Sticking Around

The use of harmful adhesives in historic dollhouses is controversial as it poses risks to museum objects’ longevity. It is for this reason that a previous post on the dollhouse at Winterthur explained in depth the method we developed to avoid the use of any adhesives. However, many miniatures other than wall décor required innovative securing methods. To be clear, we could have chosen the easy way out, a plan that would have saved us days, even weeks, in our tight schedule, producing a final result that would have looked almost exactly the same. We could have secured everything with large amounts of museum wax. From its name, you may be able to tell that it is commonly used in museums and is widely trusted to hold objects in place in the event of vibrations, even earthquakes. But that wasn’t good enough for the dollhouse. Why you may ask?

First, the majority of our time has been spent cleaning excess wax off of the miniatures and out of the dollhouse. Excess wax isn’t necessarily dangerous, but it does provide a conveniently sticky surface for dust and grime to attach to and build up on over time. Second, as we learned from our own experience, wax loses its effectiveness on small surface areas. This means if the smallest miniatures in the dollhouse had been secured with wax, they could potentially break loose and become lost quite easily. This would be tragic as our smallest miniatures are also some of our most valuable. The tiny sterling silver flatware in the dining room posed the largest challenge. The pieces are so tiny, it was often easier to handle the 48 pieces of miniature silver, including salad and entrée forks, soup and dessert spoons, knives, and even napkin rings with tweezers rather than gloved fingers.

Silver fork before polishing, photo, Evan Krape / University of Delaware

Silver fork before polishing, photo, Evan Krape / University of Delaware

So how did we secure all these miniature pieces? We made placemats! Even though we were technically adding an unoriginal element to the house, we came to the conclusion that sewing the silver pieces in place would be significantly better for both the silver itself and the table than using a sticky adhesive or wax. Using one of the many handkerchiefs among the extraneous items donated with the dollhouse, we fashioned eight placemats from its lace trimming. In a way, we were following  the lead of Nancy (the original dollhouse owner) because, as we later discovered, she had used a similar handkerchief as a bed sheet in the girl’s bedroom. After 18 hours, the flatware was sewed to placemats, and the placemats were sewn to each other, all with a thin, hardly visible polyester thread. Those teeny tiny spoons are not going anywhere now.

picture 2

Another issue with wax is the way it embeds itself into textiles. Among the miniature textiles in the dollhouse, the most notable are the 17 needlepoint rugs made by Nancy herself. Apparently she was never without a needlepoint project in her hands. We recently learned that she had a regimen of creating one rug each winter for her beloved dollhouse, often consulting with friends over patterns and color choices. Unfortunately, these rugs slide when the dollhouse is moved, endangering the numerous pieces of miniature furniture resting on them. Preventing movement of the rugs during the migration from storage out into the stair hall for its display during Yuletide at Winterthur was of particular importance. Wax would certainly have solved this, but we wanted to create a barrier between the textile and wax. Our solution was to acquire 68, super-thin earth magnets, four for each rug, measuring ¼” x ¼”  x 1/32″  thick. Two of these magnets were sewn under the front two corners of each rug. The magnets’ counterparts were then waxed to the floor. This solution, in addition to avoiding direct contact between wax and textile, carried with it the benefit that the rugs can be easily removed from the rooms. We would only need to release the magnets in the front and slide the rug out. Additionally, when we want to put the rug back in the same location as before, it simply snaps into place.

picture 3

It is our hope that the methods we developed to secure these and other items in the dollhouse are equally safe and subtle. We can’t wait for the unveiling of the dollhouse on November 19, when we hope the public will be as captivated by this dollhouse as we are.

Post by Karissa Muratore and Amanda Kasman, University of Delaware Art Conservation undergraduates who completed a summer internship at Winterthur Museum preparing  the dollhouse for display.

The unveiling of this fabulous 18-room dollhouse, charmingly decorated for the holidays, coincides with the opening of this year’s Yuletide at Winterthur on November 19!

[Sources for link to tiny magnets]

K&J Magnets

https://www.kjmagnetics.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B4201

https://www.kjmagnetics.com/blog.asp?p=pacemaker-safety

 

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Let There Be (Just Enough) Light!

Exterior of Winterthur with its many windows.

Exterior of Winterthur with its many windows.

The eternal dilemma for all museums revolves around light: we need light to see our collections, but light causes damage that eventually leads to objects’ destruction. Mitigating light exposure can help extend the lifespan of objects on display and is incredibly important to the longevity of the collection. Numerous publications have been written about the damage caused by light and to set guidelines for the quantity of light museum objects should receive. Monitoring light in an historic house museum such as Winterthur creates some interesting challenges. First, the house is enormous. It has 9 floors, 175 rooms, and more than 400 windows; that is a lot of space and means for light to enter the collection.

Fading present on the back of an upholstered chair in the Blue Room.

Fading present on the back of an upholstered chair in the Blue Room.

The Bartrand Room on the third floor is actually located below ground. Lights have been placed behind the blinds to give the illusion of artificial light.

The Bartrand Room on the third floor is actually located below ground. Lights have been placed behind the blinds to give the illusion of artificial light.

Sunlight on the upholstery in Blackwell Parlor on the 4th floor

Sunlight on the upholstery in Blackwell Parlor on the 4th floor

Second, the rooms are located both above and below ground level. This means that both daylight and artificial light have an impact on the rooms. Additionally, the rooms vary in shape and size, meaning light will impact them all in different ways depending on the direction they face, the number of windows they have, and how the lighting system is set. Lastly, the majority of the Winterthur collection is permanently displayed. Other institutions display a very small portion of their collection, rotating out objects to allow them to “rest” in darker storage areas to give them a break from exhibition lighting. Winterthur aims to present the rooms as they were when Henry Francis du Pont designed them, leaving very little room for the rotation of objects.

So how does the Conservation Preventive Team monitor light, and how do we know what those numbers mean? Strategically placed throughout the museum are digital loggers that electronically track light exposure. The data is downloaded every few weeks, processed, and compared to the guidelines for different material sensitivities. We then use those totals to make recommendations for how to better improve lighting conditions within the museum to help protect our valuable collection.Most recently, Winterthur conducted a four-year study of light in the collection, beginning in 2012 before the installation of the new storm windows and continuing through August 2016, a full year after the new windows had been installed. One of my major projects was to analyze the data and assess the impact of the window replacement.

Light sensor discretely located on the orrery in Memorial Library

Light sensor discretely located on the orrery in Memorial Library

Replacing the storm windows had a significant impact on the light levels within the collection. As you can see in the image above, high peaks of light have been reduced by almost 90% of what they were prior to the installation. Less light coming in means less damage to the objects and allows our collection to continue to be on view for visitors to enjoy. We’ll continue to collect data and monitor more spaces throughout the collection to ensure we are creating an environment that is safe for our objects. To learn more about preventative conservation, meet members of the preventative team, and gain practical advice for the objects you own at home, consider signing up for the Conservation Clinic, now features a collections care table.

Light graph comparing data from April/March 2013 (before installation on the left) to April/March 2016 (after installation on the right) from the Pennsylvania German Bedroom

Light graph comparing data from April/March 2013 (before installation on the left) to April/March 2016 (after installation on the right) from the Pennsylvania German Bedroom

For more information on museum lighting, visit these links: http://www.conservation-wiki.com/wiki/Light and http://canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1444925073140.

Post by Liz Peirce, 2015–16 Samuel H. Kress Fellow in Conservation at Winterthur

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Why So Sensitive?

If you read the Winterthur Blog about a year ago, you may have stumbled across the post A Brittle Beauty and discovered that the treatment of Winterthur’s Chinese export lacquer has been part of an ongoing IMLS grant that began back in 2012. Shortly after that posting, I became immersed in the world of Chinese export lacquer, its beauty, and its challenges. When I began my fellowship at the end of September 2015, my fellow furniture conservators had spent the last two years being trained on the conservation of lacquer. Aiming to expose me to as many aspects of lacquer treatment as possible, they had set aside a six-panel lacquer screen as my main project. This piece was meant to be an easy treatment scheduled to be completed in a few months.

 An overall image of the screen before treatment, with a detail of the lifting, cracking, and loss along one panel’s edge. Left: photo courtesy of Gilles Auffret. Right: photo courtesy of Jim Schneck.

An overall image of the screen before treatment, with a detail of the lifting, cracking, and loss along one panel’s edge. Left: photo courtesy of Gilles Auffret. Right: photo courtesy of Jim Schneck.

One of the things that I love about the field of art conservation is that there is always, always, an “easy” object out there just waiting to challenge you, to make you rethink your treatment plan, and to make you grow as a conservator. I should have known from the beginning that this screen would be that piece. Even the butterfly in the decoration seemed cautious.

Wary butterfly from the screen 2004.30.2. Clearly he knew something I didn't about how less than straightforward this treatment would be.

Wary butterfly from the screen 2004.30.2. Clearly he knew something I didn’t about how less than straightforward this treatment would be.

The standard consolidation technique that we had used on other objects in the collection proved to be too risky for my screen. Other objects in the collection had been varnished with a natural resin at some point in their history to resaturate the degraded lacquer surface (a common historical practice that causes its own set of conservation problems). This varnish coating effectively protected the lacquer surface from excess adhesive during consolidation. My screen was never coated and had no barrier between the consolidating adhesive and the lacquer surface, making staining a very real and very scary, risk. Combine that with a surface that is highly sensitive to almost every solvent that had been used in lacquer treatments at Winterthur so far, and the potential for irreversible damage seemed inevitable.

Injecting adhesive below a lifted crack. Photo courtesy CRAFT intern Zhao Bo

Injecting adhesive below a lifted crack. Photo courtesy CRAFT intern Zhao Bo

Fortunately, with the guidance of experts in both lacquer conservation and conservation science, we were able to design a technique that would help protect the surface while still allowing consolidation to occur. I applied a barrier layer of a solvent that does not stain the surface, has a long evaporation time, and is of a different polarity to the adhesive. This means that any glue that may come out during the glue up will sit on top of the solvent surface rather than be wicked onto the lacquer (think of a drop of water on oil). Unlike a varnish or resin coating, this barrier layer evaporated on its own rather than needing to be removed. I also switched the adhesive I was using to one that was more fluid, which allowed me to use a thinner needle and have more control over injection.

Images of the lifted area before (top left), with the barrier layer (top right), and after consolidation (bottom left detail, bottom right overall)

Images of the lifted area before (top left), with the barrier layer (top right), and after consolidation (bottom left detail, bottom right overall)

As you can see from the images, the barrier layer was extremely successful! Flakes could be laid down successfully without damaging the lacquer surface. While this treatment has taken a few months longer than originally predicted, knowing that screen is more stable and at less risk for losing flakes has been incredibly rewarding. I’ve learned many new techniques just working on this one material over the past year, and I am looking forward to applying that knowledge towards my future endeavors.

Post by Liz Peirce, 2015-16 Samuel H. Kress Fellow in Conservation at Winterthur

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


My Favorite Things

Take a peek inside the favorite things of those who work at Winterthur. Linda Eaton, John L. & Marjorie P. McGraw Director of Collections & Senior Curator of Textiles, and Tom Savage, Director of Museum Affairs, each share one of their favorite objects from the collection.

 

For further information on needlework objects, attend our conference, Embroidery: The Language of Art, October 14-15, 2016.

Posted in antiques, art collections, Behind-the-Scenes, Conferences, Decorative Arts, museum collection, Textiles, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment


The Day the Earth Shook

One-hundred-thirty years ago on August 31, 1886, Charleston, South Carolina, suffered a natural disaster that altered its cityscape once again. In its recent past, the city had endured considerable damage, first from the Union bombardment and capture in the Civil War and then from extensive flooding in the 1885 hurricane, or cyclone as it was then known. A new, surprising threat loomed on this day. Tremors had been felt for days before, but nothing prepared residents for the shock that occurred just before 10 p.m. that night—the largest-recorded earthquake in the southeastern United States with an estimated magnitude of 7 or higher.

Not wanting to be trapped indoors, residents dashed into the streets only to be crushed by falling debris from collapsing walls and chimneys. Survivors congregated in public squares and parks to escape ruined buildings and tend to the injured and they nervously waited for daybreak as tremors continued through the night. With downed wires preventing communication outside the city, they could only wonder if the world had ended.

Residents living in tents in City Hall Park, Charleston, S.C. Col. 760, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

Residents living in tents in City Hall Park, Charleston, S.C. Col. 760, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

Hope arrived the next day in the shape of a messenger from Summerville, nearly 30 miles away, with news of the earthquake’s reach there. He witnessed more signs of the quake’s devastation, having passed broken railroad ties and huge craters in roads where the earth buckled inward. As days and weeks passed, Charlestonians learned such faraway places as Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, even Bermuda and Cuba, felt tremors, with damage surprisingly occurring in Ohio and Alabama. However, Charleston experienced the most destruction with casualties totaling around 60 to over 100, depending on the source (reliable statistics were not kept at this time), and property damage assessed at $5–6 million. The only course of action was to rebuild the city yet again.

One building that couldn’t be restored was the Guard House at the corner of Broad and Meeting streets. Designed by Prussian-born architect Charles F. Reichardt, who was also responsible for the Charleston Hotel and the Meeting Street Theater, the Guard House, built in 1838, was a symbol of order and stability for decades. Serving as the city’s police station, it was also used for quarters for the guards, a detention area, a court room, and a prisoner of war camp in 1861. The building, considered unsalvageable with damage estimated at $2,500, was razed. A decade later, the United States Post Office and Courthouse rose on the same site while the police station moved several times until settling into a new building in 1888 at King and Hutson streets. One of its temporary homes for several weeks in 1887 was nearby Hibernian Hall.

Guard House, Charleston, S.C. Col. 760, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

Guard House, Charleston, S.C. Col. 760, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

Despite damage estimated at $13,000, or more than five times that of the Guard House, Hibernian Hall at 105 Meeting Street was rebuilt with a new Corinthian pediment replacing the original lonic one. The Greek Revival building, the only one in Charleston designed by famed Philadelphia architect Thomas Ustick Walter, was completed in 1840 for the Hibernian Society, a benevolent society aiding Irish immigrants since 1801. The Hall is the only extant building associated with the 1860 Democratic Convention that saw a deeply divided party unable to reach a consensus leading to the election of President Abraham Lincoln. Now a National Historic Landmark, the Hall is the site for society meetings, balls, an annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, and other events.

Hibernian Hall, Charleston, S.C. col. 760, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

Hibernian Hall, Charleston, S.C. col. 760, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

The earthquake’s aftermath was captured photographically in lantern slides, which are mounted glass transparencies projected onto a wall or a screen by a magic lantern for viewing. Commonly manufactured and sold in sets in the late 1800s and early 1900s, lantern slides were used for educational and entertainment purposes in public lectures and in-home displays. To see the library’s collection of the earthquake and other lantern slides, visit our digital collections at: http://content.winterthur.org:2011/cdm/landingpage/collection/lanterns.

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

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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 , , , , | 1 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

Posted in Decorative Arts, Du Pont Family, House, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


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