Monthly Archives: August 2015

Antique Automobiles Assembled (in August)

From my perspective, early August is not only for Americana but also antique automobiles, or perhaps they are the same thing. What started out as a small neighborhood event–a meeting of vintage automobiles on Chestnut Street sponsored by Historic New England’s Phillips House, accompanied by a makeshift lemonade stand organized by local children–has grown to a large assemblage of both cars and people. This year, there were 80 cars on the street with quite a crowd of onlookers and the added attractions of music, cannolis, and a Volkswagen van transformed into a photo booth. I think pretty much every decade of the twentieth century was represented by the cars–or at least the middle part thereof. Lots of Belairs, several wagons of varying vintage. There was a Lamborghini parked on the opposite side of the street which offered some pretty stiff competition, but the largest crowd of the afternoon was definitely in the proximity of the bright red Heinkel. It was nice, but no match for my “chrome crush” of last year, a BMW Isetta 600 Limo. The Heinkel was perhaps the primary representative of a group of classy foreign cars, mostly convertibles, which were surrounded by much bigger American cars. Even though it was not a car for purists (its owner had replaced the original seats with slightly more plush ones as he likes to drive his car) I really liked the 1960s Datsun convertible, and I learned quite a lot about its history.

Autos 040

Autos 056

Autos 082

Autos 083

Autos 147

Autos 110

Autos 041

Autos 094

Autos 047

Autos 071

Autos 155

Autos 152

Autos 140

Autos 038


An Abandoned House in Essex

Brakes literally screeched, disturbing a quiet neighborhood, as I spotted a beautiful abandoned house in Essex yesterday. I was on my way from Ipswich to Beverly to home on a rather circuitous route, and then I spotted this stately house on Western Avenue: striking in both its elegance and abandonment. Neighbors looked warily on as I took some pictures, and then I hopped back in the car and drove home so I could research the house, forgetting all about my Beverly errand. Here it is.

Abandoned House Essex

Abandoned House Essex 2

Abandoned House Essex 3

Barr Farm Essex 1979

The Col. Andrews House (Barr Farm) yesterday and in 1979.

We are fortunate in Massachusetts to have MACRIS, a digital database of inventories of historical properties undertaken for the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and I quickly found the Essex house, which was identified as the Colonel Andrews House, built in 1806 and better known as the “Barr Farm”. Besides the decaying elegance, that’s what caught my attention: this is no country Colonial but a pristine Federal farmhouse. The inventory, which dates from 1979, is largely based on an interview with the 99-year-old Mrs. John Barr, who had lived in the house nearly her entire life and still lived there at that time. She notes that it had always been a farm (I didn’t even notice outbuildings–I only had eyes for the house) up until the death of her husband 40 years previously, and then it became “inactive”. And so it remains–or does it? That chimney looks rather rebuilt to me, and the surrounding lawn is mowed……

Abandoned House Essex 5

Abandoned House Essex 4

Abandoned House Essex last


Melting Pot(tery)

I think I’m the last person on the internet to discover the work of London-based Chilean artist Livia Marin, but I don’t care: I must feature these examples of melting ceramics (in the classic Willow pattern) because they are just so cool. We have a healthy tea culture here in Salem, and I can just picture a tea party with whole pieces on my dining room table and a display of these pieces on the mantle. According to the statement on her website, Marin “employs everyday objects to inquire into the nature of how we relate to material objects in an era dominated by standardization and global circulation” in order to “offer a reflection on the relationship we develop with those often unseen objects that meet our daily needs”: a much more thoughtful approach to my own preoccupation with the art (and history of course) of the everyday. I suppose I could come up with a long essay on how these objects are emblematic of the China Trade and all the myriad consequences of European imperialism, but really, I just like the way they look.

Melting China Livia Martin

Melting-china

Collection-by-Livia-Marin

Liquid-patternsVase-gone-liquid

via Livia Marin.


The Puffy Sleeve Artist

Every August features an Americana focus in the antiques world, and auctions and shows present their best items made in America. I made a shopping list while browsing through next week’s Americana auction at Skinner: rainbow spatterware, a nineteenth-century wooden bucket with “good girl” painted on it, cherry card tables, and an amazing schoolgirl map of the world. I don’t need any of these things but a girl can dream! There are some great silhouettes in this auction as well, including several by the “Puffy Sleeve Artist”, an anonymous favorite of collectors. I was rather surprised by the low estimate placed on this lady with the blue dress: $600-$800. Two years ago, another silhouette by the same artist fetched $6600 in a Skinner Auction, and another Puffy Sleeve Artist creation sold for $8750 at a Christie’s auction in 2012.

Puffy Sleeve Artist Skinner Americana Auction

Puffy Sleeve Artist Skinner 2013

Puffy Sleeve Artist Christies 2012 Auction

 Two silhouettes by the “Puffy Sleeve Artist” at Skinner Auctions:  a necklaced lady in a blue dress (upcoming here) and Henrietta Wakefield Wearing a Red Gown and Holding a Fan, both c. 1830-31; another red-gowned Puffy Sleeve silhouette of the same vintage, Christies.

Well, as you can see, it’s pretty easy to tell that these silhouettes were made by the same artist, even for a laywoman such as I (although this last lady looks a bit full-blown). It seems odd that we can’t identify the artist by more than his (or her) most distinctive motif: whoever it was was quite prolific and 1830 wasn’t that long ago (in historical perspective). Donna-Belle Garvin of the New Hampshire Historical Society has made a case for John Hosley Whitcomb (1806-49) a deaf-mute artist from Hancock, New Hampshire (“Family Reunited:  A Tale of Two Auctions,” New Hampshire Historical Society Newsletter Volume 29, Spring 1991), and the attributed artist of a pair of attributed hollow-cut silhouettes of gentlemen sold just a few days ago in a Willis Henry auction. If the “Puffy Sleeve Artist” was indeed Whitcomb, he appears to have exercised a more restrained style with his gentlemen: the ladies look a bit more distinctive, whimsical, and even modern in their abstraction. Whoever he or she was, my favorite examples of the Puffy Sleeve Artist’s work are those examples in which these women are holding books, identifying them by both age and initials, and something other than their puffy sleeves.

Puffy Sleeve Artist Wh

Puffy Sleeve Artist Pink

Puffy Sleeve Artist Christies Auction 2007

Puffy Sleeve Artist Northeast Auctions

A John Hosley Whitcomb silhouette and “Puffy Sleeve Artist” silhouette from last weekend’s Willis Henry auction; Puffy Sleeve Artist silhouettes dated 1831 and 1830 from Christies and Northeast Auctions.

Appendix 8/5/15:  Silhouette expert Peggy McClard (her extremely informative website is here) has informed me that the lady in pink above is not by the Puffy Sleeve Artist, and also that he has recently been identified as the western Massachusetts “profile cutter” Ezra Wood by Michael and Suzanne Payne (see the Magazine Antiques, July/August 2014).


Spider Web Windows

Sitting on the huge back porch of my parents’ house in York Harbor the other day, I became fixated on the spider web design of the windows of the house next door. This house (unfortunately) blocks quite a bit of our view of the ocean, but is (fortunately) a magnificent creation: large and white and gleaming, with lots of architectural details. It has the appearance of a Colonial Revival house and I know it was built after our Shingle “cottage”, so the dates fit–but the spider web windows do not: they look a little whimsical for this classically-constrained house. I’ve been looking at these web windows my whole life but never really considered them before. Years ago my mother transformed a small window in the front of our house into a stained-glass mosaic in the design of a web; I doubt she was inspired by the web windows in front as a veritable forest existed between that house and ours at that time.

Spider Web Windows 4

Spider Web Windows York

Spider Web Windows 3

Apparently the spider web was a prominent design motif of the Arts and Crafts movement, along with the dragonfly, the firefly and the crane, all indicating the influence of Japanese visual culture in the later Victorian era on both sides of the Atlantic. Just a few minutes of web research brought me to the spider web windows in the famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, and more interestingly (to me) to the work of Chicago-era architect R. Harold Zook (1889-1949), who incorporated spider webs motifs in all of his houses and even as his trademark. I had never heard of Zook before: wow!  And just to illustrate how ageless and universal the spider web window can be I’ve included a charming little pane from the Zouche Chapel at York Minster, dating from the late medieval era and encased in a chapel panel in the sixteenth century.

Spider Web Windows Winchester Mystery House

Spider Web Window Zook House

Spider Web Window

Spider Web Zouche Chapel York Minster 16th century

A great site for R. Harold Zooks Houses, both lost and surviving.


%d bloggers like this: