Powered by Portfolio: Teen Activist Inspired by Journal Article

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

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

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

Program from designation ceremony, February 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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Celebrating a Milestone: A Lithograph Honoring the Fifteenth Amendment

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

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

Center detail

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

Bottom left

Bottom right

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

Top center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Pushing Buttons (Into New Storage Housing)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

The very bottom portion contains information from similar pieces:

“THIS BEAUTIFUL GEM,

framed in Mt Vernon Wood,

can only be had, wholesale

and retail, at HORACE BARNES & CO,

123 WASHINGTON STREET, BOSTON

or their agents throughout

the United States.”

Rear view of the medallion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Close-up of the memento.

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

1.  Crutchett, Appeal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Many Faces of George Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples of plates from the storage areas

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

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

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

The completed arrangement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Precarious Profession of Painting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘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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