I’m ashamed to admit that a relatively large part of my paycheck goes to Anthropologie each month or season, so as I became aware that I was in the vicinity of one of their rarer garden stores as I passed through Connecticut last week, I had to make a slight detour for the Westport Terrain. What a store–I was a bit overwhelmed, which doesn’t often happen to me in a shop scenario. Actually, it’s a combination nursery/garden store/ housewares store/gift shop/bar-restaurant–there was a lot going on when I arrived, too much for me! I certainly hadn’t planned on getting any plants as I was on the road (and I like nurseries to be a bit more dirty) but I thought I might get some planters–as I had never really replaced the ones that were stolen last summer. But there were too many planters to choose from! And too many watering cans, baskets, and vessels of all kinds–along with candles and lanterns and wreaths and everything else. Sensory overload–though I plan to return, better prepared, in the not-too-distant future.
Category Archives: Design
I am not fond of blue-and-white china (or anything blue, to tell you the truth), nor do I particularly like the Willow pattern, one of the most popular and replicated in the western world for several centuries. But I do love both the idea and the act of updating something that is classically familiar—even overly familiar–in a clever and creative way. So when I saw a little story about Calamityware, in which flying monkeys and flying saucers, along with robots and Renaissance sea creatures, are right there on the plate along with the traditional “Chinese” structures, figures, and landscapes, I went right to the source: artist Don Moyer’s site, on which his earlier drawings are coming to life (or pottery) on a Kickstarter-funded production line. So many things about these plates appeal to me (despite their color): they are blatantly anachronistic, purely whimsical, and perfect examples of my favorite fusion of past and present, traditional and modern, new and old. The flying monkeys were first off the line, and we may see kings and oligarchs later, though surely they won’t be as scary.
Calamityware is not the first variation on the Blue Willow pattern; in fact it was inspirational almost from its inception–and wildly popular. I’ve got a bowl full of Willow shards uncovered in my back yard when I was digging out my herb garden. Willow ware was first produced in the late eighteenth century by Thomas Minton, an English potter who adapted designs featured on Chinese export porcelain for domestic production. There was no patent protection, and his competitors–Wedgwood, Royal Worcester, Spode–began producing their own Blue Willow, and continued to do so for the next two centuries. In an early stroke of advertising genius, a story was composed to sell the dishes: when a powerful Chinese lord discovers that his daughter has fallen in love with his lowly clerk, he locks her up in a secluded pagoda behind a fence and betrothes her to a rich and elderly duke. The young couple flee before the wedding, but are hunted down and killed (there are different versions of their deaths). True love prevails, however, as the gods transform the lovers into a pair of lovebirds which remain together forever, hovering above the willow tree that once shaded their clandestine meetings. The story expanded the reach of Blue Willow–beyond the pottery business and into popular culture: poems, books, textiles, and pictures told the Blue Willow love story over and over again in the Victorian era, and after.
Spode Blue Willow plate, c. 1800-1820, Victoria & Albert Museum; Joyce Mercer (1896-1965) illustration, 1920s.
And now, Willow ware seems to be having a moment, once again. In fact, this “moment” seems to encompass the past decade or so, or perhaps the pattern, in all of its variations (and colors–I could go for the red), is always having a moment. And that, of course, is the definition of classic. In 2005 ceramicist Robert Dawson digitally-designed a line of “After Willow” dishes for Wedgwood, and more recently we have Pokemon Willow by Olly Moss (note the lovebirds, still flying above!) and there are more calamities to come.
I have posted on Salem’s Gothic Revival structures before, but I didn’t really delve into the sources or inspiration for this mid-19th century romantic style, other than to reference Andrew Jackson Downing. While Downing and other outside influences were no doubt important, it is now clear to me (thanks to two scholarly papers* by Arthur Krim) that Salem had its own Gothic promoter, Colonel Francis Peabody (1801-1867). The second son of Salem’s most illustrious merchant prince at the time, the Colonel’s life and work mark Salem’s transition from Federal city built on maritime trade to “Victorian” city sustained by industry: he even had a statue of Queen Victoria installed in the truly Gothic “Banqueting Room” of the family’s Essex Street mansion. But it is important to note that Peabody was an energetic entrepreneur and philanthropist, not just a dilettante dabbling in design. He was colonel of the 1st Regiment, 1st Brigade, 2nd Division of Massachusetts Militia, the founder of the Forest River Lead Company (the subject of my last post), and the first president of the Essex Institute. He clearly had two passions, which seem very different but perhaps are related: technology including all of its potential applications and the public awareness thereof, and the Gothic style, interpreted quite conservatively–and widely. The colonel seems to have craved a Gothic environment not only for himself (encompassing the interior of the family home on Essex Street and Kernwood, his “country” estate in North Salem) but for much of Salem: he was the driving force behind the design of the First Unitarian (North) Church on Essex Street in the Gothic style by Boston architect Gridley J.F. Bryant as well as the foundation structures of Salem’s picturesquely-planned cemetery, Harmony Grove, for which he designed the “rustic arch” himself in 1839. Certainly it was not an impartial publication, but the successive editions of the Essex Institute’s Visitor’s Guide to Salem in the later nineteenth century proclaim that Peabody’s love of the beautiful in architecture has left a good influence in Salem in many way. His two pursuits, technological innovation focusing on the future and a design aesthetic focused on the “medieval” past are not incompatible: in moments of dynamic change like mid-19th century Salem (or Britain), reverence for the past, especially the rural past, seems perfectly understandable to me.
Colonel Francis Peabody’s Gothic Salem:
The Peabody House, 134-36 Essex Street Salem, c. 1890, and its “Banqueting Hall”: photographs by Frank Cousins, Duke University Urban Landscape digital collection (the house was taken down in 1908 and replaced by the Salem Armory headhouse); Photograph of Kernwood, Peabody’s North Salem estate built on 66 acres, by Walker Evans, c. 1931, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Harmony Grove Arch, designed by Peabody in 1839 and taken down in 1960, quatrefoil, and Kernwood Gate and Gatehouse, Frank Cousins photographs, c. 1890, via Krim (1992); Harmony Grove chapel door and Peabody Family Funeral Monument; The gathering for the Colonel’s funeral, Harper’s Weekly, February 1870.
* Arthur J. Krim, “An Early Rustic Arch in Salem”, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 51, No. 3 ( 1992), pp. 315-317, and “Francis Peabody and Gothic Salem”, Peabody Museum Historical Collections, Volume 130, no. 1 (1994), 18-35.
I was planning a post on tax collectors for this Tax Day, but it got too overwhelming and too depressing: as one of Lucifer’s Four Evangelists (with the usurer, the banker, and the miller (???), the tax man has been reviled for centuries, and depicted in images and prose in all sorts of unflattering ways. I don’t think anyone wants to see paintings of tax collectors on the day their returns are due, even if they are the creations of Renaissance artists (who seem to have a singular obsessions with tax farmers). So instead, I’m offering LEGO art!
T, The New York Times Style Magazine has some interesting features in its latest edition, despite a thematic focus on minimalism (not my favorite style). There is a lot of texture in the magazine, and one particular photograph stopped me in my tracks: an ancient, crumbling wall, patched with plastic. The close proximity of very new and very old is my favorite aesthetic, so I had to see more of the work of artist Jan Vormann.
Jan Vormann/© 2014 ARS, New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
At first glance, I thought the above image was photoshopped but no, as his website and this Daily Telegraph article make clear, Vormann travels the real world and places bright LEGO blocks in the midst of conspicuous decay, drawing attention to buildings and places as part of a “Repair Manifesto”. He wants onlookers to see the holes, question why they are there, and seek their repair–except perhaps where they serve as constant reminders, as in the case of the bullet and shrapnel destruction of Berlin. How I wish he would come to Salem! We need the colorful and constant reminders of our past, and the manifesto to repair.
Lego “repairs” in Berlin, New York City, Venice and Vormann’s hometown of Bamberg, Germany: JAN VORMANN / BARCROFT USA and Dispatchwork.
The very first old house which enchanted me–and still does–is the Justin Smith Morrill Homestead in Strafford, Vermont, where I lived as a child. It’s a pink Gothic Revival confection, perfect in every way, and perfectly preserved. Here in Salem, we have several notable Gothic Revival houses, including conspicuous examples that were captured by Walker Evans when he passed through town and an Andrew Jackson Downing design that I walk by every day on the way to work. And then of course there is the gothicized Pickering House. All of these houses are very well-maintained: people who buy Gothic Revival houses really have to make a commitment to their preservation because the style is characterized by intricate exterior and interior detail and for the most part they do make this commitment, with the very notable apparent exception of Mario Buatta, the famous New York interior designer nicknamed the “Prince of Chintz”. In 1992, Mr Buatta purchased a very prominent Gothic Revival house located in a very prominent historic district: the William H. Mason House (1845) in the midst of the Thompson Hill Historic District in Thompson, Connecticut. After some initial renovations he abandoned the project and the house, and its very prominent deterioration ensued. The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation placed the property on its Most Endangered list in 2004, and last summer an online petition was launched. Things heated up last month: with the cancellation of a scheduled appearance by Buatta on March 6 by Historic New England and an article in the New York Times in which one Thompson neighbor called the designer a “New York interior desecrater” and Buatta threatened to sell the house to a funeral parlor if the complaints don’t cease and desist. Closer to the scene, the Hartford Courant has published an article today which discusses the legal remedies open to preservationists (very interesting–involving environmental laws). “Demolition by neglect” has always been incomprehensible to me, except in situations of hardship–which clearly this is not. This particular case is even more difficult to understand: surely this notoriety is bad for Mr. Buatta’s business as well as his reputation. And this is a man who has served, or continues to serve for all I know, on the board of New York City’s Historic House Trust. Let’s hope that he comes to the decision to sell or save the Mason house soon.
The William H. Mason House today and in 1986 (Hartford Courant and Gregory Andrews for the National Registry of Historic Places, 1986; a watercolor sketch of Mr. Buatta lounging in a Gothic-esque bed, Konstantin Kakanias for the New York Times (pinched from this great post at the Down East Dilettante).
If you’ve read this blog for any time at all you know that I am a traditionalist when it comes to architecture, and a committed preservationist, but there’s a new storefront on Essex Street, Salem’s main thoroughfare since its foundation, which has definitely caught my eye–and it is very sleek and very modern. As a main street, for nearly four centuries, Essex Street has had to change with the times, and this particular block lost its really old structures long ago–in the past century it was home to two adjacent movie theaters, one which looks like it was a real palace (the Empire), and another which was a more modest mid-century construction (the Salem). The building with the bold new storefront was built in 1929 in a Colonial Revival style, complete with urns on top–like a McIntire fence! Its shiny new facade actually has a bit more integrity, I think, and hopefully draws a great new tenant.
The 390s block of Essex Street, present and past.
Samuel Emery (1787-1882) made compasses and other nautical and mathematical instruments here in Salem for more than half a century–both during and after the city’s great age of sail. His work can still be seen today, at auctions and in museums, but most often in museum shops. Recently I stumbled across one, and then another and another, reproduced and transformed into pendants and pins. What made Emery’s compasses so decorative? It’s not the fleur-de-lis marking north–that is traditional from the fourteenth century when French makers used a fancy “T”, resembling a flower, to mark the north wind or Tramontana. The two surveyors’ compasses below are nearly identical and were both made by Salem craftsman: the one on the left by John Jayne and the smaller one on the right by Emery, both sold at Skinner auctions.
Samuel Emery Box Label, Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University.
I’m sure Emery’s instruments were well-made or he wouldn’t have been in business for as long as he was, but his designs look pretty conventional for their time. I suspect that the reason Emery’s compasses are still for sale is the original copper plate in the possession of the Peabody Essex Museum, enabling fresh and adapted impressions and models to be made, as well as the traditional appeal of the compass rose (first in maritime communities, then more broadly), which has emblazoned textiles, pottery, and other decorative accessories for centuries, so why not jewelry–among other things–now?
Compass Rose brooches from the PEM and Morgan shops (just click on the picture and you’ll get there); Early Connecticut pieced quilt with Mariner’s Compass, Northeast Auctions; Sunderland Pink Lustre bowl, c. 1820-1830, Victoria & Albert Museum; Better than Jam fabric.
I’m a devoted aficionado of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which means I’m a fan not only of Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), but also of the illustrator John Tenniel, whose Alice is Alice: we cannot think of the story apart from his images–the words and the pictures are an inseparable whole. Tenniel produced illustrations for many, many more publications besides Alice and Through the Looking Glass during his long life (1820-1914), but his illustrations for Carroll are the ultimate examples of what book illustration should accomplish: the creation of a tangible world in which the text’s characters dwell. And don’t we all want to live in Wonderland, at least for a little while? As today marks Tenniel’s birthday, I thought I’d share some of his beautiful hand-colored proofs from the collection of the Morgan Library & Museum. These are for the 1889 abridged “Nursery Edition” of Alice, which, ironically, has a cover illustration by a different artist: Emily Gertrude Thomson. As you can see, Thomson’s Alice looks very much like Tenniel’s: she is Alice, after all.
Sir John Tenniel’s hand-colored proofs for the “Nursery” edition of Alice, c. 1889; Morgan Library & Museum, Gift of Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., 1987.
For some time I’ve been captivated by a covered cup and saucer in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston: the pieces were made by the Niderviller Manufactory in France just before the Revolution but somehow the combination of two illusory design motifs–faux bois and trompe l’oeil–make them seem very modern to me. I love everything about them and want to learn more and see more.
It was relatively easy to find more faience from the Niderviller Manufactory: below are a plate dated 1774 in a French private collection and another at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, along with a tray and teapot dated the very same year in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Look at the little nail on the teapot, “tacking” the print to its surface–amazing! The Niderviller Factory was a rare pre-revolutionary aristocratic-owned operation situated in the Duchy of Lorraine where it was exempt from French laws protecting the royal monopoly of the Sèvres porcelain factory. Production at Niderviller commenced by 1750, but I seem to like the more whimsical creations of the 1773-93 period when the factory was owned by the Count de Custine. The Minneapolis plate below is signed by “J. Deutsch” which is a rather imprecise name–I wonder if this almost-anonymous artist was responsible for the other trompe l’oeil pieces? The signatures look similar on the Victoria & Albert tray and teapot. Despite the Count de Custine’s sympathy for both the American and French Revolutions, he was guillotined in 1793, but the Niderville Factory survived both the Revolution and the ensuing Napoleonic Wars and continues to operate today. Trompe l’oeil decoration was wildly popular in the eighteenth century, but the combination of “wood” and “paper” and ceramics is a little more unusual–though I did find a few more examples beyond Niderviller: an early nineteenth-century plate produced at the Imperial Vienna Porcelain Factory and a very rare “solitaire” set, also made in Vienna. I’m not as taken with these Vienna pieces: they lack the whimsy and detail (folded edges) of the Niderviller pieces.
This faux bois/faux papier decoration doesn’t have to be confined to ceramics, of course: we can and should go back–and forward. Both the faux bois and trompe l’oeil techniques seem to have been perfected in the seventeenth-century paintings of still-life artists like Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts (c. 1630-after 1683) and Edwaert Colyer (or Collier, 1642-1708), which must have influenced the ceramic artists of the next century. The “wooden” background and affixed objects certainly seem very real in the former’s Trompe l’Oeil with Riding Whip and Letter Bag (1872), one of many “paneled” and “cabinet” paintings at the National Gallery of Denmark, and Colyer’s letter racks and “portraits” often have faux bois backgrounds (and folded corners).
Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts, Trompe l’Oeil with Riding Whip and Letter Barg, National Gallery of Denmark; Edwaert Colyer, Trompe l’Oeil Portrait of a Lady, Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery.
Both faux bois and trompe l’oeil techniques continue to be expressed and adapted up to the present day, with varying degrees of detail and in various mediums–but combinations are a bit more rare. In the realm of ceramics, I have yet to see anything as appealing as the Niderviller pieces, but I’m always looking. ….so far the closest I’ve come–not too close at all, really—are plates in the “Texquite” pattern from Bongenre, made in that most modern of materials: melanine.
Otis Kaye (1885-1974), The One Key to It All, 20th Century, Private Collection, photo © Christie’s Images / The Bridgeman Art Library; Melanine plate in the “Texquite” pattern, Bongenre.
A beautiful winter weekend for the 12th annual Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate & Ice Sculpture Festival.
There were lots of people downtown: I have no doubt that this Salem Main Streets event helps the restaurants at a quiet time of year (although Salem’s restaurant scene seems to be flourishing anyway); I really hope that it helps the shops too. The wine and chocolate tasting that kicks off the weekend is always such a crush that I skip it, but I would never miss the ice sculptures.
Seeing yellow: this tree was full of fat yellow-breasted birds–finches? Mr. and Mrs. Pac-man; the Miles Ward looked especially lovely to me today.
It’s rather difficult to photograph ice, especially if there’s no background….my favorite sculpture is definitely that of the Salem Diner, acquired by Salem State University last summer and newly-reopened. On the way back home, I noticed that the Joshua Ward house is for sale: this is where George Washington slept when he visited Salem in 1789.