Monthly Archives: August 2012

Tenacious Types

I read a really interesting article entitled the “The Typeface of Truth” by Michael Beirut yesterday that set me off on a typographical odyssey.  It was hot (or humid, actually) and I really didn’t want to get off the couch, so I dug a bit deeper into the subject of the article:  the enduring influence of the font invented by John Baskerville (1706-1775).  Actually, Baskerville the man was only briefly mentioned by Beirut, who was summarizing a series of posts in the New York Times Opinionator blog by writer and filmmaker Errol Morris which attempted to ascertain whether there are “certain fonts that compel a belief that the sentences they are written in are true?”  To ascertain an answer to this question, Morris devised a quiz which implicitly compared the Baskerville, Computer Modern, Georgia, Helvetica, Comic Sans,  and Trebuchet fonts as to the credulity of their passages.  Baskerville was the big winner, the “typeface of truth” in Beirut’s words.

Baskerville was a man who loved letters.  He loved to look at them, write with them and engrave them so much that changed his career path in his 40s and became a typefounder and printer.  In the preface to his 1758 edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost, he reflects on this transition:  “Having been a great admirer of the beauty of Letters, I became insensibly desirous of contributing to the perfection of them.”  Not content to be a mere craftsman, he effected innovations in every associated typographical endeavor:  design, casting, paper and ink production, printing.  He respected the dominant typefounder of his day, William Caslon, but clearly thought that there was room for improvement–especially in spacing and layout. Baskerville produced about 60 beautiful books (including several  bibles even though he was a proclaimed atheist), but had little commercial success in his adopted professions and probably would have faded into obscurity if not for the advocacy of Benjamin Franklin in his day and the great American book designer Bruce Rogers in the twentieth century.

Because Baskerville’s type survived, it looks conventional to us today, and obviously credible.

Below:  a Baskerville bible from 1769, a a neat type specimen poster (one of many) from Typography Today, and a close-up of a letterpress Baskerville print from Blush Publishers in Wales.

Chasing down Baskerville led me down many paths, including one that led to a special Salem font! (and a very un-Baskerville design)  Local (Winchester, MA) designers The Walden Font Co. have resurrected and revived many old historical typefaces, including those with very distinct gothic, western, and Shakespearean vibes, and a “magickal” font named Salem 1692.  Here it is, on its own, and superimposed by me on an actual seventeenth-century document, Cotton Mather’s 1693 Wonders of the Invisible World.


Ladies of Salem

Looking down upon the streets of Salem this summer are 12 “Ladies of Salem”, nautical figureheads created by local artists to commemorate Salem’s maritime past and highlight its present role as a “port of culture”.  The Lady of Salem festival, spearheaded by the city’s Beautification Committee, is the most recent of a succession of positive public arts initiatives designed to draw the attention of both residents and visitors away from the tacky exploitation of Salem’s witch-trial past, or at the very least to put the events of 1692 (and their “interpretation”) in context.  These ladies, affixed to lampposts on downtown streets adjacent to their sponsoring businesses, peer down at passers-by with their characteristic open gazes.  Here’s a sampling:  as the organizers of the festival are encouraging the public to vote for their favorites, I’m starting with mine, and then proceeding in no particular order.

Figurehead by Jeanne Pare, sponsored by Treasures over Time, Washington Street.

Figureheads by Mary Ellen Halliwell for the Salem Beautification Committee, Amberlynn Narvie for Beverly Cooperative Bank, and John Devine for the Palmer’s Cove Yacht Club on Essex Street.

Two more Essex Street ladies:  figureheads by Jade Mason for Body & Soul Massage/Collins Cove Appraisors and Sheila Billings for Cabot Money Management, Inc.

Figureheads were a prominent feature of ships built from the seventeenth century to the age of steam and were often, but not exclusively, female. The general consensus seems to hold that for very superstitious seamen, real women on board were bad luck, so this was the only way to have a feminine presence on seagoing vessels, which were, of course, also characterized as feminine.  At the same time, figureheads represented the “spirit” of their ships and offered protection on long, arduous voyages. The Peabody Essex Museum has a lovely collection of figureheads, many of which are very majestically displayed in East India Marine Hall, but the largest collection of figureheads from merchant ships can be found at the newly-restored Cutty Sark in Britain, part of Royal Museums Greenwich. I love this picture of them all together.

Figureheads in the East India Marine Hall of the Peabody Essex Museum, and one attributed to Samuel McIntire in the PEM’s collection; the Cutty Sark figureheads, collection of the Royal Museums Greenwich.

She’s not from Salem, but as most of us rarely have the vantage point of viewing a figurehead from above, I wanted to include this interesting photograph by Alan Villiers of the bow of the Herzogin Cecilie from 1928–the very last days of figureheads.


Mourning in England and America

When I found the painting below, alternatively titled The Saltonstall Family, or Members of the Saltonstall Family, and painted by David Des Granges about 1636-37, I was immediately drawn to it for several reasons.  I teach several courses on this period, so I thought it would be very useful in illustrating the importance of family in Stuart England. And then there was the Salem connection:  the Saltonstalls were one of the founding families of Massachusetts and of Salem:  Nathaniel Salstonstall (1639-1707) was one of the judges in the witch trials and Leverett Saltonstall (1783-1845) was the city’s first mayor and later a U.S. representative. We have a Saltonstall School and a Saltonstall parkway.  However, a little genealogical research (I never like to engage in too much genealogy–it’s a tangled web) has convinced me that I don’t really have a Salem story:  the man in the painting is indeed Sir Richard Saltonstall, but he is not THE Sir Richard Salstonstall (1586-1661), who sailed up the Charles River in 1630 and became the founder of the Massachusetts Saltonstalls of later fame and fortune. This Sir Richard Saltonstall (1595-1650) never left England, and in the same year that the man who shared his name was exploring the New World he was losing his first wife, who is also pictured below, along with his second, and the children he had with both women.

David Des Granges, The Saltonstall Family, 1636-37.  Tate Museum, London.

This, then, is a mourning portrait, depicting the living and the dead, together:  a truly blended family!  Sir Richard is pictured alongside his dead first wife, Elizabeth Basse, who is pointing to their two surviving children, Richard (wearing a long skirt as was customary for English boys of a certain class until age 6 or 7) and Ann, who link hands with each other and with their father, demonstrating the bonds of family.  Sir Richard’s second wife, Mary Parker, is seated with their newborn child on the right, completing the framed family.

Though some might think it a little creepy to have a dead person in the picture (though certainly far less creepy than those Victorian photographs of the dearly departed), I think that this painting is a rather tender portrayal of remembrance. Sir Richard’s outstretched hand seems to be including everyone in his family, and reminding his children not to forget their mother.  Here mourning is about remembering the dead, rather than just dwelling on loss by putting something on–a dress, a ring, a brooch, an armband.  In terms of aesthetics, I have always admired the elegant American mourning paintings from the Federal period–usually painted on silk and with the requisite weeping willow taking center stage–but this earlier English example strikes me as far more personal, and poignant.

New England mourning paintings on silk from 1810, 1811 & 1815, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and a D.W. Kellogg chromolithographic print of an 1825 painting, Library of Congress.


High Summer Gardens

August is beyond peak time in New England gardens but there is still a lot of color out there:  primarily from phlox, phlox and more phlox. I’ve been taking pictures on my local travels and those below are from eastern Massachusetts, coastal New Hampshire, and southern Maine. The first group were taken during a visit to Fuller Gardens in North Hampton, New Hampshire. The garden was designed by landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff (of Colonial Williamsburg fame) for the 50th governor of Massachusetts, Alvan Fuller,  and his wife Viola, who maintained a summer seaside home in North Hampton, which is only about ten miles from the Massachusetts border. The house is no longer there, but its adjacent gardens are, laid out in a series of  “rooms” in the Colonial Revival fashion. Everything is so immaculately maintained, especially Mrs. Fuller’s beloved roses, that it is a treat to visit here in August when nearly every other garden I see (including my own) is looking a bit tired and overgrown.

Up the road a piece, some gardens and flowers in Portsmouth, New Hampshire:  Prescott Park in the afternoon and early evening, a vertical garden on a utility box, and the terraced garden across from the MoffatLadd House (1763) on Market Street.

Some very diverse images of plants and landscapes in southern Maine:  a coastal garden in Kittery Point, a checkerboard courtyard, a border, and my father’s cabbage, all in York.

Back home in Massachusetts, the colonial garden at the Parson Capen House in Topsfield, with its raised beds and very practical herbs and flowers, and my own Salem garden, which I think is a bit behind due to its sheltered location:  the bee balm is still reigning, the phlox (I have only the white, mildew-resistant David variety) is just starting to bloom, and the ferns are starting to sag:  August is not their month.


Samuel McIntire in Texas

I knew that the charming 1793 summer house designed by Salem’s renown architect and woodcarver Samuel McIntire (1757-1811) had been moved (from its original location 4 miles away on Salem merchant king Elias Hasket Derby’s Peabody farm–successively the property of the Crowninshield and Osborn families), and copied (by Derby’s distant descendant Martha Codman for her Newport mansion Berkeley Villa, which you can read about here), but I had no idea until very recently that it was the inspiration for a Houston McMansion.

Here is a panorama of pictures taken yesterday of McIntire’s beautiful summer house, situated since 1901 on the Glen Magna estate in Danvers, Massachusetts.

And here, via my very favorite pinner on Pinterest, via the Cote de Texas blog, via Luxe magazine, are pictures of a house outside downtown Houston designed by John Ike of Ike Ligerman Barkley Architects of New York.

It is probably wrong of me to call this house a McMansion as it is only two rooms deep, but it does have white marble flours (versus the painted wood of the original).  I’m not sure what to think of this creation:  is imitation the sincerest form of flattery in this case?

Another view:  a Rudolf Ruzicka Christmas card for the Merrymount Press, 1940.


Hats Off to London

The Anglophile in me cannot resist one more post on London, but this one will not be about sports, but rather about hats.  And I will put a little Salem in here, because I am inspired.  As part of the Olympics celebration as well as the Mayor of London’s summer-long schedule of happenings called “Surprises”, twenty of the city’s most conspicuous statues have been topped with hats designed by eminent British milliners. For the next few days, Londoners will be amused (I hope) with very clever juxtapositions of hard and soft, traditional and fanciful.  The event is called “Hatwalk“, and here are some of my favorite pairings:

Queen Victoria wearing what appears to be an Olympic-flame hat, by Justin Smith, Esq.

Another flame: Admiral Nelson in a hat by James Lock & Co., Hatters.

General Sir Henry Havelock in a Philip Treacy “spectator”.

The Poet Robert Burns (A Red, Red Rose) wearing a hat by William Chambers Millinery.

General Sir Charles James Napier wearing a Sophie Beale hat.

King George IV and his horse, resplendent in Brighton pavilion-inspired hats by Stephen Jones.

Sir Arthur Sullivan and The Lady, wearing Gina Foster and Victoria Grant hats.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on Bond Street, wearing hats by John Boyd and Herbert Johnson, respectively.

All photographs by Getty Images.

I love this installation (for lack of a better word–I’ve been struggling with what to call this happening) because it’s creative and historical at the same time–drawing attention to both design and the people, along with their eras and accomplishments, who are “modeling” the hats.  Several of these statues are in very prominent places like Trafalgar Square, but others might have been overlooked and forgotten.  Even before I became aware of Hatwalk, I had been thinking about several statues here in Salem and its environs which I pass by every day and never really look at, much less take the time to stop and read their plaques and inscriptions. If these statues had jaunty hats on their heads, perhaps I would!  One Salem statue in particular which needs more attention (or interpretation) is that of Roger Conant (1592-1679), who settled in Salem in 1626 and became its first governor, after brief stays in the Plymouth and Cape Ann colonies (he really disliked the Pilgrims).  The Conant statue was erected in 1913 after the Conant Family Association commissioned sculptor Henry H. Kitson (who had designed the famous “Minuteman Statue” and whose amazing home, Santarella, I featured in a previous post) for the design.  It is a commanding and majestic statue, but it suffers from its proximity to the dreadful Salem Witch Museum:  too many dim-witted tourists casually assume that Conant has something to do with the Witch Trials because of his seventeenth-century attire.  They never even bother to read the plaque–and the things I have heard them say as they have their pictures taken with poor Roger!  I think that Kitson did a good job with the hat, but perhaps the occasional placement of a slightly more Cavalier-esque one would help?  I hate to call on the Gunpowder Plotters for fashion advice, but I’ve always admired the depiction of their hats in the contemporary broadside below.


%d bloggers like this: