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Halloween Morning in Salem

I am sorry to drag out this hackneyed phrase, but Halloween morning in Salem really is the calm before the storm. I’m pretty calm myself, having managed to avoid most of the things that annoy me (the Salem Witch Museum–the most egregious trader on tragedy by far, Essex and New Derby Streets, tour guides–walking founts of misinformation) about this prolonged “holiday” for most of the month of October. I’m looking forward to November 1st (tomorrow!!!), but a bit concerned that I don’t have enough candy to get me through the night, as this is a Friday Halloween with projected good weather. I was praying for rain this morning as I took a walk under the clouds (that’s how much of a Halloween grinch I have become) but then the sun broke out, casting Salem in a beautiful light. Of course it will be even more beautiful tomorrow, or perhaps on Monday, when all of the porta-potties, motorcycles, and demons have left.

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Halloween morning

Big pumpkins and Big candy: there are big pumpkins on River Street every year, and every year I complain to my students about having to spend so much money on candy–so this year one of them (Samantha Ferraro) drew me with my very full shopping cart.


Fall Colors

Another picture post today–I promise to get something more substantive (and literary) together by the end of the week. Fall is flying by in a flash of color, so I stopped for a few minutes to capture some. One of the (few) negatives things about being a professor is that this is an incredibly busy time of year; one of the (many) negative things about being a department chair is that this is an insanely busy time of the year–so there’s not much time for anything else. My job, combined with my disdain for Salem’s transformation into Witch City in October, generally translates into a month spent inside, which is a shame, because it’s usually so beautiful outside. But I have ventured out to a few tranquil places (including my garden) to catch some color before it all fades to drab.

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Endicott Park in Danvers and my own Salem garden, where the feverfew is still in bloom and Moneypenny blends in with the fall colors.


The Eagle has Flown

I woke up Tuesday morning to a cherry picker just outside my bedroom window. This is nothing new–I live right next door to Hamilton Hall, which is regularly the site of either events or renovations which might require such equipment. This particular cherry picker was there for a very special reason, however: to facilitate the removal of the wooden eagle affixed to the hall’s facade which is attributed to Samuel McIntire, Salem’s renown Federal-era architect and woodcutter. The Hamilton Hall eagle is–or was– in fact the only in situ exterior McIntire carving, and therefore one incredibly valuable bird. But it has been exposed to the elements for two centuries now, and requires restoration and preservation, which can only happen off the wall. (A replica will eventually be installed in its place). So that’s what the men in the cherry picker were doing, very carefully. I had to run to class, so I wasn’t able to capture the exact moment when the eagle was “liberated”, but from the vantage point of my third-floor guest bedroom I did manage to get some good befores-and when I returned later that afternoon I got the after: bricks that haven’t seen the light of day in several centuries!

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A few more McIntire eagles, (obviously) detached from their original perches and consequently preserved for posterity: the (first) Custom House eagle, now at the Peabody Essex Museum, a beautiful eagle that was made for the cupola of the Pickman-Derby-Brookhouse house on Washington Street by McIntire between 1786 and 1799 and removed prior to that structure’s demolition in 1915 (now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), and an eagle carved by McIntire for the cupola of the Lynn Academy in Lynn Massachusetts, circa 1804.

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Eagle from the cupola of Lynn Academy, 1804

 

Sign for U.S. Custom House, 1805. Carved by Samuel McIntire, painted and gilded pine. Peabody Essex Museum, 100754, gift of Joseph F. Tucker, 1907. Photograph by Dennis Helmar; Gilt white pine eagle, Museum purchase with funds donated by a Friends of the Department of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture, The Estate of Gilbert L. Steward, Sr., Mrs. Ichabod F. Atwood and Mrs. Elaine Wilde,  The French Foundation in memory of Edward V. French, The Seminarians, and an anonymous donor, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston;  Eagle from the cupola of Lynn Academy, 1804, Carved by Samuel McIntire, Lynn, Massachusetts, painted pine, Courtesy of Lynn Museum and Historical Society.


 


Sunshine and Shadow

It seems appropriate to focus on sundials in these waning days of Summer. I know, I know–there are technically several more weeks–but I am a college professor, so for me Fall definitely begins on Tuesday. There is just no question; it’s the least transitional of the seasons. Sundials have a long history and are aesthetically pleasing, but the main reason I like them is for their representation of another transition:  from the technological and practical to the simply decorative. A sundial sits right in the middle of my Colonial Revival garden but there is also one (in more portable form) front and center in one of my favorite Renaissance paintings, The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger.

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Hans Holbein the Younger, Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve (‘The Ambassadors’), 1533, The National Gallery, London | Photograph ©The National Gallery, London

There’s a lot going on in The Ambassadors, but if you can get past the anamorphic skull and focus on the instruments on the table, your eye (at least my eye) focuses on the sundial, right in the middle of these two handsome Renaissance men. In their time, the sundial was already almost anachronistic with the coming of the mechanical clock, but still, there it is. Obviously, like the other instruments on the table, it had come to symbolize more abstract things: the ability to harness time and (conversely) the limited amount of time that is available to man, any man (or woman), even men as magnificent as these. This sentiment is very evident in a print from about a century later, Stefano della Bella’s cartouche for the funeral of Francesco de Medici, with the central image of a sundial and the emblem Umbrae Transitus Tempus Nostrum: “Our Time is the Passing Away of a Shadow”.

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Stefano della Bella, A cartouche with a sundial, a skull with feathers on its head at top, from ‘Eight Emblems for the Funeral of Francesco de Medici’ (Huit emblèmes pour les funérailles du prince François de Médicis), c. 1640-1660, Metropolitan Museum of Art

These words, this sentiment, are expressed in multiple variations on sundials over the next centuries: shadows we are, like shadows depart, as a shadow, so is life, man fleeth as a shadow. When they were not strictly utilitarian, sundial inscriptions expressing morose mortality seem to peak in the Victorian era and then shift to the light, rather than the shadow: Robert Browning’s popular plea to Grow Old along with Me; the Best is yet to Be is certainly a more hopeful (and trite) inscription. Visually, sundials cease to be macabre and become romantic, associated not with death but with the pleasures of life and with a world that was slower-paced and less technological: the perfect symbol for taking time away from that busy world, in the garden.

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Back cover of Walter Crane’s A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden (1899), available here; Front cover of Alice Morse Earle’s Sun-Dials and Roses of Yesterday (1902), available here. One of my favorite sundials, in the sunken garden of the Jeremiah Lee Mansion in Marblehead, Massachusetts.


Floorcloths

There is one small place in my house where the dreaded fake brick vinyl flooring that once covered an entire hallway still lies: in my mudroom. I kept it there for sentimentality’s sake and because it is a mudroom, so it is mostly covered by sneakers, boots and flip-flops, depending on the season. But now “bricks” are tearing off and I think I’ve had enough: rather than replace with vinyl or tile, neither of which I particularly like, I might go for a custom reproduction floorcloth, based on a sample secreted under one of my china cabinets. I’m thinking this pattern covered the entire dining room, as this part of the house was built at just about the time that new “linoleum” (flax and linseed oil) floorcloths replaced the less durable cloth and canvas varieties following Sir Frederick Walton’s 1860 invention: despite his patent, these new “carpets’ often based on older patterns spread like wildfire on both sides of the Atlantic. My husband says the original flooring was wood, but then what is this little demilune patch of linoleum doing in the cabinet?

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I suppose he could be correct: this covering might date from the 1920s, when “linoleum rugs” seemed to be all the rage. Glancing through Frank Alvah Parsons’ Art of Home Furnishing and Decoration, conveniently published by the Armstrong Cork Company in 1919, I spotted “linoleum designs for every room” including several that are similar to my china cabinet sample. Floorcloths seem to evolve from area coverings to wall-to-wall “carpet” over the nineteenth-and early twentieth centuries, following Walton’s invention. And then wooden floors came back into fashion, and my little linoleum went into the closet.

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Floorcloths from c. 1810 to 1920: the Drawing Room of the Craig House in Baltimore, c. 1810, a period room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Captain David Crawford House in Newburgh, New York (from the great blog Big Old Houses); illustration of a living room from Parsons’ Art of Home Furnishing and Decoration (1919)

Whenever it dates from, I do like the pattern (though not the colors), and there are many floorcloth options out there; in fact we seem to be in the midst of a floorcloth Renaissance. One major manufacturer for both museums and individuals (out of her Vermont farmhouse) is Lisa Curry Mair of Canvasworks Floorcloths. There are all sorts of patterns on her site, available in different sizes, and custom options too:  I might request a reproduction of my linoleum patch in a less muddy color for my mudroom and something a bit more 1827ish (the year my house was built) for our entry foyer—now covered rather inconveniently with carpet.

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“Tumbling Blocks” and “Blocks and Scrolls” floorcloths from Canvasworks Floorcloths


Peak Season

My garden is a bit of a wild tangle right now, as usual, but I love it; I’ve finally got the layers that I have been seeking for some time, along with the right mix of leaves and flowers and textures. And the mix of colors is good–I have gradually weeded out annoying colors like red (I actually love red indoors but passionately dislike it out-of-doors, even to the extent of red roses. Not sure why).  It’s pretty much at peak; I knew I was going to be in class all week so I took some pictures this past weekend when the weather was absolutely beautiful: sunny and not too humid or hot. Now it’s muggy and rainy, and all the flowers are water-logged and a bit past their prime. The roses look very spotty so I’m not showing them here. Next week will be vicious deadheading week; I always leave the Lady’s Mantle flowers too long because I love them so much, so it’s going to be a big job to cut them back. Yes there are red berries on the thriving baneberry but that is my exception–it’s a great plant and you really don’t want berries to be any other color (its flowers are white). I absolutely love, love, love the fuschia flower of the bee balm in the last picture–wish I could remember its varietal name!

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Too Much @Terrain

I’m ashamed to admit that a relatively large part of my paycheck goes to Anthropologie each month or season, so as I became aware that I was in the vicinity of one of their rarer garden stores as I passed through Connecticut last week, I had to make a slight detour for the Westport Terrain. What a store–I was a bit overwhelmed, which doesn’t often happen to me in a shop scenario. Actually, it’s a combination nursery/garden store/ housewares store/gift shop/bar-restaurant–there was a lot going on when I arrived, too much for me! I certainly hadn’t planned on getting any plants as I was on the road (and I like nurseries to be a bit more dirty) but I thought I might get some planters–as I had never really replaced the ones that were stolen last summer. But there were too many planters to choose from! And too many watering cans, baskets, and vessels of all kinds–along with candles and lanterns and wreaths and everything else. Sensory overload–though I plan to return, better prepared, in the not-too-distant future.

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