Tag Archives: holidays

Just one (re)Discovery

In my ongoing quest to put Christopher Columbus in context, both in and outside of the classroom, I’m offering up one of the most vivid visual sources of early modern Europe–and a brilliant example of Renaissance projection and propaganda:  the Nova Reperta of Jan van der Straet (better known as Stradanaus), a series of 24 etchings illustrating all the “discoveries” of the era. Stradanaus (1523-1605) began his career as a designer of tapestries and fresco artist in the service of the Medici family in Florence but expanded his reach considerably after 1570 as a draughtsman and designer of prints which were engraved and published all over Europe by several  Antwerp publishers in huge numbers. The Nova Reperta (“New Discoveries”) series, celebrating (and proclaiming) Renaissance innovations in art, science and technology, was first published in 1580 and reprinted numerous times thereafter. The images are striking and consequential, but so too are the captions, which either defend an age-old practice as a contemporary discovery or herald what truly is “new”, although there’s a bit of equivocation when it comes to the New World: Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci share in the acclaim, which is to be expected in this age, but there is a rather unexpected variation in the use of the terms “discovery” and rediscovery. A rare example of Renaissance humility?! The title page presents the major achievements of the age, with America (discovered by Columbus and named by Vespucci) projected as just one of many discoveries, including gunpowder, the printing press, an iron clock, the Brazilian guiacum wood cure for another American discovery—syphillis–distillation, the silkworm, the stirrup, and a magnetic compass, most of these things invented either well before–or outside of–Renaissance Europe.

Nova reperta

The sequence of images of America are referenced both in terms of rediscovery and discovery: “Americus rediscovers America–he called her but once and thenceforth she was always awake” (one of the first “Europe awakes the world” images–note the roasting leg in the background); “America rediscovered: who is able with mighty heart to fashion a song worthy of the majesty of these events and discoveries?”; “Christopher Columbus of Liguria, overcoming the terrors of the ocean, added to the Spanish crown the regions of almost another world that he discovered, 1492″; “Americus Vespucci of Florence, in a marvelous expedition to the west and to the south opened up two parts of the earth greater than the shores which we inhabit and known to us in no previous age, once in which by common consent of all human beings is called by his name, Americus, 1497.”

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Nova reperta 3

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Images taken from the Posner Center at the Carnegie Mellon University Library:  NE674 .S8 D53 “New discoveries; the sciences, inventions, and discoveries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as represented in 24 engravings issued in the early 1580’s by Stradanus.”

 


Fabric for the Fouth

I’ve been rather casually researching how the Fourth of July was commemorated on its Centennial in 1876, and while all the attention is generally focused on the great Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, I have come to appreciate all the special fabrics that were produced that year, material girl that I am. Textiles are key to this celebration: as the United States was in the midst of its industrial revolution, machine-made fabrics were featured prominently in the Exposition’s displays, and it also had a special focus on the “women’s sphere” and the domestic arts. Of course textiles are always a central feature of Independence Day celebrations: even more than fireworks, the Fourth is all about flags, swags, and bunting. As I write, I’m looking at the flag runner on my dining room table, a flag pillow on a nearby chair, and flags flying outside. In 1876, I think they were much more lavish–and much more creative–with patriotic displays of fabric. On the way home from my recent road trip, I passed through the northwest corner of Connecticut and the pretty town of Litchfield, where the Historical Society was featuring an exhibition on the Colonial Revival called “The Lure of the Litchfield Hills”. I enjoyed seeing all the items in the exhibition immensely, but was particularly taken by a child’s drummer costume for the Litchfield Centennial parade. So this would be the first item in my own little collection of Centennial textiles, followed by a banner made for Salem’s 1876 celebrations, a beautiful Centennial coverlet from the amazing inventory of Jeff. R. Bridgman, Antiques, and two Centennial quilts from the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. You can see the centrality of the Philadelphia Exposition; the custom of the time was to incorporate souvenir handkerchiefs into memento quilts, as Mary Stow and Esther Cooley evidently did. To round out my collection I must have one of these very handkerchiefs (from the Metropolitan Museum of Art), and of course, a Centennial Flag (from the New York Historical Society).

Fabric

Fabric Salem Banner

fabric coverlet

Fabric Quilt smithsonian stow

Fabric Centennial Quilt Smithsonian

Fabric handkerchief 1876 MET

Fabric Flag NYHS 1876

 


A Decoration Day Divided

The holiday which we now commemorate as Memorial Day has its origins in the immediate years after the Civil War, when late-May rituals of remembrance and decoration of veterans’ graves emerged and evolved spontaneously and separately in both the North and the South. Given the prominent role played by the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) in the official adoption of the holiday in the North in the later 19th century, a rather divided commemoration continued all the way up to World War I, which united the nation in remembrance, and widened its circle to encompass American veterans of all conflicts. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress and placed on the last Month of May. And thus we have our national commemoration and commencement of summer (although weather-wise, the latter might apply only to the North). When tracing the earlier history of Decoration Day through paper, which is easy to do as it corresponds to the “golden age” of penny postcards and advertising inserts, the divided focus is readily apparent. The cards below are from a great archive of postcards produced by the famous British firm Raphael Tuck & Sons, which supplied both North and South with their commemorative cards.

Decoration Day Tuck North Flag

Decoration Day Tuck South Flag 1907

Raphael Tuck Grant 1911

Decoration Day Tuck Lee 1911

Decoration Day Tuck 1910

Decoration Day Tuck 1911 Blue and Gray

Decoration Day Tuck all wars

Flags unfurled, North and South, c. 1907; Remembering Generals Grant and Lee (with the U.S. flag sneaking into the latter scene), c. 1911; In a northern Attic, c. 1910; The Blue and the Gray come together just before the Great War; all veterans after (this last card is not a Tuck–you can probably see the difference in quality–and also unlike all the Tuck cards, it was not produced in then-hostile Germany).


Bright white May Days

Beautiful weather here, at long last. Yesterday, Mother’s Day, was nothing short of spectacular. Everyone was in a blissful mood. I’ve been running, literally, around town, trying to ramp up my endurance but I always take my camera with me so I suppose I’m not really that serious about it. I don’t want to miss anything: blooming bleeding hearts, turtles in Greenlawn cemetery (they always seem to line up on the same fallen branch in order of weight and size), unusual houses (the two white ones are hard to pin down in terms of style and period: would be grateful for more informed opinions), groundhogs (couldn’t get the picture, sorry), bubbles. My garden came to life almost overnight: last week I was in despair, but now it looks like the jacks-in-the-pulpit and lady’s slippers are about to bust out of the ground along with most (not all, but most) of my perennials. I’m going to fill in some of the holes that I do have in the shade garden with brunnera macrophylla (with purple flowers below), which has proved itself to be both pretty and hardy.

Salem (and bubbles in Concord):

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Yesterday afternoon we went up to New Castle, New Hampshire to have brunch with my family at Wentworth by the Sea, built as the Hotel Wentworth in 1872, abandoned a century and a decade later, and “restored” (rebuilt?) ten years ago. It was a big part of my early life and even though it’s not the most sensitive of restorations it was nice to see it full of smiling happy people yesterday. I’ve included a photograph of its dark days in the 1990s for contrast. We drove home past long lines at each and every ice cream stand along the way–although in New England, you see that in February.

New Castle, New Hampshire:

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Wentworth photo

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A Scary Map of the World, with no London or Amsterdam or……Salem

On this Earth Day, it seems appropriate to feature the scary but beautiful map of the world with unfrozen polar caps created by Slovakian student/graphic artist/cartographer Martin Vargic. At first glance, the map looks like a traditional nineteenth-century decorative map of the hemispheres, but then you look closer (just click on it) and see that many unshaded coastal areas are “missing” and that new seas and lakes have opened up in the midst of continental interiors: there is an Amazon Sea in the middle of South America and a new “Artesian Sea” in Australia. The map presents a rather radical vision with sea levels 260 feet higher than today (most scientists seem to project a 3 foot rise by 2100), and consequently all the coastal cities of the eastern seaboard in North America are gone (including Salem, of course), along with those of the Gulf Coast and what looks like the entire state of Florida. Across the Atlantic, London is gone, along with Amsterdam, and DenmarkVargic, whose work can also be found here, seems to have one-upped his earlier map of the internet, which went viral earlier this year.

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Climate Vargic 1

Climate Vargic 2

Climate Vargic 3

Map Images © Martin Vargic @ Halcyon Maps

Appendix: Climate maps are nothing new, although predictive ones certainly are. Those from the 17th through the 19th centuries seem to be more of the recording or empirical nature, like the circular map of London’s annual temperature cycle below. Things get a little bit more subjective later in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, when “scientific racism” (and environmental determinism) tried to assert “rational” explanations for the industrial progress (and supposed superiority) of the West. The 1924 map below seems to be doing just that.

L0027564 Luke Howard, The climate of London...

L0029476 Civilization and Climate, world map

Map from Luke Howard, The Climate of London, deduced from meteorological observations, made in the Metropolis, and at various places around it…(London, 1833),Wellcome Library; and map from Ellsworth Huntingdon, Civilization and Climate (London, 1924), Wellcome Library.

 

 

 

 


Remembrance, Recreation and Reenactment

The blogger part of my brain is whirling in anticipation of this long weekend of Patriots’ Day/Easter/Marathon Monday: what to write about? I think I’ve offered up enough Easter eggs, bunnies and witches, and Patriots’ Day, the Massachusetts (and Maine) holiday which commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the beginning of the American Revolution, coincides with Marathon Monday. I have always thought of my own personal ritual–a walk or run down the Battle Road on which the British retreated back to Boston–as sort of a combination of the two holidays, a form of patriotic athleticism. But last year I had a bad cold and stayed home and watched the Marathon on television, including the horrors that unfolded at its finish line in Boston. Now, after last year, the holiday seems different, darker. I am afraid that I am a bit numbed by the nonstop media coverage of the Marathon memorial that we have experienced in the Boston area (and perhaps nationally?) over these past few weeks, so I think I’ll go back to 1775, or at least our impression or “memory” of it. After classes yesterday I flew down to Concord to catch the first day of the new exhibition at the Concord Museum, timely titled The Shot Heard Round the World: April 19, 1776, and while I was there I poked around a bit, looking for Minutemen and Redcoats–or at least their shadows.

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In Concord: the entrance to the exhibition, with a militia man inside, flints from the battlefield, a 1930 diorama, and across town, the Major John Buttrick House and adjacent monument.

Concord does commemoration very well, much better than we do here in Salem: of course they a good event to commemorate–the courageous shot heard round the world–and we have a bad one–the intolerant, irrational witch trials. But I would really like to replace the tacky, exploitative, and out-of-date Witch Museum–which is really just one BIG diorama dated circa 1971–with the tasteful and reflective Concord Museum, which seems just as concerned with Concord’s history as the making of Concord’s history. I long for an exhibition on the creation of “Witch City” but doubt I will ever see it.

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There’s another exhibition I’m looking forward to further down the road (battle and otherwise): The Battle After the Battle: the Lexington-Concord Tug of War for Revolutionary Fame, opening at the Lexington Historical Society on May 3. I thought these two towns worked together in the spirit of collaborative commemoration, but apparently not! They’ve both been in the business for quite some time, to which the Boston Globe photographs from the 1920s and 1930s below attest. As I was heading back to Salem I spotted a few present-day reenactors outside the Concord Museum: I think they’re camping out tonight so they can be on the spot, rested and ready, for tomorrow’s battles.

Concord Bridge

Lexington Green

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Reenactors in Concord (1928) and Lexington (early 1930s) © Leslie Jones, Boston Public Library, and yesterday, outside the Concord Museum.

 

 


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)

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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.

 


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