Tag Archives: Etsy

April Fish

Frankly I find fools a little scary (especially after they evolve from faithless to court jesters) and I’m not clever enough to pull off a tricky April Fool’s Day post, so I will just offer up some French fish for the day. For whatever reason—new calendar or perennial fish-hatching season–French-speaking parts of Europe (and Italy) have recognized the first of April as Le Poisson d’Avril for several centuries, and postcards past serve as cheerful evidence of this interesting cultural tradition. The recipient of an April Fool’s Day prank gets a paper fish pinned to his back, or a colorful card in the mail. And in the words of this first card, from 1906, if you receive it with a good heart, it will bring you luck. I’m craving lucklightheartedness, and color after March 2014, surely the longest and coldest month in the history of the world!

'If you receive it with a good heart, it will bring you luck', an April Fool's Day postcard, sent in 1906 (mixed media)

April Flower Fish card

April Fool's Day (coloured photo)

April Fish-001

April Fabric panel

April First Poisson cards from the first decade of the twentieth century and the Bridgeman Art Library; Fabric panel from Etsy seller Confectionique.

 


New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day is generally and literally about dismantling for me: taking down the elaborate holiday displays I assembled only weeks before on my eight fireplace mantels and all of the other decorations around the house. The tree is relatively easy compared to everything else, frankly, and as I write it’s out on the sidewalk awaiting its transport to Dead Horse Beach for the annual Christmas Tree bonfire this weekend. I’m an habitual seasonal decorator but now I’m wondering if I should reign in this instinct a bit….that’s certainly an attainable New Year’s resolution! In between bouts of dismantling I wasted copious amounts of time browsing the web for the perfect 2014 datebook because the one I bought at Target the other day is so devoid of any aesthetic whimsy that I fear I will not use it, and I need to: this is another area where my life has changed since becoming chair of my department–I now need to keep track of everyone’s dates and not just my own. As usual, I had Turner Classic Movies on in the background, and several movies distracted me from my dismantling mission as well, most notably the original (1968) Thomas Crown Affair. I had to figure out exactly where Steve McQueen lived on Beacon Hill in Boston (85 Mount Vernon Street–the 2nd Harrison Gray Otis house!!!) and examine each one of Faye Dunaway’s amazing outfits. And then, of course, I had to keep checking the weather reports as we have a big snowstorm bearing down on us: it looks like I will have several days inside to come up with some new displays for my mantels.

A day in the life: outside my bedroom window, the calm before the storm; a Christmas mantel before its dismantling; I love these little fabric trees from Quietude Quilts so I’m going to keep them up for a while; great Christmas presents: Wanderlust plates made in Rhode Island; Jessica Hische pocket planner; 85 Mount Vernon Street, Boston.

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Ceramic City

My material side–always simmering under the surface–almost takes over during the holidays: I have no doubt that I would be consumed by it if I didn’t also have lots of academic responsibilities at the same time. It’s not just shopping, it’s really more about decorating–I have to have a theme, and the theme must layered all over the house–which means I have to get ready now. This year, I’ve decided to go with little clay villages, a ceramic city of sorts, interwoven with the usual holiday stuff (but not a kitschy enchanted village). I was inspired by the “Town Square Sculptures” of ceramicist Molly Hatch, but as soon as I started looking, I’ve been finding little clay houses everywhere. Here are a few of my favorites on the web, and next weekend I’m off to check out a potential treasure trove in New Hampshire. Please forward any additional sources, as right after Thanksgiving, I’ll have to be ready to assemble my ceramic city.

Ceramic City Hatch

Ceramic City Hatch 2

I adore these little houses by Rowena Brown, modeled after the cottages of St. Kilda, the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides off Scotland, but they might be a bit too rustic for my little city, and definitely too precious to display for only one month a year:

Ceramic Houses 2

Ceramic Houses

The houses which I am eying on Etsy:

Ceramic City Poast

Ceramic Houses Poast 2

Ceramic Houses Poast 3

Ceramic House Red

Ceramic City White Cottage

Lots of tea light holders–lighthouses–out there (these are my favorite), but most are a bit too cute for my taste, and I think I’m going to refrain from all of the collectible series of miniature houses, from Europe and America and the past and the present, as well. So it’s going to take a while to build my city, but in the meantime the many deer I’ve collected over the years can dominate the landscape.


A Poe Parlor

Last year around this time (of course), the private sales site Joss & Main featured a “Destination Salem” shopping event, comprised of items chosen to conjur up the spirit of my fair city. I was pleased that the selections were not all kitschy witchy, but included some maritime, colonial and Federal (quotations around all terms, please) items as well. This year I’ve been looking out for another Salem collection, but instead the site curators have showcased Design Icon Edgar Allan PoePoe is certainly having quite a moment, with his big show at the Morgan Library & Museum! It’s hard to think of him as a “design icon” but he certainly was proficient at setting the scene. The curators of the Joss & Main collection seem to have gone in an exclusively dark and literal direction: all black and gray (think ravens and cats) and no red (think hearts, masques, and blood). I think I can do better.

Macabre Poe NYT Fred R. Conrad credit

Man of the moment Edgar Allan Poe, © Fred R. Conrad, New York Times.

The Salem and Poe collections actually share quite a few items: black-painted tables, windsor chairs, grey upholstery, raven-embellished pillows. There are some nice looking desks, although they’re a bit undersized (why is it that modern desks are so small and coffee tables so big?) I think the items below represent the Joss & Main portfolio quite well.

Bartow+Rug

Macabre Chair Joss and Main

macabre study table

In putting together my Poe-inspired room, I took into consideration two influences. One is Poe himself who, oddly enough, did write an article on interior decoration, “The Philosophy of Furniture”, published in Burton’s Gentlemen’s Magazine in 1840. The other is my more imaginative conception of the Poe ambiance, based on my reading of his works: what I want my Poe room to look like rather than what he would have wanted his room to look like. We obviously have a much clearer vision of the former, and an illustration, as the reading room at the Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia is decorated according to the preferences laid out in “The Philosophy of Furniture”:  silver-grey walls with lots of crimson and gold accents, landscapes and female portraits, no flowers, minimal window hangings (Poe seems to have had a disdain for swags, like most men I have known), the Empire furniture of his time. Taking all these preferences together, you get a pretty conventional mid-nineteenth century Empire room–I think I need a little bit more texture, a bit more drama, a Gothic air.

Poe Reading Room

Poe doors

Poe Basement

The Reading Room (and spooky basement) at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia, recreated according to Poe’s “Philosophy of Furniture”.

Poe writes a lot about “arabesque” motifs in his “Philosophy” piece, and the importance of carpets, so I’ve picked the Jaipur “Narratives” carpet below for my Poe parlor, from Joss & Main’s inventory site: this rug has all of his favorite colors, it looks perfect to me. I would keep the Empire sofa that you see above (I already have one), but I am very inspired by the Gothic doors of Poe’s Reading Room, so I would look for some Gothic revival side chairs with a similar silhouette: the perfect one sold in a Doyle’s auction last year, but I need more! In front of the Empire sofa I would put a neo-Gothic table made of metal; there are no “period” coffee tables so you might as well go for something cool.

Jaipur-Rugs-Narratives-Red-Crafts-Rug

Poe Parlor Chair

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I love this gilded mirror from Christopher Jones Antiques, which is contemporary with Poe: it would go over the mantle of the dark marble fireplace, with two Argand lamps on either side:  the pair below are perfect: they just went for $3500 at a Connecticut auction gallery last weekend.

Mirror

Lamps

Now all we need are some whimsical/literal accessories and finishing touches: footstools and/or drapes in this “Nevermore” fabric, a Poe pillow or two, Raven candles from Target on the mantle, interspersed with these amazing metal sculptures. A great, beating (ticking) clock. I’m not sure about paintings; Poe’s preferred landscapes are boring and (against his wishes) I would definitely have a textured wallpaper rather than plain painted walls. I’m torn between the Pugin wallpapers below, created in 1848 for a client named Lockhart, which might be too much with my rug, and something more silvery and spidery. My Poe parlor is a work in progress.

Poe fabric

Poe Gothic Pillow

Raven Sculptures

PicMonkey Collage


Poison Vessels

News of the discovery of a late medieval poison ring in eastern Europe has intrigued me; I know that “poison rings” (alternatively called “pillbox rings” with built-in receptacles) were popular in the Renaissance and after, but very few of them actually served to contain or convey poison–more likely the held articles of remembrance. But this Bulgarian bronze ring, with its little channel, looks like the real thing! It instantly reminded me of one of my favorite (also late medieval) woodcut illustrations of a woman poisoning her husband–through a much larger pipeline–and set me off on a hunt for more man-made vessels for poison, besides the proverbial poison arrow.

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Poison 1481

Book of Wisdom of the Ancient Sages, 1481; The Illustrated Bartsch. Vol. 83, German Book Illustration before 1500: Anonymous Artists, 1481-1482.

Well of course the most obvious vessel is a cup:  whether medieval depictions of Socrates drinking his hemlock or later prints of supposed royal assassinations, the poison is generally conveyed in a cup, or, more seriously, a chalice, as in Shakespeare’s This even-handed justice Commends thingredients of our poisoned chalice (Macbeth). Somehow a chalice is more reverent, and at the same time menacing, than a mere cup. John Foxe’s Protestant martyrology, Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, Touching Matters of the Church (1563) shows King John being poisoned by English monks offering his majesty a chalice of wassail, of all things. The chalice and the mortar and pestle become the two most “medieval” vessels associated with poison, as in the line from Danny Kaye’s Court Jester (1955): the pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!

Poison Cup Socrates

Poison Cup BM

Poison Cup MET

National Library of the Netherlands MS RMMW, 10 A 11 (c. 1475), John Foxe, Acts and Monuments  (1563); NYPL Digital Gallery.

Another English monarch who was threatened with assassination by poison (and other means) was Elizabeth I: a Jesuit-inspired French plot involving a poisoned saddle is illustrated in George Carleton’s Thankful Remembrance (1627). This might or might not be the basis of the purely fictional poisoned dress scene in the 1998 film Elizabeth. In any case, it was foiled.

Poison Saddle BM

George Carleton, A Thankful Remembrance of God’s Mercy, 1627.

Things seem to get more straightforward in the modern age, when poison was contained in boldly labeled and brightly colored apothecary bottles, dispensed collectively in war and from planes, self-induced through various addictive substances, and trivialized by mid-century modern “name your poison” bar sets. But obviously the most effective poisons would have no vessel at all.

Poison Sign

Name Your Poison Glasses Etsy


Imperial Ermine

In the midst of a royal-birth-dominated media week I found myself in my graduate class, interpreting two iconic Renaissance portraits with ermines in them. And thus a post was provoked. How did this little weasel get associated with royalty, pretentious nobility, and the academic and clerical hierarchy? The answer lies in the (rare) white fur of this beast (more scientifically know as the stoat, or short-tailed weasel) as well as the emblems incorporated into what became a distinct ermine design: for no animal has the “ermine” black and white coat, it is a heraldic invention.

Ermine Leonardo

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Leonardo da Vinci, Lady with an Ermine (Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan), 1489-90, The Czartoryski Museum and Library, Krakow; Nicholas Hilliard, The Ermine Portrait of Queen Elizabeth, 1585, Hatfield House.

Leonardo has a real ermine in his portrait of a woman who is presumed to be Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of his powerful patron Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan–whose heraldic emblem was an ermine. But the little creature on Elizabeth’s arm, wearing a crown collar, is an artistic creation based on the ermine pattern, in which the distinctive black tips of the animal’s (several animals actually) tail is stitched onto the fur, sometimes cut into distinct heraldic shapes. I think you can see this most clearly in the portrait below, in which a sixteen-century German merchant’s wife is wearing very distinct ermine sleeves (and a lot of jewelry) with her family crest in the corner.

ermine Cologne portrait

Bathel Bruyn the Younger, Portrait of Woman of the Slosgin Family of Cologne, 1557, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

As eminent (and wealthy) as she might have been, this woman is not a Queen–or even the mistress of a Duke: it seems like anyone can wear ermine in the sixteenth century, at least outside of England. The black-and-white (or white-and-black) patterned “fur” had become a device of conspicuous consumption and social mobility, because of its long-held associations with majesty, wealth, and a Christ-like “purity bought with his own death”, in which it was said that the ermine would give himself up to the approaching hunter, so not to sully his pure white winter coat (not quite sure why this was royal). The sheer expense of  ermine is most likely the ultimate source of its desire and association with the wealthy and privileged: the stoat’s coat is pure white only in winter, and then there are all those little black tails. I do think ermine maintains its exclusive association with royalty longer in England than on the Continent, but I could be wrong.

Ermine Bedford Hours

Ermine George I

Ermine sign for Crown Inn 1750 V and A

Ermines

Ermine in various incarnations, through the ages: The Duke of Bedford prays before St. George in his ermine-lined robe, c 1423, the Bedford Hours, 1423  (Additional Ms. 18850 ), British Library, Mezzotint of King George I by John Smith, 1715, British Museum; Drawing for a sign for the Crown Inn, c. 1750, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; The Stout wearing his summer and winter coats, Prang & Co., 1878, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.  

Appendix:  as a stark contrast to Leonardo’s portrait, I could not resist adding this Ermine with a Lady portrait” by Ellen Paquette!

Ermine with a Lady


Summer Solstice

So now we come to the longest day of the year, celebrated in the medieval era (anywhere from June 21 to 25) as Midsummer and the nativity of St. John the Baptist, as well as a bonfire and quarter day. It’s a perfect example of the assimilation of pagan and Christian traditions, and the triumph of nature over both. We know that everything is blooming now and that the days are long, and people in the past did too. This is a day that is much more important in Scandinavian cultures than those of the rest of Europe or here in America; its characterization and secularization as the mere “longest day” definitely robbed it of some of its magic. The best thing to do is just enjoy the day—all of it.

Different perspectives on the longest day and the onset of Summer:

Summer Solstice Crane NYPL

Summer Solstice BM 18th C

“Longest Day set off westward in beautiful crimson & gold”, from Walter Crane‘s Masque of Days (1901);  “Summer” hand-colored mezzotint published by John Fairburn, 1796.

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Global views of Summer in 18th-century astronomical charts from the Wellcome Library, London–and you can buy your own here.

Summer Solstice Etsy

Morning, midday & evening in Salem, Summer Solstice eve:

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Summer Solstice evening


Book Arts, past and present

I have read so many articles lately about the impending and inevitable obsolescence of the book, that it is rather comforting to focus on the book as a work of art, as it certainly was in the past and remains so in the present. Surely books will survive as things, decorative or otherwise. The Morgan Library & Museum is exhibiting its precious sixteenth-century “Van Damme” Book of Hours this summer in celebration of the manuscript’s facsimile publication by Faksimile Verlag. This tiny little book is like a jewel, made the more so by its encasement in a silver filigree case that looks like a clutch purse, the commission of a previous owner.

Books Van Damme Hours

The Van Damme Hours and case, Antonius van Damme, scribe, and Simon Bening, illuminator, 1531, Morgan Library & Museum.

I am jumping forward several centuries and into a genre that I’m not quite sure can be raised to the level of art: children’s shape (or shaped) books which were first issued in America in the 1860s by L. Prang of Boston with verse and designs by Salem’s own Lydia Very. I’ve been interested in the low profile Very for a while and I admire her spirit from afar: the sister and lifelong caretaker of “eccentric” poet Jones Very (they were the children of unwed first cousins of a very old Salem family), she taught in the Salem public schools while also maintaining a prolific publishing career, which included poetry, garden essays, and these shape books for children, which were part of Prang’s popular “Doll Series”. Despite Prang’s claim that the form “originated with us”,  European publishers issued these novelty items at the same time, in all sorts of shapes: boxes, bears, cats.

Books Very

Books Arts RedBooks Arts Red 2

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Lydia Very, Good Two Shoes, (L. Prang, n.d.), Aleph-Bet Books, and Red Riding Hood (L. Prang, 1863) E. Wharton & Co., and Castell Brothers, London, cat-shaped book, Bromer Booksellers.

Taking another big leap up to the present, and some very elegant and detailed examples of “pop-up books”, another Victorian innovation:  these “book sculptures” by Justin Rowe cross over into a new genre, but still, the book is the foundation, as well as the material i(n more ways than one). Here are images of his “Little Red” Riding Hood (compare to Very’s above) and “Shoot the Moon”.

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Images © Justin Rowe, 2012.

So that brings us to what looks like a flourishing book-related movement? field? endeavor? (searching for the right word here). Artists’ books are exactly that:  books made by artists in very (or singular) limited editions, inspired by themes and utilizing book crafts and materials, books that are composed (or simply made) in more of an artistic than literary manner. There seem to be many definitions and classifications of artists’ books out there, so I just made up my own–I hope it suffices and stand to be corrected! There are also many examples of artists’ books out there to feature, so I’ve just chosen two, to illustrate the range of work. The first images are of the cover and all the “pages” of renown book artist Julie Chen’s “Cat’s Cradle” from her beautiful website Flying River Press, while the last is of a hand-made botanical book from the Etsy shop modestly: the book lives on in many forms.

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Book Arts Modestly


Streets of Boston

Like everyone else, I was thinking about Boston a lot yesterday and as it was a non-teaching day I was very vulnerable to the drip drip of media “updates” while at home. So I turned off everything and looked through some books about Boston:  its history, its architecture, its culture. Much better! Then I began assembling some of my favorite images and impressions of the city, and as that seemed like a somewhat productive enterprise I began to feel even better. So what I have today is a very random sample of my “collection”, including old favorites, new discoveries, and images of past and near-present. Boston is a dynamic city which has experienced a lot of change in the past few decades, but when I look at these images I still see a recognizable city, with the exception of the harbor views–visual reminders that Boston’s first and foremost identity for several centuries was that of a port. Paul Revere would draw on these prints a few decades later for his pre-revolutionary depiction of the occupation of Boston by British ships.

PicMonkey Collage with border

Two James Turner etchings of Boston’s wharves in the mid-eighteenth century from The American Magazine (Boston: Rogers and Fowle, 1743-46) and a hand-colored etching by John Carwitham of “A South East View of the Great Town of Boston in New England in America” (London: c. 1730-60), American Antiquarian Society, Worcester.

A century later, it’s more about the streets of Boston, the emerging “hub of the universe” and “Athens of America”. The mid- to late-nineteenth century were heady days for Boston, which of course had left Salem in the dust. During my hunt yesterday, I was particularly surprised to find that my favorite British pioneering photographer, Francis Frith, had included several images of Boston in his “Universal Series”. Artworks of varying mediums–watercolor, oil, another photograph–to depict other city scenes at around the same time.

Boston Francis Frith

Boston Frish State house

Boston Benjamin Champney 1851

Boston Railraod Jubilee on Boston Common William Sharp 1851

Boston Tremont Street 1860

Francis Frith photographs of Boston Common and the Massachusetts State House, 1850s, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Benjamin Champney, Washington Street, Boston, 1850, Princeton University Graphic Arts Department; William Sharp, Railroad Jubilee on Boston Common, 1851, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Tremont Street, 1860, Halliday Historic Photograph Company, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

And then there are the novel views of the city, created by creative and entrepreneurial publishers, cartographers, and balloonists! The nineteenth century loved the “big picture”.

Boston Balloon View 1860

Boston Birds Eye Triptych

James Black, Boston, as the Eagle and Wild Goose See It”, 1860, Metropolitan Museum of Art; a Birds Eye View of Boston Triptych, 1903, ArtHouseGraffiti.

Of the later nineteenth- and early twentieth-century “Boston painters’, I think Arthur Clifton Goodwin was particularly adept at capturing Boston streetscapes in his impressionistic way. There are lots of Goodwin paintings to choose from (in auction archives and the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which gave him his own posthumous show in the 1970s), but I went with Copley Square (1908). Of course I had to include a painting from his fellow Boston Impressionist, the more well-known Childe Hassam, so I went for Mount Vernon Street (1919) one of the most beautiful, and reproduced, streets of Boston. Jump forward thirty years, and you’re looking at “old” Beacon Hill with the financial district rising above it from across the Charles River in Cambridge in an amazing (oil!) painting by Thomas Adrian Fransioli. I love the “modern” look of this painting, although I believe that Fransioli is referencing the present, the past, and the future. Boston looks like the “shining city on the hill” that it has always been.

Boston Copley Square 1908 Arthur Clifton Goodwin MFA

Boston Mt Vernon Street Childe Hassam 1919 Christies

Boston Beadon Hill Fransioli 1947 MFA

Arthur Clifton Goodwin, Copley Square, London , 1908, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Childe Hassam, Mount Vernon Street, Christies; Thomas Adrian Fransioli, Beacon Hill, 1947, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Fool’s Parsley

My scholarly, botanical and materialistic interests intersected the other day when I came across a beautiful Arts and Crafts wallpaper print by Charles Francis Annesley Voysey named “Fool’s Parsley”, first produced in 1907. Even though it’s not really appropriate for my 1820s house, I love art nouveau and Arts and Crafts wallpapers in general, and Voysey’s designs in particular. The more I looked at the design, the more it reminded me of Sweet Cicely, one of my favorite plants in the garden, and so it was no surprise to learn that these two plants are in the same family. Though they have a very similar appearance, these herbs have very different natures:  while Sweet Cicely “is so harmless you cannot use it amiss” according to the old herbalists, Fool’s Parsley is very, very poisonous. Beauty can be deceiving.

Fool's Parsely Voysey 1907 V and A

Fool's Parsley 1856 Herbal

L0013947 L. Fuchs, De historia stirpium commentarii

“Fool’s Parsley”, or Aethusa cynapium, in a 1907 wallpaper pattern by Charles Voysey, Victoria & Albert Museum, London and 1856 and 1542 herbals by Constantin von Ettingshausen and Leonhart Fuchs, respectively, Wellcome Library, London.

Fool’s Parsley is often called “Lesser Hemlock” in herbals from the Renaissance onwards, emphasizing its Socratic connection and toxic qualities rather than the evergreen tree. Along with Sweet Cicely, it belongs to the large Umbelliferae plant family, named for and distinguished by its lacy, umbrella-like flowers and including such beneficial vegetables and herbs as carrots, celery, dill, chervil, parsnips, and, of course, parsley. Besides the deprecating designation, there are many stories and anecdotes of poor fools who mistook the poisonous parsley for the passive one and ended up with severe nausea, headaches, and worse. But for CFA Voysey, this lethal plant was as beautiful as a rose, and by all accounts, his very best birds embellish the design.

PicMonkey Collage

Fools Parsley 1893

Trustworth Studios has reproduced Voysey’s design in light and dark colorways; Fool’s Parsley page from an 1893 German herbal, Etsy seller CabinetOfTreasures.


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