Category Archives: Art

Women on a Pedestal

Obviously statues have been in the news of late, so I thought I would tap into the national (and international) focus by looking at some of our country’s more notable monuments to women, either striving for the franchise or striving in general, for this week’s #salemsuffragesaturday post. It doesn’t matter what your political inclination is, everyone seems to agree that there are not enough statues of women anywhere and everywhere, and corrective measures are being taken, along with initiatives associated with this Suffrage Centennial year. The husband and wife team who constitute Statues for Equality have established that statues of women represent less than 10% of public monuments in several American cities, and far less in most. In Salem we have only one statue to a woman: Samantha Stevens from Bewitched, situated in our city’s most historic square. She never accomplished anything (because she never actually existed) and her prominent situation and whimsical depiction mocks the real victims of the 1692 trials who were falsely branded “witches”, but nonetheless she is deemed worthy of monumental representation in Witch City. There are so many more women (real women) that deserve to be put a pedestal in Salem—that’s what this year has been all about for me.

pixlrSamantha is currently wearing an ensemble by local artist Jacob Belair, which I think is lovely on its own but also because it covers part of her up! I wish it extended to her unfortunate pedestal. I’m not in Salem now, so I asked my stepson ©Allen Seger to take the photos of Samantha in crochet.

Let’s turn to some more serious representations. Ever since it’s installation 15 years or so ago, the Boston Women’s Memorial has been one of my favorite monuments: not only is it aesthetically pleasing and immediately engaging, but it represents a spectrum of women who shaped Boston’s history (as well as that of Massachusetts and the nation): Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley, and Lucy Stone. These women are not just on pedestals (actually they have come off their pedestals) but depicted by sculptor Meredith Bergmann in the process of thought and activity, with their words accompanying them. Monumental women are in large part, active women, the feminine counterpart of all those masculine equestrian statues.

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Screenshot_20200612-082234_ChromeThe Boston Women’s Memorial by Meredith Bergmann; photographs from her website.

Meredith Bergmann was also commissioned to create the most anticipated installation of this Suffrage Centennial Year: the Women’s Rights Pioneers Statue in Central Park in New York City, which will be unveiled on August 26, the date on which the ratification of the 19th Amendment was certified in 1920. This will be the park’s first statue honoring real women, and it also focuses on their activity: Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are gathered around a table, intently focused on drafting a document. The statue had a controversial conception in that Truth was originally excluded, but public discussion and debate resulted in a more inclusive—and representative—monument.

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Screenshot_20200612-082623_ChromeModel and Mock-up of the first and final monument to the Women’s Rights Pioneers by Sculptor Meredith Bergmann, to be unveiled in Central Park on August 26, 2020.

As the state which ultimately ratified the 19th Amendment in August of 1920, Tennessee takes its suffragist history very seriously and has produced two notable monuments to the women who worked so hard to make it happen (because it’s really not all about a wavering state senator is it?) There is the Tennessee Woman’s Suffrage Memorial (2006) in Knoxville, depicting Lizzie Crozier French, Anne Dallas Dudley, and Elizabeth Avery Meriwether, and the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument (2016) in Nashville’s Centennial Park, featuring Dudley along with Abby Crawford Milton, J. Frankie Pierce, Sue Shelton White and Carrie Chapman Catt. Even more recently, the Commonwealth of Virginia—always the site of so much statue furor—dramatically increased its commemorative depictions of accomplished women with its Virginia Women’s Monument: Voices from the Garden initiative, honoring the “full scope” of women’s achievements with twelve representative statues.

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Screenshot_20200612-072336_ChromeThe Knoxville and Nashville Suffrage statues—both by Tennessee sculptor Alan LeQuire—and the unveiling of seven statues of prominent Virginia women last fall: former Virginia First Lady Susan Allen points to a statue of Elizabeth Keckley, dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln, and suffragist Adele Clark among the crowds (Bob Brown/ Richmond Times-Dispatch).

I like the fact that so many of these monuments are collective, featuring women engaged with each other. Sometimes they are working, sometimes they are simply “conversing”—or meeting for the first time like one of the most famous Suffragist monuments, the “When (Susan B.) Anthony met (Elizabeth Cady) Stanton” statue in Seneca Falls, New York, portraying the moment when these two icons were introduced by Amelia Jenks Bloomer in 1851. My very favorite “conversation piece” is the lovely statue of two prominent Rochester, New York suffragists, Anthony and Frederick Douglass, having a cup of tea: I would love to have been a fly on the wall (or the bench) for that conversation!

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Screenshot_20200613-080112_ChromeThe Anthony-Stanton-Bloomer statue (1998) by Ted Aub in Seneca Falls; Ira Srole’s “Let’s Have Tea” (2009) in Rochester.

The most official Suffrage statue of all, Adelaide Johnson’s “Portrait” monument to Anthony, Stanton, and Lucretia Mott completed (and dedicated) in 1921, is also a collective representation but the women don’t seem particularly engaged with each other: it’s not my favorite statue but that doesn’t mean I think it should have been hidden away for most of the twentieth century! The “unfinished” appearance of the work also engulfs the women in their “pedestal” rather than placing them on it, but rumor has it that Johnson was making room for at least one more prominent woman—perhaps the first female president—to be carved out of that raw marble in the back at some point in time. Clearly not 2020.

Capitol StatueOffice of the Architect of the Capitol.


A Feminine Focus in the Garden

It wasn’t just Memorial Day: I feel like I’ve finally come to the end of a long string of obligations and am ready to focus on house, garden, reading, wandering about. We’re finally renovating our kitchen, so that will be a major focus for the next few months: I’ll do a “before” post next week, before nearly everything is torn out of that space, and then we’ll be able to celebrate the “after” later. The garden is looking good, although I fear it will turn into a construction zone. I do have a few last presentations—on Zoom of course–to give to several women’s organizations about the history of Salem women and the quest for suffrage. It is unfortunate, but certainly understandable, that that big anniversary is being overwhelmed by the pandemic, but I want to mark it in the best way I possibly can. As I was thinking about women’s history—and gardening at the same time—-I realized that a big part of garden history is women’s history, in all periods, as women are always charged with provisioning in one way or another throughout history. Certainly this was not an original thought, but it nevertheless led me down various trails, and I ended up spending a rather blissful Memorial Day (after I gave a speech!) looking though the photographs of women photographers over the last century or so. This is just one small aspect of the intersection of women’s history/garden history: I’m going to explore more this summer.

When I’m interested in something, I’m generally interested in something in the past, and then I bring it forward, but this exploration started with two contemporary garden photographers whose work I had been admiring online and in a book I just received:  the Luxembourg photographer Marianne Majerus and the American photographer Stacy Bass. The former is almost like a painter in the garden; likewise the latter is a master (mistress) of light.

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Garden Marianne Majerus Garden Images

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Stacy Bass Gate (3)Photographs ©Marianne Majerus Garden Images and ©Stacy Bass: much, much more @ Marianne Majerus Garden Images and Stacy Bass Photography.

Is there a tradition of women’s garden photography? I had to go back, following English and American lines (even though Majerus is from the Continent she was trained in England and seems to photograph a lot of English gardens!). Though not strictly a garden photographer, I explored the wonderful work of still-life photographer Tessa Traeger, and through Traeger’s portrait rediscovered the AMAZING Valerie Finnis, whom I identified primarily as the namesake of variant of artemisia before I dug a bit deeper: what an extraordinary plantswoman and photographer! Even though she was a serious botanist, gardening seems like such a social activity for Finnis: she like to photograph people in their gardens, and she was also very, very fashionable, like her subject below, Rhoda, Lady Birley. I’ve just ordered Ursula Buchan’s collection of Finnis’s photographs, Garden People, and I can’t wait to receive it.

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Tessa Traeger Valerie FinnisFinnis CollagePhotographs by Tessa Traeger, including her marvelous portrait of Valerie Finnis in 2000, National Portrait Gallery. Garden People includes this amazing Valerie Finnis portrait of Rhoda, Lady Birley.

The Smithsonian and Library of Congress have several archival collections of women photographers, including those who specialized, or at least ventured into, garden photography: I love the dreamy mid-century images of Molly (Maida Babson) Adams (1918-2003) who photographed gardens up and down the Eastern Seaboard over her 40+ year career. I did not identify the pioneering photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) with gardens before this little visual journey of mine, but they certainly constituted a sizable percentage of her impressive output.

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Johnston CollagePhotographs by Molly Adams of gardens in Maine and Massachusetts, and Frances Benjamin Johnston of gardens in Virginia, Long Island, and Rhode Island, Smithsonian Institution and Library of Congress. 

And I ended up with the charming photographs taken by another pioneering woman photographer, Etheldreda Laing (1872-1960), who experimented with the first color photography process—autochrome—by taking wonderful photographs of her daughters Janet and Iris at their home, Bury Knowle House in Oxford, over a succession of summers between 1908 and 1914: before-the-deluge images indeed! And also, I think, the female gaze.

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Garden Iris and Janet Laing c 1914The Laing daughters, Iris (younger) and Janet (older) in their mother’s photographs, 1908-14. More on autochromes here.


Ideal Illustrations: Men and their Houses

The combination of a leg injury and a lot of work demands kept me inside and inactive at the end of last year and the beginning of 2021, but now that I am healthy and home full-time, like everyone else in Corona-world, I have more time for short runs and long walks, observing respectful and mandatory distances of course: last week I was walking around a neighborhood in nearby Beverly and found myself on the wrong side of the road as sidewalks are now one-way only, and masks are mandatory here in Salem. Even before these measures were put into place, everyone was keeping their distance, and so on nice, sunny days when there are more people on the streets you can observe circling encounters. This past weekend I took a walk up to Greenlawn Cemetery though North Salem and checked in on some of my favorite houses along the way: a cute Greek Revival cottage I’ve always admired, the Dearborn Street house where Nathaniel Hawthorne once lived, and a rather ramshackle early 19th-century shingled house which appeared to have survived unscathed through the years of Victorian protuberances and twentieth-century siding experiments. When I approached the latter, I saw a completely different house: huge shed dormer overwhelming its sloping roof, ripped-out door, vinyl siding. Had “my” house been torn down and replaced with this monstrosity in a matter of mere months? No, looking closer, I realized this was the same house, utterly and tragically transformed: was the same house, it survives no longer. In the same general vicinity more shed dormers loomed, horned in by developers who want to squeeze as many units as possible in old wood-frame houses, enabled by a city which prioritizes any form of development over historic preservation. So obviously, I could go on—indeed I am just getting warmed up—but I’m a bit too emotional and angry to write about this right now. A post on the plague of dormers and the death of historic preservation in Salem is coming, but later, after I’ve done my due diligence and reflected (and calmed down) a bit. I don’t think the vision of that martyred house will fade, unfortunately, but I will not refresh it: I’ll have to avoid Osborne Street for the rest of my life.

And let’s face it, melancholia looms right now: we all need a little bit of escapism rather than a diatribe against shed dormers! So I am going to post about architecture today, but features illustrations that are more whimsical than realistic. I’ve always loved architectural illustration, ever since I was a teenager when I discovered a cache of my uncle’s renderings in the attic: I never knew him; he died just after his graduation from architecture school and these drawings were packed away. They were a touchstone to him but I also just really liked them. Since I look at them as works of art rather than technical drawings, I’m drawn to more historical and whimsical examples: in fact, many of my favorite examples are more properly labeled illustrations rather than architectural illustrations. I love aesthetic depictions of structures, both interiors and exteriors, but I really love illustrations which include people, both inside and alongside their houses, large and small. So that’s what I am featuring today: it makes me happy just to look at these illustrations, and hopefully you will enjoy them too. Because I’ve been focusing so much on women in this Suffrage Centennial year, I thought I would give the men their day: so here is my portfolio of Men and Their Houses, all dwelling in a shed-dormerless world.

I think these are going to get progressively artistic, and we’re also going to go back in time (by subject): the artists’ portfolios, websites and/or shops are linked below.

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Screenshot_20200414-111924_InstagramTwo works by Argentinian illustrator Fer NeyraCuban street scene by Lou Baker Smith.

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Men and their housesDesign for a “Mannerist” house with a “catslide” roof in Kent by Charles Holland Architects; Mies van der Rohe depicted before his famous Farnsworth House, by Spanish illustrator and author Agustin Ferrer Casas in his graphic novel Mies.

Men and their houses ARCHILIFE-federico-babina-designboom-02Alfred Hitchcock in his Villa Savoye bathroom by Federico Babino.

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Men Dr. Johnson (2)William Morris at Kelmscott House and Dr. Johnson in London, Amanda White Design (Etsy shop here).

Hampton-Court-2Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace by Josie Shenoy.


The Needle’s Currency

I’ve been meaning to do a post on embroidery for a while. Needlecraft hardly seems new, or current, but I have students knitting in class, I follow a great twitter account (#womensart & also a great blog) which features amazing textile artists regularly, and the instagram hashtags #slowstitching  and #needlepainting yield an abundance of extraordinary examples of embroidery art nearly every day. I think we’re in the midst of another “golden age” of embroidery—although I also think I’m late to this party, as usual (as this 2016 My Modern Met post will confirm). Certainly embroidery is not as central a part of society, or women’s lives, as it was during the early modern era when the Water Poet John Taylor published The Needles Excellency or the Federal era when Salem girls crafted samplers at Sarah Stivour’s famous school, but it is clearly a popular practice and a vibrant art form which often mixes traditional artistry with contemporary themes, in creations that are quite literally bursting out of the hoop.

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Screenshot_20200310-102651_ChromeEmbroidery by the book and bursting outside of the book—and the frame— by Peruvian artist Ana Teresa Barboza.

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ABOVE: More traditional pieces from Chloe Giordano: a pine marten and a fox. The Swedish textile artist Britta MargaretaLabba explores Sámi culture–and wildlife–in her creations; Moscow artist Roza Andreeva’s pieces are a bit more domesticated but no less intricate, and Lithuanian embroiderer Aušra Merkelytė (@velvetmeadow) works with the hoop…and tulle, and dandelions, and Queen Anne’s Lace.

BELOW: Two popular Japanese embroidery artists: Yumiko Higuchi and Hiroko Kubota, whose embroidered cat shirts are wildly popular.

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BELOW: just two of Paulina Bartnik’s embroidered birds at embirdery.com: she has also created a beautiful world on Instagram (@paulina.bart). And let’s go up in the air for the “aerial embroidery” of British artist Victoria Richards, depicting her Devon countryside in thread (I could teach the history of enclosure with these works!)

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And finally, a few pieces by the popular and prolific New York artist Richard Saja, who takes his inspiration from traditional toile and then embellishes through embroidery to create completely new scenes: check out his blog Historically Inaccurate for much, much more. Always current: Love is Blind and George Washington.

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The Knave of Hearts

I have featured hearts in random ways for Valentine’s Day posts in the past: heart-shaped maps, the heart-in-hand motif, hearts seized by love during the Renaissance, hearts as emblems, the Queen of Hearts. This week I’m featuring one of her Wonderland associates—sort of–the knave of hearts: the title character of a beautiful book written by Louise Saunders (wife of editor extraordinaire Max Perkins), illustrated by Maxfield Parrish at the height of his powers, and published in 1925 in a large quarto encased in a black paper box with a gold printed title. This was Parrish’s last illustration commission, and he worked on the plates for three years, a labor of friendship for his (Cornish, NH) neighbor Louise. In typical Parrish fashion, the illustrations are positively luminous and their colors deeply saturated, but they also bear a sense of whimsy and the “everday,” as he supposedly featured items from his own household. The text presents a play, commencing with a raised curtain and involving tarts, of course, and not only is the title character—clad in “Parrish blue”—not a knave at all, but a chivalrous hero, whose theft is a plot designed to mask the shaky baking skills of the beautiful Lady Violetta.

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The Knave: All my life I have had a craving for tarts of any kind. There is something in my nature that demands tarts—something in my constitution that cries out for them—and I obey my constitution as rigidly as does the Chancellor seek to obey his. I was in the garden reading, as is my habit, when a delicate odor floated to my nostrils, a persuasive odor, a seductive, light brown, flaky odor, an odor so enticing, so suggestive of tarts fit for the gods—- that I could stand it no longer. It was stronger than I. With one gesture I threw reputation, my chances for future happiness, to the winds, and leaped through the window. The odor led me to the oven; I seized a tart, and, eating it, experienced the one perfect moment of my existence. After having eaten that one tart, my craving for other tarts has disappeared. I shall live with the memory of that first tart before me forever, or die content, having tasted true perfection.

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The Knave of Hearts: An alternative Wonderland in a book by Louise Saunders with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925.


A Portfolio of Prints

This is kind of a housekeeping post: the blog has gotten so big (over 9 years!) that I have lost track of what’s in it, so I’m going to gather together a few portfolios of images for ready reference. Today: some of my favorite Salem prints. I could spend hours going through every one of Frank Cousin’s photographs of Salem (especially now that so many have been digitized) but there’s something about prints that really captures the essence of a structure—or a street—so I’m always seeking them out. Below are some of my favorites: most from the nineteenth century, and most from books; some from the twentieth century and some “stand-alone” imprints. Some are from engravings; some from drawings. I think most have been featured in the blog before, but I’m not sure! In any case, they are all my go-to images when I want to conjur up a time and space in Salem’s history.

Salem Prints John Turner House, Drawing Circa 1899

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screenshot_20200105-104448_chromeMy favorite pre-restoration print of the House of the Seven Gables, 1889; prints by two women artists—Mary Jane Derby (North Salem) & Ellen Day Hale (Corner of Summer, Norman, and Chestnut Streets, where now we have a traffic circle!)–and pioneering lithography firms from the Boston Athenaeum’s Digital Collections.

These next images will seem familiar: they are from John Warner Barber’s Historical Collections of Massachusetts, which was first published in 1839. They have been reprinted many times, but my favorite version of them is in antiquarian George Francis Dow’s Old wood engravings, views and buildings in the county of Essex, a beautiful little volume published in 1908. Dow supplements Barber a bit with information and images he found in the Essex Institute, of course.

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As you can see in the caption for the (Downing-)Bradstreet house above, Joseph Felt’s Annals of Salem, first published in 1844, is the source of some classic Salem printed images, as are the guidebooks published in the later nineteenth century and national publications like Gleason’s/Ballou’s Pictorial and Harper’s. Salem got a lot of press once Hawthorne started selling, and the national Centennial and Bicentennial of the Witch Trials in 1892 also focused attention on “Old” Salem. And another great source for graven images is of course ephemera: the front and back pages of the successive Salem Directories are full of imagery, and many invoices, billheads, and other business paper contain beautiful prints. Fortunately the Salem State Archives is digitizing whatever comes their way.

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Salem Print Directory

20170207_145723Prints of the James Emerton Pharmacy in the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum and the Salem Directory; Seccomb Oil Works billhead, Salem State Archives and Special Collections.

On the verge of the twentieth century, a lot of the classic images above were started to look a bit dated, so we get new versions of Salem’s most characteristic buildings and streets in periodicals and guidebooks like Moses Sweetser’s Here and There in New England and Canada, first published in 1899. Most architectural publications from this time and after used the photographs of Frank Cousins or (a bit later) Mary Harrod Northend for illustrations, with the notable exception of the measured and drawn renderings of “Colonial Work” contained in the Georgian Period portfolios. I can never get enough of these! More impressionistic, printed illustrations return in architectural books aimed at the general public in the mid-twentieth century: I particular like Ethel Fay Robinson’s Houses in America (1936, with drawings by her husband Thomas.

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Salem Prints Georgian Period Details Vol 1 1899

pixlr_20200105165102085Illustrations of Salem architecture from Here and There in New England and Canada, The Georgian Period, and Houses in America.


Winter White Houses

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.

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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!

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WW wm_thisoldhouseThe 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.

Winter House Barn

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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!

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Winter House Munch MFA

screenshot_20191209-155337_chromeView 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.


Elizabethan Exemplar

It’s been a long time since I featured one of my Renaissance crushes, but today is Sir Philip Sidney’s birthday so time to indulge. Sidney of course was a wonderful poet, but for me he is much more than that: he is the perfect Elizabethan Renaissance Man, multi-faceted, adept at both words and action, on the spot in all the key settings. He is one of those people whose lives can represent an age, albeit a rarefied experience. And he died young, on the battlefield, so that just makes him more: more elusive, more martyr-like, more crush-worthy. His notable contemporaries who lived longer had more layered lives in which both their attributes and their flaws were manifested, but Sidney seems flawless. His biographers note his proficiency in all the subjects in the studia humanitatis, but he himself asserted that one should aim for “well-doing, and not of well-knowing only” in The Defence of Poesy (published posthumously in 1595).

Sidney 2012-03-09-images-sidney_ma409_4_engraving The Sensational Sidney brothers as boys: Sir Philip and Sir Robert, from a painting by Mark Garrard at the Sidney’s ancestral home Penshurst Palace, Kent.

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) was always connected: He was the eldest son of Sir Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, the nephew of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite, Robert Dudley, and the godson of King Philip of Spain. I’m not sure he would have been happy about this latter affiliation given that he became a relatively strident Protestant later on, which was perhaps a flaw in Queen Elizabeth’s estimation as she preferred a more moderate public religious stance and must have been very annoyed when Sidney opposed her marriage to Francis, the Duke of Alençon and Anjou, in 1579 on religious grounds. His principled Protestantism is not a problem for me, however: it makes him look like less of a dilettante courtier. Sidney was educated at Oxford but left for a “Grand Tour” on the Continent before taking his degree: clearly he was ahead of his time as this custom did not become popular among the English aristocracy until a century later. He returned to England to the life of a courtier (when he pleased Elizabeth), patron and poet, but clearly longed for some kind of serious placement, which he eventually received in the form of various official diplomatic missions on the Continent. In between, he commenced writing his corpus of poetry, invested in overseas expeditions, and spent time at the estate of his beloved sister, Mary, the Countess of Pembroke, to whom he dedicated his most ambitious work, The Arcadia, and who established a reputation as both a literary patron and poet(ess) herself.

Sidney 1577 (3)_edited

pixlr_20191130100316782-1 Sir Philip Sidney, 1577-78, courtesy the Marquess of Bath, Longleat House; A trio of Sidney copied portraits from the sixteenth, eighteenth, and twentieth centuries: National Portrait Gallery, London; an 18th century copy, NPG, London, and a 20th century version attributed to Frederick Hawkesworth Sinclair, Pembroke College, Oxford University.

All of the Sidneys are so interwoven with Elizabeth, most conspicuously Philip and Mary’s mother Mary Dudley Sidney (also a writer!) who served and nursed the Queen during her smallpox seclusion, contracting the disease herself and marring her beauty permanently. There is a theme of sacrifice that connects mother to son: Philip accompanied his uncle the Earl of Leicester’s expedition to the Netherlands in 1586 to fight England’s now arch-enemy Spain, and reportedly urged Leicester to push harder, eventually falling on the battlefield himself at the Battle of Zutphen. He was shot in the thigh, but took 21 days to die—likely of gangrene. He then becomes larger than life, memorialized by an ostentatious public funeral (paid for by his father-in-law Francis Walsingham), elegies, biographies and posthumous portraits. He is forever young and bold in imagery, and ever eloquent in text.

Sidney 17th Knole_edited

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screenshot_20191130-080224_chrome Sir Philip Sidney, early 17th century, National Trust @Knole; by John de Critz the Elder, c. 1620; by John de Critz the Elder, 17th century; by George Knapton, 1739.


Shelter Signalling

I love twentieth-century magazine art, especially early twentieth-century cover illustrations, for various reasons: the accessible aesthetics, the creativity and artistry, the cultural representation. Then as now, magazine publishers and editors wanted to represent their time and place with their covers, and also send messages, or signals, to their readership as well as the people who might glance at them as they walked by a street (or airport) stand. The difference between then and now, though, is that more artists were called upon to create these covers in the first half of the twentieth century than photographers. So we have have less realism and more ambiance, color, symbols and impressions. I was looking at a succession of covers of one of my favorite shelter magazines (which had several reincarnations and which I wish would be reincarnated yet again), House and Garden, and it was obvious that its editors deliberately veered away from the realistic renderings featured on covers in the first decade of the twentieth century towards more artistic and impressionistic images in the second and third. Here’s a succession of October covers with the messages that I am receiving, all from the Condé Nast Library, which I’m fortunate to be able to access via Artstor: the alternative themes of “fall planting” and “furnishing for the fall bride” predominate for these “numbers”, but I think there are other messages too.

The Aughts:  we are so Sturdy! (and such good builders, 1908-11).

October aughts collage

The Teens:  we’re so Whimsical! (1916-1920).

October HG 1916

October Teens HG Collage

The Twenties: we are so industrious (and America is truly the land of plenty; 1921-29).

October 1920s Collage

The Thirties: we’re so confused! We are so very 1) Sleek (1936); 2) Acquisitive (1937-38: House & Garden certainly seems a bit out of touch with the DEPRESSION; 3) Rococo (1938-41).

October HG 36

October 1930s collage

Late 30s

1949: We’re Going Places (and we can have it all).

October HG 49


Falling for Folk Art

This week I’m focused on spectacular examples of folk art. On Sunday I was up in my hometown of York, Maine, where I heard a great talk at the Old York Historical Society by Karina Corrigan, the curator of Asian Export Art at the Peabody Essex Museum, and then wandered through the small Remick Gallery showcasing the Society’s collections. There were some very unique items on view, representing both “high” and more vernacular styles, and I was much more drawn to the latter, because, let’s face it, I have high style stuff all around me in Salem (the Maine girl in me would be annoyed at this snobby statement, but I think the Massachusetts woman has snuffed her out, as I have now resided in Massachusetts for longer than I lived in Maine). I was particularly struck by this coat-of-arms for the Sewall family of York, because it looks so very unheraldic to me! The bees have been on the Sewall coat of arms for several centuries—and we can see them on Nathaniel Hurd’s 1768 engraving of the Reverend Joseph Sewall (son of Salem Witch Trials Samuel Sewall because there’s always a Salem connection)—but who are those people, and what is that creature? My class was split between lion and bear when I showed it to them, although several thought it was the Devil.

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Folk Art Hurd MFA

Sewall Family Coat-of-Arms, Old York Historical Society; Benjamin Hurd engraving of the Reverend Joseph Sewall, 1768, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

I don’t know if they qualify as art as they are really tools (for combing out flax fibers) but these hetchels looked very creative (and menacing) mounted on the wall; I have never seen them exhibited this way. There are a variety of spellings, but the name for one who  wields a hetchel came to be know as a heckler, and I think there is some sort of connection between the hetchel’s sharp (angry) “teeth” and the modern heckler’s sharp angry taunts. Most of the hetchels that I have seen have long handles, so they resemble brushes, and I always though they must have been the perfect tools for the ascetic practice of (self-) mortification of the flesh.

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But I am digressing……when I got home, despite a stack of papers awaiting me, I indulged in my favorite procrastination pastime of browsing through online catalogs of upcoming auctions, and when I got to Sotheby’s Sculptural Fantasy: The Important American Folk Art Collection of Stephen and Petra Levin I lingered over every lot. This auction is happening today, so we’ll see what prices these amazing objects fetch. I had an immediate, visceral reaction to the elephant, because pachyderms formed my very first “collection” accumulated from a very young age. I now have boxes in the basement and need no more elephants, but this particular “walking” or parading elephant, presumably Jumbo, has always enchanted me: I have it on placemats, notecards, and bookplates. The amazing painted eagle carved by John Haley Bellamy of Kittery Point, Maine, is surely as impressive as anything a Massachusetts craftsman could produce! A large pair of early 20th century dice—what more can I say? I dressed up with a childhood friend as a pair of dice for Halloween one year in York, and based on the estimates given, these are probably the only things I could afford in this auction. There are plenty of great trade and travel signs (along with weathervanes and whirligigs) so it was hard to choose, but I love the hats and the crocodile, and the “double” eye clock, of course.

Elephants Walking sign Sothebys

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Folk Art Eagle

Dice

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Crocodile

Eye Clock

Select lots from Sculptural Fantasy: The Important American Folk Art Collection of Stephen and Petra LevinSothebys.


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