I have a little gallery wall of Salem images I’ve collected over the years in my downstairs hall, mostly prints, but a few photographs–among them a faded hand-tinted image of an ethereally-dressed woman descending the steps of the Andrew Safford house which I long-presumed was by Wallace Nutting. It has all the Nutting touches: the hand-coloring, the colonial-esque setting, the dreamlike character, and of course there are thousands of Nuttings out there, maybe more. But when I actually took it off the wall the other day to see the signature, the attribution was to “Florence Thompson” rather than Nutting: Florence Thompson of Salem, a “Nutting-like” photographer of the early twentieth century. It didn’t take long to find more Florence Thompsons in auction listings, particularly those of the Nutting and “Nutting-like” expert Michael Ivankovich, but I haven’t been able to flesh out her life here in Salem or any of the details of her background or business. There were so many women entrepreneurs in this little city at this time–and then there was Frank Cousins, who must have shared her Colonial Revival leanings if not her predilection for fanciful settings. I wonder if she learned her craft from the master, and was one of the many women who worked for Nutting at his Framingham studio. I wonder where she produced her works—and where she sold them. I’ve got a lot of questions about Florence Thompson, but for now, just a few examples of her Nutting-like work from the 1910s and 1920s: more evidence of the seemingly-insatiable demand for calm and crafted antiquarian images in an age of dynamic change. When I look at these “compositions”, I can’t help but think how radically our artistic sensibilities have changed over a relatively short amount of time, a mere century.
My Florence Thompson print, “The Safford Door” (which looks very similar to the popular Nutting print, “The Sea Captain’s Daughter”, which you can see here); “The Clarks’ Door”, 1911, Etsy seller Bittersweet 13; (same model? Maybe Thompson just moved her from door to door); “The Cushing Door”; “Hillside Pasture”; “Annisquam”, all from Ivankovich Auctions, along with Wallace Nutting’s own “Salem Dignity”, a bit more dignified without the waif. Its title was based on the Alice Morse Earle quote: Salem houses present to you a serene and dignified front, gracious yet reserved, not thrusting forward their choicest treasures to the eyes of passing strangers; but behind the walls of the houses, enclosed from public view, lie cherished gardens, full of the beauty of life.