Tag Archives: Photography

Patched with Plastic

I was planning a post on tax collectors for this Tax Day, but it got too overwhelming and too depressing: as one of Lucifer’s Four Evangelists (with the usurer, the banker, and the miller (???), the tax man has been reviled for centuries, and depicted in images and prose in all sorts of unflattering ways. I don’t think anyone wants to see paintings of tax collectors on the day their returns are due, even if they are the creations of Renaissance artists (who seem to have a singular obsessions with tax farmers). So instead, I’m offering LEGO art!

T, The New York Times Style Magazine has some interesting features in its latest edition, despite a thematic focus on minimalism (not my favorite style). There is a lot of texture in the magazine, and one particular photograph stopped me in my tracks: an ancient, crumbling wall, patched with plastic. The close proximity of very new and very old is my favorite aesthetic, so I had to see more of the work of artist Jan Vormann.

Lego

Jan Vormann/© 2014 ARS, New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

At first glance, I thought the above image was photoshopped but no, as his website and this Daily Telegraph article make clear, Vormann travels the real world and places bright LEGO blocks in the midst of conspicuous decay, drawing attention to buildings and places as part of a “Repair Manifesto”. He wants onlookers to see the holes, question why they are there, and seek their repair–except perhaps where they serve as constant reminders, as in the case of the bullet and shrapnel destruction of Berlin. How I wish he would come to Salem! We need the colorful and constant reminders of our past, and the manifesto to repair.

Vormann Berlin-001

Vorrman NYC Bryant Park NYC-001

Vormann Venice

Vorrmann Bamberg

Lego “repairs” in Berlin, New York City, Venice and Vormann’s hometown of Bamberg, Germany: JAN VORMANN / BARCROFT USA and Dispatchwork.

 

 


History for Sale

Today Bonhams Auctions in New York is selling off over 300 items from one of the largest private collections of historical emphemera in the world: “Treasures from the Caren Collection. How History Unfolds” includes printed and manuscript items dating from the sixteenth century to the near-present, and every single one represents its moment in an intimate way. That’s the power of paper, and Bonham’s digital catalog–with zoomable images–really brings you into the picture. Even though I had tons of stuff to do yesterday (and it was a sunny spring day), I couldn’t resist perusing the items, including beautiful contemporary prints of the Spanish Armada and Sir Francis Drake, broadsides covering everything from Charles I’s trial to the Great London Fire to the Salem Witch Trials and all the big events of the American Revolution, Civil War daguerreotypes, baseball ephemera, and assorted letters, maps, photographs, tickets and posters from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There are beautiful, touching photographs of Native American chiefs from the later nineteenth century, as well as not-so-beautiful –but equally haunting–images of victims of war and lynching. Lots of little slips of paper that you wouldn’t think would be “historical”, but most definitely are. Below is a sampling of items that appealed to me, but really, I could have put every single lot into this post!

Ephemera at Auction1.

London Burning crop2.

Ephemera at Auction 3-001 3. Balloon and Parachute-0014.

Washington and Lee crop5.

Ephemera at Auction 5-0016.

ephemera at auction 8-001 7

Congress-001 8.

March 1969-001 9.

1. The Spanish Armada, 1588/ 2. The “Deplorable” Fire of London, after 1666/ 3. The first British edition of Cotton Mather’s Wonders of the Invisible World, 1693/4. Garnerin’s balloon and parachute, 1802/5. Drawing of Generals Washington and Lee by Arathusa Graves, 1802/ 6. Photograph of Corinth, Mississippi in 1862/7. A UFO appearance in 1897/8. What Congress has Done, 1900/9. March on Washington, 1969.

 


Anniversary History 1914

I used to disdain what I call “anniversary history”–the commemoration of historical events only on their centenaries, a temporary historical consciousness–as not serious and media-driven: a History Channel approach to history. I tried to engage in a bit of anniversary myself back in 2012, and the results were indeed a bit superficial! I still believe that “history” happens every day and everything is “historical” but I also realize that it’s impossible for the average person to go about their day (or their life) in a historical fog so the marking of anniversaries of events large and small, public and private, and global and local is important, and even necessary. They make people stop and think about the past–and its relation to the present–at least for a little while.

From my perspective(s), 1914 promises to be a big year for anniversary history:  this summer marks the centenary of both the Great Salem Fire and the beginning of World War I in Europe. Over there, commemoration of the latter has already begun in earnest and will intensify over this year; I expect American engagement will really commence in 2017, the centenary of our entry into the Great War (although President Obama visited Flanders Fields a few days ago). This coincidence of local and global  “Great” events is interesting to me because it mirrors historiographical and cultural trends, and because both events were so very disastrous, testing the mettle of men and women in myriad ways. Here in Salem, we began our commemoration of the 1914 fire last night with a presentation by the scholar Jacob Remes, author of the forthcoming Disaster Citizenship: Urban Disasters and the Formation of the North American Progressive State, to a standing-room-only crowd at the National Park Service Visitor Center (the former drill shed, or what remains of the Salem Armory, where the Fire relief efforts were based). Remes’ focus, on the aftermath of the fire both in the camps (where fire refugees were called “inmates”!) and the rebuilt factories a bit later, bridged the local and the global with its emphasis on labor, and started us off on a thoughtful and reverent note. There will be a centenary symposium in June, on the weekend before the date of the Fire (June 25) and just before the commemoration of the Great War really kicks off across the Atlantic.

Salem Fire-001

salemfire093

World War One Soldiers

Faces of the Great Fire and the Great War:  In Salem, after the Fire, unidentified men and Mrs. Henry Reed and her daughter Helen, from the Dionne Collection at the Salem State University Archives and Special Collections; Soldiers of the West Yorkshire Regiment sitting in a captured German pillbox awaiting their orders at the Battle of Polygon Wood, 1917, Ministry of Information First World War Official Collection, Imperial War Museums:  ©IWM (Q2903).

 


Beautiful Ruins

I have featured many abandoned or seemingly-abandoned buildings in varying stages of decline and disrepair on this blog–houses here in Salem, nearby and far away. Ruins stop me in my tracks as I’m driving down the road, like a car crash from which you can’t turn away. So when I read about a new exhibition at Tate Britain called Ruin Lust I went there (digitally) in a flash. My limited view from afar did not allow me to see the full sweep of the exhibition, of course, but I came away a bit disappointed by the preponderance of painting–beautiful as Turner’s Tintern Abbey ruins are, they’re soft, not stark. What draws us to the ruin is the stark contrast between what once was and what remains: to capture that, only photography will do. Picture John Armstrong’s Coggeshall Church, Essex as a crumbling stone ruin, perhaps with creeping greenery engulfing it, like the “feral houses” of Detroit (which you can see here and on the great blog Sweet Juniper).

Coggeshall Church

John Armstrong, Coggeshall Church, Essex, 1940. Tate Britain

There are several houses in Salem to which I return again and again if I want to behold beautiful ruins, most prominently the long-abandoned but still-stately c. 1810 brick house bordering the Ropes Mansion garden, built for Captain Jonathan Porter Felt around 1810 and occupied by his descendants until nearly 1970. Things are (slowly) starting to happen at this house, so I’m wondering if its ruinous days will one day be over. Walking by a month or so ago I noticed that some window replacement is going on, and it really startled me, and last summer someone mowed the lawn. Who knows what will happen next? It’s like the house is slowly “waking up”.

Snow Showers 044

Snow Showers 046

There are books that I also turn to again and again for regular doses of beautiful ruins. When I wrote my first post on the house above, several of the commentators mentioned the work of Brian Vanden Brink, and I’m so glad they did! Amazing, and again: images you can’t turn away from–or look at just once. I also admire the work of photographers Susan Daley and Steve Gross, especially their interior shots. They don’t just do ruins, in fact their latest book is about revival, but their Old Houses is pretty much always by my bedside, and the images in their 2008 book Time Wearing Out Memory: Schoharie County (NY) define the term weathered.

SchohariePG66_tx728_fsharpen

SchohariePG81_tx728_fsharpen

Images from Susan Daley’s and Steve Gross’s Time Wearing Out Memory: Scoharie County (2008).


Endless Winter

I promised to embrace winter at the beginning of this year but it is only mid-February and I am willing to let go! This particular winter has had a Chinese water torture quality; we’ve had more snow in the past but this year it seems like it is always snowing–just enough to make a mess and disrupt everything. Winter can be tough in the city, and even though Salem is a small city it is still most definitely a city. The momentarily-pristine snow soon turns brown (and other colors) quite quickly and you are dependent on your neighbors and fellow residents to shovel their sidewalks–and often they let you down. Right now we have compacted ice under the latest coat of snow on the sidewalks. Parking has been a nightmare. Whenever the city declares a snow emergency (every other day it seems) all cars must be removed from the streets:  we’re lucky to have parking but I feel terribly for my tenant–whose car has been consigned to a public parking lot on Gallow’s Hill on more than one occasion (there are only two public garages). On another note, I must admit to smiling just a bit when the annoying Accura that has been continually parked in front of our house was towed away during our last snow emergency……see how mean Winter has made me!

Chilly scenes of winter…the view from my bedroom window during last Saturday’s storm, and from my office window Tuesday afternoon:

Endless Winter 004

Endless Winter 027

Walking around town, very carefully:

Endless Winter 19

Endless Winter 35

Endless Winter 042

Endless Winter 044

Endless Winter 046


The Woman Who Lived in My House

I knew that a woman named “Mrs. Rose” lived in my house in the middle of the nineteenth century, but nothing more about her: when I saw the name on the 1851 map that I featured on my last post my curiosity was piqued. So I took advantage of a free snow day yesterday and searched for some biographical details, which were not too difficult to find. I have a general disdain for genealogical work, but Mrs. Rose was so well-connected that at least an outline of her life came together pretty easily.

She was Harriet Paine Rose, born in 1779 to parents from two prominent Massachusetts families: the Paines of Worcester and the Ornes of Salem. Imagine being of her generation: she was born in the midst of the Revolutionary War and died on the eve of the Civil War, in 1860, right here in Salem (though not right here in my house, but that of her daughter’s, down Chestnut Street at #14).  Her father, William Paine, had come to Salem from Worcester to study medicine with the renown physician Dr. Edward Holyoke and presumably met Lois Orne, the youngest daughter of wealthy Salem merchant Timothy Orne, at some social occasion. There are two charming portraits of Harriet’s mother and aunt by Joseph Badger in the Worcester Museum of Art, and I can’t resist showing them here.

House Harriet's Mother

House Rebecca Orne Worcester Art

Lois Orne (Harriet’s mother), at 21 months and Rebecca Orne (Harriet’s aunt) at age nine by Joseph Badger, 1757, Collection of the Worcester Museum of Art.

Lois and William were married in Salem in 1773, with Miss Orne’s dowry receiving considerable attention: an extravagant silver tea service made by Paul Revere, his largest private commission. This was a service that “attested alike to the solidarity of her fortune and lustre of her descent”. Quite ironic, as a year after their wedding the Paines decamped to Britain, as William was a Loyalist!  There he completed his medical education and was successively appointed an apothecary and surgeon to the British army. The family was stationed first at Newport, Rhode Island (where Harriet was born in 1779) and later at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they remained, as exiles, after the Revolutionary War.

Paine Silver

Paul Revere’s “Paine Service”, Collection of the Worcester Museum of Art.

Family drew them back, apparently, first to Salem in 1787 and then to Worcester, where they took up residence at “The Oaks”, the Paine family estate, now (again, rather ironically) owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution. I don’t know how the Paines were received at that time, but Dr. Paine eventually became a naturalized citizen in 1812. So Harriet spent her adolescence and teenage years in Worcester, but that’s about all I know: I’m not sure if or where she went to school, or when or how she met her eventual husband, Joseph Warner Rose, whom she married in 1802.

cousins-timothy-orne-house-266-essex

Timothy_Paine_house-Worcester

The Ancestral Homes of Harriet’s Grandparents:  The Timothy Orne House in Salem, Frank Cousins photograph, c. 1890 (the house is still standing on Essex Street, though much changed), and the Timothy Paine House in Worcester (“The Oaks”).

I really do wonder how Harriet met her husband because he was quite exotic:  Joseph Warner Rose was an Englishman who, at that point, had never been to England:  he was the son and heir of the owner of a large sugar plantation owner in Antigua, where he had been born. The Rose plantation, called “The Valley”, was located six miles outside of St. Johns, in an area which is still called “The Roses Estates”. By 1803 the newlyweds were on the island, and Harriet was in an altogether different world than her native New England:  a world of sun and heat and bright colors and slavery. I have no idea how she felt about this; I don’t think I could find out, unless there is some diary somewhere. What I do know about her life on Antigua over the next 15 years or so is revealed by parish records of births and deaths: Harriet bore nine children, seven of which died in infancy. Perhaps because of these successive tragedies and their impact on his wife, Mr. Rose brought Harriet back to Massachusetts with their two surviving daughters and remained there himself for a while. There are references to health problems (blindness?) on his part, which drove him to London for treatment, and then back to the island, to settle his affairs. While there, he died unexpectedly, and Harriet was left a widow in her early forties. She never returned to Antigua, and I have no idea what happened to the Rose Plantation or its inhabitants other than the fact that slavery was abolished throughout the British Caribbean in 1834.

Antigua 1623

William Clark, “Digging or Rather Hoeing the Cane Holes in Antigua”, from Ten Views in the Island of Antigua, aquatint (London, 1823).

The very same year that her husband died, Harriet’s eldest daughter, also named Harriet, married John Clarke Lee of Salem, an aspiring businessman from the same interconnected social circle in which all of her cousins seemed to dwell. This union would produce ten surviving children and the Lees would build the grand Greek Revival at 14 Chestnut Street which would later become the home of the renown Salem artist Frank Benson. The senior Harriet, my Mrs. Rose, remained in Worcester until the death of her father in the 1830s (Lois had died a decade before) and then moved to the city of her maternal ancestors, and my house. The 1850 census lists her in residence, aged 70, with one Jane McCracken, 29, from Ireland, whom I assume was a servant: 10 years later she died at the Lee house just down the street.

In the last few years of the nineteenth century, several of Harriet’s direct and more distant descendants wrote genealogical histories which reference her, and even attempt brief characterizations. Her niece’s account, A Sketch of the Children of Dr. William Paine, 1774-1869, emphasizes her virtue (in her pew at St. Peter’s she prayed every Sunday for the President and all others in authority) as well as her great beauty, an attribute that is also noted in the slightly-more detached Pickering Genealogy by Harrison Ellery. Ellery also notes that Mrs. Rose was “the last person in Salem to wear a turban” and includes a heliotype image of a portrait miniature (below) in the possession of her grandson which is, he assures us, a very unsatisfactory likeness, and is said to give one no idea of her beauty.

Harriet Paine Rose


In the Bleak Midwinter

Its title does not really conjure up Christmas cheer, but In the Bleak Midwinter is one of my favorite carols. I heard its melody repeatedly over the holidays and made a mental note to look into it a bit. And now that we are in the post-Christmas bleak not-quite-midwinter it seems like an appropriate time to do that. Surprisingly it is a creation of the Victorian era and after: I thought it was much older. Two early nineteenth-century composers set Christina Rossetti’s 1872 poem (first published in Scribner’s magazine) to music, creating an almost-instant classic: In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, long ago. 

While the rest of Rossetti’s poem is Christocentric, this opening stanza, setting the scene, is universal. Combined with the melodies of Gustav Holst and Harold Darke, the song seems ageless, which is why I thought it was older than it actually is. Darke’s version (a nice version of which is here) won “best Christmas Carol” in a poll of the world’s leading choirmasters in 2008. Besides the beautiful melodies assigned to Rossetti’s words, I’m interested in the use of the word “bleak” here: usually this term connotes a definite pessimism, despair, even hopelessness; but I think the combination of words and music creates a feeling of comfort and hopefulness, to get everyone through the bleak midwinter. My own understanding of bleakness comes more from images than sounds, and I think midwinter can be beautiful, both as a barren landscape and as a setting for all the little details within.

Midwinter Pickering House 1900

Midwinter Boston Common 1904

Midwinter A Wolf Had Not Been Seen at Salem for Thirty Years Pyle

Midwinter Museums Karolik Collection MFA

Midwinter Tile Kate Greenaway

Favorite midwinter images, not so “bleak”:  the Pickering House, Salem, c. 1900 from a private family collection; Boston Common, c. 1904, E. Chickering & Co., Library of Congress, Howard Pyle, “A Wolf Had not Been Seen in Salem for Thirty Years”, illustration for his 1909 Harper’s Monthly story, “The Salem Wolf”, Delaware Art Museum; Anonymous American painting, 19th century, Karolik Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Kate Greenaway wall tile for Burslem, c. 1881-1885, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.


Three Little Bears

An amateur photographer hiking though the woods in eastern Finland this past week was lucky enough to capture the moment that three little bear cubs danced in a circle on their hind legs, producing an image so adorable that it inevitably went viral: I can’t resist showing it here as well. In the accompanying story, Valterri Mulkahainen reports that the bears were scampering around like little children, while all the while he snapped away.

Bears in Finland first

Bears in Finland

Bears in Finland 2

Bears in Finland 3

Now these little bears are irresistible in any configuration, but look at the first two pictures in which they form a threesome and look almost unreal and positively magical: a good example of the “rule of three” as it applies to the animal kingdom. This must be why we have Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Three Blind Mice, Three Little Pigs, Three Little Kittens, and Three French Hens, and pubs with names like Three Pheasants and Three Foxes. The authors of fairy tales and nursery rhymes certainly recognized the power of three through the ages, as did their illustrators: these little bears (and Mr. Mulkahainen’s camera) have brought lore to life.

Three Bears Rackham 1922p

Three Bears Brooke 3p

Three White Kittens 1888

Three Pigs Brookep

Three Blind Mice JIp

Illustrations by Arthur Rackham (1922), L. Leslie Brooke (1905) and Walter Corbould (1909).


Last Men Standing

We are accustomed to seeing photographs of veterans—of the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, of Vietnam, of World Wars I and II, of the Spanish-American War, and even of the Civil War—but not of the American Revolution, as the first daguerreotypes were made a half-century after its conclusion. But such images do exist, first compiled in an extraordinary book that I’ve just discovered:  E.B. Hillard’s The Last Men of the Revolution (1864). The Connecticut minister clearly had a mission of remembrance in the midst of the Civil War, and he made pilgrimages to the homes of six surviving Revolutionary War veterans, accompanied by Nelson and Roswell Moore, brother photographers from Hartford. I’m sure my Americanist colleagues know of this book, but its existence is a revelation to me: how shocking to gaze upon the images of men who, in Hillard’s words, “looked on Washington…[and] heard his words”.

Hillard’s little volume contains eagle-encircled images of the old men in their best dress, along with color plates of their homes and wonderful little vignettes which cover their experiences in the war and in life, along with their views of the “present rebellion”—no confederate sympathies here! There are also prescriptions for longevity: lots of smoking, moderate drinking, “no particular attention to diet”, lifelong physical exertion. You can see the book’s plates here, and below are individual carte-de-visite images from the Library of Congress–beginning with William Hutchings, who was born in my hometown of York, Maine (then Massachusetts, of course) and ending with Newburyport-born Samuel Downing, who harvested fifteen bushels of carrots on the 90-degree day before Hillard came to call.

Last Men Hutchings

Last Men Waldo

Last Men Link

Last Men Cook

Last Men Millener

Last Men Downing

I wish I knew much more about the contemporary reception of Hillard’s book and the Moores’ photographs, but they are certainly inspirational now. “New” images of Revolutionary War veterans have been uncovered/discovered, most notably by Utah-based journalist and collector Joseph M. Bauman, who recently published his collection in a book entitled Don’t Tread on Me:  Photographs and  Life Stories of American Revolutionaries (2012) and “daguerreotype detective” Maureen Taylor, who has published two volumes entitled The Last Muster. Images of the Revolutionary War Generation. The more interest there is in something, the higher the likelihood of finding more of it, in the case of these rare daguerreotypes, uncatalogued family collections are probably the key source. You can see a lovely portfolio of Bauman’s collection here:  my favorites among them are another Massachusetts/Mainer, James W. Head, and the flamboyant George Fishley, famous resident of Portsmouth, New Hampshire and “last of the Cocked Hats”.

Last Men James W. Head

Last Men George Fishley

Revolutionary War veterans James W. Head and George Fishley: images courtesy of Joseph Bauman.


Stripped Bare of Artifice

While taking a twilight stroll around Salem the other day, I was struck by the stature of a large house on Hardy Street, almost as if I was seeing it for the first time. That isn’t true; I’ve seen it many times, but there was something about the light and the stillness of its street (not far from busy downtown Salem) that made it a very compelling sight. It seemed so vulnerable, standing there without paint, stripped bare of artifice, until I looked a little closer. This is not an abandoned house, people are living here, and the first-floor resident has placed a wreath on the front door and pumpkins at the side (originally front) entrance. An engraved granite marker stands by, giving passersby the impression that this is someplace notable. I don’t know much about this house; it doesn’t appear in any of the standard sources of Salem architecture. I could probably find out a lot more if I researched it through probate and city records, but I don’t have the time to do that now–so I’ll just put it out there and see if anybody knows anything about it. It’s a curious, boxy, size: at first appearances it looks Federal, but I think it was built a bit later in the nineteenth century– though I could be wrong. It might have been transformed into a box through expansion–clearly at some point it was turned into flats, with the rather awkward exterior staircases in the rear. The main entrance, which is on the side, is beautiful, even (especially?) in its unpainted state.

Unpainted House 030

Unpainted House 031

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Unpainted House 033

Unpainted House 034

Unpainted House 035

Unpainted House 036


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