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

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

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

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

The very bottom portion contains information from similar pieces:

“THIS BEAUTIFUL GEM,

framed in Mt Vernon Wood,

can only be had, wholesale

and retail, at HORACE BARNES & CO,

123 WASHINGTON STREET, BOSTON

or their agents throughout

the United States.”

Rear view of the medallion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Close-up of the memento.

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

1.  Crutchett, Appeal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Many Faces of George Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples of plates from the storage areas

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

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

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

The completed arrangement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Precarious Profession of Painting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘Tis the Season of Traditions

Papier-maché impression from cookie mold, Carl W. Drepperd, ca. 1942.
Bequest of Henry F. du Pont 1961.11716.001-.004

Yuletide has arrived at Winterthur, and visitors can enjoy the treasures of Christmases past by exploring various customs, decorations, and stories. Whether it is sending holiday cards, trimming a tree, or eating festive cookies, families  have new and old traditions. An intriguing set of papier-maché impressions in Winterthur’s collection reflect some of those traditions, tying together multiple Christmases past.

The papier-maché impressions are attributed to decorative arts specialist Carl W. Drepperd (1892–1956), who made them from old family molds and then sent them to Henry F. du Pont. In a letter dated January 2, 1942, du Pont wrote to Drepperd thanking him for his “Christmas greeting in “Marchpane,” and that “The little figure is most interesting.” (1) Later in April of 1943, Drepperd sent more of these impressions, adding:

… Also, purely for your data files, I will send pressings of Chinese paper of the Marzipan, Marchpane or Matzebaume moulds which have come down to me from the family. They were used from 1780 to about 1850. Then ‘boughten’ ornaments replaced them. Thank heaven the old aunt saved the moulds. (2)

The remainder of the impressions in the collection probably come from this letter. They include figures of a stork with a baby, a sunflower, a beast, another tall bird, and a rooster. In fact, Drepperd frequently included these molds in his books as illustrations. In his Primer of American Antiques (1944), under the chapter on woodenware, he featured a mold with a stork and baby in its beak. The same mold appears in his Pioneer America: Its First Three Centuries (1949), but this time the mold seems to be carved from the same block of wood as the sunflower mold. Under Drepperd’s definition of machpane and marchpane molds in A Dictionary of American Antiques (1952), he claims that he has “a dated example of 1563,” (3) probably referencing the triangular figure.

These molds were made using the intaglio manner, carving into the wood rather than creating a raised surface. They were pressed down into the dough, thus leaving an impression behind. Many times the designs were taken from printed sources, which can help with dating, though molds continued to be long used after they were made. Some molds have been attributed to specific carvers, such as the best-known American mold carver John Conger, who worked in New York City from 1827 to 1835. More often, molds remain unattributed and without a date. It can be difficult to differentiate between the various types of molds, as terms such as cake molds, marzipan molds, cookie molds, and springerle molds, have been confused and conflated, and it is possible that they were sometimes used interchangeably with various types of cookies. While Winterthur does not have Drepperd’s molds, we have similar ones, as seen on display in Shipley Hall on the Yuletide Tour, which feature animals, flowers, elaborately dressed women, and letters.

Cookie display in Shipley Hall

The molds Drepperd had in his collection were most likely used in Pennsylvania during the early 19th century. He believed that they were used with matzabaum (also known as marzipan or marchpane), which he defined as “a sweetmeat made from almond meal and honey, molded in wood forms, and often decorated with vegetable colors,” (4) though more recipes use sugar and almond paste as well as orange or rosewater. (5) The treat has a long and diverse history, as noted by the various names by which it is known. One of the key ingredients, almonds, were cultivated along the eastern Mediterranean, and spread throughout southern Europe during the Roman Empire. It is believed that the word marzipan has either a German (marcipan) or Italian (marzapane) origin, but it could also refer to the Persian martabān, possibly pointing to the city of Martaban that was famous for exporting glazed jars filled with sweetmeats. Other scholars have attempted to tie the Latin phrase Marci panis, meaning the bread of St. Mark, to the Italian word. (6) Regardless of etymology, the sweet has a history of being used for elaborate sculptural sweets for holidays throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Europe, and recipes appear in many cookbooks starting in the medieval period. One of the earliest marchpane recipes printed in America is found in Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife, or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion­.

In Christmas in Pennsylvania, Alfred L. Shoemaker asserts that matzebaum was also a common Christmas candy to the Lancaster-York area, used to decorate Christmas trees. (7)

For those who did not want to use expensive almond paste to create ornaments that would not be consumed, people sometimes used corn meal or wheat flour and glue. (8) While the cookies rarely survived, Winterthur has a framed collection of brightly colored ‘marzipan’ cookies that were probably used as ornaments, and now featured on the Yuletide Tour. Preserved for at least 150 years, the actual ingredients used in this grouping are unknown. Conservation conducted in 2000 to remove mold and make repairs led us to believe that they are more likely made out of wheat flour than almond paste.

Left: Marzipan ornaments, ca. 1800-1875. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont. 1959.0844.
Right: Marzipan ornaments, ca. 1800-1875. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont. 1959.0845.

Similar to the impressions on paper, these ornaments show brightly painted raised figures  in various forms, e.g. patriotic, religious, and fanciful themes.

It is also possible that Drepperd’s molds were used to make springerle cookies, an anise-flavored cookie popular in Pennsylvania-German tradition. Springerle cookies originated in Germany and were associated with holidays and special events, not just Christmas. Food historian William Woys Weaver claims that springerle cookies have a 17th-century origin as “‘water’ marzipans, or ersatz marzipans, a poor man’s substitute for almond marzipan.” (9) Though it is difficult to find early recipes of springerle cookies, they can be found in Pennsylvania-German cookbooks from the twentieth-century and in newspapers during the holiday season. Ruth Hutchison’s The New Pennsylvania Dutch Cook Book, published first in 1948, includes a springerle recipe. Her recipe instructs:

6 eggs, 1 teaspoon hartshorn, 3 cups of powdered sugar, 1 lemon, juice and grated rind, 3 cups sifted flower, 1 tablespoon anise seed, Pinch of salt

The old recipes required that sugar and eggs be beaten together for at least an hour. Then the flour was sifted several times, resifted with the hartshorn, added to the eggs and sugar, and the whole stirred again. Then lemon, anise seed, and grated rind were added and the dough rolled out. The pictures were separated along the dividing lines to form square cookies.

Bake on a greased cookie sheet in 300-degree oven for about 20 minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning and coloring. When baked they should be pale. Makes about 40. (10)

Springerle molds are usually flat boards that can contain anywhere between two and thirty-two squares of designs. Since Drepperd created two of his pressings in pairs, it is possible that they came from springerle boards. These cookies were also used to decorate Christmas trees, sometimes painted to create a colorful effect.

Drepperd’s papier-maché impressions show that molds  were once used to create cookies, for either consumption or decoration, possibly during the holiday season. In the same spirit, Drepperd decided to use the molds to create a lasting Christmas wish to his friends, including du Pont. Today, Winterthur uses papier-maché pressings inspired from these designs on the Yuletide tour. You can find some of these impressions on the Christmas tree in Empire Hall, representing pieces of history that show multiple traditions and long-lasting appreciation.

Christmas tree featured in Empire Hall with ornaments inspired by Drepperd’s impressions.

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

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

References

Makanowitzky, Barbara Norman. Tales of the Table: A History of Western Cuisine (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972).

Weaver, William Woys. “Cake Prints, Carved Molds, and the Tradition of Decorative Confections: The Adomeit Mold Collection.” The Magazine Antiques (Summer 2010): 158-167.

Footnotes

(1) Henry Francis du Pont to Carl W. Drepperd, 2 January 1942, Series 69HF3, Box HF552, Folder Dreppard, Carl W. (1941-1949), Henry Francis du Pont Papers, Winterthur Archive, Winterthur Library.

(2) Carl W. Drepperd to Henry Francis du Pont, 23 April 23 1943, Series 69HF3, Box HF552, Folder Dreppard, Carl W. (1941-1949), Henry Francis du Pont Papers, Winterthur Archive, Winterthur Library.

(3) Carl Drepperd, A Dictionary of American Antiques (Boston: C.T. Branford, 1957), 234.

(4) Drepperd, A Dictionary of American Antiques, 234.

(5) Linda Campbell Franklin, 300 Years of Kitchen Collectibles, 4th ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1997), 151.

(6) Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, 1st ed., s.v., “Marzipan” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

(7) Alfred L. Shoemaker, Christmas in Pennsylvania: A Folk-Cultural Study (Mechanicsburg, Penn: Stackpole Books, 1999), 21.

(8) Phillip V. Snyder, The Christmas Tree Book: The History of the Christmas Tree and Antique Christmas Tree Ornaments (New York: The Viking Press, 1976), 46.

(9) William Woys Weaver, America Eats: Forms of Edible Folk Art (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1989), 116.

(10) Ruth Hutchison, The New Pennsylvania Dutch Cook Book (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1958), 190.

Posted in Academic Programs, Decorative Arts, Du Pont Family, Library, museum collection, Uncategorized, Yuletide | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


Getting on the Bus


Ken Kesey’s DayGlo painted bus, a functional object that has come to symbolize the counterculture of the 1960s. Although the students in our group traveled in minivans, the spirit of camaraderie flowed on our own traveling caravan.

In his 1968 classic book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe traveled the country in a bus with writer Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters. During a trip that came to encapsulate the counterculture, Wolfe quoted Kesey as saying, “Now you’re either on the bus or off the bus. If you’re on the bus, and you get left behind, then you’ll find it again. If you’re off the bus in the first place—then it won’t make a damn.”

This semester, nine students from Winterthur and the University of Delaware Program in American Material Culture literally and figuratively “got on the bus” when they enrolled in my class, Cities on a Hill: Material Culture in America’s Communal Utopias. Although the hippies of the 1960s often come to mind when communes, utopias, and intentional communities are mentioned, the impulse to fashion a new way of living in opposition to mainstream society that involves social cohesion, relative isolation, and at least some communal sharing of ideology, property, space, and material goods, dates to the first European settlers on the shores of North America.

Throughout the course, we dove headlong into the history of American communal utopias using the Winterthur collection and field studies to come to a greater understanding of the diverse and unbroken tradition of communal living in America. Students were asked to seriously consider the concept of communal living and utopia by coming to terms with the humanity, practicality, and materiality of communal living, and their attempts to make a better world.

Students explored the internal network of rustic paths that cut through the dense woods to connect homes and recreation centers in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania—an intentional community inspired by William Morris’s utopian novel News from Nowhere.

However, students literally hopped on the bus when we took a weekend field trip to upstate New York, home of the famed Burned-Over District of the 19th century that still smolders with the embers of reform. Field-based learning is a hallmark of courses based at Winterthur. They help students visualize, experience, and, in this case, live like the individuals who had, until then, only been known in books and photographs.

The trip began at Byrdcliffe, an art colony outside Woodstock, New York, inspired by the English arts and crafts movement. Here, renowned artisans and craftspeople came together to create furniture, ceramics, textiles, and fine art in the bucolic setting of the Hudson Valley. Though Winterthur holds the entire Byrdcliffe archive, traipsing the mountainous terrain of Byrdcliffe brought those documents and artifacts to life for the students. We were led by Director of Exhibitions Derin Tanyol and board member Henry Ford through some of the most stunning architecture of the American arts and crafts movement, including the founder of the community Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead’s own magnificent manor house, White Pines, and other buildings that are still used for artist-in-residency programs at the community. Indeed, although Woodstock is usually associated with the hippies of the music festival that bears its name, it was Whitehead who brought the avant-garde to the area more than 60 years prior.

The class poses with our hosts, Derin Tanyol and Henry Ford, in front of the Byrdcliffe Theater, a large wooden space that once housed studios for artists and craftspeople who traveled to Byrdcliffe in the early 1900s

From there we headed to central New York and the fascinating Communal Societies Collection at Hamilton College. The delightful Christian Goodwillie, director and curator of special collections, came in on a Saturday night to show us their collection of the material culture of community—including ephemera from the House of David, comics from the Kerista Community, and amazing material from the Amana Community. In total, Goodwillie pulled more than 75 items for us to examine. But what’s more, he and his wife Erika Sanchez Goodwillie, a leading expert in the replication of historic paints who has done work at museums nationwide, opened their home to us with a feast of central New York foods such a Utica Greens and Tomato Pie. Christian even curated a pop-up exhibit of Shaker chairs!

Christian Goodwillie shows the students the riches of Hamilton College’s Communal Societies Collection in the reading room.

Winterthur field trips are a total immersion experiences, and as such we stayed the night at the famed Oneida Community Mansion House, the home of the 19th-century Perfectionists led by John Humphrey Noyes, and still a home today to descendants of the original communards. These communards practiced, among other things, “bible communism,” “complex marriage,” and “mutual criticism,” but are better known today as a flatware company. The students woke rested as we embarked on a tour of the Mansion House with Curator of Education Dr. Molly Jessup, who explained how the material culture of the Mansion House, especially the architecture, reinforced and reflected the tenets of Perfectionism.

Molly Jessup addresses the students in the “Big Hall” where the Oneida Perfectionists held family meetings. This immense, theater testifies to both the material wealth of the community as well as their self-proclaimed status as one “big family.”

The class poses outside the Oneida Community Mansion House. Even though the Perfectionists led an unconventional lifestyle, the architectural elements are taken from fashionable architecture of the time, such as this Italian villa design popular in the mid-19th century

There is little rest on the road to utopia, and the afternoon brought another 19th-century group to the fore. Palmyra, New York, is the site where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (colloquially known as the Mormons or LDS Church) was founded by Joseph Smith and where the Book of Mormon was first translated. Here, church elders toured the students through the Hill Cumorah Visitor’s Center, the Smith Family Home, and the Whitmer Log Home—all sites held sacred by Mormons. Here we were immersed in the teachings, history, material culture, and current missionary efforts of the LDS church and learned how this area today functions as a pilgrimage place for Mormons worldwide.

The class poses in the Peter Whitmer Log Home. This re-created rustic farmhouse was the site where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was initially organized.

Our weary band of travelers rested their bones in Ithaca, New York, a town that in many ways still embodies the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s. During our last day on the bus, the students visited a present-day intentional community, the EcoVillage at Ithaca, a co-housing ecovillage that is dedicated to showing the world a new way to live that involves green energy, permaculture, and an overall emphasis on sustainability. We toured the village led by Liz Walker, the founder of the community, which has been in existence more than 25 years and now numbers more than 200 residents. We talked about sustainability, net-zero energy construction, and gardens as we went into homes and walked the community paths. Craft and creativity also thrive at the EcoVillage as we visited Graham Ottoson at “Gourdlandia,” where she shared her passion for creating gourd lamps and specially grown gourds with the group. Sustainably and eco-friendly farming are a staple of the village, and we met with farmer of West Haven Farm, John Bokaer-Smith, who told us all about the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), the importance of the EcoVillage to community and restaurant life in Ithaca, and practical green problem solving at the farm. The students were even put to work cleaning garlic for the farmer’s market!

Inspired by the gourd art of Graham Ottoson, the class posed in front of her shop, aptly named, Gourdlandia!

Students got a chance to give back to the EcoVillage at Ithaca by helping John Bokaer-Smith trim the stalks and roots from bulbs of garlic.

At the end of the trip, thankfully no one had gotten off the bus. However, I think that Kesey’s sentiment will stay with these students, it surely will with me. No matter where we go, what we are doing, the experiences we had, the people we met, and the things we examined, touched, and felt, will always stay with us. If we do find our way off the bus—if we have forgotten to dream of a different, better world—we will find it again. I am sure.

But, for those who aren’t on the bus, well, “it won’t make a damn.”

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

Posted in American Culture Studies, Library, museum collection, Students & Alumni, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


The Shop of Robert Stewart: Work and Wealth in the Antebellum Natchez Furniture Trade

The life and work of antebellum cabinetmaker Robert Stewart (1796–1866) spanned one 
of the most contentious periods in American history in one of the country’s most complex
places: Natchez, Mississippi, a river town of great diversity and incredible wealth. For
planters whose riches grew in sugar and cotton fields elsewhere, Natchez was a social
center where large, fashionable homes communicated success. In furnishing these homes,
and others from all levels of Natchez society, Stewart played a significant role in shaping
the community. His imported and locally made pieces created a unique material culture
that speaks to the town’s distinct identity—influenced by geography and slavery—as well as
its deep connection to the Northeast and the rest of the Atlantic world.

Stewart’s early life largely remains a mystery. Born in Chester County, Pennsylvania,
he likely learned cabinetmaking from a relative. (1) As a young adult, he set out with
his brother, Miller, for the southwest, eventually landing in Natchez by 1818, when
he first advertised his trade. (2) Throughout the 1820s, Miller remained a partner in
his brother’s Natchez store, R. & M. Stewart, but was also listed in Cincinnati
directories as operating a furniture business in that city. (3) Miller died in 1831, and
four years later Robert announced that he was closing his brother’s business. (4) Robert’s
connection with Cincinnati persisted, however, and throughout the antebellum
period he sold furniture from Cincinnati makers like Mitchell & Rammelsberg to
Natchez customers.

Undertaking, traditionally associated with cabinetmakers because of their
manufacture of coffins, played an important role in Stewart’s business. Coffins of
varying quality, from “plain pine” for the enslaved to cherry cases lined with fine
textiles, provided the artisan with a constant revenue stream, with receipts noting
yellow fever epidemics, natural disasters, and war. Undertaking allowed him to operate
among all classes and races in Natchez and expanded his prominence in the
community. Coffins were a significant product of the business in its earliest days,
when Stewart, rather than an apprentice or journeyman, most likely produced the
pieces himself. As a result, some of the clearest evidence of his hand as a craftsman
can only be found underground.

Fortunately, not all examples of his work are lost. A chest of drawers featuring
elaborately carved columns with scrolled capitals is one of two known pieces
signed by Stewart or his firm. The exuberant classicism of the chest as well as the
signature “R. & M. Stewart/Natchez” date this piece to before 1835, when
Robert stopped using his late brother’s initial. (5) Although the finish today is the
product of a modern restoration, Stewart did have access to imported mahogany
veneer, evidence that throughout the antebellum period, local craftsmen were making
and embellishing furniture, not just retailing imports.

Chest of drawers, Robert Stewart,
1828−35. Mahogany, unidentified secondary
woods. Courtesy of Historic Natchez Foundation

Signature on chest of drawers.

Robert Stewart’s business continued to expand and evolve up until his death, in 1866,
but it is unclear how much of his own hand is visible in extant pieces from the mid-
1830s onward. Utilizing the labor of, at times, dozens of apprentices, journeymen,
and hired enslaved men and women, Stewart documented the bustling activity of
his shop in his account books. Journeymen created everything from washstands to
secretaries. Dosia and Bob, likely enslaved, collected moss for mattresses and
upholstery. Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Sylvester made ticking for beds. Apprentices
installed bedsteads and ran deliveries from the river to the downtown store. Workers
from the shop made house calls, adding locks to furniture, a compulsion of a slave
society. Some of Stewart’s thirteen sons even trained in the furniture business; Samuel
made a sideboard, not yet located, which sold for $100, a high sum that suggests
costly wood and stylish details. (6) Robert Stewart may have signed the receipts, but
myriad hands produced the furniture from his firm.

One journeyman in particular, Harper Hamerton, brought considerable skill to
Natchez and to one of its most enviable residences. The furnishings of Melrose,
home of cotton planter John T. McMurran, highlights the ways in which the richest-of-
the-rich not only relied on Stewart to create their domestic statements of status
and power but also looked elsewhere to do so. For example, Stewart simply
“unboxed” Melrose’s striking, Gothic-revival dining chairs, likely made in Philadelphia.
Such furniture came to Natchez from major manufacturing and design
centers in the Northeast, with local retailers like Stewart taking advantage of the
river for transportation.

Bookcases, Harper Hamerton (possibly with Robert
Stewart), ca. 1848. Walnut, tulip-poplar, pine. Courtesy of
Historic Natchez Foundation

Dining table, possibly Robert Stewart, ca. 1835.
Cherry, cypress, unidentified softwoods. Courtesy of Historic
Natchez Foundation

Larger pieces, however—more like architectural elements than movable furniture—
required on-site manufacture and created opportunities for local cabinetmakers to
add their work to homes otherwise furnished with imported items. The Melrose
library’s towering walnut bookcases with imposing molded cornices appear in
Stewart’s account books as being made by Hamerton, who received $109 for his two-and-
a-half months’ work in 1848. (7) The nature of Hamerton’s relationship with
Stewart remains unknown. Do the bookcases represent the skill of an exceptional
journeyman or the careful management, teaching, and even the hand of Robert
Stewart as master cabinetmaker? Regardless of the balance between the two men,
the bookcases speak to what Stewart’s shop was capable of creating for its wealthiest
clients, who called on local cabinetmakers to fill the gaps where Philadelphia or New
York furniture could not meet customer needs.

Lastly, a cherry dining table sold by Stewart to William Harris demonstrates
the complex nature of Natchez furniture as the amalgamation of imported,
Northern-made parts and pieces with the work of local craftsmen. (8) The use of cherry, a
local wood, is consistent with Mississippi manufacture. Stewart and his
competitors employed it for everything from coffins to case pieces, but the wood
was rarely imported. This ample table has fourteen legs; the center four of cypress
are turned in a straightforward style, but the outer legs are twist-turned. Stewart’s
account books note that he purchased furniture parts, like bedposts, throughout
his career. For this fascinating table, the use of two different styles of turnings may
be evidence that Stewart imported twist-turned legs—which required a machine
lathe—as the basis for the table and then constructed the top locally, adding the
simpler center legs to extend the length to fit the room. Ongoing work on this
unique piece will help shed light on the nature of the furniture industry in Natchez
and the networks of trade that connected the town socially, politically, and
economically with the rest of the country.

In 1861 Stewart’s son Robert Hill took over the business. (9) His decision to emphasize
fine imported household wares and metallic burial cases demonstrates the continued
influence of geography on the Natchez economy: retailing came naturally along the
river. With his son continuing the business in Natchez, the elder Robert purchased a
cotton plantation across the river, worked by dozens of enslaved laborers, having
finally achieved the Southern dream he had furnished for others for decades.

Learn more during the Young Scholars Lectures at the Delaware Antiques Show on
Saturday, November 11, at 2:00 pm. The Delaware Antiques Show takes place November
10–12 at the Chase Center on the Riverfront, Wilmington, Delaware.

Post by Candice Roland Candeto, Lois F. McNeil Fellow in the Winterthur Program in
American Material Culture.

This article originally appeared in the Delaware Antiques Show Catalogue.

 

Footnotes:

1 The author credits Betty Stewart’s extensive work on her family history, partially compiled at the Historic Natchez
Foundation, for contributions to Robert Stewart’s biography.
2 “The Cabinet Business,” Catesby Minnis and Robert Stewart ad, Natchez Gazette (Mississippi), January 31, 1818.
3 Cincinnati City Directories, 1829, 1831.
4 R. & M. Stewart ad, Daily Gazette (Cincinnati), February 26, 1835.
5 Natchez Court Records at the Historic Natchez Foundation document the timeline of the legal names under which
Robert Stewart’s business operated as well as changes in partnership.
6 Account with Buckner Darden, December 13, 1834. Ledger, Furniture Accounts, 1834−1836, Robert H. Stewart
Family Account Books, Mss404, 4742, Vol. 37, Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University.
7 Account with H. Hamerton, September 23, 1848. Ledger, Furniture Accounts, 1834−1857, Robert H. Stewart Family
Account Books, Mss404, 4742, Vol. 38, Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University. The bookcases were
documented by the Classical Institute of the South in 2013.
8 Account with William Harris, March 29, 1834. Ledger, Furniture Accounts, 1834−1836, Robert H. Stewart Family
Account Books, Mss404, 4742, Vol. 37, Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University.
9 “Robert H. Stewart, successor to Stewart & Burns,” Natchez Daily Courier (Mississippi), February 9, 1861.

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Southern Collecting in the Post−Civil War Era: A Case Study of Barbara Fritchie’s Desk-and-Bookcase

Desk-and-bookcase, Frederick, Maryland, 1780−90. Walnut, poplar. Collection of the
Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA), Winston-Salem, NC

On November 21, 1885, Ariana Trail wrote to her son-in-law, Reverend John Harding, 
with a tone of urgency, imploring him to send his wife, Nan, $18, “so that she can buy
Barbara Frietchie’s secretary, a lovely antique genuine, & in perfect order.” (1) The
desk-and-bookcase, dating from around 1780, was “perfectly clean” as “Mr. & Mrs. F were
the most orderly couple in the world,” and it had “the most fascinating drawers (secret
ones!).” (2) Harding should send the money quickly, Trail pleaded, or risk the rare piece
being “grabbed up by the rich Mrs. Buckler of Baltimore in a day or 2.”(3)

Cabinet card of Ariana McElfresh Trail, Gilbert & Bacon, Philadelphia, 1880−90.
Collection of Maryland State Archives

The perceived importance of the desk-and-bookcase was due to its ownership by
Barbara Fritchie, who died in 1862 at age 96 and was memorialized in 1863
by John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem bearing her name. The verses document how
Fritchie purportedly waved an American flag from the window of her home in
defiance of Confederate soldiers marching through Frederick, Maryland. In
Whittier’s account, Stonewall Jackson, confronted with the flag draping from
Fritchie’s window, gave the orders:

“Halt!”—the dust-brown ranks stood fast.
“Fire!”—out blazed the rifle-blast.
It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.
Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff.
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf;
She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.
“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
but spare your country’s flag!,” she said. (4)

Accounts of the incident have since established that the woman in question was Mary
Quantrell, not Barbara Fritchie. Nevertheless, as a result of Whittier’s poem, a
mythology emerged surrounding Fritchie, ultimately leading Ariana Trail to acquire
the desk-and-bookcase on behalf of her daughter and son-in-law. The purchase
importantly illustrates that collectors were interested in Southern-made objects as
early as 1885, much earlier than scholars of the antiques trade have previously
assumed. It also highlights the fact that items such as the desk-and-bookcase, locks
of George Washington’s hair, and Benjamin Franklin’s gold-headed cane were sought
after because of their associative qualities.

Barbara Frietchie, Brady & Co., Washington, D.C., 1862. Carte de visite
printed in 1863 or 1864 for the Great National Fair. Library of Congress, Prints and
Photographs Division

After Fritchie’s death, her niece, Catherine Hanshew, inherited her estate. (5) Then in
the 1870s or 1880s, Henry Etchison, the operator of a popular furniture store in
Frederick, acquired the desk-and-bookcase. (6) Etchison dabbled in the antiques trade
alongside local auctioneers who regularly advertised antiques in Maryland
newspapers in the 1880s. Trail, an abolitionist and one of Frederick’s most prominent
citizens, visited the Etchison store in November 1885 before penning her letter to
Harding. After discussing the merits of the piece, she signed off, “Nan works so hard
over the holidays that I think she ought to be gratified, don’t you?”(7) Harding replied
two days later, on November 23, 1885: “Many thanks for your happy suggestion. Of
course I think Nan ought to be gratified and if she wants the secretary and bookcase
why here is the money . . . I’ve made it for $25 in case she should have to bid against
the rich Mrs. B. of Baltimore.”(8)

A strong candidate for “the rich Mrs. B. of Baltimore” is Eliza Ridgely White Buckler,
whose wealthy family had strong ties to the Confederacy. Following the
conclusion of the Civil War, the Bucklers moved to Europe, where they stayed until
around 1890. Despite their absence, the couple was listed in the Baltimore Blue Book
in 1888, and other period documents indicate that they maintained social connections
in the city throughout their time abroad.(9) Eliza Buckler, born the same year as Ariana
Trail, certainly fits the profile of the “rich Mrs. Buckler of Baltimore.” The wealth
of the Buckler and Ridgely families also helps explain why Trail was so adamant that
Harding send money immediately, and why Harding, upon reading the letter,
responded with nearly 40 percent more than requested.

Eliza Ridgely White Buckler. Courtesy Hampton Historic Site, National Park Service

It seems unlikely, however, that Mrs. Buckler would have been aware of, or interested
in, Barbara Fritchie’s furniture. The Etchison Furniture Store was located in
Frederick, but the Bucklers’ social connections were primarily in Baltimore.
Additionally, the political leanings of the Ridgely and Buckler families suggest that
the Fritchie provenance would not have appealed to them. If Eliza Buckler was the
Mrs. Buckler identified in Trail’s letter, her interest in the object challenges
assumptions. It is likely that Trail mentioned Mrs. Buckler to her son-in-law simply
to encourage him to send money expediently.

In 1929 Florence Trail, Ariana’s daughter, explained why her mother was so intent
on acquiring Fritchie’s desk-and-bookcase. She wrote that her mother,

remembered distinctly hearing all about Mrs. Barbara Fritchie’s keeping out her flag
while the Rebels passed her house, and as the immense flag which waved from the
cupola of our house was always taken down . . . under similar circumstances, Mother
at once gave expression to her admiration for the old lady, and ever afterwards used
to say that ‘Aunt Barbara’ was the only person who had ever excited her envy. (10)

The object about which Trail wrote served to reinforce the mythology surrounding
Barbara Fritchie and helped to sculpt a post−Civil War American history that focused
on valor and heroism.

Creations of legends and mythologies often exclude more complicated aspects of the
past. Fritchie was not, to modern understanding, a model Union supporter, as she and
her husband owned two slaves. (11) Furthermore, Fritchie’s father-in-law, Caspar Fritchie,
was a Tory who was sentenced to be drawn and quartered in Frederick in 1781. (12)
Despite these questionable circumstances, Barbara Fritchie became a symbol of
patriotism and American values.

After Nan and the Reverend Harding acquired the desk-and-bookcase, they
bequeathed it to their daughters, who in turn left it to a neighbor, Julia Hanna. (13) In
1989, Frank Horton, the founder of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts
(MESDA), acquired the piece for the museum. In his correspondence with Hanna,
Horton noted that he appreciated its fine condition and thought that “it would make
a real important statement of the skills of the cabinetmakers of the Frederick area of
Maryland,” omitting any mention of Fritchie. (14) His writings highlight how motivations
for collecting Southern objects had shifted over the course of a century, from one
premised on an object’s association with historical figures to one that valued
connoisseurship and visitor experience.

Ariana Trail and John Harding were part of a rich network of early collectors
interested in Southern objects, and they were attracted to those objects primarily
because of their association with historical figures, even if those associations were
apocryphal in origin. Such objects now form the core of numerous museum collections
across the country, and it only by studying their histories, including who collected them
and why, that one can begin to reveal the complex issues they illuminate.

Post by Trent Rhodes, Lois F. McNeil Fellow in the Winterthur Program in American Culture.

This article originally appeared in the 54th Annual Delaware Antiques Show catalogue and was generously sponsored by Tom Savage. The Delaware Antiques Show takes place November 10–12 at the Chase Center on the Riverfront, Wilmington, DE.

Footnotes:

1 Ariana Trail to John Harding, Frederick, Maryland, November 21, 1885, MESDA object file, acc. 3985.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 The verses here are an excerpt from the poem: John Greenleaf Whittier, “Barbara Frietchie,” Atlantic Monthly 12, no. 72 (1863).
5 Maryland Register of Wills Records, 1629−1999, images, FamilySearch,
: Frederick, Wills, 1860−1865, vol. 15, image 117 or 173, Hall of Records, Annapolis.
6 Julia Hanna, object history, MESDA object file, acc. 3985.
7 Trail to Harding, November 21, 1885.
8 John Harding to Ariana Trail, Frederick, Maryland, November 23, 1885, MESDA object file, acc. 3985.
9 Dr. & Mrs. Thomas H. Buckler, Baltimore Society Visiting List (Baltimore: Thos. E. Lycett & Co., 1888),
10 Florence Trail, A Memorial of Ariana McElfresh Trail (Boston: R. G. Badger, 1929), 72.
11 Maryland Register of Wills Records, 1629−1999, images, FamilySearch,
: Frederick, Wills 1849−1854, vol. 1, image 34 of 210, Hall of Records, Annapolis.
12 Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia), August 18, 1781.
13 Hanna, object history.
14 Frank Horton to Julia Hanna, Winston-Salem, N.C., MESDA object file, acc. 3985.

Posted in Academic Programs, antiques, Decorative Arts, Delaware Antiques Show, Furniture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


At Twenty-Five: Distinguishing the Biggs Museum of American Art

Biggs Museum of American Art, seen with the first permanent sculptural installation, Aloft, by Erica Loustau, professor at West Chester University. Aloft is the capstone of the museum’s 2011−14 renovation.

As we look forward to the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Biggs Museum of
American Art, our focus is one dedicated to the objects, stories, and supporters who
have made the institution not only notable—thanks to founder Sewell C. Biggs
—but unique among the nation’s art museums. Through the vision and
generosity of Mr. Biggs, the museum opened in 1993 on the Delaware state capital’s
impressive Legislative Mall and has, in the years since his passing in 2003,
continued to grow through public sponsorship, private philanthropy, careful choices,
and significant good fortune. This anniversary celebration presents the perfect
opportunity to reflect on that sustained growth.

Sewell C. Biggs, Peter Egeli, 1979. Oil on canvas. Bequest of Sewell C. Biggs 2004.469

After 2003 the staff and trustees of the museum initiated a series of ambitious
exhibitions, engaging programs, capital campaigns, and aggressive communications
to elicit greater attention and support from the community. A new spirit of
engagement within the Biggs began with the hiring in 2004 of the museum’s
curator, Ryan Grover, and culminated in a three-year expansion and renovation
of the galleries; several groundbreaking publications; a widening of the base
of support; and an enviable list of educational partnerships. Inviting this level of
public participation had a positive impact upon the museum operations, strategic
goals, and permanent collection—a collection that has doubled in size under
Grover’s stewardship.

The Marcia and Henry DeWitt Gallery in 2015, after the museum’s three-year renovation. Featured are works by the family of Charles Willson Peale as well as Federal furnishings from Delaware.

As noted by Charles Guerin, executive director since 2013, “The key stakeholders
of the Biggs Museum have guided its recently explosive pattern of growth with a
wise deference to the founder’s legacy. The core of Mr. Biggs’s intellectual and
collecting interests are continually maintained within his timeline presentation of
the permanent collection.”

Walnut side chairs, 1740−65. Gift and partial gift of the Loockerman / Bradford Family 2013.10.1-.2;
Mahogany pembroke table, Benjamin Randolph (?), Philadelphia, 1760−80. Museum purchase 2006.17; A Map of the World, Mary Tobias Putman, 2006. Acrylic on panel. Museum purchase 2010.7

The museum continues to celebrate Sewell C. Biggs’s passion for early Delaware
decorative arts with the addition of well-documented examples to his collection,
and few are as prized as the four compass-seat side chairs (1740−65) made for the
Dover home of wealthy merchant Vincent Loockerman. The chairs are
among the earliest known furniture believed to have been made in Delaware.¹ The
pembroke table on view with the set was perhaps made by Benjamin Randolph,
who supplied chairs to Loockerman, presumably in the 1760s.²

The American Rococo Gallery features exceptional Philadelphia furniture and silver in front of the 1758 Shipley mantel from Wilmington, Delaware.

The respect paid to Biggs’s interests in the growth of the museum collection is
matched by an equally ambitious desire to forge new directions and illuminate new
relationships within the galleries. The modern and contemporary art collections are
among the fastest growing portions of the museum. As examples of national trends
of the past hundred years are added to expand the original Biggs collection further
into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, much of the newest and most exciting
work being collected comes from within the Mid-Atlantic region, especially
Delaware. Displayed above the notable Loockerman chairs is A Map of the World
(2006) by Townsend, Delaware, resident Mary Tobias Putman, winner of the
Hassam, Speicher, Betts & Symons Purchase Fund Award from the American
Academy of Arts and Letters. This minimalist landscape features the timeless fishing
village of Leipsic on the Delaware Bay, only a few miles from the Biggs Museum.

Within a ten-year period, Mr. Biggs opened and nurtured a small American art
museum with a collection that reflected important early art forms of Delaware.
During the past fifteen years, the museum staff and trustees have built on that
foundation, creating one of the finest regional art museums in the country. The
Biggs Museum of American Art is the only institution working to give national
attention to the full range of artistic achievement and cultural strength within
Delaware and the greater Delmarva region (fig. 5). Its most distinguishing
characteristic is its courage in building an important American art collection that
offers a better understanding of a unique cultural geography—displaying the best
of the nation next to the best from right here.

At Twenty-Five: Distinguishing the Biggs Museum of Art is the special loan exhibit at this year’s Delaware Antiques Show, November 10–12, 2017.

The original article featured in the Delaware Antiques Show Catalogue was generously sponsored by Stratus Foundation/flyAdvanced.

Excerpt from the article submitted for publication in Antiques & Fine Art (Winter 2017).

¹ Two chairs have been gifted, and two are promised gifts of the descendants of Vincent Loockerman.

² The museum owns one side chair from this set; it is inscribed with Randolph’s name and the partially obscured date of 1762
or 1765.

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The Long Journey of the Charleston Dining Room

Seldom seen by visitors today, the Charleston Dining Room on the third floor of Winterthur contains woodwork and windows from what was once a fashionable gathering place in antebellum South Carolina. The 18th-century paneling, cornices, fireplace and mantle, and windows come from a hotel that stood in Charleston near the intersection of Broad and Meeting Streets. During its heyday in the 1820s and 1830s, the hotel hosted visitors from across America and Europe.

Site of the old Jones Hotel in Charleston

If appreciating the carved woodwork today is easy, grappling with the hotel’s legacy is more difficult. As was common during that time in Charleston, many of the workers who earned the hotel its reputation were enslaved, but what was more unusual was the proprietors were free people of color. Jehu Jones was a tailor who purchased his freedom in 1798 and soon began acquiring real estate—and enslaved human beings too. He purchased the hotel for $13,000 in 1816, but it was probably his wife Abigail, a pastry cook, who put the hotel on the map.

“Every Englishman who visits Charleston,” wrote one foreign guest in 1833, “will, if he be wise, direct his baggage to be conveyed to Jones’s hotel.” The old world elegance of its dinners included iced claret that “might have converted even Diogenes into a gourmet.”(1) Another guest was Samuel F. B. Morse, who was still known as a painter rather than as an inventor. Around 1821, Morse came to Charleston and rented rooms behind the Jones Hotel as a portrait studio.

Both guests would have spent time in the Charleston Dining Room. Located on the second floor of the main building, it probably served not as a dining room but as a drawing room, where guests might gather after meals. The bay window projected over the hotel’s main entrance on Broad Street, giving guests a clear view of Charleston’s city hall.

The Jones Hotel was also just a few hundred feet from the headquarters of Charleston’s city guard. After nine o’clock at night, the guard would arrest black residents, whether enslaved or free, who ventured out of doors. A German duke staying at the hotel around 1825 recounted hearing a warning call; he was “startled to hear the retreat and reveillé beat there” from inside his room.(2) The Joneses, for all their importance to the social life of the elite—and although they were slaveholders themselves—were among the people being targeted.

If you get the chance to see the room today, you are viewing what may be the only identifiable surviving part of the main hotel.

The building fell into disrepair in the late 19th century. Around 1928, it was dismantled and placed in storage. Some pieces, including the paneling from this room, were eventually acquired by the Yale University Art Gallery, where Henry Francis du Pont discovered them in the 1950s. What is now the Charleston Dining Room, was shipped from New Haven and installed at Winterthur, originally to serve as a lunch spot for visitors taking all-day tours.

Today, the warm sandy color of the walls is based on the earliest original layer of paint, applied around 1774 when the hotel was constructed as a private home. The white tiles lining the fireplace suggest the patterned Delft tiles popular in Charleston at the time. What comes from the building itself is the carved wood—including the windows, the elaborate decorations above the fireplace, and the two closet doors. The entrance, however, was moved from its original location opposite the bay window in order to fit the current space.

Post by Jonathan W. Wilson, a historian and adjunct faculty member at the University of Scranton and Marywood University. He is working on a book project about the Jones family.

 

NOTES

(1) Thomas Hamilton, Men and Manners in America, vol. 2 (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and T. Cadell, 1833), 278.

(2) Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar Eisenach, Travels through North America, during the Years 1825 and 1826, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Carey, 1928), 7.

SELECTED REFERENCES

Amrita Chakrabarti Myers, Forging Freedom: Black Women and the Pursuit of Liberty in Antebellum Charleston (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 99-100.

Albert Simons, “Report of Matters Pertaining to the Removal of the Mansion House, Charleston, South Carolina,” n.d., Winterthur Archives

Harriet P. and Albert Simons, “The William Burrows House of Charleston,” Winterthur Portfolio 3 (1967): 172-203.

South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Public Programs Packet no. 1, Jehu Jones: Free Black Entrepreneur [1989]

John A. H. Sweeney, The Treasury House of Early American Rooms (New York: W. W. Norton, 1963), 12 and 76-77.

Marina Wikramanayake, A World In Shadow: The Free Black in Antebellum South Carolina (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1973), 79 and 103-111.

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