Category Archives: Salem

Theo and Leo

Last night, the “Strandbeests” were released here in Salem, the kinetic, evolving, mechanical-yet-ethereal “beach animals” of Theo Jansen, a Dutch engineering artist and Renaissance Man. There was a not-so-sneak preview of these PVC-pipe creations a few weeks ago up on Crane’s Beach in Ipswich, but yesterday the big beests were on view for the special opening of Strandbeest: the Dream Machines of Theo Jansen at the Peabody Essex Museum. The exhibit is interactive but also a bit static–it’s striking to see these “animals” move and with the exception of one of the smaller beests, that really can’t happen in the confines of a gallery. But Mr. Jansen’s own evolutionary process is revealed, and the photographs of the beests on the beach (by Russian-born photographer Lena Herzog, who happens to be the wife of my very favorite filmmaker, Werner Herzog) are absolutely haunting. In the midst of the exhibition, with these big skeletal structures all around me, I became absolutely fixated on reproductions of Jansen’s preparatory sketches–they reminded me of Leonardo’s notebook drawings almost instantly. I spent the summer looking through (reproductions of) these notebooks as I was teaching a course on Renaissance art and science so they were fresh in my mind, but the association is rather obvious: Lawrence Weschler, who wrote the introductory essay to the companion volume to the exhibition, calls Theo Jansen a cross between da Vinci and Don Quixote. Leonardo, of course, was as preoccupied with engineering as much as he was with art (probably more so) and he had his own animalistic creations, including a “mechanical lion” made for a pageant celebrating the newly-crowned King of France, Francois I. But it is Leonardo’s sketches of wings in his passionate pursuit of flight that remind me of Jansen’s drawings, or vice-versa. Dream machines are eternal, it seems. Strandbeests PEM Strandbeests 067 Strandbeests 046 Strandbeests 034 Strandbeests 023 Strandbeests 026 Strandbeests 019 Strandbeests 055 Strandbeests 016 leonardo-da-vinci-bird-wing-with-mechanical-connections-1 Leonardo Wings Sketch Scenes from the exhibition preview of Strandbeest: the Dream Machines of Theo Jansen at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem; Notebook sketches from Leonardo’s  Codex Atlanticus, Veneranda Biblioteca and Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan.

Fidelia Rising

In the years since I wrote my first post on Salem-born artist Fidelia Bridges (1834-1923), she appears to be taking off. Several pieces on her have appeared in various mediums locally, and the Hawthorne Hotel has named its adjacent annex–which happens to be her childhood home– the “Fidelia Bridges Guest House”. One of her more dramatic compositions has inspired an academic article in, of all places, The Journal of the American Medical Association! I’ve been watching her auction prices and they have been rising very dramatically: one watercolor, Songbirds in a Woodland Marsh, fetched $37,000 in a Christie’s auction last spring (against an estimate of $8000-$12,000). While engaging in one of my favorite forms of shopping–browsing lots of upcoming auctions–I found a lovely little cache of Fidelia items in tomorrow’s Swann’s auction, including letters, artwork, and a pencil portrait of her by her friend and fellow artist Oliver Ingraham Lay. It’s nice to see so much appreciation for an orphaned Salem girl who made her own way in the world, albeit with many friends.

Fidelia Bridges Swanns Auction

Fidelia Bridges Swanns Auction lot

Fidelia Bridges Songbird and Ferns

Fidelia Bridges Calla Lilly 1875

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Two lots from the Swann Auction Galleries auction tomorrow; Songbirds in a Woodland Marsh (Christie’s) and Bird’s Nest and Ferns, the subject of a recent JAMA article; often classified as a “Brooklynite” because of her long residence there, some of Fidelia’s loveliest paintings are in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, include “Calla Lilly”, 1875; the Fidelia Bridges Guest House of the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem.

Scholarship and Shopping

Few moments are more exciting for me than when my intellectual and material endeavors merge, and believe me, they are fleeting! One happened this past Saturday. I had been struggling with two pieces that I am writing for publication on Frank Cousins, Salem’s turn-of-the last century architectural photographer, and a passionate advocate for all thing Colonial. I know a lot about Cousins, and I have a lot to say about him (because no one else has said anything), but I am not a trained 1) American Historian; 2) Architectural Historian; or 3) Art Historian, so that is why I was struggling: could I place him in his proper context? It’s one thing to refer to his “imaginary walks through Salem” and lectures on “Old Architectural Salem” and quite another to assess his contributions to American architectural history and the Preservation movement. I had finished one piece and was thoroughly blocked on the other, when I decided to go over to the first ever (and hopefully not last) “Vintage Market” on Derby Square. I just love the idea of an antiques market in Salem, which has such a long tradition in this trade, and even though I appreciate our farmers’ market, I would rather buy things than vegetables in Derby Square! So off I went, and there was some great stuff: baskets, bottles, buttons, snowshoes, pottery, tins, bottles, and prints, lots and lots of prints, including an old box full of Frank Cousins prints. These were not the original albumen images, mind you, but large reprints made for resale at a mid-century Salem gift shop according to the man who sold them to me, who happens to run his own Salem tours. I bought quite a few, took them home, spread them out on the floor of my study, and waited for inspiration to strike. It took a while (more than a moment to tell the truth), but eventually I finished my article. I think there are two lessons here: 1) if you’re writing about someone who expresses himself visually, you must consider these expressions and 2) shopping always helps.

Close-up: offerings at the First Annual (?) Vintage Market on Derby Square in Salem, and my catch of Cousins photographs.

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Collectibles Collages Salem Vintage Market

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Baker’s Island, Now and Then

If you look at a Google map of Salem you will see that its borders extend out into the Sound, to encompass several islands miles off the coast. These islands have been legally part of Salem from the seventeenth century, guarding the long entrance into Salem Harbor. The Reverend Francis Higginson commented on his entrance into Salem in 1629: we passed the curious and difficult entrance into the large and spacious harbour of Naimkecke [“Naumkeag” i.e. Salem]….it was wonderful to behould so many islands replenished with thicke woods and high trees and many fayre green pastures….

Bakers Island Map 17th C BPL

Bakers Island Map 1897

Given its importance as a port, every map of Salem from the seventeenth century on indicates the islands in Salem Sound: a detail from a map of the coastline of New Netherlands in 1656 from Arnold Colom’s “Zee Atlas” shows the unnamed islands (Leventhal Center, Boston Public Library), and I’ve highlighted Baker’s on an 1897 navigational map.

After several centuries of use, these islands are not quite so fertile but they remain “fair”. Among the largest is Bakers or Baker’s (both forms are used interchangeably; I have no idea which is correct) Island: around 60 acres of residential land, except for the easternmost 1o-acre section which has been owned by the Federal Government from the 1790s and remains the site of a lighthouse (there were previously two). The rest of the island became a summer colony from the late nineteenth century, after Salem physician Dr. Nathan R. Morse built a large cottage for his family as well as a 75-room hotel, called The Weene-egan, for those who sought the ocean air as well as his homeopathic regimen. Around 60 summer cottages were built on the island, and after the Weene-egan burned down in 1906 the island became increasingly “private”, as the owners of these cottages passed them down and restricted access via their exclusive dock. So for most of the twentieth century, Baker’s Island remained a Salem island on which few, if any, Salem residents could step foot. That changed a year ago, when (despite appeals by the cottage owners) the Federal Government (via the U.S. Coast Guard) transferred ownership of the eleven-acre Baker’s Island Light Station to a regional heritage organization, the Essex Heritage Conservation Commission. In the past year, Essex Heritage began a campaign to restore the lighthouse and enabled access to the station (NOT the rest of the island) through daily tours aboard the Naumkeag, which lands on the beach, not the dock. These tours ended yesterday, and we just squeezed ours in the day before.

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Winne-egan Ad.

Baker's Island Launch

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Lining up for the steamer to Baker’s Island and the Winne-egan, 1903; an ad for the hotel in The Outlook, 5 June 1896; our “steamer”, the Naumkeag, approach and landing.

It was a beautiful day and I took lots of pictures, and when I returned home and looked at them they seemed very familiar–even though I had never been to Baker’s Island before. I realized that I had just been checking out some photographs in a collection that local author Nelson Dionne has donated to the Salem State University Archives and Special Collections which included several similar scenes of the island a century ago. I guess tourist shots are timeless! So now we have a perfect opportunity to see some “now and then” perspectives of this newly-revealed island. The images don’t match up perfectly, but close enough, I think.

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Baker's Island Light from Beach SSU

Baker's Island Light SSU

Baker's Island Lighthouses SSU Archives

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Baker's Island Light Interior

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Baker's Island Light 6 SSU

Above, one light now, one light before…but there were actually TWO lighthouses on Baker’s Island: the second was taken down in 1926. Early twentieth-century views of both, interspersed with my photographs, including one of the interior of the surviving lighthouse, now undergoing restoration.

Below: the former site of the Winne-egan Hotel (I think–or close by), the Hotel, and several Baker’s Island cottages, now and then. Not sure when “then” is for the cottage photographs–they look a bit more mid-centuryish (the flag and power line are clues) than those of the Hotel,  which burned down in 1906 due to the presence of “gasoline stored in the basement in large quantities”!

Baker's Island Hotel Site

Baker's Island Hotel Wineegan 2

Baker's Island Hotel Wineegan

Baker's Island Houses

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Baker's Island Houses SSU Archives 2

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Baker's Island House SSU Archives

Distinct “old man on the mountain-ish” rock formation photographed by me and some anonymous tourist years ago. Some things never change! For a more comprehensive history of the Baker’s Island Lighthouse(s), see here; to buy a piece of Baker’s Island, see here.

Bakers Island Old Man on the Mountain

Baker's Island Rock Formation SSU Archives

Labor-free Weekend

I’m now in the last day of a very relaxing Labor Day weekend: the weather has been glorious but the fact that we started classes before the holiday rather than after has definitely contributed to my more peaceful state of mind. Instead of fine-tuning my syllabi I have been gardening, shopping, boating, bicycling, walking, eating and drinking. Salem is full of tourists; everyone is commenting that if seems more like October than September. However, they seemed quite spread out to me: never in the way but filling the shops and restaurants with festive energy. September means the weddings resume next door at Hamilton Hall (no air conditioning over there, thank goodness, which makes for very peaceful summers for us) but even yesterday’s wedding was small and tasteful (as compared to over-capacity, purple-clad bridesmaids, and a unicorn plastered on the horse harnessed to a festoon-clad carriage). We have a couple of new shops in town, including one called Hauswitch which looked so attractive that I had to go in even though I disdain anything kitschy witchy and they have spell kits (among lots of other things) for sale! Gorgeous store–the polar opposite of kitschy–it definitely put a spell on me. And even though, sadly, I can’t eat cheese, I had to go into the brand-new Cheese Shop of Salem which was packed with both cheese (among lots of other things) and people. We finally made it out to the now-accessible Baker’s Island (more in my next post), and skirted the fringes of the Gloucester Schooner Festival on the way back. Alas, I do have to work a bit today.

Labor Day Weekend in Salem 2015: a tale of three gardens– flowers from the still-vibrant late-summer garden at the Ropes Mansion, the fading herb garden at the Derby House, and mine, kind of in-between; Hauswitch and the brand-new Cheese Shop of Salem, absolutely packed on Saturday afternoon, the new coffee shop on Derby Street, the fishing pier at Salem Willows; approaching, on (looking back at Boston), and departing Baker’s Island.

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Labor through the Lens

Before we get to the bittersweet pictures of closing summer, we need to acknowledge that this is Labor Day weekend. I know that this holiday came about because of labor organization, particularly manifest in the 1880s when workers marched “to show their numerical strength in order to satisfy the politicians [of this City] that they might not be trifled with” (The New York Times, September 4, 1882), but I prefer to simply celebrate work. There is strength in numbers but you can more accurately gauge the intensity of effort when you gaze into the eyes of the worker. We have an iconic photograph in our family of my Italian great-great-grandfather, Gaetano, standing next to my great-grandfather, Anthony, who stands next to my grandfather Thomas and my father, also Thomas, as a little boy. They all wear dark suits and hats (even little Thomas) and are standing against a background of marsh and buildings that I assume is Winthrop, Massachusetts, where Anthony eventually settled after Gaetano put him on an American-bound ship when he was 13 years old. When I look at these men, the very first thing I think about is what they did: Gaetano was a fisherman in Campania, his son Anthony was a gifted tailor who evolved into a sought-after coat designer who made enough money to bring his Italian family to Winthrop and send all four of his children, including the two girls, to college. My grandfather was a physician, my father a college professor, like myself. So there’s a lot of effort, a lot of labor, in the picture, the labor that built our family, and I’m not even including that of the women, who also, of course, worked in their homes. For this Labor Day weekend, I have selected several pictures of Salem workers and their settings from the later nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries which reflect this same individual commitment, at least to me. I must admit that the two ladies of Pequot Mills don’t appear to be working all that hard–especially when one is dancing–but they still illustrate the more personal experience I am always seeking (and I just love these photographs!)

Labor Day 8

Labor Day Pequot Mills Buffer

Labor Day Pequot Mills

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Labor Day Shelby Shoe Co 1942

Stunning stereoview of workers by J.W. and J.S. Moulton Photographers of Salem, who operated from 1873-1881, from Jeffrey Knaus Antique Photography; Man operating the buffing machine and workers on the floor of Naumkeag’s Pequot Mills, 1930s-1940s? and workers at the Shelby Shoe Company in Salem, 1942, all from the Nelson Dionne Collection of Salem Images at Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

An Endicott House for Sale

There is no more venerable and ubiquitous name on the North Shore of Boston than Endicott, after John Ende(i)cott, the first (also 10th, 13th, 15th & 17th)  governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There are Endicott streets, parks, schools, and many houses that have some sort of connection to this illustrious family, whose members married into other notable Massachusetts families to produce generations of ship captains, benefactors, and statesmen. A particularly passionate Puritan who famously desecrated the English flag because it bore the cross of St. George and persecuted Quakers and merrymakers with zealous intent, Endicott has been memorialized by Nathaniel Hawthorne as “the severest Puritan who laid the rock foundation of New England”. There are several houses in Salem still standing in which his eighteenth- and nineteenth-century descendants lived, and now one of them is for sale. Formally called the Smith-Crosby-Endicott house as it was built by Benjamin Smith and Captain Nicholas Crosby in 1788-89, 359 Essex Street was the home of Captain Samuel Endicott and his heirs for most of the nineteenth century. It’s a perfect Federal mansion, complete with a large Colonial Revival carriage house out back–way out back. I have long loved this house, and if I hadn’t just had a conversation with my husband about our need for a smaller house I might prod him to make a move. I don’t think we need eight bedrooms! I had always heard that this house had a ballroom but I don’t see one in the listing–well, I suppose we don’t really need one of those either.

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359 Essex Street Salem

Endicott House 1902


359 Essex Street in Salem today and in 1924 , from the Memoir of Samuel Endicott; William Allen Wall (1801-1885), Endicott and the Red Cross, 1851. New Bedford Whaling Museum: Gift of Flora B. Pierce, 1987.


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