Tag Archives: Crafts

In Praise of Massachusetts Chairs

Aficionados of antiques, decorative arts, and furniture, or simply admirers of artistry and design, can find plenty to see and learn at all of the events and exhibitions associated with Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture , a collaboration of eleven institutions designed to put the spotlight on Bay State craftsmanship. You may not have been aware that this past Tuesday, September 17th, was declared Massachusetts Furniture Day by our own Governor Deval Patrick!  The announcement was made at the State House with the chair of John Endecott, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, sitting prominently in the background–I assume this is a Salem chair as that is where Endecott landed and lived (it certainly couldn’t be the English chair which accompanied his successor John Winthrop on the Arbella  which is the subject and device of Hawthorne’s story “Grandfather’s Chair”).

Chair of Endecott at MSH

©Andrea Shea/WBUR

It’s really all about chairs for me, as even a casual reader of this blog would know. Just in my head, without going to Four Centuries’ great website or any of its events, I can immediately think of a chronological succession of great Massachusetts-made chairs–up to about 1830 or so:  after that, I’m lost. The nice thing about this initiative is its incredible time span, which must accommodate colonial craftsmen and Federal superstars like Samuel McIntire of Salem as well as industrial manufacturers in central and western Massachusetts, After all, Worcester held the title of “chair capital of the country” a century ago and Gardner is still proudly “the chair city”.


Gardner’s Big Chair, c. 1910

So here we go:  my own Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture, taken from a variety of sources and certainly informed by the collections showcased on the Four Centuries’ sitea particular discovery for me is Boston furniture-maker Samuel Gragg–amazing!  Obviously there’s a bias here in favor of the early nineteenth century, but it was hard to choose favorites in general:  Massachusetts really produced a lot of great chairs (more than all of the other original 12 colonies put together apparently) and continues to do so.

Chair 17th c MFA

Chair Chippendale Boston MFA

Chair Lolling Skinner

PicMonkey Collage

Salem Fancy Chair

Chairs 1825

Chair regency winterthur

Richardson Chair

Apartment Therapy

Chair Plycraft

Char by Jay Stanger 1994 Fuller Craft

Made in Massachusetts:  Leather “Great Chair“, 1665-80, Boston (a near-contemporary of the Endecott chair), and Chippendale side chair, about 1770, Boston, both Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Federal “Lolling” Chair made by Joseph Short of Newburyport, c. 1795; Federal armchairs made by Samuel McIntire for the Peirce-Nichols House in Salem, 1801, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and in situ; “Fancy” side chair, probably Salem, c. 1800-1820, American Folk Art Museum, New York; Pair of decorated fancy chairs, attributed to Samuel Gragg, Boston, c. 1825, Skinner Auctions; Boston “Grecian” side chair, c. 1815-25, Winterthur Museum, Gallery & Library; Armchair designed by H.H. Richardson for the Woburn Public Library, Boston, 1878, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Shaker chairs at the Hancock Shaker Village near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, courtesy of Apartment Therapy; Armchair by Norman Lerner for Plycraft, Lawrence, Massachusetts, c. 1955, Skinner Auctions; “Arched and Animated” chair by Jay Stanger, Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, Massachusetts.

Mass Furniture Haverhill Chairs

Another great line-up:  chairs in the snow, c. 1910, Haverhill, Massachusetts. Smithsonian Institution.

Tansy Time

In my garden the tansy is “riding high”, to use the words of the nineteenth-century “peasant poet” John Clare. An old medicinal and culinary herb native to Eurasia, tanacetum is part of the large aster family and so looks right at home in the late summer garden. Its vulgar variety looks like a weed, but I have a variegated form that turns slightly silver in September. The low-maintenance leaves are a good foil for my other plants all summer long–but it does take over if you don’t watch it,  and  I’ve been too busy to watch it. It’s a wild tangle, ready to bloom.

Tansy 2 006

Tansy 2 026

Now I could cut off sprigs and make fly-repellent bouquets for the house, but I don’t really have that many flies. If I were really ambitious, I could let it bloom, and dry its little yellow button-like flowers to produce a dye for fabrics. In the medieval and early modern past, Tansy bordered on a “woman’s herb”:  a really potent potion could apparently induce abortions/miscarriages, while a diluted distillation could aid conception along with other “women’s troubles”, including hysteria. At Easter, its tender fern-like leaves were put in an omelet to produce a “tansy”, and it was also used to make tea, flavor ale, and, according to some of the nineteenth-century American “dispensaries” I consulted, infuse rum. All the herbals up to the nineteenth century reference it as a curative for indigestion, fevers, and jaundice. So there are a lot of diverse claims for tansy, but I’ll probably let mine continue to flop around the garden until fall.

Its perceived utility guaranteed Tansy a place in all of the major pre-modern herbals, and even the florilegia (“flower books”) of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One of the best examples of the latter, the Hortus Floridus compiled and engraved (with some family help) by Crispijn van de Passe junior (1589-1670) definitely focuses on bulbs in general and tulips in particular (during this time of “Tulipmania”) but also manages to include the humble Tansy.

Tansy Egerton747

Tansy Hortus

Tansy September Hortus

Tansy Passe

(c) Derby Museums and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Tansy (near right)  in the Tractatus de herbis, BL MS. Egerton 747, Italy, c. 1300; Plates from  Crispijn van de Passe, including Tansy (far right),1614—you can see the  entire book here. Ernest Townsend, still life of tansy and agrimony in a vase, c.1915-23, Derby Museums and Art Gallery.

I did find a lovely blog which offers instructions for a tansy dyebath as well as examples of the finished project—this looks like something that even I could do! I really would like to find some use for this abundant plant, although I must admit that previous batches of dried herbs turned first into dust magnets and then into fuel for the winter fire.

Tansy Yarns

Tansy-dyed wool (on the right) from Local Color.

Etsy Harvest

I haven’t done an Etsy post for a while, and my basket is overflowing.  There’s too much creativity and diversity on display to restrict myself to Salem offerings (which tend to be dominated by kitschy witchy stuff and grotesque paintball helmets) so I have cast a wider net, although some Salem items landed in it. For some time, since I spotted some silver lustreware in Maine early last summer, I have been obsessed with silver-covered pottery, so I snapped up this “weeping” silver planter as soon as I saw it.  It was produced by the Swetye Pottery Company of SALEM, Ohio, which specialized in silver and gold glazed pieces–the gold looks a bit gaudy to me but I really like the silver.

And speaking of silver, there are several Daniel Low silver Witch Spoons on Etsy now, including the one below:  these little souvenir spoons almost singlehandedly transformed Salem into Witch City in the 1890s, and they remain very collectible.

More Salem stuff:  a Spode transferware jug, Greeff “China Trade” fabric yardage, and a May 1933 issue of Antiques with an article entitled “Salem Secretaries and their Makers”.

Decorating for Fall:  a few items that have the autumnal vibe that I’m craving right now:  a mixed media illustration (with real pressed leaves) entitled “The Hawthorne Sisters Endeavor to Grow their own Forest” by Fauna Finds Flora, a red squirrel watercolor by harebit, felted pumpkins by feltjar, a paper skull wreath by cardboard safari, and a red leather “green man” mask from MythicalDesigns. (Just click on the image to get to the listing).

Mrs. Parker and the Colonial Revival in Salem

A recent article about a beautiful garden in Litchfield, Connecticut in Traditional Home referred to that northwestern Connecticut town as the “birthplace” of the Colonial Revival movement in America, which struck me as a pretty bold claim.  It is a pretty little town that seemed to deliberately tie itself to a fixed point in time about a century ago, but certainly lots of places could claim to be the birthplace of such a widespread cultural movement.  We certainly had our share of Colonial Revivalists here in Salem in the guise of architects, photographers, artists and authors, many of whom I’ve already written about here, but one who I have not yet mentioned:  Mary Saltonstall Parker (1856-1920), author and artist, but above all, someone who captured the myriad details of the past and the present.

For the last part of her life, Mrs. Parker lived across the street from our house on Chestnut Street in the beautiful brick Federal house you see below, the only house on the street whose facade does not face the sidewalk. Her Salem and Chestnut Street roots go way back:  she was, in the words of her near-contemporary Mary Harrod Northend, “a descendant of Colonial dames”.  She grew up at the other end (and other side) of the street, in a house built by her great-grandfather, Captain Thomas Saunders, for her grandmother and grandfather, Mary Elizabeth Saunders and Leverett Saltonstall, later the first Mayor of Salem and a member of Congress. This same house, 41 Chestnut, later became the home of her parents, Lucy (Saltonstall) Tuckerman and Dr. John Francis Tuckerman , and consequently her childhood home.  She left upon her marriage to William Phineas Parker, a cousin of the Parker Brothers of game-fame, but she didn’t go far.

So Mary Saltonstall Parker grew up surrounded by the comfort of friends and family on a street lined with mansions which were filled with all the beautiful things that mercantile money could buy.  She seems to have taken none of this for granted, and starting in the 1890s she started documenting her world–first the past, then the past and the present.  Her first means of artistic documentation and expression was verse; her second, embroidery, a traditional colonial craft.  There is a flurry of little books in that last decade of the nineteenth century:  At the Squire’s in Old Salem, Salem Scrap Book, Rules for Salad, in Rhyme, A Baker’s Dozen of Charades, A Metrical Melody for the Months, and, my favorite, Small Things Antique.  This last book is a charming discourse (in verse, of course) on all the little things she finds around the house, most of which no longer have any purpose but decoration: badges (the precursors of buttons, I suppose) from the 1840 and 1850 elections, warming pans (In old New England homes their use is ended, They hang with ribbon from the wall suspended. They stood for so much comfort in the days, When all our heating came from a log fire’s blaze), toasting forks, patch boxes, knee buckles, the pink lustre china on her shelves, the old jewelry in her top drawer.

The last item she observes in Small Things Antique is a sampler, and that schoolgirl craft would be her major form of expression for the last part of her life.  With her needlecraft, however, I think you can see the difference between Colonial and Colonial Revival:  Mary Saltonstall Tuckerman Parker’s samplers might have been produced with traditional techniques, but their themes were contemporary:  war and uncertainty in the first decades of the twentieth century.  The two samplers below, from the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, show a mother’s anxiety before and during World War One.  There are biblical passages combined with very contemporary references and images above, and below, an amazing mixture of past and present:  her own family warriors (her father, John Francis Tuckerman, a naval surgeon, and her two sons, Francis and William, presently in the service) along with an image from the Bayeaux Tapestry!  A long–very long–tradition of wartime embroidery.  The sampler has even more currency because of her “notation” that it was completed just after the November Armistice, the “Dawn of Peace”.

Mary Saltonstall Parker Samplers, from the Collection of the Peabody Essex Museum.  These images were scanned from Painted with Thread:  the Art of American Embroidery by Paula Bradstreet Richter, the Curator of Textiles and Costumes at the PEM.  Painted with Thread is the companion catalog to the 2001 exhibition of the same name.

Mrs. Parker’s samplers gained national recognition during World War One, and one was commissioned for the cover of House Beautiful in 1916:  a more traditional example, in both technique and imagery.

The last sampler completed by Mrs. Parker before her death in 1920 has an outwardly traditional appearance as well, with its house and garden and quotes (the Prior one at the top is particularly poignant) but it also reveals personal sentiments, for better or worse:  the words Armistice and Victory put us in the time, and the nearly snuffed-out candles bracketing her name tell us that her time is nearing an end.

Mary Saltonstall Parker (1856-1920), Sampler, 1920, from Paula Bradstreet Richter, Painted with Thread, The Art of American Embroidery (Peabody Essex Museum, 2001).

The Folly Cove Designers

This past weekend I made a major score when I encountered a long-sought item:  a placemat depicting Chestnut Street  in Salem made by Louise Kenyon of the Folly Cove Designers in the 1950s or early 1960s.  Though it is in rather shabby condition, I snapped it right up, as I have long wanted a piece of Folly Cove and now I have one depicting my own street!

The Folly Cove Designers were a collective of textile artisans working in the Lanesville section of Gloucester, Massachusetts from the 1940s through the 1960s.  Inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement and founded by illustrator Virginia Burton Demetrios, the designers carved their own linoleum blocks and produced linens, clothing, and upholstery fabric for their own houses and also for sale.  There was a strong educational mission connected to what essentially became a guild:  aspiring Folly Cove Designers completed coursework (designed by Demetrios, apparently as innovative an educator as she was an illustrator and designer) as well as a “masterpiece” (a term that originated in the medieval craft guilds), which, if it met with the approval of a jury made up of revolving members of Folly Cove, was produced and offered for sale under the trademark of the Designers.

After Virginia Burton Demetrios’s death in 1969, the guild dissolved, but one of the earliest Folly Cove designers, Sara Elizabeth (Halloran) continued the block printing tradition in Lanesville until her death in 2009.  The Sara Elizabeth Shop is still open for business, selling old and new Folly Cove designs on fabric and paper at both their shop and their website, which is also a good source for Folly Cove history and the block printing process.

The printing process:  as demonstrated in a 1945 Life article (“Yankee printers get National Recognition”), as well as by the still-working Acorn press at the Sara Elizabeth Shop.  Below, Virginia Burton Demetrios and her students/designers from the Life article.  The piece in the center (by Demetrios) is called Diploma, because it was given to a new designer, framed, after they had sold their first block print. Note the foot-stomping (or stamping) phase of the production process.

My Chestnut Street print is not really representative of a Folly Cove design, though the guild was indeed made up of individual designers with individual visions.  Still, there are a lot of floral and naturalistic themes, and some very whimsical images, particularly of animals.  The concentrated Finnish population in mid-twentieth century Lanesville might have asserted a Scandinavian influence on the prints (though they are far from Marimekko!), as several members of this community became Folly Cove designers.  On the other hand, some of the patterns look positively Elizabethan to me.  The Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester has a very strong Folly Cove collection, including sample books and archival materials as well as textiles (in fact, the Museum recently purchased the block which produced my print).  You do run across Folly Cove products in antique shops and at auctions in our area as well:  Blackwood/March Auctioneers in Essex always seem to have lots.  Essex antiques dealer Andrew Spindler currently has several Folly Cove patterns available in his 1stdibs shop, including one of my favorites, Gossips, and some pillows covered in a perennial favorite, Lazy Daisies.

A few more of my favorite Folly Cove prints:  two designs by Zoe Eleftherio and Elizabeth Jarrabind’s Turtles, and (to set the scene) a Maurice Prendergast painting of Folly Cove from 1910-15.

Wrapped in Wool

Getting all the Christmas stuff out of the house (which you should never do on New Year’s Day according to custom but always want to) leaves mantles and bookcases and other household surfaces looking bare.  I like the look of austerity after so much abundance in December, but still need to inject some warmth into my big old house.  I think I can get both with a few pieces of “cable knit ceramics”: pottery that looks like a sweater!  I’m late to this design trend (as usual) but it really appeals to me right now, in my post-Christmas, January mood. I can wrap myself in wool and my house too.

Here are some examples of what I’m looking at/for:

Cable-knit sweater bowls from Etsy seller reshapestudio.

“Knitware” collection tumblers and vases from Brooklyn potter Alyssa Ettinger.

“Knit Vases” from British artist Annette Bugansky.

“Wave” sweater vases from Illu-Stration.

If you want a soft sweater texture for your accessories rather than a faux surface one, you can buy wool-wrapped vases like the ones from Ferm Living pictured below, or easily make your own by wrapping, gluing, and/or sewing an old sweater sleeve around a cylindrical glass vase.  Pinterest can direct you to many sites with examples and instructions; I liked the ones below.

“Sweater vases” by Ferm Living at Velocity Art & Design; upcycled sweater-covered mason jars from DIY Crafts.

Now that we’re in the realm of textile arts, let’s move on from pedestrian vases into more exotic fare:  look at these amazing sweater-wrapped “domestic trophies” by Rachel Denny:

Red cable-knit deer head and blue cashmere “Clover” bunny at racheldenny.com

And finally, if you just want to sink into a cozy sweater yourself , how about this custom-made cable-knit slipcover?

Hand-knitted armchair slipcover by Etsy seller BiscuitScout.

House Plates

I picked up a desert plate at a flea market last week with an image of the Richard Derby House of Salem on it,  part of a series of 13 “Colonial Heritage” plates produced in 1976 by the Ridgewood Fine China Company in association with the Early America Society.  The artist Robert Franke was commissioned to paint a historic house for each of the 13 colonies in that bicentennial year, and the Derby House represented Massachusetts.  I have cabinets full of plates, even after selling off the transferware of my early collecting days, but this plate was cute, $7, and associated with Salem, so I did not hesitate very long.  Now that I have it, I’m thinking I need two more, as I always like to have three of everything, if possible.  I like Connecticut’s Webb House (center), and the Moffatt-Ladd House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire was quite important to me growing up nearby, so maybe I should have that too.

But then again, what would I do with these plates?  They are a bit cutesy/ye oldey; I better refrain and just stick with my one Salem plate.  Of course, this big decision got me thinking about houses on plates in general, and in history, as I remembered that most of my “romantic” transferware plates had houses on them, generally famous or fantasy houses, in bucolic settings, similar (but not nearly as nice) as these two examples from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Both plates were produced around 1830 by Job and John Jackson in the English Midlands for the American market:  nineteenth-century Americans loved  their house plates, if survivals are any indication.  I guess the English did too.  Below is a delftware plate made in Bristol in the 1760s and an early nineteenth-century French plate made for the British market, both clearly presenting houses, simple and grand.

Bristol delftware plate produced by Richard Frank and Creil pottery factory plate, both from the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Back to the present, some “modern toile” plates with houses by the great Scottish design firm Timorous Beasties, who make amazing wallpaper and fabrics, but also china.  Their “London Toile” pattern, while not exactly centered on a single house, certainly focuses on structures.  Somehow it reminds me more of the eighteenth-century delftware than the nineteenth-century toile-like transferware, as does the Juliska “Country Estate” charger below.

And here’s one last merging of architecture and ceramics, by Esther Coombs, a British illustrator who often uses vintage tableware for her canvases, always with charming results.

Salem Artisans on Etsy

By using the local search function on Etsy rather than merely searching for “Salem” items I can avoid all the witchcraft wares and get to the good stuff:  there are a lot of artists and artisans working in Salem and their creativity and productivity is impressive.  I haven’t done an Etsy post in a while and Christmas is right around the corner (apparently—so sad that we all seem to overlook Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays) so it seemed like  a good time.  Here’s a few of my recent Salem Etsy finds:  you can click on the image and go directly to the site.

Vintage recycled “Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House” Journal/Sketchbook by Etsy Seller kissykissykatie.  This seller makes journals and sketchbooks out of old books and has a large selection on Etsy.  Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House (Cary Grant and Myrna Loy!) just happens to be my favorite movie of all time, so this particular journal caught my eye.

“Fall Harvest” silver and gold stacking rings by Etsy Seller DangerousByDesign.  Beautiful minimalist jewelry in a mix of metals from this Etsy seller.

Spoon Busk Corded Corset by Etsy Seller JanesCorsets.  You’ve got to love a town that has a corset maker!

Red Lotus Medallion Little Girls Day Dress by Etsy Seller littlebirdsfly.  This seller produces dresses for little girls from really lovely not-so-little-girl fabrics.

“The Sweet Talk” knitted capelet by Etsy Seller Toil&Trouble.  I like the color combination of this “shoulder warmer” and it would come in handy in a house with 10-foot ceilings!

Soy candles in blood orange and absinthe by Etsy Seller WitchCityWicks.  Very distinct scents (anise, mead) as well as labels on these Salem-made candles.

Salem Etsy Picks for Summer

I haven’t done an Etsy post for a while, so I thought I would showcase some recent finds that are Salem-related or offered by Salem sellers. I was intrigued by my first item even before I realized it was set at the Salem train station (for lack of a better term); I have no idea what kind of search I was running, but it suddenly appeared!   The second item, an architectural print of the Colonial Revival “fireplace nook” in the dining room of the Caroline Emmerton House on Essex Street in Salem from the American Architect and Building News,  was featured in an earlier post entitled “Hand-drawn Houses” so it’s neat to see the Etsy listing. To fill my Salem basket I have added a Salem-made clock pendant, a pair of Daniel Low & Company vintage art nouveau butter knives, and a great old Essex Institute book on Salem ships.

11×14 Photographic print of Alternate Reality Train Station (8×10 also available) by Etsy seller remyphotographic.

Dining Room of Mrs. Emmerton, Salem, MA 1890 from Etsy seller stcroixarchitecture.

Antique Gold Steampunk Pendant by Etsy seller HeatherReidStudios.

Two Antique Sterling Butter SpreadersDaniel Low & Co. from Etsy seller RobertaGrove

1925 Old Time Ships of Salem from Etsy seller Frothingham Street

More Salem Items on Etsy

I haven’t featured any Etsy items for a while, because most of the Salem-related items have been too kitschy and witchy.  I like to examine historical witchcraft memorabilia as a cultural phenomenon but I’m certainly not going to encourage its present production!  I always check the site weekly, because I think Etsy is such a great platform for creative entrepreneurs, and this past weekend I was able to assemble a solid selection of Salem items, including some offered by shop start-ups.

Salem Home by Etsy seller painterdawn.

 Vintage House of Seven Gables Souvenir Handkerchief from Etsy seller find4you.

 Reds in Salem, Massachusetts Original Oil Painting by Etsy seller Bumbleweedz.

 West India Goods Store Photograph by Etsy seller WednesdaySistersArts.

Circle of Bees Watercolor Painting by Salem Etsy seller unitedthread.

 Embroidered Picture of Crowninshield Wharf, Olde Salem by Etsy seller mockingbirdroad.

 Historic House Pillow-Crowninshield Bentley Salem by Etsy seller notwithoutmerit.


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