Monthly Archives: September 2013

Creatures of Cartography

With a little break for the sand silhouettes of Normandy, I’m back to maps, which I am always “collecting” in my digital files. The collection below is made up of the remnants of one of my most popular postsMaps come Alive. Most of these maps are also anthropomorphic, but a little more detailed, and consequently a little less accessible. For some time I’ve been trying to explore, conceptually and visually, the origins and development of the concept of the “Animal Kingdom”:  it hasn’t quite come together, but in the process I’ve acquired quite a few more examples of literal and metaphorical animal maps. And that’s what we have here: the world as populated by animals and the United States depicted as various animals–“scientific” and satirical representations of animal kingdoms, of sorts.

Map Animal Kingdom 1835 American Folk Art M

Animal Map

Two Nineteenth-century Animal Maps:  anonymous author/creator, c. 1835, Collection of the American Folk Art Museum, New York; A.J. Johnson, Map of the World Showing the Geographical Distribution and Range of the Principal Members of the Animal Kingdom, 1860. David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, ©Cartography Associates.

The other animal maps of the nineteenth century are not quite so serious, but far more political. I’ve seen varieties from several different countries, but my favorite are American–bears and tigers are an easy metaphor, but only in America do you see such diverse cartographical creatures as pigs, worms, and dogs (well, maybe dogs are a bit more universal).

Animal map porcine

Animal map Blaine


Silver Dog 1896

“This Porcineograph”, a map of the U.S. in the shape of a pig, Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Co., 1879, Library of Congress; Map of the United States as encircled by the “Tapeworm Party”, Chicago Bank Note, 1888:  James G. Blaine is depicted as the head of a tapeworm made of up various government scandals, Library of Congress; Two versions of “The Silver Dog With the Golden Tail – Will the Tail Wag the Dog, or the Dog Wag The Tail?” Boston Globe, September 13, 1896, representing divisions over the adoption of the gold standard in the election of 1896.

And onto another evolution: one of the beautiful cartographical creatures of British paper artist Claire Brewster:


Bodies on the Beach

My friend Betsy drew my attention to an installation called The Fallen last week and I have not been able to get the images out of my mind. Conceived and engineered (with the help of some 500 stenciling volunteers) by the British artists Andy Moss and Jamie Wardley of Sand In Your Eye in honor of International Peace Day (September 21), the interactive project involved the production of thousands (9000 to be exact) of sand silhouettes designed to represent the enormous loss of life that occurred on D-Day. The landing beach of Arromanches in France appears littered with shadowy “bodies”: now washed away by the tide, they remain, at least for me, an unforgettable sight.






All Images from The Fallen website.

Schoolgirl Maps

For some time I’ve been developing an interest in schoolgirl art–typically examples of painting and embroidery–and I’ve always been interested in cartography, so when I read a recent post on one schoolgirl’s hand-drawn maps at the Vault, Slate’s history blog, I was immediately enchanted. I began searching for more, and this post is the result of my intermittent efforts. The maps featured in the Vault’s post were drawn by Vermont schoolgirl Frances Henshaw in 1823:  the entire collection of  her 19 (out of then 24) state maps can be accessed at the David Rumsey Map Collection’s website, along with their beautiful calligraphic descriptions.

Schoolgirl map Henshaw Massachusetts

Schoolgirl map Henshaw Maine

Schoolgirl map Henshaw Maine description

Maps and description drawn by Frances Henshaw of Middlebury Female Academy, 1823. Courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection, © Cartography Associates.

It  turns out that Frances was at a very progressive school, receiving instruction in a “reformed” curriculum advocated by its former principle, Emma Hart Willard (1787-1870) whose 1819 Plan for Improving Female Education established her reputation as the dean of girls’ education and led to her placement at what became her namesake school. Mrs. Willard believed that young women should be instructed in topics that were previously beyond, or outside, their reach:  mathematics, philosophy, history, geography. And so we see the creation of these charming annotated maps, I think I have a new collection obsession, but if all of the sold lots below are any indication, I fear that I might be a bit late to the party.

Schoolgirl Map of Mass detail

Schoolgirl map Quakers 1835 Skinner

Northeast Schoolgirl map

Schoolgirl map of Latin America

Detail of pen-and-ink map of Massachusetts drawn by Maria C. Butler of Utica, NY in 1815 (before Mrs. Willard’s plan–maybe she gets too much credit?), sold by Andrew Spindler Antiques, a great shop up in Essex; Quaker map of the United States by Anna A. Wilbur of the Friends School, Providence, 1835, Skinner Auctions; Watercolor map of  the western and eastern hemispheres by Ann E. Colson and Laura Northrop, Athens, NY, 1809 (also before Emma), Northeast Auctions; Map of South America by Massachusetts schoolgirl Tirzah Bearse, 1831, Joan R. Brownstein Art and Antiques.

Boccaccio’s Birthday

Now that I’ve made this big transition to chair of the History Department, I’m doing very little teaching: only one class (on the Renaissance and the Reformation) as opposed to the normal four-course-per-semester load. That’s just how administrative the job is. I’d much rather be teaching three more courses, frankly, but at the same time I have a renewed appreciation of the time I do get to spend in the classroom. The Ren/Ref course is an old standard, easy and fun to teach with its contrasting and continuous movements and its visual and theological drama, and my students are open and engaged and undemanding. It takes me a while to get into the period as the course has no prerequisites and most of them need some medieval footing in order to proceed; consequently we’ve just finished an examination of the late medieval crisis (intense famine, plague, war, schism, all at the same time) and the “worlds” of the “three crowns” of early Italian Renaissance literature:  Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. I usually focus almost exclusively on Petrarch as the key transitional figure in the emergence of the Renaissance humanist mentality, and this course was no exception, but all of the celebratory initiatives associated with the 700th anniversary of Giovanni Boccaccio‘s birth are making me reconsider my practice. Perhaps the Decameron, Boccaccio’s allegorical collection of 100 stories told by ten young Florentines seeking to distract themselves and pass the time while they wait out the Black Death in a deserted rural villa, should be read for more than its plague prologue.


Boccaccio, in the company of Petrarch, Dante, and three other Renaissance writers, in Giorgio Vasari’s Six Tuscan Poets, 1544, Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Boccaccio 2013” is a multi-disciplinary, multi-event happening in Italy, and Boccaccio is also being celebrated in Britain, where he has always been recognized as an inspiration for another essential late medieval work, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (as well as John Lydgate’s Fall of Princes). There was a major conference at the University of Manchester this summer, as well as a coincidental, and ongoing exhibition, focused on Boccaccio’s currency.  He endured because (like any true Renaissance man) he sought fame in his own time and among his contemporaries, but also because his accessible prose and format inspired a succession of authors, from Shakespeare to Voltaire, to Tennyson, Longfellow and Poe. Readers past and present also wanted to see those beautiful noblemen and -women telling their tales–as well as the characters in their tales–while the world was dying all around them, and so centuries of artists have been inspired by Boccaccio as well. Renaissance escapism:  modern and universal at the same time.


Decameron Crivelli Bodleian

Boccaccio Botticelli

Boccaccio Stothard 1825

Boccaccio after Stothard etching

Boccaccio Waterhouse

Boccaccio the author, in a French manuscirpt of his De Claris Mulieribus, 1440, British Library MS Royal 16 G V; Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die:  illustrations of the Decameron from Taddeo Crivelli’s 1467 manuscript edition, Bodleian Library MS Holkam mis. 49, and by Sandro Botticelli, the Story of Nastagio degli Onesti: The Banquet in the Pine Forest, 1483, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Thomas Stothard, c. 1820, British Museum; and John Williams Waterhouse, A Tale from the Decameron, 1916, Lady Lever Gallery, Liverpool.

Fenced In

While taking a twilight stroll around Salem the other day/night, it seemed to me as if the street-fronting fences were straining to contain the abundant shrubs, flowers and vines within. September is such an abundant time–even in the city. Salem has some great fences, although it once had many more: when I look through pictures from a century ago I am always struck first by the elaborate fences that lined its streets. Most of the wrought iron ones have survived, many of the wooden ones have not. I think commercialization is the main enemy of the elaborate wooden fence–and a great case in point is the “Dr. Phippen House” on the Common (misidentified by the Historic American Building Survey at the Library of Congress as located on Chestnut Street):  pictured below in 1938 and the other day. It is now a funeral home with no fence in front, and a chain-link fence along its side yard.

Fence Phippen House Salem

Fence Phippen House Salem MA

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Most definitely a loss, as this house occupies a prominent position on the Common. But there are similar fences throughout Salem that survive, primarily, but not exclusively, in the McIntire Historic District.  Iron fences are sturdier survivals, and can be found all over downtown Salem, in varying states of repair. For those who read my post last year about the sad state of the Salem Common fence, I have great news:  it is being repaired and restored. We all benefit when a city, or any property owner, puts their best fence forward.

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More examples of front fences from my (increasingly-dark) walk around town, ending up at the Ropes Mansion garden, which is really stunning at this time of year–definitely worth a trip from near or far.

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In Praise of Massachusetts Chairs

Aficionados of antiques, decorative arts, and furniture, or simply admirers of artistry and design, can find plenty to see and learn at all of the events and exhibitions associated with Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture , a collaboration of eleven institutions designed to put the spotlight on Bay State craftsmanship. You may not have been aware that this past Tuesday, September 17th, was declared Massachusetts Furniture Day by our own Governor Deval Patrick!  The announcement was made at the State House with the chair of John Endecott, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, sitting prominently in the background–I assume this is a Salem chair as that is where Endecott landed and lived (it certainly couldn’t be the English chair which accompanied his successor John Winthrop on the Arbella  which is the subject and device of Hawthorne’s story “Grandfather’s Chair”).

Chair of Endecott at MSH

©Andrea Shea/WBUR

It’s really all about chairs for me, as even a casual reader of this blog would know. Just in my head, without going to Four Centuries’ great website or any of its events, I can immediately think of a chronological succession of great Massachusetts-made chairs–up to about 1830 or so:  after that, I’m lost. The nice thing about this initiative is its incredible time span, which must accommodate colonial craftsmen and Federal superstars like Samuel McIntire of Salem as well as industrial manufacturers in central and western Massachusetts, After all, Worcester held the title of “chair capital of the country” a century ago and Gardner is still proudly “the chair city”.


Gardner’s Big Chair, c. 1910

So here we go:  my own Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture, taken from a variety of sources and certainly informed by the collections showcased on the Four Centuries’ sitea particular discovery for me is Boston furniture-maker Samuel Gragg–amazing!  Obviously there’s a bias here in favor of the early nineteenth century, but it was hard to choose favorites in general:  Massachusetts really produced a lot of great chairs (more than all of the other original 12 colonies put together apparently) and continues to do so.

Chair 17th c MFA

Chair Chippendale Boston MFA

Chair Lolling Skinner

PicMonkey Collage

Salem Fancy Chair

Chairs 1825

Chair regency winterthur

Richardson Chair

Apartment Therapy

Chair Plycraft

Char by Jay Stanger 1994 Fuller Craft

Made in Massachusetts:  Leather “Great Chair“, 1665-80, Boston (a near-contemporary of the Endecott chair), and Chippendale side chair, about 1770, Boston, both Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Federal “Lolling” Chair made by Joseph Short of Newburyport, c. 1795; Federal armchairs made by Samuel McIntire for the Peirce-Nichols House in Salem, 1801, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and in situ; “Fancy” side chair, probably Salem, c. 1800-1820, American Folk Art Museum, New York; Pair of decorated fancy chairs, attributed to Samuel Gragg, Boston, c. 1825, Skinner Auctions; Boston “Grecian” side chair, c. 1815-25, Winterthur Museum, Gallery & Library; Armchair designed by H.H. Richardson for the Woburn Public Library, Boston, 1878, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Shaker chairs at the Hancock Shaker Village near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, courtesy of Apartment Therapy; Armchair by Norman Lerner for Plycraft, Lawrence, Massachusetts, c. 1955, Skinner Auctions; “Arched and Animated” chair by Jay Stanger, Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, Massachusetts.

Mass Furniture Haverhill Chairs

Another great line-up:  chairs in the snow, c. 1910, Haverhill, Massachusetts. Smithsonian Institution.

Fox and Geese

The pictures from my last post on the Coolidge Reservation do not convey one of its major features:  what remains of  the many geese that obviously enjoy the Ocean Lawn as much as other visitors. I remarked upon this to the ranger who was stationed there, and he laughed and told us that they brought in a fox to keep the geese away, but after a while he gave up and left……the geese won. The parable of the fox and the geese and their adversarial relationship is an old one, even older than the fox in the hen-house I think, and it has inspired centuries of illustrations, decorative objects, and games, all featuring the hunter and the hunted or the geese somehow outfoxing the fox; in either case, the two parties are inevitably intertwined, in one way or another.

Fox and Geese Harley BL

Fox and geese

British Library MS Harley 4751, English Bestiary, 1230-40; Fox and Geese in the Tudor Pattern Book, Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 1504, 1520-30.

It looks like the fox is winning in these two pre-modern images, and he definitely has the upper hand in most representations of the relationship, at least until the creation of a succession of satirical views from the later eighteenth century onwards.

Fox Goose and Gander

Fox and Geese BM

Johann Heinrich Tischbein, A Goose and a Gander Honking in Alarm as Foxes Approach, mid-18th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Goose Lost (a caricature of British politician Charles James Fox), published by J. Barrow, 1784, British Museum.

Porcelain and pottery with fox-and-goose motifs were also produced around this time, including rather elaborate pieces for extensive table services and the popular ABC and proverbial plates for children. Talk about intertwined: look at the gravy (sauce) boat below!


Fox and Goose Gravy Boat

Fox Plate V and A

Fox and Goose plate Cooper Hewitt

Fox and Goose plate detail

Meissen Porcelain Cup and Saucer, c. 1760, Sterling and Francine Clark Institute; AMAZING Staffordshire Fox and Goose Sauce Boat, c. 1780-1790, and Transferware Plate, 1790, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Creamware Fox and Goose ABC Plate by Elsmore & Son, England, late nineteenth century.

Children’s books published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whether fables, nursery rhymes, or bedtime stories, feature a variety of illustrations of foxes and geese, generally on friendlier, or at least less predatory, terms. And then there were the fox-and-goose games of strategic pursuit, played on a board, in the parlor or even outside, which date back to the seventeenth century at the very least. Textile designs in the past and present  feature fox and geese continuously, in abstracted patterns for quilting and knitting, and more literal prints for fabrics and wallpapers.

Fox and Geese Game 1883


Fox Fabric

Fox and Geese board game, Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1993, Smithsonian Institution, and pieces from a modern version of the game; Westfalenstoffe fox and geese fabric.

My favorite images of these two natural enemies are a bit more basic and elemental, in line with the medieval and Tudor images above. The realistic, rather than romantic relationship was captured completely by John James Audubon in the nineteenth century and The National Geographic more recently: these are elemental and eternal images.



John James Audubon, Fox and Goose, c. 1835, Butler Art; An arctic fox and a snow goose face off in Sergy Gorshkov’s photograph for National Geographic,

Views, but no Rooms

Yesterday, a perfectly sparkling September Sunday, we hiked around the Coolidge Reservation in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, encompassing 66 acres on the Atlantic on a point that looks back (south, west) on both Salem and Boston, and Cape Cod beyond. Owned, operated, and opened to the public by the venerable Trustees of Reservations, the reservation encompasses two parcels of land:  Bungalow Hill, offering woodland and vista, and the expanse of “Ocean Lawn” on Coolidge Point, where the Coolidge family’s grand mansion once stood, facing the sea. In between there is Clarke Pond, once stagnant but now re-opened to the sea (and stocked with mosquito-eating fish called mummichog–why don’t we have them in every body of water?) by the Trustees.

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From the pond it is an easy walk to the point, which was acquired by Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, the great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson, in 1871 for the site of a summer residence. His son replaced the first Coolidge summer house, apparently a simple clapboard structure, with a “Marble Palace”, designed by Charles McKim and completed in 1904. Not to be confused with the Vanderbilt’s Marble House in Newport (much less the Marble Palace in St. Petersburg), Marble Palace was a brick Georgian structure embellished with marble foundation and columns–it was visited by such luminaries as Presidents Taft, Roosevelt (Teddy), and Wilson and Prince Olav of Norway, but replaced (again) by a smaller building after World War II. This house was torn down in the late 1980s, leaving Ocean Lawn free of human constructions (except for an old fire hydrant): the Coolidge Family donated the property to the Trustees in the early 1990s, though at least one member lives nearby and the family’s presence is also maintained by the adjacent Thomas Jefferson Memorial Center.

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Marble Palace

Marble Palace entrance

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Ocean Lawn, Coolidge Point, with only the surviving fire hydrant and an outline of the Marble Palace foundation. The front (seaside) and back entrance of Marble Palace, remains on the rocks, the view of Kettle Island, the modern house next door, looking north (east), the view to the south (west).

Eleven Lost Days

When people in Salem, and any other British territory around the world, went to bed last night in 1752 it was September 2, but when they woke up this morning it was September 14: they “lost” eleven days as Great Britain and its colonies made the big switch from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar, at long last.  The latter was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 in the midst of the religious conflict that followed in the wake of the Reformation; Queen Elizabeth had been excommunicated and declared a heretic by his predecessor:  there was no way her Godly country would accept such a papal imposition. While other Protestant countries accepted the new calendar within decades, Britain held out for nearly two centuries.

Gregorian Calendar Gregory

Gregorian Calendar Eliz

Engraving of  Pop Gregory XIII after Bartolomeo Passarotti, 1572, and print by Pieter van der Heyden of Queen Elizabeth as Diana, judging Pope Gregory  as Calisto, c. 1584, British Museum, London.

Religious fervor had subsided considerably by the eighteenth century, if not before. The conduct of both international and Great British commerce made the “Old Style” calendar inconvenient, and so Parliament passed the Calendar Act of 1750, commencing two years of transition to the “New Style” calendar: the year 1751 commenced on 25 March, the Julian New Year, and ran until 31 December, while 1752 began on January I, but sliced off the eleven September days to align the British calendar with that of the Continent. Two short years, and then the British Empire was part of the uniform calendar world.  Despite the placement of a “given us our eleven days” placard in Hogarth’s Election Entertainment (1755) there does not seem to have been much resistance in Britain, and even less over here as gazetteers carefully explained the big change. Nathaniel Ames, author of An Astronomical Diary; or Almanack for the Year of our Lord Christ, 1752  devoted his last few pages to explaining that the “striking off the Eleven Days between the 2d and 14th of September, A.D. 1752 was effected “to produce an Uniformity in the Computation of Time throughout the christian Part of the World…”, and the Boston Gazette, the Virginia Almanack, and Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack included explanations and references to the Act of Parliament that had, quite literally, cut their time short.

Virginia Almanack 1752

Poor Richard's Almanack 1752 cover

Kate Greenaway 1888

Virginia Almanack page for September 1752 and 1752 cover of Poor Richard’s Almanack, Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia; The modern calendar: Kate Greenaway’s almanac page for 1888–and 2013, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Edith & Jane, and Penguins

I have never been a good sleeper, but over this past summer I developed a very regular sleeping pattern:  I wake up exactly at 4:00 every morning. If only I was a farmer–or worked for the Today show! After a few weeks of tossing and turning, I now get up and do something–generally read or write–so not to wake my soundly-sleeping husband. I’ve been reading Edith Wharton all summer, so her characters are often the last thing I’m thinking about when I fall asleep. When I wake up at 4:00 (and believe me, it is always precisely at 4), I generally go upstairs to my study, which is lined with academic books that seem far too intimidating for that early in the morning–and Jane Austen. So I pick up Jane, and read for a couple of hours. And then I fall asleep for a half-hour or so, and wake up with “memories” of odd Wharton-Austen mash-ups:  Lily Bart from The House of Mirth is navigating Regency society rather than that of New York; Anne Elliot from Persuasion is sitting quietly in a Gilded Era drawing room rather than back in Bath. I’m all confused when I wake up.

PicMonkey Collage

Jane Austen (1775-1817) and Edith Jones Wharton (1862-1937).

Now I’m sure that I’m not the first person to draw comparisons between these two iconic authors, who captured their relatively rarefied worlds a century apart. They both write about women, women who face social, economic, and cultural constraints. Jane’s women face different constraints than Edith’s, but the latter’s more modern characters seem to be living in a darker world, without much help, from either their creator or their fellow characters. I think that’s why I’m engaging in these subconscious mash-ups:  I want to rescue Edith’s young women by transporting them back to Austenland, where Jane will take care of them. Lily Bart and Summer‘s Charity Royall are certainly not as nice, and consequently deserving, as Elizabeth Bennet and Elinor Dashwood, but they have no family, no hope, and no future in Wharton’s script. Jane would do better by them, I think. I have no idea why I would transpose Austen characters to turn-of-the-century New York:  they would not do well there.

Apart from this brief foray into lit crit and armchair psychology, this post provides yet another opportunity to showcase my absolutely favorite books, as nearly all of my Austen volumes are Penguin Clothbound Classics with covers designed by Coralie BickfordSmith. And now I find that there are companion Wharton volumes in Penguin’s relaunched English Library line of more affordable paperbacks, also with Bickford-Smith covers. I just love the whole idea of book design in this digital age.

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PicMonkey Collage

PicMonkey Collage

Some Penguin Wharton Covers, and the Penguin 150th anniversary volume, Three Novels of New York, with cover design by Richard Gray.

Edith House of Mirth Penguin English Library

Edith Wharton Ethan Frome Penguin

Edith and Jane

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