Tag Archives: Local Events

Third Thursdays @ PEM

On the third Thursday of every month, Salem’s thriving and always-in-motion Peabody Essex Museum stays open until 9:00 pm and hosts an interactive party in its vast atrium around a particular theme: in the past there have been Steampunk, La Vie Bohème, and “I’m a Lumberjack” evenings; last night was “Artopia”, focusing on arts in the community and of the everyday. Admission is free for all Salem residents and museum members, and a mere $10 for those who are neither: a great value as much is offered: music, installations, food and drink, activities, presentations, the omnipresent photo booth, and eclectic company. It’s always a mixed crowd in terms of age (one of the things I like best about Salem: continuous age diversity), but last night seemed both particularly family friendly and interactive: not only were people eating, drinking and talking, but (occasionally simultaneously): sketching, painting, knitting, and making meatballs. My friend Adeline Myers has just published her first cookbook, Global Meatballs, and she gave two interactive gallery presentations ably assisted by her friend Andy Varela of Maitland Mountain Farm here in Salem (producer of amazing pickles). These two were quite engaging in their discussion of the production and processing of food in general, and Addie is quite evangelical in her assertions of the global and historical qualities of meatballs in particular; in fact, I’m inspired to dig into some of my Renaissance cookbooks as soon as I finish this post!

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Artopia at the Peabody Essex Museum: the progress of events (and light) in the atrium; artwork by students at Beverly High School; activities in the Maker Lounge; Andy Varela and Addie Myers making middle eastern and Spanish meatballs. The evening was supported by the Lowell Institute and sponsored by the Salem Arts Festival (held every June), and presented in partnership with The Scarlet Letter Press & Gallery and Creative Salem.


Salem Film Fest 2015

We’re in the midst of the eighth annual Salem Film Fest, featuring a diverse menu of documentary films from all over the world. I’m for any initiative that plays to Salem’s worldly past rather than its witchy one, and this extremely well-planned festival does just that: its slogan is Come to Salem, See the World and this year you can embark on a “curated itinerary” following the themes of arts and artists, films about music, righting wrongs, films about identity, contemporary political and social issues, land and sea, and living on the edge–giving it all. Several screenings include Q and A sessions with the filmmakers, and there are also forums which explore particular aspects of documentary production. I always have an ambitious itinerary of my own, but generally end up only seeing one film. Perhaps I’ll do better this year. This weekend I saw Dennis Mohr’s Mugshotwhich examines the cultural significance of these little pictures, from law enforcement tool to celebrity signal to object of art. It was great, perfectly mixing past and present and imagery in my favorite way. Then I got focused on an academic project (a good thing) and missed American Experience Presents, about the making of the iconic PBS series, later on Saturday afternoon as well as today’s screening of Sex and Broadcasting, focused on the independent New Jersey radio station WFMU. There are still several screenings left of what looks like the “feel good” film of the festival, The Optimists, about a Norwegian volleyball team for women aged 66 to 98, so I think I’ll probably see that one, and I’m also interested in Seeds of Time, which examines one man’s mission to save the world through seed-saving and crop diversity.

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Seeds of Time

Cats and dogs:  the festival mixes its worldliness with local perspectives by including shorts by local college students and promotional “Salem sketches” which offer a frame of city life in very short films–a minute or two. I love this one featuring our local cobbler (and his cat) and even though “Snow Place like Salem” dates from a few years ago, it perfectly captures life in Salem this winter.


Buried

Six feet of snow in the last two weeks have buried eastern Massachusetts. We received 19 inches of snow here in Salem from this last slow-moving storm, which landed on top of the 4+ feet that was already there. Last week, I laughed when I ran into people (usually shoveling) who proclaimed that this is worse than ’78 (always the standard for New England blizzards) but now I’m not so sure: this is bad. No one storm was worse than 1978 but collectively our three successive storms have produced far more snow than that fabled blizzard over this two-week period. Yesterday I noticed that the snow standard had shifted to the “Great White” Blizzard of 1888, leaving ’78 in the dust: with more snow on the way at the end of this week I wonder if we will be referencing the nearly-biblical “Great Snow” of 1717? Snow Sculptures 007 Snow Sculptures 008 Snow Sculptures 018 I ventured into a deserted downtown to see the ice sculptures installed as part of the now traditional pre-Valentine’s Day “Salem’s so Sweet” festival: a great idea designed to drum up commercial activity in the doldrums of February. With all this snow, the doldrums (great word) are even more depressing for Salem’s shops and restaurants. So I was happy to see another great idea surface on Facebook yesterday: a “snow day shop and dine” in Salem initiative encouraging us all to get out of our homes and into these local businesses. I’m there, always happy to shop (and to lesser extent, eat) as an expression of my civic duty. Snow Sculptures 021 Snow Sculptures 040 Snow Sculptures 042 Snow Sculptures 044 Snow Sculptures 045 I feel sorry for all the disruption and am experiencing it myself: I have a weekly Monday Renaissance class that has failed to meet for the last two weeks, and of course we have the Presidents’ Day holiday on this coming Monday (on which it will probably not snow). It’s going to be difficult to get a momentum going in that class: all teachers are feeling this way now, I am sure. On the other hand, I’m grateful that I’m not stuck on some suburban cul-de-sac and can step outside my door, leave my car buried, and stroll (well, trudge) downtown to see the sights, covered or uncovered. Snow Sculptures 046 Snow Sculptures 049 Snow Sculptures 057 Snow Sculptures 062 Snow Sculptures 064 Snow Sculptures 071


White Report

Oh the indignity! All day long yesterday (and still) the Skinner’s site reported that Frank Weston Benson’s Figure in White, recently deaccessioned by the Salem Public Library so that funds could be raised to fix a fountain, went unsold, but now the Salem News is reporting that BENTON’s painting went for $300,000, far below its estimate. And in other news, we had our first snow storm, which cast everything in white–more, much more apparently, to come on Tuesday. Winter has arrived rather later here in eastern New England, but it appears to be making an entrance!

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Frank Weston BENSON’s Figure in White, and more white outside.

 

 


The Worldly Remonds of Salem

Great news on this Martin Luther King Day weekend: the Mayor of Salem has announced that a rather barren strip of waterfront land adjacent to the Salem-Beverly bridge will be reconstituted as Remond Park, after the prominent pair of African-American Abolitionist advocates and natives of Salem, Charles Lenox Remond (1810-1873) and Sarah Parker Remond (1824-1894). The announcement refers only to these famous siblings, but I prefer to think of the new park as a tribute to the entire Remond family, as the Remond parents, John and Nancy, created the material and cultural foundation that supported their children’s full-time advocacy against slavery. All at the same time, the Remond narrative is a great African-American, American, and Salem story, and it all began when the ten-year-old John “Vonremon” arrived in Salem in the summer of 1798–very much alone. He had been sent north from his native Curacao by his mother “for schooling” apparently, and the owners of the brig that transported him (the Six Brothers, John and Isaac Needham) employed him in the family bakery almost immediately upon his arrival. By his late teens he was in Boston, learning some of the “traditional” trades for freemen of color in the north, hairdressing, wig-making, and catering, and becoming acquainted with his future wife Nancy Lenox, by all accounts an excellent cook herself. In 1805 he returned to Salem and took up residence in the newly-built Hamilton Hall, working as its “Colored Restaurateur” for several decades, always referred to as Mr. Remond. Nancy and he married and had ten children between 1809-1824, all the while building their hair-dressing, culinary, and food provisions businesses. Two of these children died in infancy, Charles (b. 1810) and Sarah (b. 1824) became anti-slavery orators for the local, state, and national conventions while in their twenties, and the rest carried on–and expanded the family businesses in Salem.

The Remond American story started with John–and the Remond Salem story really started right next door at Hamilton Hall. I often think of John and Nancy as I work in my garden and look at its eastern wall, knowing that right on the other side was their home, their workplace, the birthplace of their children. I was stirring my tea this afternoon thinking about all that activity over there, and how great that the family name is now (or will shortly be) a place.

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Remond Hamilton Hall

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John Remond (1786-1874) later in life, Library of Congress; the wall of Hamilton Hall from my kitchen; the soon-to-be Remond Park in Salem, courtesy Salem News.

Charles and Sarah became forceful advocates for Abolition because they had a secure Salem base but they were not grounded by Salem: after he built a reputation as an effective orator for the cause in Massachusetts in the 1830s he became a paid lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society and attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London with William Lloyd Garrison in 1840, after which he lectured throughout Britain. He continued his advocacy upon his return to the U.S., though was eclipsed in the national realm by the man whom he once mentored, Frederick Douglass. (They seemed to have been rivals, yet Douglass named his son Charles Remond Douglass). Once the Civil War began, Charles became a fierce proponent of African-American engagement, and a major recruiter for the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Sarah was even more worldly than her brother: after her first speaking tour for the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1856, she left for Britain and never came back. She continued her advocacy (now for the Northern cause), but combined lecturing with studies at the Bedford College for Ladies (now part of the University of London) and after the Civil War she left Britain for Italy, where she graduated from medical school, married an Italian, and remained for the rest of her life.

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Charles Lenox Remond and Sarah Parker Remond; Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society Broadsides from the 1850s, Massachusetts Historical Society.

And while their children spread their wings, John and Nancy Remond remained in Salem, minding to their varied, expanding businesses. John appears so entrepreneurial that I can’t quite grasp the full range of his activities: the catering operation was moved out of Hamilton Hall in the mid-1820s to a series of locales in Derby and Higginson Squares, on Front Street, and on Derby Street. According to advertisements placed in the Salem Gazette in the later 1820s, he became a purveyor of fine wines and oysters, lots and lots of oysters, along with curry powder, East Indian soy sauce, pickled nuts, Virginia hams, and “catsup” (a very early use of this word, surely?). He operated both a wholesale business and several retail establishments, including an oyster bar and an ice cream parlor. He evolved from caterer to “trader”, although Nancy seems to have continued her culinary activities, and offered lunches and dinners at 5 Higginson Square in downtown Salem, “at the sign of the big lantern”, above which they also lived. The 1850 census values John’s assets at $3600; in 1870 the man who is identified as a “dealer in wines” has $19,400 worth of real estate in Salem and $2000 in personal assets. Though he seldom left Salem after his childhood arrival, John was not only a wealthy but a worldly merchant, in the Salem tradition, with stores of exotic goods ready to “ship to any market.” I’m impressed by the ambition and achievements of both John and Nancy, but I don’t want to depict them as singularly focused on the family economy: both were members of anti-slavery societies and active in abolitionist circles. Their primary focus was on education: they actually left Salem, and their many businesses, when Sarah was denied entrance into Salem High School in 1835 and only returned six years later after the Salem schools were desegregated, in no small part to their efforts from Rhode Island. They opened their (busy!) home up to the young Charlotte Forten, the first African-American woman to graduate from my university, when her father sent her north from Philadelphia to attend Salem’s desegregated schools in the 1850s. They provided for their children, and changed the world.

*Sources: Sarah Parker Remond has received a lot of attention from historians; her brother and family less so, but I found Willi Coleman’s “Like Hot Lead to Pour on the Americans….Sarah Parker Remond—from Salem, Mass. to the British Isles”, in Kathy Kish Sklar & James Brewer Stewart’s Women’s Rights and Transatlantic Anti-Slavery in the Era of Emancipation (Yale, 2007) to be particularly helpful; there’s a podcast by Julie Winch with a very promising title here, but the link doesn’t seem to be working!


Deaccessioning Salem

The vast wealth accumulated by Salem entrepreneurs in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries created a cultural landscape that still characterizes the city to some extent, encompassing institutions that inherited this wealth in the form of both currency and treasures. When the former runs out, the latter are tapped, and priorities shift over time: such is the pattern of deaccessioning. The First Church of Salem sold 14 pieces of colonial silver nearly a decade ago, and built an addition with the profits. The Trustees of the Salem Athenaeum have considered the sale of their 1629 Massachusetts Bay Charter, sealed with the signature of King Charles I, from time to time, with the earnest approval of some and the deep disdain of others. Sometimes a deaccessioning will enhance Salem’s heritage rather than take it away: such was the case of the Richard Derby House, which was donated to the City by the Society of the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) in 1937 to serve as a cornerstone of the new Salem Maritime National Historic Site. When it comes to smaller treasures, I think more things have left Salem than remained, and apparently another prize is about to depart: this week the Salem Public Library announced that it had consigned a painting by Salem’s most notable modern artist, Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951), to Skinner Auctions for its January 23 auction of European and American Works of Art. The painting, entitled Figure in White, apparently depicts Benson’s older sister, Georgiana, and was completed about 1890: he retained it throughout his life, and after his death his children bequeathed it to the Library, for which Benson had served as a Trustee from 1912 until his death.

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Benson plaque Figure in White

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Figure in White (1890), by Frank Weston Benson, and frame plaque, Skinner Auctions; Benson c. 1907-1908, Benson Family Papers, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

I am very torn on this one: obviously this man demonstrated a life-long commitment to the Library and his heirs wanted to honor that commitment in both a personal and generous way. When you approach the sale from that perspective it looks rather cold and cavalier. On the other hand, I’ve never seen this painting: its value (it has an estimate of $350,000-$550,000) has necessitated its securement behind closed doors. The Trustees of the Library, the successors of Benson, have a duty to the public as well as to the institution, and there must a long list of wants and needs that could be funded by the proceeds from the sale: one project that has been mentioned is the restoration of the Victorian cast-iron garden fountain adjacent to the Library building. The painting is one bequest, the entire library complex (building and fountain) another: it was donated to the City by the family of Salem’s most eminent philanthropist, Captain John Bertram, in 1887. Should one be “sacrificed” for the other? I’m just glad that I didn’t have to make this decision!

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Captain John Bertram’s House (and a bit of his fountain), built in 1855 and donated to the City of Salem by his heirs in 1887–now the Salem Public Library, Detroit Publishing Company, 1910; Let’s bring some Salem back! Beautiful heraldry paintings for the Vincent and Cogswell Families by Salem artist John Coles, c. 1794, from another upcoming Americana auction @ Christie’s.


Time Capsules

Greater Boston has been all abuzz this week about the opening of what has been called “the nation’s oldest time capsule”, a brass box deposited by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere in the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House in 1795. The box was opened by a conservator from the Museum of Fine Arts on Tuesday, in the company of the Executive Director of the Commonwealth’s Archives and before flashing cameras. Inside were items that our founding fathers wanted us (or someone in the future) to see: a silver plaque engraved by Revere, a copper medal depicting George Washington, two dozen coins dating from 1652 (before the colonists were allowed to coin their own money), and a title page from the Massachusetts Colony Records. The box was not a big surprise: it had been discovered in 1855, and a few items (mainly newspapers) from that time had been placed within–so we have two generations from the past communicating to us through objects that they chose to represent their times.

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Photographs of the Revere plaque by Jessica Rinaldi @ Boston Globe and conservator Pam Hatchfield by Brian Snyder @ Reuters.

As I read the various accounts of the Boston time capsule’s contents and saw the face of the very excited conservator’s face (above) on television, several thoughts ran through my mind. The first was empathy: every historian (at least historians who work on periods before the twentieth century) has felt that feeling of sheer excitement as they see and touch (through gloves!) crusty old documents from their period for the very first time–or again and again. Working with manuscripts is often difficult but always intimate–much more so than with printed matter. But obviously there’s a difference between an archive of documents and a time capsule: the former is not a “composition”, in that the historian is crafting the interpretation and presentation rather than the historical subjects. And this (rather obvious) realization led me to my second thought, which I’m still considering:  the difference between “accidental” time capsules like Pompeii and Herculaneum and very intentional ones, like the “Crypt of Civilization” in Atlanta, sealed in 1940 and scheduled to be opened in the year 8113. Actually, according to the reigning time capsule expert, William E. Jarvis (author of the 2002 book Time Capsules: A Cultural History and one of the founders of the International Time Capsule Society), the Boston box is not really a time capsule, which much have a specified opening date like the Crypt of Civilization, but rather a “foundation deposit”, a practice that goes way, way back—to Mesopotamia. So I guess there are three forms of object messaging from the past to the present: the intentional time capsule, which Jarvis credits as an innovation of the nineteenth century, the foundation deposit–which is still an attempt on the part of contemporaries to shape the future’s perception of their era–and accidental entities like Pompeii, the uncovered Anglo-Saxon ship burial mound at Sutton Hoo, or the abandoned Antarctic buildings of Carsten Borchgrevink and Ernest Shackleton. Which, I wonder, is more revealing about these past people?

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The dedication of the “Crypt of Civilization” door in Atlanta, 1938, Oglethorpe University Archives; a royal belt buckle from the Sutton Hoo burial ship, British Museum; Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds, Antarctica, ©Nigel McCall for the Antarctic Heritage Trust.


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