Stonehurst

Waltham, Massachusetts is a bustling little city just west of Boston that manages to be urban, suburban, and rural all at the same time, depending on what sector you find yourself in. There’s a lot there: an impressive industrial heritage, two universities, Bentley and Brandeis (where I got my Ph.D.), a pretty vibrant downtown, lots of corporations along the Route 128 beltway, and three historic “country” estates preserved as house museums: the Lyman Estate (also known as “The Vale”, built in 1793 and owned and operated by Historic New England), Gore Place (built in 1806 and saved in the 1930s by the Gore Place Society), and Stonehurst (completed by 1886 and owned and operated by the City of Waltham since 1974). Because of my predilection for early American architecture, I have visited the older houses many times: Samuel McIntire designed the foundation structure of The Vale and Gore Place is just about the most elegant Federal house anywhere (outside of Salem, of course). But despite the fact that it is the product of a collaboration between two giants of late nineteeth-century design, architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886) and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), I have to admit I have dissed Stonehurst: I saw it long ago and never returned. The other day I was driving home along Route 128 at just the wrong time on a beautiful day: it was rush hour(s) and the northern lanes were jam-packed. I just had to get out of the car, and as I happened to be in Waltham, I thought I’d go look at the Lyman Estate for a bit and wait out the traffic. After I turned off the highway, however, I saw the sign for Stonehurst and remembered that it is situated on far more land: 109 acres of Olmsted-designed walking trails, to be precise–and I needed some exercise. So there I went, but got slightly distracted by the house, which is a bit……………intimidating? perplexing? provocative?

Stonehurst 002

Stonehurst 005

Stonehurst 018

Stonehurst 023

Stonehurst 010

Stonehurst 060

Stonehurst is really a combination of two houses built for Robert Treat Paine, a Boston lawyer, philanthropist, and advocate for workers’ housing (scion of a real Brahmin family: his namesake grandfather was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and Massachusetts’ first Attorney General) and his wife Lydia Lyman Paine: her father had financed the Second Empire house that constitutes the western end of the structure, which was later deemed too small for their large family. So Paine (who served on the building committee which oversaw Richardson’s masterpiece, Trinity Church in Boston) commissioned the architect to relocate the house and integrate it with a structure of his own design. The exterior (again, to my untrained eye!) is therefore quite an amalgamation: of the pre-existing Second Empire house, combined with Richardson’s more organic “Richardsonian Romanesque” and Shingle styles. I found the interior far more integrated, with large rooms that related to one another (and the outdoors) in a very pleasing way, and lots of crafted built-in features: window seats, benches, bookcases, mantles, staircases, mouldings: a warm and inviting Arts and Crafts house encased in a somewhat more imposing envelope.

Stonehurst 026

Stonehurst 032

Stonehurst 029

Stonehurst 036

Stonehurst 038

Stonehurst 056

Stonehurst 039

Stonehurst 050

Stonehurst 051

Stonehurst 046

Stonehurst 061

Interior of Stonehurst and a trail not taken; the line inscribed on the second-floor landing mantle, “Build Thee More Stately Mansions, O My Soul” is from the Oliver Wendell Holmes poem, The Chambered Nautilus.


Fleeting Phlox

I’m going take a break from berating ugly buildings and stop and smell the….phlox, because it’s that time of year, or maybe even past time. My garden is shaded quite a bit by Hamilton Hall next door so my bright white “David” phlox is in full bloom, but I took a walk around the beautiful gardens of Glen Magna Farms in Danvers yesterday afternoon and saw that their multiple varieties were on their way out. Still lovely, though. I always think of phlox as the ultimate country New England perennial–in Vermont and Maine and western Massachusetts you see it everywhere adjacent to old houses but less so in the old seaports like Salem. It’s a North American native that became so beloved in England in the later nineteenth century that English botanists created unique varieties that they then sold back to American gardeners, who were desirous of colorful versions of “antique” flowers for their Colonial Revival gardens. When I was planting my own garden, I just wanted a mildew-resistant variety, so I went with “David”, but the phlox in all shades of pink at Glen Magna have made me a bit envious. The source for all varieties of phlox is Perennial Pleasures up in northern Vermont, and their annual Phlox Festival is on right now, so if you have the time and the inclination this weekend by all means go—it’s well worth the trip, believe me.

My small patch of phlox, and the more lavish display at Glen Magna Farms, set against the McIntire main and summer houses:

Phlox 076

Phlox 034

 

Phlox 029

Phlox 061

Phlox 058

Phlox 055

Phlox 039

Phlox in its heyday: adopted by English illustrators, artists, and horticulturists: Frederick William Hulme (1816-1884; Victoria & Albert Museum), Bertha Newcomb (1895, Southwark Art Collection), and a seed packet from the 1930s (Victoria & Albert Museum).

Phlox Hulme VA 19th century

Phlox Seed Packet V and A 1930s

Can you find the phlox in the pioneering Cubist painting by the French artist Albert Gleizes, La Femme aux Phlox (1910, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)?

800px-Albert_Gleizes,_1910,_Femme_aux_Phlox,_oil_on_canvas,_81_x_100_cm,_exhibited_Armory_Show,_New_York,_1913,_The_Museum_of_Fine_Arts,_Houston.


From Corner Store to Colossus

There are no pretty pictures in today’s post (well, as usual, the historic one is relatively pleasing) but I feel the need to weigh in on yet another inappropriate development looming over Salem–in this case, threatening the view and the neighborhood I see from my office window at Salem State University. An assortment of tired twentieth-century shops grafted onto an older building in a rather awkward–but certainly not imposing–manner might possibly be replaced by a behemoth commercial structure more appropriate for a Route 128 office park, and if the developer doesn’t get this way, an apparently even larger building comprising 34 residential units. The developer in question is of course from nearby Marblehead, a town which has produced a long line of investors in Salem, hoping to either reap returns or assuage their suburban guilt over residing in a town that “celebrates diversity” but has none. He unabashedly proclaims his project “Lafayette Place” even though there is a lovely little street bearing the same name (for over a century) a few blocks down the road. Because he is also a former overseer of SSU, there are also concerns that this is another encroachment by the university into a residential neighborhood. I really hope that’s not the case and I tend to think it is not: the university is building big–very big–on its own campus but it is also the new tenant of an ambitious adaptive reuse project just down the road from the proposed “Lafayette Place” (and up the road from the real Lafayette Place) in which a Salem developer has transformed the former Temple Shalom into an academic building within its existing footprint.

Now brace yourself for the pictures: the corner of Lafayette and West Streets, present, past, future (?). The cute little A&P store that once occupied the site (you can still see its Colonial Revival “frame”) makes me very sentimental for corner grocery stores in general and A&Ps in particular, although I’m not sure I’ve even been in one! The scale of this building is still appropriate for its surrounding neighborhood.

Corner Store 002

Corner Store 005

Corner Store AP SSU

Corner Store Lafayette Place

Lafayette Place 2

The corner of Lafayette and West Streets present & past (Dionne Collection, SSU Archives and Special Collections), and renderings of the proposed “Lafayette Place”.  Jerome Curley, a great source for Salem’s visual history and history in general, has offered the picture below so you can appreciate the scale issue. On the immediate right is the Lafeyette/West corner, and all of those residential buildings on both sides of the street remain. (From his Salem through Time, co-edited with Nelson Dionne).

Lafayette West Corner


Antique Automobiles Assembled (in August)

From my perspective, early August is not only for Americana but also antique automobiles, or perhaps they are the same thing. What started out as a small neighborhood event–a meeting of vintage automobiles on Chestnut Street sponsored by Historic New England’s Phillips House, accompanied by a makeshift lemonade stand organized by local children–has grown to a large assemblage of both cars and people. This year, there were 80 cars on the street with quite a crowd of onlookers and the added attractions of music, cannolis, and a Volkswagen van transformed into a photo booth. I think pretty much every decade of the twentieth century was represented by the cars–or at least the middle part thereof. Lots of Belairs, several wagons of varying vintage. There was a Lamborghini parked on the opposite side of the street which offered some pretty stiff competition, but the largest crowd of the afternoon was definitely in the proximity of the bright red Heinkel. It was nice, but no match for my “chrome crush” of last year, a BMW Isetta 600 Limo. The Heinkel was perhaps the primary representative of a group of classy foreign cars, mostly convertibles, which were surrounded by much bigger American cars. Even though it was not a car for purists (its owner had replaced the original seats with slightly more plush ones as he likes to drive his car) I really liked the 1960s Datsun convertible, and I learned quite a lot about its history.

Autos 040

Autos 056

Autos 082

Autos 083

Autos 147

Autos 110

Autos 041

Autos 094

Autos 047

Autos 071

Autos 155

Autos 152

Autos 140

Autos 038


An Abandoned House in Essex

Brakes literally screeched, disturbing a quiet neighborhood, as I spotted a beautiful abandoned house in Essex yesterday. I was on my way from Ipswich to Beverly to home on a rather circuitous route, and then I spotted this stately house on Western Avenue: striking in both its elegance and abandonment. Neighbors looked warily on as I took some pictures, and then I hopped back in the car and drove home so I could research the house, forgetting all about my Beverly errand. Here it is.

Abandoned House Essex

Abandoned House Essex 2

Abandoned House Essex 3

Barr Farm Essex 1979

The Col. Andrews House (Barr Farm) yesterday and in 1979.

We are fortunate in Massachusetts to have MACRIS, a digital database of inventories of historical properties undertaken for the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and I quickly found the Essex house, which was identified as the Colonel Andrews House, built in 1806 and better known as the “Barr Farm”. Besides the decaying elegance, that’s what caught my attention: this is no country Colonial but a pristine Federal farmhouse. The inventory, which dates from 1979, is largely based on an interview with the 99-year-old Mrs. John Barr, who had lived in the house nearly her entire life and still lived there at that time. She notes that it had always been a farm (I didn’t even notice outbuildings–I only had eyes for the house) up until the death of her husband 40 years previously, and then it became “inactive”. And so it remains–or does it? That chimney looks rather rebuilt to me, and the surrounding lawn is mowed……

Abandoned House Essex 5

Abandoned House Essex 4

Abandoned House Essex last


Melting Pot(tery)

I think I’m the last person on the internet to discover the work of London-based Chilean artist Livia Marin, but I don’t care: I must feature these examples of melting ceramics (in the classic Willow pattern) because they are just so cool. We have a healthy tea culture here in Salem, and I can just picture a tea party with whole pieces on my dining room table and a display of these pieces on the mantle. According to the statement on her website, Marin “employs everyday objects to inquire into the nature of how we relate to material objects in an era dominated by standardization and global circulation” in order to “offer a reflection on the relationship we develop with those often unseen objects that meet our daily needs”: a much more thoughtful approach to my own preoccupation with the art (and history of course) of the everyday. I suppose I could come up with a long essay on how these objects are emblematic of the China Trade and all the myriad consequences of European imperialism, but really, I just like the way they look.

Melting China Livia Martin

Melting-china

Collection-by-Livia-Marin

Liquid-patternsVase-gone-liquid

via Livia Marin.


The Puffy Sleeve Artist

Every August features an Americana focus in the antiques world, and auctions and shows present their best items made in America. I made a shopping list while browsing through next week’s Americana auction at Skinner: rainbow spatterware, a nineteenth-century wooden bucket with “good girl” painted on it, cherry card tables, and an amazing schoolgirl map of the world. I don’t need any of these things but a girl can dream! There are some great silhouettes in this auction as well, including several by the “Puffy Sleeve Artist”, an anonymous favorite of collectors. I was rather surprised by the low estimate placed on this lady with the blue dress: $600-$800. Two years ago, another silhouette by the same artist fetched $6600 in a Skinner Auction, and another Puffy Sleeve Artist creation sold for $8750 at a Christie’s auction in 2012.

Puffy Sleeve Artist Skinner Americana Auction

Puffy Sleeve Artist Skinner 2013

Puffy Sleeve Artist Christies 2012 Auction

 Two silhouettes by the “Puffy Sleeve Artist” at Skinner Auctions:  a necklaced lady in a blue dress (upcoming here) and Henrietta Wakefield Wearing a Red Gown and Holding a Fan, both c. 1830-31; another red-gowned Puffy Sleeve silhouette of the same vintage, Christies.

Well, as you can see, it’s pretty easy to tell that these silhouettes were made by the same artist, even for a laywoman such as I (although this last lady looks a bit full-blown). It seems odd that we can’t identify the artist by more than his (or her) most distinctive motif: whoever it was was quite prolific and 1830 wasn’t that long ago (in historical perspective). Donna-Belle Garvin of the New Hampshire Historical Society has made a case for John Hosley Whitcomb (1806-49) a deaf-mute artist from Hancock, New Hampshire (“Family Reunited:  A Tale of Two Auctions,” New Hampshire Historical Society Newsletter Volume 29, Spring 1991), and the attributed artist of a pair of attributed hollow-cut silhouettes of gentlemen sold just a few days ago in a Willis Henry auction. If the “Puffy Sleeve Artist” was indeed Whitcomb, he appears to have exercised a more restrained style with his gentlemen: the ladies look a bit more distinctive, whimsical, and even modern in their abstraction. Whoever he or she was, my favorite examples of the Puffy Sleeve Artist’s work are those examples in which these women are holding books, identifying them by both age and initials, and something other than their puffy sleeves.

Puffy Sleeve Artist Wh

Puffy Sleeve Artist Pink

Puffy Sleeve Artist Christies Auction 2007

Puffy Sleeve Artist Northeast Auctions

A John Hosley Whitcomb silhouette and “Puffy Sleeve Artist” silhouette from last weekend’s Willis Henry auction; Puffy Sleeve Artist silhouettes dated 1831 and 1830 from Christies and Northeast Auctions.

Appendix 8/5/15:  Silhouette expert Peggy McClard (her extremely informative website is here) has informed me that the lady in pink above is not by the Puffy Sleeve Artist, and also that he has recently been identified as the western Massachusetts “profile cutter” Ezra Wood by Michael and Suzanne Payne (see the Magazine Antiques, July/August 2014).


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,232 other followers

%d bloggers like this: