Domestic Politics

Glass flask with the bust of Zachary Taylor, made at the Dyottville Glass Works, Philadelphia, 1846−40. Gift of Mrs. Harry W. Lunger 1973.402.6

Glass flask with the bust of Zachary Taylor, made at the Dyottville Glass
Works, Philadelphia, 1846−40. Gift of Mrs. Harry W. Lunger 1973.402.6

Every four years, after each presidential election, there are newspaper op-eds claiming that the campaign that year was longer, nastier, and more divisive than ever. The truth of the matter is that presidential campaigns of the past could be just as long, nasty, and divisive as modern political contests. They certainly could be more colorful.

The populist campaigns of the second quarter of the nineteenth century were marked by an explosion of material culture bearing slogans, icons, and portraits of the candidates. From hickory canes for “Old Hickory” Andrew Jackson in 1828 to log cabin carriages for William Henry Harrison in 1840 and glass flasks molded with battle cries surrounding the bust of Zachary Taylor in 1848, a full range of decorative and useful objects was fashioned to show partisan support that lasted well beyond an election.

Material culture allowed a campaign to cross the threshold from the public sphere into the private home and become a part of daily life. Ceramics, textiles, and personal accessories populated homes with images of a favorite candidate. In the 1820s, copper lusterware pitchers bearing a brooding portrait of “General Jackson, The Hero of New Orleans” brought the volatile politicians to the dining table. Following Jackson’s win in the 1828 election, housewives could make curtains from a victorious inauguration textile, placing the general among the pantheon of U.S. presidents.

In 1840 fervent partisans showed their Whiggish loyalty by purchasing entire sets of dining and teawares decorated with a special pattern in support of William Henry Harrison. Produced by William Adams and Sons in Staffordshire, England, the pattern was named “Log Cabin,” after Harrison’s iconic residence on the frontier. The story of retired General Harrison’s welcoming an injured soldier into his modest home was also printed on bandboxes and molded into glass cup plates for use and display in the home. His log cabin became the logo of the Whig campaign, drawing a domestic connection between the candidate and the electorate.

Lusterware pitcher with the portrait of Andrew Jackson, made in Staffordshire, England, 1824−30. Gift of Mr. B. Thatcher Feustman 1966.69

Lusterware pitcher with the portrait of
Andrew Jackson, made in Staffordshire,
England, 1824−30. Gift of Mr. B. Thatcher
Feustman 1966.69

Teacup printed with the “Log Cabin” pattern in support of William Henry Harrison, made by William Adams and Sons, Staffordshire, England, 1840. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1969.1738.1

Teacup printed with the “Log
Cabin” pattern in support of William
Henry Harrison, made by William Adams
and Sons, Staffordshire, England, 1840.
Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont
1969.1738.1

Printed textile portraying Zackary Taylor, made in the United States, 1848. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1969.3332.1

Printed textile portraying Zackary Taylor, made in the
United States, 1848. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont
1969.3332.1

In 1848 another victorious general was running for president. Images of Zachary Taylor and his campaigns in the Mexican-American War were repeated on textiles that draped the homes of his political supporters. The patterns combined popular decorative motifs with campaign imagery, such as the textile for curtains and quilts that showed General Taylor and his horse, Old Whitey.

Although women in the Jacksonian era couldn’t vote, much less run for president, they did find their own ways of participating in political campaigns. During Jackson’s campaigns in the 1820s, they could purchase, use, and display pin boxes showing support for a candidate. The pincushions on top of each box were stamped and painted with slogans such as “Victory to Jackson,” “Old Hickory Forever,” and “Don’t Forget New Orleans.” Jackson’s portrait was mounted under glass under the lid of each box. Sewing was also a prominent way women were actively involved in campaigns. From the blue and red textiles with a pattern of log cabins and William Henry Harrison on wholecloth quilts in the 1840s to a large needlework portrait of Henry Clay made by twelve-year-old Agnes D. Jackson stitchery highlighted not only a young woman’s skill but her political opinions as well.

Badges, buttons, ribbons, and personal accessories marked men as partisans and allowed them to carry their candidate with them throughout the day. In 1828 circular tobacco boxes bearing the portrait of General Jackson could be slipped into a pocket or displayed on a desk. In 1844 cigar cases were decorated with the portrait of Henry Clay. If a supporter preferred pipes to cigars, he could purchase a Clay pipe molded with the face of the candidate. “Log Cabin” beaver hats and “Rough and Ready” straw hats also allowed supporters to make their views known.

Needlework portrait of Henry Clay, made by Agnes D. Jackson, Rockaway, New Jersey, 1850. Gift of Ruth Gardiner Rathburn Pitman 2001.14

Needlework portrait of Henry Clay, made by
Agnes D. Jackson, Rockaway, New Jersey, 1850.
Gift of Ruth Gardiner Rathburn Pitman 2001.14

Leather and papier-mâché cigar case decorated with the portrait of Henry Clay, made in the United States, 1844. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1965.2092

Leather and papier-mâché cigar case decorated with
the portrait of Henry Clay, made in the United States, 1844.
Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1965.2092

As material evidence of partisan enthusiasm, political material culture existed for all citizens, whether male or female. Campaign objects graced shop windows and dinner tables as well as the coats and heads of supporters. Not only markers of inclusion with a specific group, they were the ultimate demonstration of dedication and enthusiasm for a candidate and his party.

Post by Lydia Blackmore, decorative arts curator at The Historic New Orleans Collection and a 2013 graduate of the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture.

 

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


Research Never Tasted So Good

Election Day in Philadelphia by John Lewis Krimmel, 1815, Philadelphia, PA, Oil paint, Canvas, Museum purchase with funds provided by Henry Francis du Pont, 1959.131

Election Day in Philadelphia by John Lewis Krimmel, 1815, Philadelphia, PA, Oil paint, Canvas, Museum purchase with funds provided by Henry Francis du Pont, 1959.131

As the 2016 election season reaches its climax, one of our research fellows has provided us with a delicious treat to celebrate the occasion. Bryce Evans, senior lecturer in history at Liverpool Hope University, England, is researching the history of an aptly named historical goodie: the election cake.

This dish has its roots in the enormous cakes New England women baked to sustain militias. However, after the American Revolution it became associated with elections and was offered as an incentive for men to cast their ballot. Although there are many variations on this treat, it is typically filled with a variety of dried fruits, spices, and plenty of booze. The cake is unique in that it contains yeast, making it resemble more of a bread than a cake.

Evans is particularly interested in how election cakes varied in size over time as America itself was changing. The original 17th-century election cakes were enormous—big enough to sustain large numbers of male voters. As America gained its independence and became more industrialized and urban, the cakes became smaller, resembling more of a sweet loaf. This can be attributed to the cake being baked domestically rather than communally and the influx of different ethnic groups who preferred cooking by stove rather than by hearth.

The Winterthur Library collection is rich in materials related to this dessert, including recipe books and other items focused on the history of American foodways. “The material in the Downs Collection has given me unique insight into the history of the election cake, and although researching cake sounds a tad decadent, it’s about more than just cake, it’s about understanding what a changing recipe says about a changing American society,” notes Evans.

H. N. Pilsbury’s Election Cake recipe, 1847. Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Doc. 275

H. N. Pilsbury’s Election Cake recipe, 1847. Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Doc. 275

Lydia Grofton Jarvis’s Election Cake recipe, ca. 1840. Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Doc. 828.

Lydia Grofton Jarvis’s Election Cake recipe, ca. 1840. Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Doc. 828.

Although the cake disappeared from popular memory around the middle of the 20th century, this election cycle has seen a resurgence in the tradition. Bakeries across the country are baking the treat again, and just last week Evans was interviewed by the BBC in the UK to provide insight into this historical recipe.

The riches of the Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera are not limited to the written word—the librarians have taken a keen interest in the subject and have turned into bakers this election season to help Evans with his research. “Bryce became interested in election cake, and we were discussing how unusual it is because the recipes called for yeast, which you would use with bread not cake,” Downs Librarian Laura Parrish noted. “I checked a couple of cookbooks I had at home and found a modern recipe, so I decided I would make an election cake. His interest became my interest.”

Laura Parrish's delicious Election Cake

Laura Parrish’s delicious Election Cake

It is this creative, supportive, and dynamic environment that makes the Research Fellowship Program at Winterthur a special and integral part of the institution. Fellows do not merely pore over dusty manuscripts by themselves in the library but are immersed into a community that cares deeply about material culture research. Staff and fellows brainstorm, collaborate, and even bake in order to better understand the deliciousness of the American past—even if it means getting flour all over the kitchen!

If you are interested in coming to Winterthur to research the sweet treats of America’s past or to explore our rich collections for materials related to other aspects of American history, please come and join our community by applying to the Research Fellowship Program. For more information on the program, view our brochure.

Applications due January 15, 2017

Post by Thomas Guiler, Manager and Instructor, Academic Programs, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

 

Posted in Academic Programs, Cooking, culinary, Ephemera, Library, museum collection, Students & Alumni, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


Decking the Dollhouse Halls in August

Our recent blog posts have chronicled the dollhouse donated to Winterthur, with the most recent posts detailing the cleaning and conservation treatments. After completing those intricate tasks and treatments, it was time to begin the re-installation process. This meant using photographs showing the way the dollhouse was last assembled by its creator, Nancy McDaniel. We wanted to arrange the miniatures in a manner true to Nancy’s vision.

Every room had an average of 50 miniatures, and as we secured each item into place, we documented it on a Canon T4i camera. These videos allow a viewer to enjoy each room as it comes together piece by piece. Altogether 18 stop-motion videos were made, one for each room.

The only thing these videos are missing is the installation of Christmas, Nancy’s favorite time of year. She was an enthusiastic gift giver throughout the entire year, but Christmas was the season of giving. We know she ran a number of charities and fundraisers; most notable among them was her community’s Festival of Trees. And of course, it was Nancy who saw to it that garlands and wreaths draped her town during the holiday season. So it should come as no surprise to learn that dozens of miniature Christmas decorations accompanied the dollhouse as well. Unfortunately, the photographs we referenced to re-install the dollhouse did not include pictures of the house decorated for Christmas. So what to do? How would we deck the halls without all the necessary information?

First, we reached out to Nancy’s friends and family. Perhaps they would remember. Through her friends and family, we learned the ways in which Nancy decorated her own home. To start, there were seven Christmas trees, one of which was decorated entirely with unique silver ornaments, while another was covered in 474 needlepointed ornaments made by Nancy herself. Nutcrackers stood guard in almost every room, and her handmade crèche greeted visitors near the front door.

After spending nine-and-a-half weeks tending to her dollhouse and talking to her friends and family, we felt like we had gotten to know Nancy a little. So, equipped with what we had learned about her own home, our own studies of Nancy’s attention to color and arrangement in the rest of the dollhouse, and just a little dash of good old-fashioned fun, we installed the delightful Christmas decorations. In total, we used 45 of the 116 miniature wreaths and three Christmas trees as well as dozens of other irresistibly festive details. To fully appreciate the scale of Nancy’s achievement, you will have to visit the dollhouse and see it decked out for the holidays during Yuletide at Winterthur.

dollhouse 2

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

Posted in Academic Programs, Dollhouse, Students & Alumni, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments


Sticking Around

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

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

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

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

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

picture 2

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

picture 3

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

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

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

[Sources for link to tiny magnets]

K&J Magnets

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

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

 

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


Let There Be (Just Enough) Light!

Exterior of Winterthur with its many windows.

Exterior of Winterthur with its many windows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light sensor discretely located on the orrery in Memorial Library

Light sensor discretely located on the orrery in Memorial Library

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Academic Programs, antiques, Art Conservation, Behind-the-Scenes, Conservation, Decorative Arts, Du Pont Family, House, museum collection, Students & Alumni, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments


Why So Sensitive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


My Favorite Things

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

 

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

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


The Day the Earth Shook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hanging in the Balance

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

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

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

Image by Evan Krape, University of Delaware

Image by Evan Krape, University of Delaware

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Posted in Academic Programs, American Culture Studies, Art Conservation, Behind-the-Scenes, Conservation, Dollhouse, Exhibitions, Students & Alumni, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment


Reuniting Two Treaty Elm Vases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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