimp Boil at Gullah Grub on St. Helena Island, SC. The secret to good food: smiling while cooking!

Finally, our students realized the importance of the future of stewardship at Prestwould Plantation. Dr. Julian Hudson, the longtime director, casually remarked that he was looking for one of our bright, young students to take his place at Prestwould in the not-so-distant future. While it was easy for our students to dispatch the comment as flattery, Dr. Hudson revealed a real concern—the future of Prestwould after his departure. Dr. Hudson was telling the students that they were the future of places such as Prestwould and it would one day be up to them to assume the mantle. He was right. There is no one better prepared to do just that than the students at Winterthur.

Our lunch guest, Dr. David Shields, provided the Benne seeds that topped our delicious bread at Husk, Charleston, SC

Our lunch guest, Dr. David Shields, provided the Benne seeds that topped our delicious bread at Husk, Charleston, SC

Winterthur field trips are not just about visiting new places, meeting new people, and discovering the American past—they are about educating and inspiring the next generation of museum professionals, academics, and educators. In one short year, they will be charged with preserving and promoting the past to a wide audience, but the fact of the matter is they have already been doing this—the southern trip just gave them further inspiration. I for one cannot wait to see the ways in which they will take the gift of the past and bring it to life for many years to come.

Post by Thomas A. Guiler, Manager and Instructor, Academic Programs

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


True Colors: Light Damage and Historic Needlework

This January, Winterthur acquired at auction a canvaswork picture associated with a group of needlework made in the Boston, Massachusetts, area. This embroidery, circa 1750, was created by Mary Perrin of Roxbury, Massachusetts. In many ways, the needlework is in excellent condition and even retains its original frame. A very different object was revealed, however, when the work was removed from the frame. The culprit? Light damage!

Light damage is commonly seen on textiles. To observe the effects in your own home, simply pull back a curtain that has been hanging for some time; the side facing the window likely has faded to a lighter hue. The effects of light are cumulative and non-reversible. So if you have ever wondered why many rooms in a museum are dimly lit, now you know. In addition to causing the fading of dyed materials, light can also make textiles brittle and yellowed. After 266 years of varying exposure, the front of Mary Perrin’s needlework has changed from a vibrant composition, still visible on the protected back, into the more muted picture on display today.

Details of a needlework picture showing the protected back side on the left and the light-exposed front surface on the right, Mary Perrin (1737–1815), Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1750, wool, silk and metallic thread on linen. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Henry Francis du Pont Collectors Circle 2016.66.

Details of a needlework picture showing the protected back side on the left and the light-exposed front surface on the right, Mary Perrin (1737–1815), Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1750, wool, silk and metallic thread on linen. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Henry Francis du Pont Collectors Circle 2016.66.

Left: Back showing vibrant colors. Right: front, faded by light, as seen on display.

Left: Back showing vibrant colors. Right: front, faded by light, as seen on display.

If you want to learn more about light damage and other threats to historic textiles, check out this excellent web content from the Canadian Institute for Conservation: http://canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1439925170741

Post by Lea Lane, Elizabeth and Robert Owens Curatorial Fellow

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


Not Your Average Cleaning

 

Faced with the challenge of washing 42 windows one might think it would take at least a team of people a whole day to accomplish this task, but not when you have us on the job! Especially if those windows happen to be only a few inches in size.

Down and dirty! That is how we spent our time getting Nancy’s dollhouse to sparkle and shine, inside and out. In broad terms, the processes closely resembled the spring cleaning of a full-size house with dusting, vacuuming, mopping, and, of course, window washing. However, because of the dollhouse’s size and condition, there were some changes to the common procedure. For example, dusting and sweeping were performed with small, soft, bristle brushes and a Nilfisk variable speed vacuum with small, interchangeable nozzles. The window glass was cleaned using distilled water, in addition to Mineral Spirits, which helped remove wax residue, greasy films, and distracting paint splatter. We then brought the glass to a high shine with a microfiber cloth and more distilled water. General dirt and grime were removed from the exterior walls with white, rubber erasers before being gently wiped down with distilled water on Kimwipes and cotton swabs. These steps were also implemented on the interior walls, but only after first removing the large quantities of wax and Blu-Tack from the walls, floors, and mantels. We did this by gently scraping off large masses with small spatulas, followed by using mineral spirits and distilled water on cotton swabs when necessary.

These procedures represent the first of many steps to improve the appearance and stability of Nancy’s beloved dollhouse, so that it can be preserved and enjoyed in the many years to come in its new home at Winterthur Museum. In the coming weeks we will likely be taking on more complex challenges in regard to conservation treatment, especially when dealing with certain structural and aesthetic components of house, in addition to the large variety of materials that make up the many miniature objects that will fill it.

To read more dollhouse-related blog posts:

http://museumblog.winterthur.org/2016/07/05/a-doll-mansion/

http://museumblog.winterthur.org/2016/07/08/a-sticky-situation-in-the-doll-mansion/

http://museumblog.winterthur.org/2016/07/15/toilet-paper-but-no-toilet-in-the-doll-mansion/

Post by Karissa Muratore and Amanda Kasman, University of Delaware Art Conservation undergraduates doing a summer internship at Winterthur Museum

Posted in Academic Programs, Behind-the-Scenes, Decorative Arts, Dollhouse, galleries, museum collection, Students & Alumni, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


A Tale of Two Thrones

The quality of the materials and the effort that has gone into Nancy McDaniel’s dollhouse are unquestionably noteworthy, but perhaps the most delightful quality of the house are the stories that accompany it. This is one of our favorite stories.

It may not come as a surprise that Nancy’s dollhouse was inspired by Queen Mary’s dollhouse in Windsor Castle. On a family trip to England in 1977, the McDaniel family was led past the dollhouse on a tour only to find that Nancy could not be torn away from it. Immediately upon returning home, she began the search for the perfect dollhouse maker. It wasn’t until 1984 that she found him, a dollhouse maker with a dozen helpers situated in a small town an hour outside of London.

queen mary

Upon visiting his large workshop and seeing the quality of his work, she knew he was the craftsman she had been looking for. The only problem was the largest dollhouses he built were just 10 rooms, and Nancy wanted a “doll mansion.” After complex negotiations, the house was built and shipped in 1985.

Upon its arrival in Connecticut, she had the house fully electrified and a real slate roof added. She then began assembling the many rooms. While the house itself is not a replica of the queen’s dollhouse, Nancy did celebrate her original inspiration by having her dollhouse bathroom closely resemble the king’s bathroom in Queen Mary’s dollhouse.

Queen Mary bathroom from Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/pin/438889926160376506/

Queen Mary bathroom from Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/pin/438889926160376506/

Furnished with green and white marble bathtubs and countertops, Nancy wanted the master bathroom to be perfect. Nancy’s close friend and collaborator on the dollhouse, Jill Chase, recalls, “Nancy was having a hard time finding a nice looking mini roll of toilet paper. She rejected many as not good enough. We finally found one she liked and we got home and opened the house to put it in, only to realize that that bathroom didn’t have a toilet! We laughed and felt silly then decided that they must use a chamber pot.”

Nancy's Royal Bathroom- Furnished

Stay tuned for more fun stories like this one in the coming weeks.

Post by Karissa Muratore and Amanda Kasman, University of Delaware Art Conservation undergraduates doing a summer internship at Winterthur Museum

Posted in Academic Programs, Behind-the-Scenes, Decorative Arts, Dollhouse, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments


Wanna Fight About It?

Last week when I was in London to present a lecture to the English Ceramic Circle, I had the opportunity to revisit the British Museum, one of my favorite museums in the world. As always, I made a beeline to the classical galleries, particularly those focusing on ancient Greece and Rome. Many of the works there remind me that even though thousands of years may have passed the needs of humans remain basically unchanged, including the need to be entertained.

Although I am not a fan of violence, I was struck by a wonderful pair of ancient Roman ceramic boxers (a popular form of entertainment in Greek and Roman times). The British Museum’s boxers have quite a lot in common with fighters dating much later in Winterthur’s collection. Below are the British Museum’s unglazed earthenware boxers, which date to a century or so before the time of Christ.

African boxers, terracotta, Roman, possibly made in Italy, 2nd or 1st century BCE. British Museum GR 1852.4-1.1, 2

African boxers, terracotta, Roman, possibly made in Italy, 2nd or 1st century BCE. British Museum GR 1852.4-1.1, 2

According to the British Museum’s caption, “The older, balding boxer is staggering back from an upper cut. Their gloves are Roman caestus, equipped with balls of lead to give a brutal blow.” Nearby text reminds us that back when such objects were being made, boxing was not only important as a spectator sport but it also was an essential skill learned by soldiers.

Nearly 2,000 years later, ceramic boxers were being produced and admired in England.  Unlike the apparently anonymous ancient fighters, the Staffordshire pearlware examples at Winterthur portray important boxing matches that were reported in newspapers. The two single (free-standing) boxers shown below represent the English bare-knuckle fighters Tom Cribb and Tom Molyneux. The inspirations for the models may be an 1812 print celebrating the duo’s famous second fight.

Tom Cribb and Tom Molyneaux, earthenware (pearlware), Staffordshire, England, 1812–15. Gift of Thomas N. and A. Pat Bernard 2002.30.39.1-.2

Tom Cribb and Tom Molyneaux, earthenware (pearlware), Staffordshire, England, 1812–15. Gift of Thomas N. and A. Pat Bernard 2002.30.39.1-.2

Winterthur’s second boxing group commemorates an 1860 match between New Yorker John Carmel Heenan and the champion of England, Tom Sayers. Although the ceramic fighters might not look all that ferocious, the boxing match was considered by many to be the most savage of the 1800s. The fight ended in a draw, and both fighters were awarded a champion’s belt.

John Heenan and Tom Sayers, earthenware (white), Staffordshire, England, 1860–65. Inscribed “HEENAN.SAYERS.” Gift of Thomas N. and A. Pat Bernard 2002.30.41

John Heenan and Tom Sayers, earthenware (white), Staffordshire, England, 1860–65. Inscribed “HEENAN.SAYERS.” Gift of Thomas N. and A. Pat Bernard 2002.30.41

The figures shown here were not the only ones to portray such subjects, and similar themes remain popular through modern times. Just go online and do a search on Mohammed Ali and ceramics and you’ll see what I mean!

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

 

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


A Sticky Situation in the Doll “Mansion”

You were introduced to Winterthur’s doll “mansion” in our previous blog post, and already the museum visitors have expressed lots of anticipation for the doll house’s Yuletide debut in 2016. Before that can happen, however, various conservation problems must first be solved.

The prevalence of Blu-tack and wax in many rooms and on many miniatures is one such problem. Blu-Tack was used because of its superior ability to hold heavy objects of many materials firmly in place. In the long-term, however, Blu-Tack poses the risk of staining porous materials due to the mineral oil within it and causing surface loss in addition to collateral damage if the adhesive fails. Wax, while collecting dust and grime, is generally regarded as having fewer deterioration-related risks. For this reason, we intend to remove as much Blu-Tack and old wax as possible, replacing it with the minimum amount of fresh wax. In most cases, objects can be held as firmly with wax as Blu-Tack, but miniature paintings on the walls, for example, will require a stronger adhesive in the absence of Blu-Tack. Since each piece of wall decor is different, ranging from lightweight textiles to metal racks filled with pans and even antique daguerreotypes, we are currently researching and testing a variety of methods appropriate for each case.

Rm 11- Royal Bathroom - Excessive Blu-Tack on walls Rm 17- Nancy's Bedrrom - Blu Tack on sensative wall paper

Another issue is the lifting and cracking of the inlaid wood veneer floor in the living room, along with more minor cracking in two other rooms and the complete separation of the linoleum-like flooring in the kitchen. In the coming week, we hope to identify which adhesive will work best for each material and issue, so that we can implement them before commencing reinstallation.

Rm 3- Living Room- Lifting Inlaid wood floors (2)

An additional material of interest in the dollhouse is sterling silver. Many of the decorative serving objects and utensils do not simply seem like silver, but, in fact, are silver, most of which were fashioned by Peter Acquisto and Guglielmo Cini, and some of which were special order items. Unfortunately, since silver has a tendency to tarnish and a number of the objects are already showing signs of such, we had to address the problem thinking long term. We could certainly polish the silver, but since disturbing the installed furnishing could compromise the preservation of the house as a whole, we have decided, after research and consultation, to lacquer the silver. This will allow the pieces to remain untarnished for decades to come.

Room6-4- dinning room table setting close up Room3-7- close up of tea set

All of these treatments and more, usually performed in conservation labs that are out of the public eye, will be done in an accessible space near the entry of the Galleries. We encourage you to come visit us, stay a while, and chat with us as you observe our progress in readying the dollhouse for its Yuletide debut.

Post by Karissa Muratore and Amanda Kasman, University of Delaware Art Conservation undergraduates doing a summer internship at Winterthur Museum

Posted in Academic Programs, Art Conservation, Decorative Arts, Design, House, Students & Alumni, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments


A Doll “Mansion”

Doll House overall front view resized (2)Often the first reaction upon seeing Nancy McDaniel’s dollhouse is a gasp. It is a 6-foot-by-3-foot, slate- roofed, fully electrified dollhouse inspired by Queen Mary’s dollhouse in England, it was left to Winterthur when Nancy McDaniel passed away recently.

We are lucky enough to have a summer internship to conserve, clean, and reassemble the dollhouse to put on display for Winterthur visitors.

With only 10 weeks to accomplish the damage assessment, treatment of the house and objects, reinstallation of all the objects, and research, we knew we needed to create a comprehensive plan.

One of our initial concerns was the potential pest infestation of the many textiles that had been in boxes for nearly a year. We knew that they needed to be retrieved and treated via the CO2 or freeing chambers; however, they were scattered across 15 boxes. While the boxes themselves were well labeled and organized, some individual items within them were not. We knew if we simply started digging in, the organization painstakingly put in place by the art handlers would have been lost, and it would have been easy to lose and/or mix up objects. In an effort to avoid such a catastrophe, we decided that a written and visual inventory would be the best course of action to take first. This allowed us to accomplish four things simultaneously: compile a master list of all the objects and their locations in the dollhouse; evaluate each item closely in order to identify any potential future treatments; set aside the textiles, which threatened to introduce pests into the museum environment, into sealed plastic bins as we came upon them; and gain a familiarity with the objects and rooms that we will be working on for the next nine weeks.

We are happy to report that after two and a half weeks, we have finished both a written and visual inventory of the dollhouse and all the objects and sent a portion of the textiles to be treated. The final document contains an astounding 722 entries, some of which represent multiple objects. Moving forward we plan to treat and clean the house first before focusing on the conservation and installation of the individual rooms. We have been, and will continue to be, working in a space that is viewable to the public on most weekdays from 10:00 am–5:00 pm in the Gallery Theater. Everyone is welcome, and we encourage you to come visit, watch, and ask as many questions as you can think of.

The house will be on display beginning November 19 and, just like Winterthur, it will be decorated for Yuletide this holiday season!

This is the first in a series of posts detailing the process to conserve and reassemble the dollhouse.

Post by Karissa Muratore and Amanda Kasman, University of Delaware Art Conservation undergraduates doing a summer internship at Winterthur Museum

Posted in Academic Programs, Art Conservation, Behind-the-Scenes, Conservation, Decorative Arts, galleries, House, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments


All in the Family

Needlework picture, Mary Perrin (1737–1815), Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1750, wool, silk, and metallic thread on linen. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Henry Francis du Pont Collectors Circle 2016.66.

Needlework picture, Mary Perrin (1737–1815), Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1750, wool, silk, and metallic thread on linen. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Henry Francis du Pont Collectors Circle 2016.66.

Genealogical research on our collection objects often yields surprising insight into the craftsmen, the consumer, and the context in which they mingled. In preparation for our recently opened exhibition, Embroidery: The Language of Art, we explored the family trees of several of our female artists. Unlike most objects from early America, needlework is rife with fodder for such investigations: silken stitches often spell out familial relationships, dates, and locations. Winterthur even has several examples where needlework served as a “family register,” noting over a span of time the life and death dates of individuals who were significant to the maker. For example, Mary Evan’s sampler, begun when she was 10 years old, includes her own death date of November 11, 1888. She intentionally left a blank spot in the composition for a family member to bring the record full circle. Mary’s descendants cared for this register for a century, at which time they generously donated it to Winterthur to share with our visitors.

sampler

This January, Winterthur acquired, at auction, a canvaswork picture associated with a group of needlework made in the Boston, Massachusetts, area. This piece, which retains its original frame, depicts a genteel couple at a tea table in a gently rolling landscape dotted with a house, windmill, and even a beehive. Attached to the back of the frame were a number of notes that referenced late 19th- and 20th-century individuals. With this information, we were able to determine how the object moved within the family over the generations. Several gaps in the line were left, which we pieced together using wills, census records, family and local histories, and even newspaper notices. The Perrin, Bradlee, and Crowninshield names were repeated over the centuries, an enduring link to deep, proudly held roots in the Boston area.

In fact, this discovery even led to a surprising connection to one of our exhibition staff members, Amy Marks Delaney, who helped bring the Embroidery: The Language of Art –exhibition to life. When Amy heard about the newly acquired needlework, she quickly realized that she was a descendant of the same Perrin family! While her ancestor was Mary Perrin’s uncle and the object may never have been in the care of that particular family line, Amy’s unexpected link to the Perrin needlework is, nevertheless, a great example of the connections across time and space that genealogy can bring to life.

Provenance of Mary Perrin Needlework Picture

Mary Perrin (May) 1737–1815

To her son

Perrin May 1767–1844

To his daughter

Mary Perrin May (Bradlee) 1815–1877

To her daughter

Alice Bradlee (Chase) 1846–1925

To her niece

 Katharine Bradlee Crowninshield (Davis) 1874–1935

To her daughter

 Katharine Bradlee Davis (Hammond) 1910–

  To

Elizabeth Crowninshield (Hammond)

Estate sold at Northeast Auction 1993

Collection of Anita & Erwin Schorsch

Purchased by Winterthur at Sotheby’s auction January 2016

An associated book, Embroidery: The Language of Art, is available for purchase at the Winterthur Bookstore.

Post by Lea C. Lane, Elizabeth and Robert Owens Curatorial Fellow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Looking West: The Frontier Myth in Currier and Ives’s America

Frances Flora Bond Palmer, Across the Continent. “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way.” 1868, Hand-colored lithograph, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Kathy and Ted Fernberger, 2009, 2009-215-2

Frances Flora Bond Palmer, Across the Continent. “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way.” 1868, Hand-colored lithograph, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Kathy and Ted Fernberger, 2009, 2009-215-2

The American West is seen in the eyes of many as a place of freedom, expression of youth, and the location of some of the most beautiful natural spaces the country has left to offer. The infamous landscapes of Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks have attempted to preserve portions of the West’s natural beauty for posterity, along with the wildlife that once roamed there. Millions of visitors travel to these places every year in an attempt to experience the West as it once was. However mythical this view might be in relation to reality, it belongs to a visual history dating back to America’s formation, which many artists have endorsed through drawing, painting, photography, and print, including Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (1819–1905).

Tait was born in 1819 outside of Manchester, England, and immigrated to New York in 1850 following his marriage to Mary Ann Cardwell.¹ During this time there was major cultural upheaval in the United States. Outside of growing internal tensions over slavery, the U.S. government was struggling to expand westward against the sovereign indigenous tribes that still inhabited the region. Popular support for this expansion was garnered through the idea of Manifest Destiny, conceived of in 1845 by John L. O’Sullivan and visualized in the Currier & Ives’s print Across the Continent. Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way.

Tait began working with the printing firm Currier & Ives in 1852 and soon became one of its most renowned artists. He was best known for his idyllic sporting and animal prints along with his paintings of the outdoors; ² however,  his representations of the West in particular serve as a helpful view into Eastern conceptions of the frontier during the nineteenth century, when many American citizens held the progressive hopes of their nation. Yet if we look more deeply at Tait’s images and their place within imagery of the West, we can see their romantic vision as a frontier myth built on promoting expansion.

Since Tait never actually travelled to the West himself, his representations of it are a combination of the literary, oral, and artistic descriptions he encountered. Tait’s sympathies with the artist George Catlin (1796–1872) can be seen in the latter’s description of the frontier:

“But who has seen the vivid lightnings, and heard the roaring thunder of the rolling conflagration which sweeps over the deep-clad prairies of the West? Who has dashed, on his wild horse, through an ocean of grass, with the raging tempest at his back, rolling over the land its swelling waves of liquid fire?” ³

Catlin’s words come to life in Tait’s romanticized Life on the Prairie. The Buffalo Hunt, where white men in buckskins can be seen on horseback chasing bison through rolling fields of grass.

 Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, Life on the Prairie- The Buffalo Hunt, 1862, Hand-colored lithograph. Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Gift of Charles K. Davis 1953.0155.074.


Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, Life on the Prairie- The Buffalo Hunt, 1862, Hand-colored lithograph. Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Gift of Charles K. Davis 1953.0155.074.

The artist’s embrace of such frontier descriptions is reflected in a self-portrait taken circa 1850. Tait dressed himself in garb reminiscent of Davy Crockett, a man widely known in the period as the “King of the Frontier.” Tait’s multicultural outfit (Americanized buckskin shirt, plains-beaded pouch and moccasins, felt hat, and rifle) illustrate the artist’s romanticized view of the Western frontier as a playground where men played dress up and colonial power had already been asserted.

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, Self-Portrait, ca.1850, Photographic print, Adirondack Museum, 1985.059.0002.

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, Self-Portrait, ca.1850, Photographic print, Adirondack Museum, 1985.059.0002.

Yet the idea of the frontier that appears in Tait’s self-portrait came at the decimation of everything that was already there. The artist’s 1862 Life on the Prairie becomes eerily foreshadowing when one is reminded that by the time of the Plains Indian Wars in the 1880s nearly all of the free-roaming bison in the United States had been killed. Their numbers went from an estimated 30 million in the mid-1800s to less than 400 by 1893.

At the time of Tait’s print’s production, the frenzy for bison and their hides had reached such a high that white hunters were severely depleting the once-massive herds, in turn undermining the tribes whose lives depended on them for physical and spiritual sustenance. This connection between Native Americans and bison became a visual trope as the century came to a close. Famous landscape painter Albert Bierstadt took up the subject in his well-known painting The Last Buffalo from 1888. In it he composes a prairie scene in which herds of buffalo are being hunted by Native American men on horseback. By this time, both groups were considered on the brink of extinction by the white civilization that helped to destroy them. Bierstadt’s painting, along with Tait’s print, are then best understood as artistic compositions combining memory, myth, and the progressive hopes of a nation.

Albert Bierstadt, The Last Buffalo, 1888, oil on canvas, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Gift of Mary Stewart Bierstadt, 09.12.

Albert Bierstadt, The Last Buffalo, 1888, oil on canvas, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Gift of Mary Stewart Bierstadt, 09.12.

Don’t miss the upcoming exhibition Lasting Impressions: The Artists of Currier & Ives in the Galleries September 17, 2016–January 8, 2017 at Winterthur Museum.

Post by Kaila Schedeen, Graduate Curatorial Assistant

¹ Warder H. Cadbury, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait: Artist in the Adirondacks (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1986), 14.

² Harry T. Peters, Currier & Ives: Printmakers to the American People (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1929), 1:108.

³ George Catlin, Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians, 4th ed. (London: D. Bogue, 1841), 2:18.

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