What are you wearing on New Year’s Eve? I’m still dealing with this bum leg, so it will likely be sweatpants for me, unfortunately, but I have to say that some version of “domestic attire” has been the norm for the last decade or so. I had much more festive New Year’s Eves when I was younger, but family celebrations at home seem to be the rule for now. I remember spending New Year’s in Rome when I was 20, dancing in some sort of tunnel wearing a dress I had just bought in Florence! There were lots of fancy country club/hotel parties later, but frankly those can be a boring. I don’t really need a fancy party, but I would like to be a bit better dressed. I did manage to hobble around Hamilton Hall at the annual Christmas Dance a few weeks ago in a drop-waisted sequin dress, so I already had that silhouette on my mind, but I decided to browse through some digital fashion collections to see what women might have been wearing a century ago as they ushered in the New Year—-the year they would become fully enfranchised citizens here in the US.
Fashion plate from La Moda Elegante Ilustrada, December 6, 1919, Fashion Institute of Technology; Georges Barbier’s “les belles Sauvagesses de 1920” from Le BonheurduJour, ou, LesGracesàlaMode, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Vogue covers and sketches from December 1919.
To my untrained eye, it looks like the “1920s silhouette” emerges immediately with 1920! Or maybe that’s just what I was looking for—and these lovely Lanvin dresses from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art seem almost timeless. For more on the House of Lanvin’s long run, check out this cool online presentation. I think most people have heard of Lanvin, but what about Clara Becht and Jacqueline Kasselman, the designers of some very stylish evening ensembles in the collection of the Cincinnati Museum of Art? I certainly hadn’t. With a very dynamic fashion periodical press in these days, I imagine that the practice of knocking off was already prevalent, so midwestern ladies could have “French” frocks for their big nights out. Whatever the source or inspiration for their evening dresses, women in 1920 did not confine themselves to the palette I am featuring here (for some reason): various shades of green and blue seem to have been popular, and there were also pops of universally-festive red. Happy New Year! I’ll see you on the other side.
House of Lanvin evening dresses, 1920, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Lanvin advertisement in the Gazette du Bon Ton, fall, 1920; Dresses by Clara Becht and (2) Jacqueline Kasselman at the Cincinnati Museum of Art; Fashion plates of gowns by Jeanne Paquin and Madeleine Wallis with an American silk-satin dress from an unknown designer, Victoria and Albert Museum. Yet another “Robe du soir”, from the Gazette du Bon Ton, 1920.
For the past couple of years, our family has split our Christmas holiday between Boston and Salem: we all want to be home for the holidays but also at the Copley Plaza! My husband and I started a Christmas Eve tradition at the Oak Room tradition a few years ago and now it has expanded to include spending the night at the hotel and attending the Christmas Eve service at Trinity Church in Copley Square. I’m not sure we’ll do this forever—it is a bit indulgent, but it’s been perfect over the last couple of years. I’m still struggling with the sciatica after-effects of my hamstring strain from nearly a month ago, so there was no twilight long walk across the Common and over Beacon Hill for me, but I still managed to eat, drink, and be merry within the gilded confines of the hotel, and then on Christmas morning we returned to Salem for presents and dinner.
Christmas Eve in Copley Square:
Christmas in Salem: including my beautiful presents—-a pair of elephant planters with a lovely turquoise glaze from my husband, and an antique feather painting from my parents. Apparently the latter has been hanging around our family house forever, but I never noticed it, and it has been restored to reveal some really stunning artistry. I’m obsessed so prepare for more feathers! As you can see, bears are this year’s animal theme: I have absolutely no subtlety in my Christmas decorating (or any decorating really) so these are just a few on display. I’m hoping everyone had a wonderful Christmas, and am really looking forward to the New Year.
The twentieth-century American artist Walter Ernest Tittle (1883-1966) was sought after on both sides of the Atlantic for his etchings, illustrations, and contemporary portraits. Among his diverse works are magazine covers, presidential portraits, and a whole series of drypoint “international dignatories” rendered in the 1920s, but also two slim volumes—advertised as “gift books”— in which he merged both original and historical texts and images to create a “lost” world of colonial holidays: The First Nantucket Tea Party (1907) and Colonial Holidays (1910).
These books are gorgeous, even though the images inside are a bit…….overwrought. I’m willing to leaf past some of the colorful colonial “belles” just so I can see Tittle’s fonts and illuminations: everything works together. As its subtitle reveals, Colonial Holidays is a compilation of historical references to Christmas and other holidays, embedded in Tittle’s gilded pages. He wishes the Puritans were more joyous in their celebrations, but “time brings change” and William Pynchon’s diary reveals some holiday merrymaking in Salem during the Revolutionary War. The new Assembly Room seems to have been very busy during the extended Christmas season with concerts and dances; “the elders shake their heads with, What are we coming to?” And so many sleds in the streets of Salem!
Tory that he is, Pynchon is not interested in George Washington’s Christmas, but patriot that he is, Tittle shows us Mount Vernon at Christmas—-no Valley Forge for his illuminated pages, but rather Christmas with the President and Mrs. Washington in 1795 and another reference to 1799–though Washington would have just died so certainly that was no festive occasion. The First Nantucket Tea Party does not have a Christmas setting perse but is also all about Colonial festivity, on the particular occasion of the return of Captain Nathaniel Starbuck Jr. from his “late long” voyage to China supplied with a chest of Chinese tea. Everyone is very excited about the tea, but for me it’s all about the amazing font used throughout the text. Merry Christmas!
We have certainly come a long way from the despair of Christmas 2017, when we were reeling from the announcement that the vast collections of the Phillips Library, constituting Salem’s primary historical archive, were to be moved permanently to an industrial Collection Center forty minutes away. So much for “historic” Salem! But this Christmas, we have a new Peabody Essex Museum, with a new Director, a new Head Librarian for the Phillips, a new wing, and a new attitude. The local is not necessarily the parochial under this new regime, and we’re starting to see the return of Salem items to the place of their original “deposit”, commencing with the anchor restored to the front of East India Hall. I don’t know what is going to happen to the Phillips Library in terms of its location: I still hope feverishly for its return, as I think that will be best for both the Library itself and for Salem, but its original buildings are still under renovation and sufficient storage space for its extensive collections has yet to be located nearby. In the meantime, I want it to flourish as an institution, and I think one of key ways for that to happen is the resumption of the publishing program of its predecessors, which broadcast the strength of their collections and disseminated local and maritime history to generations of scholars and buffs in the forms of the long-running Historical Collections of the Essex Institute (1859-1993) and the American Neptune of the Peabody Museum of Salem (1941-2002).
Both the Historical Collections and the American Neptune are available at the Internet Archive thankfully, as they are treasure troves!
I’m grateful for these two periodicals, but I think their time is over: we have sufficient ways to disseminate scholarship now, but sources are a different matter. That’s why I think the Phillips Library should publish annotated versions of its more notable historical sources, and I would commence these publications with one of the more accessible and personal genres—diaries—of which the Phillips has an impressive collection. One of the most important sources for Salem’s history “got away”: the multi-volume, highly-detailed, excessively readable journal of the Reverend William Bentley of the East Church from 1784 to 1819 was left to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester along with half of the volumes in his impressive library and other papers. The gentlemen of Salem were blindsided (I’m not sure why as apparently Bentley had always planned on leaving his diary and library to Harvard but they didn’t grant him his promised honorary degree until too late) and very quickly established the Essex Historical Society (one of the foundations of the Essex Institute) with a “cabinet” restricted to Salem. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was the Essex Institute which took the initiative to publish the Bentley Diary, and Salem historians have benefited from that decision ever since. It’s an invaluable source and a rabbit hole at the same time, encompassing political, social, and weather events, births, deaths, and marriages, long walks with attendant observations, philosophy and theology, shipping news, and a fair amount of gossip.
A page from the original Bentley Diary at the American Antiquarian Society, @AAS.
Thomas G. Knoles, the former Librarian and Curator of Manuscripts at the AAS, is working on an updated and expanded version of the Bentley Diary, in collaboration with the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. This promises to be an even more invaluable resource, and it struck me that the Phillips Library could publish new editions of some key Salem diaries, with additional materials culled from current scholarship and its own collections: The Diary of William Pynchon, a prominent Loyalist stuck in Salem during the Revolutionary War, immediately comes to mind, as does The Diaries of Benjamin Lynde and Benjamin Lynde Jr. which were also published in the later nineteenth century. The Phillips also has diaries which have never seen the light of print and could be offered up in lovely annotated editions which I have no doubt would find a large readership: travel diaries, war diaries, “Sunday diaries” (primarily religious and not likely to be as popular as the previous two examples), work diaries, and those that simply chart daily life. I’d love to see the diary of Salem barber Benjamin Blanchard (DIA 22), maintained over the first two decades of the nineteenth century, referred to by contemporaries as the “famous record” in which Blanchard’s patrons made entries while awaiting their time in his chair”. William Wetmore’s diary (DIA 232) covers the period just before: string them together and you essentially have a variant Bentley. I’d like to read the Civil War diary of William P. Shreve (DIA 171), who served with Company H, 2nd Regiment, U.S. Sharpshooters, as well as the 3rd, 10th, and 25th Army Corps from 1861-64 or the Charles W. Brooks’ account (DIA 26) of his experiences with the 23rd Regiment. There are several illustrated artist’s diaries among the Phillips collections, including that of Harriet Francis Osborne (DIA 290), featuring her Salem etchings. There are also several diaries dealing with China: written by men and women, from the perspectives of trade, missionary work, or simply travel: I think Mary Elizabeth Andrews’ experience of the Boxer Rebellion (DIA 6) would be particularly resonant in an annotated edition—-or perhaps as just one western view in a composite volume. I find myself torn between other possible projects (which of course are being worked out only in my head!): an updated version of the Essex Institute’s Holyoke Diaries, introduced and annotated by George Francis Dow in 1911, seems overwhelming but a brand new volume of women’s private and public lives over the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries comprised from a series of individual diaries by Salem and Essex County women looks manageable. And nothing illustrates change better than personal experience.
The “current” editions of the Pynchon (1890) and Lynde (1880) Diaries; William Price Shreve (photo courtesy Brian White); Chestnut Street etching by Harriet Francis Osborne; Dr. Holyoke’s house on Essex Street from The Holyoke Diaries (1911)—-demolished in 1895 for the construction of the Naumkeag Block.
I was researching the major tea importers and purveyors in Salem in light of the upcoming anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, but another commodity kept popping up in the sources: turkey figs. I didn’t look at any customs records, but newspaper adverts both before and after the Revolution provide evidence of large imports of Turkey figs in Salem, and presumably a corresponding demand. I’m wondering if this is a by-product of what we now know was a very vibrant trade in fish and wine between Salem and the Iberian peninsula? It’s clear that figs were used for both medicinal and culinary purposes, although some purveyors favored one utility over the other. The very entrepreneurial apothecary Philip Godfrid Kast, for example, who had prosperous businesses in Boston, Salem, and Haverhill, clearly marketed them as a medicine in the 1770s and 1780s (though it also looks like he is providing Salem cooks with many of the ingredients for a Christmas “figgy pudding”). This was nothing new to me—I’ve spent the last year reading early modern medical manuals for the book I’m working on and figs are always listed as one of the few “useful” fruits by Elizabethan authors—and the prescription of figs for various cough syrups and digestive tonics continued into the twentieth century. I presume New Englanders were eating lots of figs too but I can’t find any recipes in the early American cookbooks, and apparently Thomas Jefferson brought back a cutting of this particular variety, now called Brown Turkey Figs, only when he returned from Paris in 1789.
Philip Godfrid Kast’s advertisements for Turkey figs in the 1770s and his 1774 trade card, American Antiquarian Society; Figs for sale in Salem, 1804-1829.
Not only do I not know what is happening to all those cases of figs being sold in Salem in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; figs are also difficult to identify as a culinary commodity in English cooking before the twentieth century. The classic “figgy pudding” seldom has any figs in it as the word was just a synonym for “plum”, denoting any dried fruit. Figgy pudding originated as a steamed savory potage and evolved into its sweeter, more Dickensian ideal over the early modern era and into the nineteenth century. Of course the Victorians invented Christmas as we know it, and the recipe for figgy pudding of Queen Victoria’s own chef, Charles Francatelli, contains no figs at all. In America, fig cultivation seems to have become centered on the South and California (particularly the valley surrounding Fresno) and so growers marketed a variety of fig recipes, encompassing everything from ices to jams to whips to “pickles”, and the use of figs in syrups for coughs and constipation continued into the twentieth century.
This passing year has been one of little ailments; I actually feel grateful they were not BIG ailments. I strained my right hamstring early last week and have been laid out ever since, meaning that I missed one of my very favorite Salem events: the Christmas in Salem house tour of this past weekend, the major fundraising event for Historic Salem, Incorporated. I was just too shaky and sore to go for it; I’m still a little shaky and sore. It was beautiful bright weather and several of the houses on the tour I had not seen before, so this was a real missed opportunity and I was downcast all weekend. I sent out my husband, and friends sent pictures, so I really have enough for a post but they’re not my pictures so they don’t feel like my story. Nevertheless, they are really spectacular, so I think I’ll feature them in a bit–along with my own decorations when I can get to them–but for right now I just don’t feel that merry and bright so I’m going to feature some stark winter white. As my world was confined to my laptop for several days, I discovered some new and new-to-me artists who conjured up images of winter house which more suited my mood. I was inspired by one of my favorite houses up in my hometown of York, Maine: it always looks a little lonely, and that’s how I felt this past weekend.
The winter houses of artist, illustrator, and photographer Deb Garlick immediately captured my mood this past weekend: the first two are acrylics, but you can order the last as a print, along with other images, on her website. I find her work both elegant and accessible: she has some adorable “mini-portraits”, and, as befitting her name, also works in food photography and illustration!
The Old Farmhouse; The Edge of the Lake; This Old House.
Then I went for a touch more color in the watercolor washes of Kate Evans: her red barn was about as much red as I could handle this past weekend! She has beautiful forests and structures, highlighted in stark relief against all that negative space/snow.
Red Barn and Woodcutter’s Cabin.
Winter landscapes can be very romantic, of course, but those views were not what I was looking for this past weekend: no horse-drawn sleighs, skating rinks, or cozy cottages. I didn’t want snow that looked even slightly fluffy. This eliminated artwork from much of the nineteenth century in my curation quest but things got bleaker in the twentieth, of course. I really enjoyed discovering the work of the Belgian landscape artist Valerius de Saedeleer (1867-1942) whose works looks inspired by both the Northern Renaissance and twentieth-century realism at the same time. The “gloaming” of de Saedeleer’s second painting below is also evident in one of Edward Munch’s winter landscapes at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Whenever I indulge in Munch, I get a bit depressed, and I was already pretty dour, so I turned tail and looked at some slightly sunnier views of winter houses among the works of Swiss artist Cuno Amiet (1868-1961)—-got to get some yellow in here and I aspire to sled!
View of Tiegem in Winter, c. 1935, Christie’s; Winter Landscape, c. 1920, Mutual Art; Edward Munch, Winter Landscape, c. 1898, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Cuno Amiet, Winter House.
I generally post a book list around this time of year: my favorite books of the past year, books I want for Christmas, books I’m reading or assigning for my spring courses, books I want to read over the holiday break. This list is all of that except for the first category: I haven’t read much this past year because I’ve been working so hard—writing myself, teaching, and reading to teach—and so I really can’t play favorites. This was not a leisurely year and there is very little fiction on this list, and even very little history unrelated to my teaching: very little American history in particular.To a certain extent, this blog has been an exercise in discovering the American history which I avoided from high school: I’ve learned a lot but now I’m kind of done—it seems a bit repetitive to me. Other worlds call, and new books in my own fields are piling up! I’ll never be done with the histories of architecture (structure and landscape) and material culture though—and folklore, though nothing of that genre caught my eye this year. So proceeding in chronological order, here are the books which did.
These books are all for my courses and an endless writing project which I hope to bring to fruition in the coming year. Simon de Montfort is one of those guys like Sir Philip Sidney: a glamorous representative of his age, in this case the thirteenth century, who has a very dramatic story which students love and which can also represent the best (anti-absolutism) and worst (antisemitism) of the time. I’ve read everything about de Montfort, and this book, by University of Lancaster Lecturer Sophie Thérèse Ambler, is very good, full of details and analysis which will enhance my teaching. I will be reading Renaissance Futurities and Gardens for Gloriana for pleasure and for context for own work over the break, and I am considering Walter Ralegh and Elizabethan Globalism for sections and courses on European expansion in the early modern era, although the latter is also an absolutely gorgeous book that could double as a more casual coffee-table text. Climate history is absolutely essential right now, as as the periods I teach encompass both the “Medieval Warm Period” and the “Little Ice Age” I’m always on the hunt for fresh environmental perspectives: Nature’s Mutiny is a potential adoption for several of my courses but I have to read it over the break to gauge its accessibility.
These are all books I WANT or want to read: I think Inventing Boston would inform my understanding of Salem craftsmanship in the same key era, Mark Girouard’s classic Life in the English Country House has been reissued in a stunning edition by the Folio Society this year with photographs from Country Life and a binding illustration by architectural artist John Pumfrey, and I collect Penguin clothbound editions by Coralie Bickford-Smith. I’m not sure I buy into Orlando Figes’ themes of European unity and modernity in the nineteenth century, but that is an era with which I need to engage, again. I’ve always been fascinated with Frank Lloyd Wright’s professional and personal life, and who doesn’t want to read about English Country House parties? Oh, and in addition to Sandition, I did want to read one other novel this year if only for the local reference in its title, but no, I cannot read Lucy Ellman’s 1000-page Ducks, Newburyport at this particular time: I just don’t have the ability (or the time) to dwell on a strung-out sentence of rambling thoughts, as experimental and interesting as it/ they may be. Maybe next year, or the year after.