When I visit my brother in the Hudson River Valley I head for downtown Rhinebeck and one of my favorite shops, Paper Trail, as soon as it is politely possible: this is a destination shop. It’s not only the merchandise, it‘s the merchandising, and the paper creations that are in the windows and scattered about the store. Every time I go there there’s always a dress or two, shoes, and other works of art that make this shop a gallery. This time, there was a beautiful paper wedding dress (with butterfly back) in the window, fashioned by local paper couturier Linda Filley of upcycled materials. And much more inside: Filley’s “windblown girl” dress made of recycled craft paper and shoes, paper chandeliers, flowers, birdhouses, map art, and even not-so-mundane cards.
Tag Archives: design
I thought I had my architectural revival styles straight–Greek, Gothic, Colonial–but somehow I never accounted for the different varieties of Renaissance revival styles until yesterday, when, in my continuous search for double-parlor inspiration, I came across a beautiful photograph of the interior of a Flemish Renaissance Revival house in a New York Times article about upcoming house and garden tours across the country. This parlor took my breath away, and also took me back, to the Flemish (Northern) Renaissance, of course.
The parlor of a 1903 Flemish Renaissance Revival House in Park Slope, Brooklyn, one of several houses open to the public during the upcoming Park Slope Civic Council Tour, and Rogier van der Weyden’s triptych, the Seven Sacraments Altarpiece, c. 1445-50, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.
I don’t know why this style is such a surprise to me: there were several Renaissances, so it only makes sense that there would be several Renaissance Revival styles. The Renaissance itself was a revival of sorts; revivals are eternal. I immediately set off on a walk around Salem to see if I could find buildings of similar inspiration here, but to no avail: this is not a Salem style, perhaps not even a New England one–though I do think there are brownstones in the Back Bay of Boston that feature the distinct roofline. A digital search will have to do for now, but I look forward to future forays. I would expect that this style would flourish in New York, but my preliminary search for more examples of the Flemish Renaissance Revival seems to indicate its particular popularity in the Midwest: surely the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee, built in 1892 is an exemplar.
Flemish Renaissance Revival houses in America: the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee, Vanderslice Hall in Kansas City (1895-96), built for the Meyer family and now the Kansas City Art Institute, rowhouses in the Parkside neighborhood, West Philadelphia, and at 13-15 South William Street, Manhattan.
The inspiration: the beautiful, storybook city of Bruges (Getty Images), and I’m throwing in the great 2008 film here too, just because I also think it’s converging on CLASSIC, the basis for any revival.
Given my armchair observance of Patriots’ Day, and then everything that happened on that sad day (and is still happening), I thought I’d retreat into a safe material world and examine some of the patriotic products that were produced in the decades after the American Revolution, some in the new country and some for the new country. It seems appropriate to continue exploring expressions of patriotism; after all, the real anniversary of Lexington and Concord is today. Right after the Revolution (literally) home furnishings which reflected the revolutionary spirit were produced both in this country and oddly enough, in Britain. Maybe it’s not odd: Britain was in the midst of the Industrial Revolution which was initiated by what I’ve always considered a uniquely pragmatic entrepreneurial attitude. I wish I could see the imagery more clearly in this first woodblock-printed wallpaper, but obviously it has deteriorated with time. Here is the catalog description from the Cooper Hewitt Museum: perhaps it will help you make out the Lexington Minuteman and his associates: Beside an Indian maiden, representing America, a patriot tramples British laws underfoot and extends the declarations of July 4, 1776, to Britannia, who weeps over a pedestal containing an urn, or a tomb. The whole is contained within a curtained arch. Printed in black, white and gray on a light colorless ground.
This paper was produced in America in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the same time as the textiles below, which are obviously in much better condition: The Apotheosis of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington is a copperplate-printed toile fabric produced in several colorways in Britain between 1785-1800, right after the first big defeat of the British Empire. I love George Washington’s leopard-driven carriage!
Apotheosis of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington fabrics in black and red colorways, collections of the Winterthur Museum and the Society of the Cincinnati; bed valence at Dumbarton House/National Society of the Colonial Dames of America.
British pottery manufacturers were also quick to take advantage of the newly-independent emerging American market. Even if you’re just a casual picker, I’m sure that you have run into some of the blue-and-white transferware of the Clews Brothers, James and Ralph, decorated with American scenes and symbols at their factory in Cobridge, England in the 1820s and 1830s. You see it everywhere, in all sorts of forms.
“American” transferware, including a “States Design” platter below, made by James and Ralph Clews in England,c. 1819-36, Skinner Auctioneers Archives.
And how many gilt mirrors emblazoned with eagles were produced in the Federal era (or reproduced afterwards)? So many, and again, produced in all shapes and sizes in both America and England. Below is a particularly nice eglomise (reverse-painted) example featuring the USS Constitution made in Providence by Peter Grinnell & Son right after the War of 1812. And from the next decade, a beautiful “patriotic overmantle painting” from a Rockport, Massachusetts home. It is tempera on plaster (I’m wondering how they took it off the wall???), and sold for $61,ooo at a Christie’s auction in 2008.
This last painting does not really qualify as a commercially-produced product or a pattern, but it is so beautiful I wanted to include it. My last item–a handmade woven wool and linen coverlet with patriotic themes and symbols–dates from the mid-nineteenth century (1851 to be precise), just before patriotism becomes divided and divisive with the coming of the Civil War. Actually, even before 1850 the Abolitionist and Temperance movements produced their own patriotic/promotional objects. This lovely coverlet expresses a more personal patriotism, but also one in keeping with the functions of these other objects: Americans wanted the symbols and imagery of their new nation on their walls, on their tables, and on their beds.
Addendum: Last night on Salem Common: thousands walking, running, praying in support of Boston.
I wanted to follow up my Post Office post with one featuring the art of letters, but I’m not sure exactly how to categorize these images: these are not examples of typographic art, as they feature script rather than print, or ephemeral art, because I’m including works of art which feature letters as well as a few letters that I believe rise to an artistic level. I looked up “scriptural art”, but that category seems to be reserved for religious works, and scribal art for calligraphy. So that leaves me with the rather bland title “the art of letters”.*** It happens that some of my favorite images have a focus on reading or writing letters, or present an assemblage of writing materials, or a scrap of paper, with writing, that makes us wonder what’s going on here? what does that letter say? The letter is a great device to draw us into the painting: we want to read it! Look at the note in the hand of this Victorian governess in Richard Redgrave’s 1844 painting: it–or rather her reaction to its contents–has separated her from the “lighter” children under her watch. The painting was exhibited with the quotation “She sees no kind domestic visage here”, indicating that the letter brought memories of a missed home at best, and news of a death in her family at worst.
Richard Redgrave, The Governess (1844), Victoria & Albert Museum, London
My very favorite letter painting doesn’t really delve into the emotional aspects of letters and their reception, but rather it presents us with a trompe l’oeil display of printed and writing materials: an early modern bulletin board! This is a very ephemeral painting in several ways: the newspapers and almanac represent the “news” of Queen Anne’s accession in 1702, as does the medal representing her grandfather, Charles I. The painter has included his “signature” on the folded sheet in the center. I love trompe l’oeil in general, but this particular painting has captivated me since the first time I laid eyes on it several years ago; I think that George Tooker’s 1953 painting, The Letter Box, is its perfect companion piece.
Edward Collier (Collyer), Trompe L’Oeil with Writing Materials, c. 1702, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; George Tooker, The Letter Box, 1953, Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Moving back to my period, I noticed a while ago that the Tudor court painter Hans Holbein the Younger often included scraps of paper with writing, tucked into a book, laying on a table, or even posted to the wall, in a number of his portraits. The well-known portrait of Thomas Cromwell (of whom I am a fan) is a good example, as is the amazing portrait of Georg Gisze, a German merchant stationed in London (like Holbein). I think the use of written and writing materials is a bit more straightforward here: Cromwell wants to present himself as a pious public servant and a master of the (written) law, while Gisze is an equally-earnest man of business who holds in his hand a letter from his brother, back home.
Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of Thomas Cromwell, 1532-33, Frick Museum; and Portrait of Georg Gisze, 1532, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
I’m including a few actual letters in this post, both because I spent quite a bit of time searching through the digital collection of the National Postal Museum at the Smithsonian for my last post and because many of the letter “covers” in this collection do rise to the level of art, in my humble opinion. The range is incredible, encompassing patriotic examples from all the American wars, letters from the prisoners of those wars which were delivered in specially-marked envelopes, and letters delivered by planes, trains, and zeppelins. These covers are also a way to look at print and script together. This first envelope, from my own collection, was issued by the Locke Regulator Company of Salem in 1899 (as you can see by the postmark), and then there’s a letter from a Union prisoner of war from 1864 and a letter carried out of Paris by balloon in 1871.
Covers from 1864 & 1871, National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
These letters look like likely candidates for a John Derian decoupage tray to me: that man loves his fonts and scripts! But letters moved to the foreground in the decorative arts a while ago, as exemplified by the beautiful silver cigarette case below, “postmarked” in 1903. I wish we could bring these cases back (with an alternative use), and while we’re at it, letters too!
John Derian “Sample Script” decoupage tray; Silver cigarette case by Albert Barker, Ltd., London, Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum.
***EPISTOLARY Art!!! As recommended by Secret Gardener, who has one of the most beautiful blogs out there.
The fundamental challenges facing the U.S. Postal Service as an agency are beginning to trickle down to our local post office buildings, creating ripple-effect challenges for preservationists across the country. The New York Times ran an article last week highlighting the issue (with great comments), and the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed “Historic Post Office Buildings” on its Most Endangered List last year. Apparently the agency has identified nearly 3,700 buildings as likely candidates for closure, about 200 are soon to go on sale, and eleven are on the market right now. There are several concerns from the preservation perspective: not only do these buildings serve as community centers, but that they are often the most architecturally significant structure in many towns. And like so many federal buildings, many post offices are also surviving legacies of the New Deal policies designed to put Americans back to work during the Depression. The adaptive reuse of these buildings is the logical answer, but that is always a tricky business, and even if the exteriors of those buildings with landmark status are preserved historic interiors remain threatened: murals, marble, and metals could be ripped out and sold to the highest bidder.
Three photographs of the 1915 Renaissance Revival Berkeley, California Post Office, on the short list for closure: interior murals of by Suzanne Scheuer, exterior, and protester Josh Kornbluth in character as Benjamin Franklin, the first Postmaster General. Jim Wilson/New York Times.
I checked out several of the post offices that are on the market now (on this great blog) and was immediately drawn to two in particular: another Renaissance Revival building in Gulfport, Mississippi and the beautiful Greek Revival post office in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC. The DC building has been sold to a developer who is apparently going to adapt it for office space while retaining the post office on the first floor; this deal seems to have been years in the making and illustrates just how difficult the redevelopment process can be.
The Gulfport, Mississippi Post Office today and shortly after its construction in 1910, postcard courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History; the Georgetown Post Office, built in 1858, and a 1856 rendering by architect Ammi B. Young, Library of Congress.
I must admit that I have never really appreciated Salem’s Post Office, which I walk by nearly every day with little more than a passing glance. It is a classic WPA project, designed by local architect Philip Horton Smith and constructed in 1932-33 in the Colonial Revival style. It definitely has presence, but I always thought it was a bit boring, until I recently started noticing the details, inside and out: there certainly is a lot of marble and bronze in there, and the tables and radiator grates–even the mailboxes–are really lovely, as I now can see. To emphasize its centrality–as well as its connection to the outside world–this building was sited right across from Salem’s grand and gothic railroad station, whose destruction in 1954 is lamented to this day.
The Salem Post Office today and in the 1940s, downstairs interior and mailboxes, the former Post Office in Salem, adapted for reuse as shops in the 1930s and still serving in that capacity.
I was intent and inspired to have a rather spare Christmas tree this year, but once again we have a huge and furry white pine (I think I incorrectly called last year’s tree a Scotch pine) tree, over nine feet tall, that just eats ornaments. Oh well, the house probably calls for such a display, in contrast to the more minimalist Scandinavian looks, featuring branches and twigs more so than trees, that I collected in a pile of tear sheets. I particularly like this beautiful Toronto house, owned and decorated by designer Ingrid Oomen, that is featured in this month’s issue of Canadian House and Home.
I don’t know why the second scan came out so grainy–sorry. These minimalist tree branches go so well with this decor, and they could really be maintained all year round, minus the ornaments. I also like this simple display from Country Living, counterposed with the more traditional tree in the adjoining room.
I have not managed to go the overly-creative or minimalist route this year. The Christmas season is always a little frustrating for me, as I have high decorating hopes and not much time, with lots of papers and exams to correct and grades to turn in. I have a few little live trees around the house, like this one on the dining room mantle next to my new deer from Wisteria, and then the big tree in the front parlor (which I am showing you in both undecorated and decorated states so you can see what a monster it is). It doesn’t matter how many ornaments or garlands you put on this tree, it still looks essentially green.
Two of my favorite historical images of Christmas trees: Eastman Johnson’s Christmas-Time, The Blodgett Family (1864) and a print of President Roosevelt’s children showing him their closeted Christmas tree in 1903: he was an avid environmentalist and would not have one in the house (or so he proclaimed).
Eastman Johnson, Chistmas-Time, The Blodgett Family (1864), Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Roosevelt children show the President their tree, 1903, White House Historical Association.
Several years ago I sold my rather large collection of red transferware, and cleansed the house of most of the odd bits of toile: it was pretty clear that my husband hated these romantic patterns–particularly in red. I think most men share his opinion. I miss the dishes more than the textiles, and have been looking for ways to sneak a few transfer pieces back into our home. Two versions of modern transferware on the market right now might be just creative enough to overcome their toileness:
The first set of dishes–the result of a rather stealth collaboration between Target and the modernist manufacturers Blu Dot–are so subtle I think they could make it into my cupboards unnoticed. Both of these collections are charming, I think, because they are flawed by design, achieving difference (and whimsy) through apparent “defects”. It occurred to me that only in our modern industrial age could you possibly have such a design concept as deliberately imperfect: the standards of pre-industrial craftsmanship would simply not allow it. Then I thought (and read) about the traditional Japanese philosophy and aesthetic of wabi-sabi, which embraces the incomplete and imperfect as a way to grasp simple beauty and transience: yet another cultural distinction between east and west. In the first half of the twentieth century, similar values were embraced by artisans of the Arts & Crafts movement, who were trying not only to revive craftsmanship but also differentiate their products from those that were mass-produced. Skip forward a century or so, and differentiation through mass production seems to be the aim of some industrial designers.
While exploring the art of imperfection a bit further, I came across this perfectly-matched (at least to me!) pair of objects of flawed beauty, one the result of the passage of time, the other deliberately modern. Bear in mind that as I am writing this, I am staring at a large crack on my bedroom wall, a flaw that always reappears no matter how many times we reapply plaster. I’m searching for an empty gilt frame–and trying to have an optimistic outlook!
I was watching a mash-up rebroadcast of Antiques Roadshow the other night when a pair of Victorian calligraphic drawings suddenly appeared, including one very charming cat. You can see the appraisal–with appraiser Carl Crossman stating that he and his colleagues have seen plenty of calligraphic deer and eagles but few cats–here. Crossman loved the cat (and valued it at around $3500-$4000) and so do I, so of course I had to find one for myself. Calligraphy has always been a more integral feature of Islamic and East Asian art than that of the West, and I found some nice Asian BIG cats, but domestic calligraphic cats from Europe and America were indeed difficult to track down.
Calligraphic Tigers from Japan (18th century) and Pakistan (19th century), Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
In the west, calligraphic drawings seem to emerge first in the general instructional workbooks of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century tutors and their students. The owl and the pussycat below, which come closest to capturing the charm of my beloved Antiques Roadshow cat, were drawn by Dutch instructor Jacob Labotz for his students to copy and thus perfect their hands. So I started my search through the available instructional texts, starting with the later seventeenth century and working my way up to the later 1800s, when “flourishing” offhand calligraphy, combining writing and drawing, flourished. Mr. Crossman was correct: I found lots of birds (more doves than eagles), and no cats.
“Mary Serjant her book scholler to Eliz Bean Mrs. in the art of writing and arithmetick”, 1688, Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
I expanded my search to include museum collections, antique-shop inventories, and auction archives and could only find more calligraphic birds, in addition to a few horses and donkeys, rabbits, the occasional dragon, and this wonderful elephant, produced in Ohio in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. I would have snapped it right up if it was not already sold.
This elusive elephant inspired me to dig deeper and reminded me of an image that I do have: a calligraphic deer in the form of a John Derian tray: perhaps the source could lead me to a similarly drawn cat? Fortunately the Real Pen-Work. Self-Instructor in Penmanship (Pittsfield, MA: Knowles & Maxim, 1881) is available online: there I found my deer, along with flourished and fanciful birds of all feathers, fish, horses, and a big cat.
I’m going to keep looking for the perfect Spencerian calligraphic cat drawing, but in the mean time I think I’ll settle for yet another John Derian plate (I’m embarrassed to count how many I have), because this one comes very close to my feverishly-sought-after feline.
Before I moved to Salem, Halloween was all about ghosts for me, not witches. I’m not sure how I became fixated on them as a little girl, but once I grew up I’m sure I made the connection because of the historical origins of Halloween: the eve of All Hallows’ or All Saints’ Day (with earlier pre-Christian foundations), an evening when thoughts were on those who had passed. So when I came to Salem and it was all about witches, I was actually a bit confused; I still don’t really grasp the connection between the 1692 Witch Trials and Halloween (besides commerce), but apparently I am the only person in this city who fails to do so. I have fulfilled my Halloween obligations by buying a bucketful of candy which I will hand out tonight, and in the mean time I can celebrate the holiday in my own way: by focusing on ghosts.
Some favorite ghosts, starting with my very favorite historical person, Queen Elizabeth I, confronting Napoleon in 1803. The British always call on Elizabeth when they are in trouble. Here she shows him an image of the burning Spanish Armada and proclaims look at that and tremble!!! Elizabeth’s ghost is followed by that of another monarch, Louis XVI, protesting Napoleon’s theft of his throne.
Isaac Cruikshank satirical prints,1803-1804, British Museum, London.
In the later nineteenth century there was a spirited effort to catch ghosts on film, leading to the production of many “spirit photographs” as well as to any equally enthusiastic effort to prove that these images were faked with double exposure and other techniques. For some reason, several spirit photographs feature children, as in the one below, entitled Their Guardian Angel. From the same year, a “staged” photograph by Henry Ridgely Evans (who referred to himself consistently as “Dr.”), an amateur magician who investigated spiritualism at the turn of the last century.
Their Guardian Angel, C.H. Graves, publisher, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; spirit photograph by Henry Ridgley Evans, from his book Hours with the Ghosts or Nineteenth Century Witchcraft: Illustrated Investigations into the Phenomena of Spiritualism and Theosophy (1897).
And now for some “ghosts” from the world of art and design. Philippe Starck’s “Ghost” chair is pretty familiar to me, but a more recent discovery is the even more whimsical Ghost Clock of Wendell Castle. The possibilities seem unlimited for ghost furniture.
Kartell “Ghost Chair” by Philippe Starck, 2002, Philadelphia Museum of Art; “Ghost Clock” by Wendell Castle, 1985, Smithsonian Museum of American Art.
Looking forward to our next big holiday, a final “Thanksgiving Ghost” from the Victorian illustrator Oliver Herford:
Oliver Herford, A Thanksgiving Ghost, 1885.
Black and orange are the predominant colors of the season but I was looking for pink this weekend. Pink houses, large and small, can be found all over Salem but primarily in the outlying neighborhoods away from the center historic districts. While colonial houses can look lovely in pink, this custom seems to apply more to Charleston and Savannah than it does to New England: pink is just not a Puritan color! So most of Salem’s pink houses are Victorians, with the exception of a very bright Greek Revival on Winter Street just off the Common, and a little Georgian house in dusty salmon pink right off Derby Street.
And on the other side of Derby Street, overlooking Derby Wharf, the Friendship, and the Custom House, a pink triple-decker, another iconic New England architectural style.
I kept walking east: downtown was full of tourists and motorcycles, the weather was beautiful, and I knew that I’d find some pink house in the Willows. Salem Willows is a late Victorian park with an adjacent residential neighborhood of structures that were built as seasonal cottages in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. All of these houses have been transformed into year-round residences, and it’s a colorful neighborhood with few preservation encumbrances. There was a full spectrum of pink here, from shocking Schiaparelli to the very pale color of the Gothic Revival cottage overlooking Juniper Point Beach.
Back in town, I turned left and walked down Lafayette Street, which was a grand boulevard of painted ladies before the great Salem Fire of 1914. Some survived, and Colonial Revival residences replaced those that did not: one has a conspicuous pink and light gray color scheme that you cannot fail to notice. On a side street Lafayette, there’s a lovely late 19th century pink house, with an adjacent three-car garage, also in pink. And way down the road, almost on the Marblehead line, is a “Scooby Doo” eclectic Victorian overlooking Salem Harbor dressed in faded pink. I was losing the light by this time, as you can see.
These are all great houses, but I must admit that my two favorite pink houses are not in Salem. One is the Justin Morrill homestead in Strafford, Vermont, which I’ve already featured in a post, and the other is the Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut, which is owned and operated by Historic New England. Both are assertively Gothic Revival structures–”Gothic” and pink are two descriptive terms which are seldom linked together, but in these two cases we have notable exceptions!
Roseland Cottage, Woodstock, Connecticut, 1846. Historic New England.