Dark Etchings

Though he is primarily identified as a New York artist, the German émigré etcher Charles Frederick William Mielatz (1864-1919) also produced many New England images: port scenes, a few pastoral landscapes and many more urban streetscapes, and detailed depictions of structures. When in Salem, he apparently ignored the wharves (which seem to have captivated him in Nantucket and Boston) in favor of an old house–which he calls the “Witch House”, but it doesn’t really look like the Witch House would have looked in 1903, the year in which the etchings below were made. This makes sense in context: Salem’s harbor must have looked rather dreary at the turn of the last century and its Witch City identity was forming, a decade after the commemoration of the bicentennial anniversary of the Trials with all its commercial tie-ins. Mielatz’s Witch Houses are dark indeed, in contrast to his most of his urban scenes, which include some rather pioneering colored etchings. As if he could not resist, he does give us a pop of contrasting red in the second Witch House etching, which emphasizes the darkness of this mystical olde Salem house.

Witch House 1903 CW Mielatz

Witches House 1903 CF Mielatz

Witch House Pencil Drawing Mielatz

Mielatz Houston Street Door

Mieletz State Street NYC

Charles Frederick William Mielatz, Witch House etchings, 1903, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Bonhams Auctions; Pencil Sketch for the same and Houston Street, NYC door, both also 1903, Kramer Fine Arts & Prints, Inc.; “No. 7 State Street”, NYC, 1908, Skinner Auctions.


The ABCs of Slavery

I’ve always been a hunter and gatherer of old stuff, and the first “collection” I assembled while still in my early 20s was of nineteenth-century pearlware children’s plates, primarily ABC and nursery plates intended for instruction and edification: I had quite a few of Franklin’s Maxims, a few domestic scenes, animals, and lots of Robinson Crusoe: I still have the latter, one elephant plate, and a fortune-telling scene, but I sold off the rest a decade or so, along with all of my transferware. When I was hunting around for these little plates, I remember seeing some that were a bit political, and wondering: why would children care about free trade? But slavery was a far more passionate and accessible topic, and quite a few abolitionist ABC plates appeared in the mid nineteenth-century, especially after the production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. These plates were produced primarily in Britain for the northern American market, and the Staffordshire potteries had the dual motivation of meeting (and perhaps creating) demand in America while presenting themselves as morally superior to their cousins across the Atlantic: there is an amazing transfer-printed jug in the collection of the Winterthur Museum which advertises all the available patterns along with one scene in which showing “Britannia Protecting the Africans”. The British were so very clever at catering to both sides in the struggle over slavery in America: preaching to the North while buying cotton from the South! The Winterthur collection also contains an anti-slavery ABC plate based on the work of Mary Belson Elliot, “blending sound Christian principles with cheerful cultivation”, and a popular children’s mug first sold at the 1846 Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Fair, along with the wonderful Anti-Slavery Alphabet produced by the Townsend sisters.

Anti-slavery plate Winterthur Collection

Anti-slavery Mug Winterthur Collection

anti-slavery alphabet primer 1846 Letters A and B

anti-slavery alphabet primer 1846 Letters M and N

From the Winterthur Museum Collections:  Staffordshire pearlware jug made by Christopher Whitehead, c. 1817-1819, ABC plate, c. 1800-1830, and child’s mug, c. 1795-1865; Pages from the Anti-Slavery Alphabet of Philadelphia sisters Hannah and Mary Townsend, 1846.

The particular plate that returned my attention to ABC plates in general and anti-slavery ABC products in particular is a lot in the upcoming Memorial Day Auction at Northeast Auctions: “Gathering Cotton”. This is a Staffordshire plate as well, but produced later than the Winterthur pieces (between 1850 and 1865) and its meaning/purpose is far less straightforward:  I can’t tell if it’s for or against slavery! With children front and center, I assume it is anti-, but it projects a far less strident message than other plates that were produced at this time, primarily based on  Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with scenes such as “The Buyer and Seller of the Human Article” and  “Uncle Tom Whipped to Death” depicted. Once the Civil War began, the messaging of ABC plates became even more straightforward, with simple depictions of Union generals produced, of course, in Great Britain.

ABC Plate Gathering Cotton

ABC Plate Human Article

ABC Uncle Tom plate

General McClellan Plate Cowan's Auctions

“Gathering Cotton” and other mid-nineteenth century Staffordshire ABC plates, from the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Decorative Arts Database, referenced in two great articles: Louise L. Stevenson’s “Virtue Displayed: the Tie-Ins of Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (available here), and Jill Weitzman Fenichell’s “Fragile Lessons: Ceramic and Porcelain Representations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (available here). “The Arrival of General McClellan” Staffordshire ABC plate, Cowan’s Auctions.


The First Preservationist

It’s time to return to the life and work of the Salem photographer Frank W. Cousins (1851-1925), whose camera created a reverence for colonial architecture in his native city and elsewhere at a crucial time. He has popped up here in many a post, including one devoted exclusively to his work and business, but I’m still assessing the reach of his influence: in the years between then and now I have seen his photographs in countless books on Colonial and Colonial Revival architecture, architectural libraries and archives, contemporary periodicals about architecture and photography, and newspaper articles. He was clearly identified as Salem’s “First Preservationist” a century ago and he should be acknowledged as such now:  before Rantoul and Northend and Historic Salem, Inc. and Ada Louise Huxtable, there was Frank Cousins. As May is Preservation Month, this seems like a good time to bring him back into the spotlight–though I’m still in the early stages of assessing his impact. Clearly there needs to be a proper inventory taken of his printed photographs, both in collections and in publications, and a serious assessment of his life’s work; last summer I was contacted by a young woman in Germany working on a dissertation focused on Cousins so I have hope. And I did find a (little) photograph of the man himself!

Cousins Collage and Picture

Cousins Birthplace

Cousins Salem Cemetery

Cousins 1893 Door

Features on Frank Cousins from Country Life in America (1913) and some of my favorite Cousins photographs of Salem: his own birthplace on English Street, previously part of the Old Sun Tavern, the Charter Street cemetery, a Derby Street house with a “double door”, one of several plates he exhibited at the Columbian Exposition in 1893.

The little biographical blurb in Country Life in America is charming and revealing: “That old scrub, Cousins of Salem,” is the genial way her announces  his arrival to his many friends in the architectural fraternity. They  welcome his coming, for few men know and appreciate Colonial architecture as he does, and none can talk more interestingly and enthusiastically about it. A native of Salem, Mass., Mr. Cousins has studied her notable early architecture all his life, and during the past thirty years he has made thousands of architectural photographs in Salem and the neighboring towns, and in Portsmouth, Boston, Philadelphia, Germantown, and Baltimore.  Mr. Cousins in the author of “Fifty Salem Doorways”, the first of a notable series of books on “Colonial Architecture” and is much sought after by art societies and other bodies for the lecture on “Old Architectural Salem” which he has delivered many times. Of late Mr. Cousins has been extending his efforts to the furniture and garden features of Colonial houses, and we expect occasionally to publish the cream of his labors.”  Old Scrub! This narrative does seem to confirm what I had gleaned elsewhere: that it was the appreciation of Salem’s architecture that came first, and that inspired him to pick up the camera, around 1888. His membership in the “architectural fraternity” of the era is a testament to the detailed examination (and preservation) of architectural details captured by his camera, rendering him not only a preservation pioneer but also one in the fledgling field of architectural photography.

Cousins Well-Meek House 1918 BAC

Cousins Peirce Nichols Mantle

Doorway of Well-Meeks House in Salem, 1918 and Mantle of Peirce-Nichols House, “the best Adams mantle in the U.S.A, 1913.

Cousins disseminated his thousands of prints in a variety of ways, transcending artistic and editorial photography into the commercial realm. He sold them in his own Salem shop on Essex Street, the Bee-Hive, and through his own publishing company, the Frank Cousins Art Co., he published them in his aforementioned “Colonial Architecture” series and later in several books (Wood Carver of Salem: Samuel McIntire, His Life and Work, 1916 and The Colonial Architecture of Salem, 1919, both co-authored with Phil Riley), he formed partnerships with regional and national photographic publishers, and he donated them to scores of cultural institutions and publications. Given the size of his market share and his focus on Salem, you can imagine just how influential the “Cousins Colonial Salem House” would become in shaping the national image of colonial architecture in the early part of the twentieth century. Yet even though he identified himself as “Cousins of Salem”, he also transcended his native city and was recognized for his preservation and photographic expertise up and down the Eastern seaboard. In 1913 he was commissioned by the Art Commission of New York City to document buildings that were in danger of imminent demolition in the rapidly-expanding city, and effort that was recognized by a prominently-placed article in the New York Times in May 2014:  “The Camera to Preserve New York’s Old Buildings”. Cousins’ New York photographs are stunning:  equally as reverential as his Salem shots but somehow more poignant because of their context, the city that never sleeps, and ascends ever upwards. But surprise: the 61st Street building below, known in the nineteenth-century as “Smith’s Folly”, survives to this day as the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden, owned and operated by the Colonial Dames of America (and I’m sure it’s all due to Frank Cousins)!

Cousins NYT Article May 1914

House on 86th Street Between Park and Madison Avenues. Red brick house on north side of street.

photographic print (7.5 x 9.5 in.), mount (9.5 x 11.5 in.)

Mount Vernon Hotel Museum

Houses at 86th Street and 421 East 61st Street (“Smith’s Folly”) in New York City, photographed by Frank Cousins in 1913, and the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden today.

Repositories of Frank Cousins’ photographs: the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum; Duke University Library; the New York Public Library Digital Collections; Archives of the Art Commission of the City of New York.


First Flowering

Yesterday was the first truly warm day of 2015 in Salem so I took a long, long walk in order to escape department drama and find some color: successful on both counts! Everyone had the same idea, and so young and old, firm and infirm, and fully-dressed and half-dressed were out and about. This is the time to see flowering shrubs and trees: the dogwoods are not quite out, but the magnolias certainly are, and I’ve got three notable examples below: one particularly lush shrub that everyone drives by without due appreciation on busy North Street, an older, sparer tree in the garden of the Gardner Pingree House, and a perfect tree on the Common (which I think I feature every year at about this time–along with various spring bulbs). There was just one single flower on the old Wisteria that climbs up the Andrew Safford House, so I gave it a spotlight.

Flowering 001

Flowering 009

Flowering 014

Flowering 031

Flowering 026

Flowering 041

Flowering 022


A Week of Fascinators

In honor of the new royal princess, whose mother seems to favor fascinators above all other forms of millinery, and the Kentucky Derby, and my friend Trish the fantastic fascinator-maker, here’s a few hats which popped up in Salem over the past week, almost like harbingers of spring: first at a certain celebration at Hamilton Hall and then yesterday at the new Sea Level Oyster Bar at Pickering Wharf, where we watched the Derby (and the Friendship) sipping minty drinks. Moments of graceful living in a pretty busy week.

Fascinators in Salem

Fascinators in Salem 2

Fascinators in Salem 3

Fascinators 025

Fascinators 024

Trish’s fascinators–including the one she made for lucky me!–and the more commercial variety at the Sea Level, which features possibly the best view of Salem Harbor next to the Custom House.


May Wine

I have a particularly fond childhood memory of dancing around a Maypole wearing festive (alpine? Elizabethan?) dress at the hippie nursery school I attended in Vermont, and consequently I always celebrate May Day. I do not erect a Maypole in my backyard, but I been known to don the occasional flower wreath or sprig in my hair (especially if I don’t have to go anywhere) and I usually make May Wine, the traditional German spring spirit. May Wine (Maiwein) is simply sweet white wine infused with sweet woodruff (galium odoratum, or Waldmeister, “master of the woods”, in German), and there are lots of variations, both from the past and in the present. You can simply take a few sprigs of the herb, tie them together, and drop them in a bottle of Moselle to infuse for the afternoon in the refrigerator if you like, or you can make a May Punch, by adding sparkling water or wine and fruit. Have your own Happy Hour, or invite your neighbors and drink to the retreat of winter and the onset of spring, a universal sentiment but one that seems very apt this particular year!

Health to all Goodfellows British Library

Maiwein pc

A Health to all Good-Fellowes (c. 1615-40), British Library; German May Day postcard, c. 1900.

My “recipe” for May Wine is always evolving. Generally I take one bottle of Moselle and another of sparkling wine (Proseco, Cava, or if you can find it, German Sekt) and pour them into a glass pitcher to which I add the sweet woodruff (you must snip it before it flowers) and a few splashes of Italian sparkling lemon soda. I leave this concoction for most of the day, and then strain it and pour it into glasses filled with a few strawberries or raspberries. My sweet woodruff is definitely not ready for prime time this year (it is barely out of the ground), so I bought several potted plants, for the first time ever: even if my garden is not ready for May Day, I am.

Sweet Woodruff Dietrich 1834

Waldmeister

Sweet Woodruff Bluestone Perennials

Sweet Woodruff (Galium Odoratum, Asperula Odorata, the “master of the woods”,  from Dietrich, A.G., Flora regni borussici (1833-1844); Kerner von Marilaun, A.J., Hansen, A., Pflanzenleben: Erster Band: Der Bau und die Eigenschaften der Pflanzen (1887-1891), and Bluestone Perennials.


Bawdy Ballads

One of my favorite tweeters posted an image of a rather racy seventeenth-century ballad yesterday which prompted me to take a break from all the boring administrative things I have to do at this time of the year to search out some more examples of bawdiness for my last English history class. This was a much more pleasant activity than scheduling and it’s always good to end on a high note! Virginity grown troublesome is just one of many later seventeenth century ballads–drinking songs, working songs, walking songs–focused on human relations in general and maids who are either too chaste or too wild in particular: another of my favorites is The wandring virgin; or, The coy lass well fitted; or, the answer to the wand’ring maiden (1672). Every title which refers to ladies from London is an almost certain reference to their looseness, as in the case of The ansvver to the London lasses folly, or, The new-found father discoverd at the camp (1685). Country girls don’t get off easy either, but generally (not always) they are duped and remorseful. Poor Celia, the subject of the 0ft-printed (and apparently sung) ballad Celia’s Complaint (1678-95?) who was “quickly won” by a rogue’s fair words and is now, forever, “quite undone” and an example to all:  My Spotless Virgins Fort, thou strongly didst assault/ My Favor thou didst Court, and this was my great fault/ So soon to yield, to thee the Field, which did my Honour stain/ And now I cry, continually, poor Celia Loved in Vain.

Virginity Troublesome

Virginity Troublesome cropped

London Lasses Beineke

Kentish Maiden crop

Celia's Complaint cropped

Later seventeenth-century ballads from the Houghton Library at Harvard, the Beineke Library at Yale, and a great database for English broadside ballads: The University of California at Santa Barbara’s Broadside Ballad Archive. You can actually hear variations on these ballads performed, including the classic “Maid’s Complaint for want of a Dil Doul”, on the City Waites’ album Bawdy Ballads of Old England.


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