Monthly Archives: August 2011

Street Art in Salem

At the beginning of the Summer, four large metal sculptures were installed on the streets of downtown Salem, the first pieces of a “full public art program” to follow.  I wasn’t sure about these sculptures at first (both as works and in situ), but I’ve been watching people, especially children, interact with them for several months, and now I like their presence on the street.  The sculptures, by Massachusetts artist Rob Lorenson, will be on Essex and Washington streets until early November.

Unfortunately there is one sculpture downtown that will not be leaving the streets of Salem in November:  the Bewitched statue of Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha, which was inflicted on the city by the executives of TV Land (with the full cooperation of the city government) in 2005.  Not only is it a terrible piece of “art” (just look at the “cloud” pedestal! ) but it demeans Salem’s history and the prominence of its site, Town House Square, which has long been the city’s political and commercial center.

Town House Square in 1906.  The Samantha statue is located near the street opening at center left.

In stark contrast to the Samantha statue in terms of taste, historical relevance, and artistic merit is the Witch Trials Memorial installation adjacent to the Charter Street cemetery in downtown Salem, dedicated in August of 1992 by Elie Wiesel in a ceremony that marked the culmination of the year-long commemoration of the Trials’ tercentenary. Designed by artists Maggie Smith and James Cutler, the Memorial features a solemn courtyard enclosed by a stone wall incorporating 20 cantilevered steps, inscribed with the name and date of execution of each victim of 1692.  It is always a poignant place to visit, and was all the more so on an absolutely beautiful afternoon with the remnants of Irene strewn about.

Out-of-Scale Squirrels

I saw this nineteenth-century charcoal drawing of GIANT squirrels at an antiques gallery in Maine a couple of weeks ago and haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.  Sorry for the quality of the photograph but my camera kept reflecting off the glass.  The dealer didn’t know anything about it, and it was priced at $4500, so this photograph is the only image I’ll ever have of these over-sized squirrels.

I find it charming in that nearly everything is out-of-scale: gigantic squirrels, big chickens, small house.  I’m not sure about the horse in the foreground as I can’t relate it to anything.  What does it mean?  Is the primeval forest encroaching on the tranquil homestead?  Or does the artist just like (or fear) squirrels?

While looking for more squirrel images I came across a few more with scale issues.  The first image is a late eighteenth-century print issued by the London publishers Laurie & Whittle entitled The Frail Sisters.  Obviously this is not great art (in fact, this post could be titled Bad Art at this point); the sisters are not particularly well done and they don’t look particularly frail.  On the knee of the sitting sister is a nearly unrecognizable too-tiny squirrel, which seems to be the center of attention despite its slightness.  The last off-scale squirrel is a deliberate photographic creation, and a much better image:  a man and a squirrel in Harvard Yard, taken by an anonymous photographer in the Spring of 1902.

A few images of more proportioned squirrels, made by artisans in the past and the present:  rabbits and a squirrel from William Vaughan’s Book containing such Beasts as are most useful for such as practice Drawing, Graveing, Painting, Chasing and for several other occasions (1664) and a very realistic-looking needle felted red squirrel by Etsy seller Daria Lvovsky.

New England Takes Shape

While looking for an early map to illustrate the Gulf of Maine for my last post, it became increasingly clear to me how important Cape Cod was to early modern navigators and cartographers.  It’s such a distinctive landmass, jutting, or curving, out into what was originally known as the “Western Ocean”;  it’s no wonder the Pilgrims landed first on its tip, in present-day Provincetown.  The more maps I looked at, the more it appeared to me that the Cape was absolutely central to the cartographic creation of New England as a region, though this might just be my eastern (or southern) bias.  I assembled a chronological succession of early maps from the digital collections at the Fordham University Library, the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine, and the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library to illustrate my point.

One of the earliest maps of the eastern coast of North America was drawn by the Italian cartographer Giralamo Ruscelli in 1561.  Ruscelli’s Tierra Nueva is based on the discoveries of the French-sponsored explorers Giovanni di Verrazzano and Jacques Cartier, consequently the place-names are in French and Latin and the depiction of New England (called Nurumberg and later “Norumbega”) is extremely minimized and conjectural.  There’s a small curved peninsula on the right-hand side of the map but as the island  of  “Terra Nova” (New World—Newfoundland) is just off of it, I doubt it is Cape Cod.  For reference (you can zoom in on the map at the BPL), the place labelled “Angoulesme” at center right is roughly equivalent to New York City.

Norumbega in the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum of Abraham Ortelius, 1570

Jumping forward several decades, New England begins to assume a recognizable shape, and gets its name, on the 1624 map of Captain John Smith, based on his explorations of a decade before.  This map was first published just after Smith’s return to England, and was very influential in the Pilgrims’ planning.  Here you see a very realistic Cape Cod (named “Cape James” for the King) and lots of English place-names, some of which stuck, most of which did not. “Cape Anna”  did become Cape Ann, though Salem (or Beverly, I can’t tell)  replaced Bristol and my home town of York did not retain its designation of “Boston”.

As there was constant competition for colonial territory in North America, French and Dutch maps also depict New England and its waters in detail.  Dutch cartography was the most advanced in Europe in the seventeenth century, and Dutch mapmakers issued a succession of “Nova Anglia, Novum Belgium et Virginia” maps from the 1630s, including that of  William Blaeu below.  Despite its distinct orientation, Cape Cod (or Codd) is immediately recognizable, and it is equally prominent in two late seventeenth-century English maps.  The last map below, published by John Seller in 1679, is entitled A Chart of the Sea Coasts of New England, New Jarsey, Virginia, Maryland & Carolina from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod.  European cartographers clearly had a grasp on southern New England by this time, but northern New England, most especially Maine, remained elusive.

In the eighteenth century, everything intensified:  competition for empire, mapmaking technology, and settlement, consequently we see quite sophisticated political and navigational maps, like the detailed charts of the Atlantic coastline by the Swiss-born cartographer Joseph Frederick DesBarres, produced for his 4-volume atlas American Neptune (1777-1781).  The marine galleries at the Peabody Essex Museum feature a blown-up version of the DesBarres charts, revealing their intricate detail much more effectively than is possible here.

By contrast, London publisher Carington Bowles’ “pocket map”, also issued in the Revolutionary era, emphasizes the Inhabited parts of New England (Library of Congress).

From Ruscelli to Russell.  After the Revolution, New England endures as an assemblage of states rather than colonies.  The John Russell map of 1795 illustrates the “Northern or New England” states of America, and the District of Maine, just prior to the boundary settlement between America and Great Britain.

And finally, a completely different view of the Cape, from a century later and the golden age of  “bird’s eye” maps:  looking southward from Boston.

Calm before the Storm

Despite the all-Irene coverage in the media, it was bright and sunny here in Salem yesterday, all calm before the storm.  I took a bike ride around the city, and it was business as usual.  I did not see a mass exodus of boats from the harbor, though one of my favorite annual events, the Antique & Classic Boat Festival at Hawthorne Cove Marina, was canceled along with lots of other weekend activities.  The coming storm does look huge and destructive, but late summer hurricanes are generally not that much of a threat to the North Shore, as the entire Gulf of Maine is protected from southern storms (as opposed to noreasters) by the presence of Cape Cod.  Even the New England Hurricane of 1938, the standard by which all other hurricanes are judged here, left the coast north of Boston relatively unscathed compared to the devastation in southern and western New England.  Here is a late eighteenth-century  Italian view of a very protected northern New England coast, from Grace Galleries:

Antonio Zatta, Atlante Novissimo, 1778

And here are some very random images of the last Friday in August in Salem, beginning with my garden.  The white “David” phlox has been hanging on forever, but I expect the storm will bring it down a bit.

Boats in and out of the water at the Hawthorne Cove Marina, off Derby Street.

The arrival of the Salem Ferry from Boston. The Ferry’s Sunday schedule is canceled.

The beach at Juniper Point in the Willows.

I love this little shop, which has been the site of a succession of short-lived businesses.  We’ve been waiting for this “amazing pizza” all summer!

The audience in the garden at the Salem Athenaeum, awaiting a production by Rebel Shakespeare.   “The Tempest” was advertised, but we got “The Taming of the Shrew” instead, which was just fine.  The players.

Slug Slayers

We’ve been fortunate to have had quite a bit of rain here in the Northeast, consequently the soil is moist and the plants are green.  The garden looks pretty good for late August, except for the slug bites evident on many of my leafy plants.  It is definitely slug season out there:  every morning I awake to slime on my brick paths and pockmarked plants, evidence of their nocturnal feeding frenzy.  I didn’t turn over the soil enough in the spring (to disrupt their larvae), I didn’t encircle my hostas with copper wire over which the slugs cannot slither past; I let them in and now there are really there.  Now my only hope is beer (or better yet, stout) traps placed throughout the garden, as the salt method is a little too intense (face to face) for me.

Garden Pests (including slugs) from Joris Hoefnagel's Archetypa studiaque patris (1592)

More slugs and pests: the entire Archetypa is at the University of Strasbourg's Digital Library

Or is it?  I hunted for some good slug-slaying advice and found plenty in my stack of gardening books and on the web. I particularly like the “Slug Fest” post from The Medieval Garden Enclosed, the Cloisters Museum and Gardens’ blog, and this article contains a great description of the effectiveness of nematode worms. They sound great, but do I want even more slimy things in the garden?  I like to seek solutions to practical problems in the past, so I also turned to my treasure trove of early modern gardening texts.  For the past few years, I’ve been writing a book on practical expressions of Renaissance culture in England, and have found that “how-to” gardening guides really exemplify the spirit of what I am trying to capture.  Three authors in particular, Thomas Hill, Leonard Mascall, and William Lawson, have something to say about garden pests in particular and slugs in general.

None of these guys are offering new and original advice; in typical Renaissance fashion, they borrow heavily from classical authors and their continental counterparts, but they are all very practical, offering step-by-step instructions on how to plant, cultivate, and harvest a garden. They claim to be exposing long-lost horticultural “secrets” via the new medium of print.  Hill, born about 1528, is the earliest of the authors, and his two garden books, The Profitable arte of gardening (first published in the 1560s) and The Gardeners Labyrinth (1577 and after) are among the most popular of all English books in the sixteenth century.

Hill proposes a multi-phased defensive plan against slugs and other “creeping things”.  Seeds should be soaked in various herb waters  in the shell of a snail, dried in the shell of a tortoise, then planted.  Young plants in the garden should be protected by the presence of plants that repel creeping things, including mint, fitch (not sure what this is, but it is always referred to as “the bitter Fitch”), rocket, garlic (vampire slugs!) and onions.  If the slugs still appear, Hill recommends applications of ashes (preferably from a fig tree), and a pungent mixture of Ox or Cow urine mixed together with the “mother of oyle Olive”.  As a last resort, the gardener should “fix river crevisses with nails in many places of the Garden”.  Impaling slugs sounds like an icky, though satisfying, option.

Leonard Mascall disappointed me with his slug solution, which basically amounted to hand-picking slugs off the plants in the very early morning before they go into their dark hiding places for the day.  I was disappointed because Mascall is becoming the hero of my book due to the sheer diversity of practical information he dispensed in the latter part of the sixteenth century:  he published tracts not only on horticulture but also on animal husbandry, fishing, health, and even stain removal. It was his Booke of  Engines and trappes to take polcats, buzzardes, rattes, mice, and all other kindes of vermine and beastes whatsoever (1590) that gave me hope that he might have some sort of secret weapon against slugs, but no.  Apparently slithering creatures are difficult to catch in traps.

In the seventeenth century, William Lawson’s popular New Orchard and Garden, with its companion volume (and one of the first gardening manuals to be addressed specifically to women), The Country House-Wifes Garden, recommended coal ashes and “sharp gravel” as slug preventatives; Lawson clearly did not want his “house-wifes” to get their hands dirty.  So that’s it for my Renaissance experts:  it is not until the next century that lime and the “cabbage method” (slugs love cabbage leaves, so lay them out at night for the slugs to “pasture” on, then scoop them up in the morning) appear, and much more toxic methods in the centuries that followed.  I think I’ll stick with the beer.

Ivy House

Just a quick post today: a stately brick house in the winter, on a street not far from Salem Common, becomes a lively ivy house in the summer.

White Hydrangeas

It’s been an endless summer of blue hydrangeas; I prefer white myself, although I’m not much of a hydrangea fan, I must admit. They’re a bit too ostentatious, conspicuous, fluffy, Victorian, much for me.  They don’t have a particularly interesting history, they’re not very practical, and they don’t really belong in colonial gardens. They seem to be much more of a colonial revival plant than a colonial one.  I have this silly rule in my head that hydrangeas, even blue hydrangeas, are fine for coastal shingle cottages (probably because I grew up in one) but that clapboard houses in old towns, large and small, must do without or at the very least have white hydrangeas.

Despite my disdain for the blue, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the blue hydrangeas at my parents’ house in York Harbor this summer; the bush below, which appears to be producing two varieties of blooms, is in fact (of course) two conjoined plants.  As you can see, the more violet of the two blooms are HUGE.

Impressive, but still blue.  Back in Massachusetts, I tried to capture some white hydrangea shrubs/trees that impressed me, many of them apparently quite old.  I do like hydrangeas that spill over fences, like the first two photographs below, the first taken in Newburyport, the second in Salem.

I also like the older shrubs that have turned into little trees, as illustrated by photographs of a Concord house along route 2A and Lafayette Street in Salem.

Two century-old photographs for some historical context:  the first is a Detroit Publishing Company postcard entitled California Hydrangea, the second, by the pioneering Canadian-American photographer Jessie Tarbox Beals, is a portrait of Kate Douglas Wiggin (author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and other children’s books) on the white hydrangea-bordered steps of her Maine house in the first decade of the twentieth century (Schlesinger Library, Harvard University).

Urban Cottages

Inspired by one of my favorite blogs, An Urban Cottage, the relative popularity of one of my posts, “Diminutive Dwellings”, as well as by the houses themselves, I’ve gathered some photographs of  some Salem cottages, most of which were built in the early and mid-nineteenth century.  One of the best things about living in a small city is the sheer variety of architectural styles, as well as the presence of buildings of very different sizes, sometimes even adjacent to one another.  Salem is renowned for its grand Federal mansions, but it certainly has its share of smaller-scaled houses, many of which are equally impressive, in an altogether different way.  In fact, it was difficult for me to narrow down my choices; I think I will need at least a part two, and maybe a three and four.  I tried to include structures from a variety of neighborhoods, but have left some notable ones out, at least for now.  It was also difficult to discern exactly what a “cottage” is, beyond just a small house, so basically I just chose small houses that I liked in a very arbitrary manner.

First up, some “mini mansards”.  There are lots of big Victorian houses with mansard roofs in Salem, particularly along Lafayette Street, but there are also several cottages with these roofs, located primarily outside the city center, in North and South Salem.  This first house is impressive down to the smallest detail, including its great flower boxes.

Two South Salem mansard cottages are below.  The first is a favorite of nearly everyone I know, for its prime harbor-front location (which you unfortunately can’t see from my photograph) , its cupola, and its overall cuteness. It was also featured in the early 90s Bette Midler-Sarah Jessica Parker film Hocus Pocus quite prominently (if I remember correctly).

In the historic center of Salem, there are lots of Georgian colonial cottages, most with gambrel roofs.  These little houses are colonial in style, but several of them were built well after the Revolution, as late as 1830; they must have looked quite antiquated when the Greek Revivals started popping up.  The houses below are all located on streets running off the Common and Derby Street.

This last group of cottages cannot be tied together by a common architectural style; they represent the variety I referenced above and are all just adorable.  There are Greek and Gothic Revival cottages in North Salem, a pair of shingled cottages on Derby, both former stores and connected by their owner by landscaping and paint, and an eighteenth-century cottage moved to its present location on Orne Square after the great fire of 1914.

New Life for an Old Salem Church

Salem has been the scene of almost-continuous construction projects since I’ve lived here; some have changed the streetscape for the better, some for the worse (in my humble opinion).  One of the largest is nearing completion this summer:  the construction of a brand new “Judicial Center” on Federal Street adjacent to the previous courthouses, all sadly decommissioned.  This location is certainly appropriate, as this stretch of Federal Street is judicial Salem’s legal row, but it begs comparisons between the new center and the older courthouses.  Probably the architects (Goody Clancy) knew this, and certainly they received pressure from the preservationist community to retain something of what was on the site, especially as three nineteenth-century domestic buildings were taken down to make way for the HUGE boxy central building.  Consequently one building was retained and moved to serve as a link between old and new and a reminder of those days when architectural proportion ruled:  the former First Baptist Church of Salem.  Here is the church (now reconfigured as a law library) on the corner with the new complex behind and beside it.

The original location of the church was to the right and back a bit, where you see the large curtain wall now.  When it was moved several years ago (there’s a picture in an earlier post), it was not only moved forward but repositioned on a slight angle, following the lines of Federal Street.  This is one of the few concessions the entire project has made to the pre-existing streetscape.  Though the jury is still out for me on the entire complex, I think that  church/library is an important component, not only filling a gap but softening the transition between old and new, human-scaled and HUGE.  Below is the current streetscape on a recent rainy day.

From the foreground to the background we have the church/library, the new judicial center, which is comprised of the huge building behind the curtain wall (very imposing as you come into Salem along Route 114; I’m going to spare you a view for now) and the adjacent building with glass and columns, which (I guess) is supposed to effect another transition to the former Colonial Revival Probate Court, and then the Romanesque and Greek Revival court houses beyond. Below are some century-old shots of these court houses from the Library of Congress.  I’ve always found the Greek Revival one in the second picture to be really beautiful, and its the Romanesque neighbor has an amazing interior, including (of course) a law library.  I worry about these buildings’ fates.

It’s quite a succession of architectural styles, and then you get to the new complex, anchored by the old church/library.  The contractors not only repositioned the building, they repointed it and repaired its trim, revealing some beautiful details that I had never noticed before.  When I did look at this building before its big move, it did not strike me as particularly church-like, which is understandable given that it was stripped of its impressive steeple some time ago (in 1926, according to Bryant Tolles, Architecture in Salem).  Fortunately there are lots of accessible images of the church in its earlier form, making it all to obvious that this is a structure that has gone through several transformations in its two-hundred-year lifetime.

Photography credits:  a beautiful Frank Cousins photograph in the Urban Landscape collection at the Duke University Library, two undated postcards which I believe are from around the turn of the twentieth century, and two nineteenth-century stereoscopic cards from the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Cars on Chestnut

From two wheels to four: another annual event tied in with Salem’s Heritage Days in August is the Phillips House‘s Antique Car Meet, held yesterday right here on Chestnut Street.  Though not as large a gathering of antique automobiles as that sponsored by its sister Historic New England property, the Codman House, earlier this summer, the Phillips Meet is a bit more intimate and engaging because the cars are parked on the street,where they belong, as opposed to out in a field.  The first floor of the house was open for tours, as was the carriage house out back, home to two rare and HUGE Pierce Arrows and a nice assortment of horse-drawn carriages.

The last car above is a powder pink Edsel!  Below, what looks like a surrey with a fringe on top in the Carriage House, and peaking through at one of the Pierce Arrows.

Just another old car parked on the street, yesterday, and one of similar vintage traveling down (or up) the street in its own time, below.  Chestnut Street is one-way in the other direction now, so this car looks odd to me:  I want to say, turn around, you’re going to crash into someone to the long-dead driver.  Finally, an amazing photograph courtesy of my friend Martha, a North Shore caterer extraordinaire (Lantern Hill ) with deep Chestnut Street roots who has been making some of her old family photographs available to the public.  Pictured is Mrs. Mary Northey Wheatland out for a drive on what looks like nearby Essex Street, in the winter of 1904.

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