Hanging in the Balance

nancys dollhouse toolsAs creator of the dollhouse that will go on display November 19 at Winterthur, Nancy McDaniel sought perfection in every detail, down to the miniature wall decor. Among the 128 tiny pieces positioned on the walls are watercolor and oil paintings (signed and dated by the artist), antique ambrotypes and tintypes, needlepoints, clocks, mirrors, and even bell-pulls.

When Winterthur received the dollhouse, all of these items were secured to the wall with a combination of wax and Blu-Tack, also known as poster putty, which reflects a common practice among miniature enthusiasts. While wax is a non-toxic, non-acidic, microcrystalline material, it is not very strong and remains sticky for a long time. The problem with excess sticky material is that it provides the perfect environment for dust and grime to build up, which we would like to prevent as much as possible. Blu-Tack, on the other hand, is novel in its strength, being able to suspend heavy objects on vertical surfaces, while remaining reversible. However, research suggests Blu-Tack poses risks to dollhouse interiors as it deteriorates. The material, coined a “re-usable adhesive” by Bostik, the corporation that makes it, is not designed to last several decades, ultimately losing its adhesive quality. Additionally, chemical decomposition of Blu-Tack can lead to staining of porous materials such as wall paper and the paper backs of the tiny paintings. Both loss of adhesion and staining were observed on pieces of miniature wall decor in Nancy’s dollhouse, so an alternative to Blu-Tack and wax was desired. Not only would this new method of hanging need to be resistant to change in the years to come, it would also have to withstand vibrations since the dollhouse needs to be rolled between its place of storage to its place of display in the stairhall of the museum galleries at least twice a year, if not more.

In the end, we came to the same conclusion as the conservators at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green; the miniature paintings should be hung like full-size paintings, from nails and wire. While we are not exactly sure how the V&A implemented this technique on their own dollhouse collection, we fashioned custom-made, stainless steel, T-shaped armatures to gently clamp around each piece of wall decor. Each armature also included a stainless steel eye pin at its top that interlocked with a head pin, which acted as a tiny nail. Though these small head pins are inserted into the wall, forever altering the dollhouse, we decided the advantages of hanging with corrosion-resistant wire armatures outweigh the dangers of sticky materials that would permanently stain the hanging decor and walls or attract dust and grime. Ultimately, the wall decor would not be moved or rearranged because it was decided that the house should stay as close as possible to the way it was originally decorated. Thus, the possibility of having to fill and inpaint the tiny holes, though easily done, is highly unlikely.

Image by Evan Krape, University of Delaware

Image by Evan Krape, University of Delaware

The only piece of wall décor that we intentionally changed, in fact, was upon the request of Nancy’s husband Jack McDaniel. In the year 2000, a friend of theirs, Molly Dickinson, made a lovely miniature portrait of Nancy as a gift and entitled it Lady of the Manor. While Nancy loved it, she was too modest to hang a picture of herself in the dollhouse. Now, replacing the lovely gold mirror that once hung over the dining table is The Lady of the Manor. We hung Nancy’s portrait using the same method we hung all the other pieces of wall decor, and the solution appears to be a success. The pieces of wall decor can swing but pose no danger of falling and damaging items below. We hope we have arrived at the best solution to keep these miniatures “hanging in the balance.”

nancys dollhouse dining roomBlog post by Karissa Muratore and Amanda Kasman, University of Delaware Art Conservation undergraduates doing a summer internship at Winterthur Museum

Sources:

Jensen, Karen. Autumn 2014. “Small Stories: Dolls’ Houses Exhibition.” In Conservation Journal 62: 3. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/journals/conservation-journal/autumn-2014-issue-62/small-stories-dolls-houses-exhibition/. 02-13-2016.

Miller, Steven and Susanna Pancaldo. “A Sticky Problem Resolved – The Removal of Blu-Tack and Other Putty Adhesives from Objects at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.” In Icon News: The Magazine of the Magazine of the Institute of Conservation, Issue 4 (04/27/2006): 47.

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


Reuniting Two Treaty Elm Vases

One of the more curious items in Winterthur’s collection is a carved wooden vase attributed to the Philadelphia carver George Magraph. The vase, or urn, which tilts slightly to the side due to warping over time, features vegetal carved decoration on its base and torso and a geometric ornamental border around its top rim. Acanthus leaves frame a relief portrait of William Penn and, on the opposite side, a round brass plaque identifies the provenance of the wood with the engraved text: “From Elm-tree under Which Wm. Penn Concluded His Treaty at Shackamaxon 1682.”

George Magraph, Urn (front and reverse), ca. 1813, elm and brass, 12 7/8 x 6 ¾ in., Museum purchase with funds provided by the Special Fund for Collection Objects 1992.28

George Magraph, Urn (front and reverse), ca. 1813, elm and brass, 12 7/8 x 6 ¾ in., Museum purchase with funds provided by the Special Fund for Collection Objects 1992.28

This “Elm-tree” was popularly known as the Treaty Elm, under which it was believed William Penn, founder of the Pennsylvania colony, made an agreement of peace with the Lenape Indians. The tree served as an important symbol of Philadelphia’s founding narrative, which already had reached mythic proportions by the early nineteenth century. Many prints, including an 1801 hand-colored etching by Samuel Seymour after Thomas and William Russell Birch, depicted the tree as an ancient and revered resident of the port of Kensington, or Shackamaxon, a neighborhood north of Philadelphia. The Seymour and Birch etching presents a bustling scene of woodworking—specifically shipbuilding and repair—occurring directly beneath the elm’s limbs and thick foliage, visually linking the historic tree to its neighborhood and related industries and emphasizing the city’s rapid development over time. The great elm was widely mourned when it fell down in a storm on March 3, 1810. Newspapers from Vermont to South Carolina reported the ancient tree’s demise: “This celebrated tree, having stood the blast of more than a century since that memorable event, is at length prostrated to the dust!”¹ Following its fall, the elm’s wood was converted into various artifacts—including boxes, chairs, and portrait busts of William Penn–-that were disseminated throughout the nation and even across the Atlantic Ocean to England. For creators, collectors, and recipients of these Treaty Elm and other historic wood relics, an aspect of the object’s power resided in a perceived vital essence. By participating in an episode that was iconic in local, and even national, memory as symbolic of peace, virtue, and justice, the wood of the Treaty Elm became saturated, and therefore animated, with associated moral values and lessons.

Samuel Seymour after Thomas and William Russell Birch, “The City of Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania,” May 1, 1801, hand-colored etching, Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1959.2622a

Samuel Seymour after Thomas and William Russell Birch, “The City of Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania,” May 1, 1801, hand-colored etching, Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1959.2622a

In 1813, Magraph displayed a pair of wooden vases made from the elm at the annual exhibition of the Columbian Society of Artists and the Pennsylvania Academy, each with the title, “A Vase, made from part of the tree under which William Penn formed his first treaty with the Indians—in 1682.”² Although Magraph was listed in the accompanying catalogue as an academician, he never exhibited any other objects at the academy’s annual exhibitions. For many years, the Winterthur urn was thought to be the sole survivor of this pair of carved vases, until I located its match in the Philadelphia History Museum (PHM) this past spring. Both vases feature prestigious provenances: the Penn Club, a historic, private gentlemen’s club in Philadelphia, donated its vase to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1987, and it was subsequently transferred to PHM with the majority of the society’s art and artifacts collection. The Winterthur urn, purchased at auction, was reportedly the property of the architect Robert Mills, who was secretary of the Columbian Society of Artists when the vase was displayed in 1813. A comparison of these two vases allows us to better understand how Philadelphia area carvers like Magraph used Treaty Elm wood to advertise their services through commemorative objects.

George Magraph, Urn (front and reverse), ca. 1813, elm and brass, 12 7/8 x 6 ¾ in., Museum purchase with funds provided by the Special Fund for Collection Objects 1992.28

Maker unknown [George Magraph, attributed], "Urn made from the Treaty Elm," 1813, wood, glass, 15 1/2 x 6 x 6 in., HSP.19871.1 Courtesy of the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection.

Maker unknown [George Magraph, attributed], “Urn made from the Treaty Elm,” 1813, wood, glass, 15 1/2 x 6 x 6 in., HSP.19871.1 Courtesy of the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection.

While they are similar in size and material, the Treaty Elm vases are very different in form and decoration. Several differences are likely the result of individual changes accumulated over time. The vases, for example, feature dissimilar bases added at a later date, and the PHM vase is the sole retainer of its original lid, ornamented with a carved and gilded eagle. Both vases include a relief portrait of William Penn, copied after a popular likeness circulated by Sylvanus Bevan, and explanatory text on the opposite side, either inscribed on a round brass plaque or framed behind glass. Carved acanthus leaves and double stars flank the Penn and text roundels on both vases. The inscription on the PHM vase diverges slightly from that of the Winterthur vase, quoted above, reading: “Part / of the Tree / Under Which / William Penn / Form’d his First / Treaty with / the Indians in 1682.” It is therefore possible that one of the text roundels is not original. While these disparities are likely all due to more recent interventions, Magraph was responsible for the noticeably different carvings that ornament the vases’ pedestals and upper rims. Both vases feature their own unique leaf-carved pedestals, and while the Winterthur vase displays a rigid, geometric carved pattern along its top rim, the PHM vase includes a design of interlocking, curvilinear lines. Magraph therefore used these vases to display the range of his carving ability to visitors of the 1813 annual exhibition.

Through their diverse patterns and ornament, the pair of Treaty Elm vases simultaneously showcased their carver’s dexterity and memorialized the recent passing of the elm through an ornate homage of visual and material references to that tree and its associated event. They also make tangible the symbolic importance of the Treaty Elm to Philadelphia woodworkers and carvers, whom the elm shades in the previously discussed Seymour and Birch etching. According to piece of manuscript paper found inside the PHM vase, “the wood was bought at the time the tree was blown down by Marinus Willett Pike,” a carver and gilder who lived in Philadelphia’s North Ward according to the 1810 census. It is unclear if the author of the note attributed the vase itself to Pike, perhaps in collaboration with Margraph, or implied that Pike only purchased the wood. Either way, the reference to two Philadelphia carvers—Pike and Magraph—within the vases’ history illuminates how local craftsmen actively worked to create and preserve Treaty Elm relics. Reuniting the two Treaty Elm vases allows us to see how a carver used these objects to both advertise his skill in manipulating wood and commemorate the region’s Anglo-American history.

¹Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, March 8, 1810; Vermont Courier, March 28, 1810; Charleston Courier, March 10, 1810; New-York Gazette, March 12, 1810; Independent American, Washington, D.C., March 24, 1810.

² Third Annual Exhibition of the Columbian Society of Artists and the Pennsylvania Academy (Philadelphia: T. & G. Palmer, 1813), 7.

This blog was posted by Laura Turner Igoe, Winterthur NEH Research Fellow.

Posted in Academic Programs, American Culture Studies, antiques, Decorative Arts, museum collection, Students & Alumni, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Wipe On, Wipe Off

How many hours does it take two interns to polish 137 pieces of silver spanning 12 rooms in what we have now affectionately termed the doll “mansion”? The answer: approximately 6 hours. The process is not particularly difficult but it is tedious, especially since many of the pieces are extremely fragile. The majority of the silver pieces are marked as sterling silver, which consists of 92.5% silver and 6.5% copper. This results in a soft metal that is easily bent. However, an advantage of this highly valued alloy is its tendency to avoid tarnish because of its copper component; nonetheless, tarnish does accumulate. Unsightly black tarnish on silver is the result of a chemical reaction between the surface of the precious metal and sulfur-containing compounds in the air, which creates silver sulfide. Sulphur is found in large quantities in areas of high pollution but is also regularly emitted in car exhaust. For this reason, the accumulation of tarnish on silver may seem unavoidable, but there are methods for delaying it.

In a previous blog post, we mentioned how we planned to use lacquer to protect the miniature silver pieces in Nancy McDaniel’s dollhouse, but following further consultation and research, we have realized that the lacquer process may actually do more harm than good for such fragile pieces. While modern lacquers have a seemingly long lifespan of about 25 years, they must ultimately be removed (due to yellowing) and then reapplied. Removal of lacquer is intensive and complicated, requiring hazardous solvents. In addition, the lacquering process takes some time to master, and the consequences of poorly applied lacquer can lead to the silver object appearing patchy or corroded where the lacquer was insufficient. Due to the minute size of the silver objects in the dollhouse, lacquer, which is applied as a spray, could easily blow the tiny forks and knives away, increasing the opportunity for an insufficient application of lacquer.

Ultimately, we chose to go with the standard polishing procedure in combination with other preventive measures. First, we simply polished using a very gentle abrasive. Most conservators use a slurry of water and calcium carbonate, otherwise known as precipitated chalk. However, it is just as respectable to use trusted commercial silver polishing products, such as Twinkle and Wright’s Silver Cream, as we did, to polish your own silver. Some important tips to remember when polishing your own silver are: never use products with ammonia, since it is particularly corrosive for silver; always wear gloves, plain cotton or latex gloves are recommended when handling silver since skin oils and acids can etch into the silver surface; and make sure to always rinse your silver well after polishing because leftover polish residue, often in crevices, can cause disfiguring corrosion.

Instead of lacquering to prevent the quick buildup of tarnish on our now-sparkling silver pieces, we have decided to utilize scavengers in the finished display case. Scavengers are safe chemical species selected for their ability to efficiently absorb and filter airborne pollutants. The desired scavengers contain hydrogen sulfide or activated charcoal. The latter variety comes in powder, granule, and woven forms, all of which we are considering in protecting the miniature silver. The added benefit of these materials is that they are relatively cheap and only need to be changed out every six months to a year, depending on the specific environment. The hope is that by incorporating activated charcoal into the finished display case, where the dollhouse will be permanently housed, not only will the silver tarnishing be kept to a minimum, but all the miniatures within the house will benefit from the filtered air.

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

(Note: All information regarding silver treatment came from Bruno Pouliot in person and via an article; Pouliot, Bruno P. “A Conservator’s Advice on How to Care for Your Precious Silver.” Silver Magazine Nov.-Dec. 2004: 19-21. Print.)

Posted in Academic Programs, Behind-the-Scenes, Dollhouse, exhibition, Exhibitions, museum collection, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


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

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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 , , , , , , | 6 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