Category Archives: Art

Art+Science

The Salem Arts Festival was this past weekend in Salem: its tenth anniversary. Last year plastic-bag jellyfish were suspended above Derby Square and Front Street; this year it was all about bees. Salem’s art scene is very vibrant now, but this little city has always had a bustling community of artists (well, after the Puritans morphed into the Congregationalists) and craftsmen. I’ve written about quite a few individual artists, but I thought I would look for more collective precedents, and that quest took me directly to the fairs of the Salem Charitable Mechanic Association (1817-1932). The records for this association, like those of nearly every Salem institution and organization, are completely inaccessible, as they are in the Peabody Essex Museum’s Phillips Library, which has been closed in Salem, removed to Rowley, and for which digitization plans are nonexistent at present. But fortunately the Association wanted to showcase the creations of all its exhibitors, and so compiled a wonderful program for its first fair in 1849 that has been digitized in several places. This was held in its very own Mechanic Hall, built a decade before.

Art + Science collage

Art + Science The_Salem_Charitable_Mechanic_Association

Art + Science Mechanic Hall SSUTwo copies of  Reports of the First Exhibition of the Salem Charitable Mechanic Association, 1849, a certificate from the exhibition (Boston Athenaeum), and Mechanic Hall at the corner of Essex and Crombie Streets in Salem, built in 1839 and destroyed by fire in 1905 (Dionne Collection, Salem State University Archives).

This program makes for very interesting reading for several reasons. First of all, the judges of each category are very detailed and opinionated about their criteria for awarding diplomas and silver medals–although it appears that everyone who showed up got the former. The sheer eclecticism of the entries is notable, as is the relatively small number of industrial entries–surprising as the exhibition was occuring in the midst of the Industrial Revolution in Massachusetts. The organizers address this deficiency in their introduction: it is to be regretted that there was not a greater display of the Manufactures of Old Essex, especially of Cotton and Woolen Goods. Andover and Newburyport, with their numerous and extensive Cotton and Woolen Manufacturing Establishments, did not exhibit a single article. Saugus with her Flannel and Yarn Factories—-none, and Danvers, with her Carpet and Tweed Factories, was also deficient. When we consider that Essex County produces more than the whole State of South Carolina—-that her products are more than twenty millions of dollars—and a fair share of it in the articles alluded to—the display was not what it should have been. But notwithstanding these adverse circumstances, the energy and the perseverance of the mechanics of Salem, essentially aided by the Ladies, produced one of the most beautiful exhibitions ever witness in this vicinity. I guess they just didn’t get the word out! And yes, “the Ladies” are very well-represented in this 1849 exhibition, which showcased every possible type of art: mechanical and utilitarian, “fine” and decorative.

PicMonkey Image

1849salemmechassoc_obvDiplomas and medals for “drab” clothing, an artificial leg, mineral teeth, a miniature steam engine and a Patent Cloth Folder used at the Naumkeag Steam Mills in Salem, among other exhibits; a rare medal from the 1849 exhibition, from John Kraljevich Americana.

Above all, the integration of art and science seems very apparent in this exhibition: perhaps it is highlighted by the paucity of industrial exhibits but there are still many categories that we would consign to an arts festival today rather than one celebrating “mechanics”. Besides “Fine Arts”, everything created with a needle was on display, along with everything for the house and the body. This exhibition was all about creation, pure and simple. I love this universality and lack of separation between the artistic and the scientific: it illustrates the continued influence of the culture of the Renaissance, the period in which I was trained, during which everything was an art. But the Charitable Mechanic Association had its categories too, some of which seem rather arbitrary: the sole Daguerreotype exhibitor, one of Salem’s three practitioners at the time, was D.S. Bowdoin, who won a silver medal in the Fine Arts category for “a very admirable collection of Specimens, showing great skill in the mechanical execution, good taste in the arrangement of subjects, and in the management of light and shade”.  To me, the daguerreotype seems a near-perfect combination of art and science.

Bowdoin collageI couldn’t find any D.S. Bowdoin daguerreotypes from 1849, but here are two cartes de visite from later: studio portraits portrait of Robert Daley (or Daily), a Salem “expressman”, c. 1855 (Historic New England) and John Lewis Russell, a well-known botanist and Unitarian minister (Wisconsin Historical Society). According to the later photograph, Bowdoin’s studio was in the Downing Block, Salem.

Back in the present and now that I think about it, this arts festival does indeed bridge the gap between art and science in its own way: what could be more technological than transforming commissioned plastic bees into building materials? I have never really understood the stem vs. steAm debate, and let’s throw an H for history in there somewhere!

bee collage 2

Arts Festival 1

Arts Festival 3

Arts Festival 2

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Arts Festival 8

Arts Festival 6

Arts Festival 7

Arts Festival 9Scenes from the Salem Arts Festival on Saturday: my neighbor Racket Shreve’s “Best in Show” painting in the gallery in Old Town Hall along with “Remembering Georgie” by Heather M. Morris; the Mural Slam—just loved this work-in-progress of “Salem from Above” by Casey Stanberry, especially in its partially finished state.


My Salem Museum

The Peabody Essex Museum has made an additional concession in the mitigation dialogue following their admission to the relocation of Salem’s historical archives to a “Collection Center” in Rowley: a presentation/exhibition on the “Salem (Historical?) Experience” to be permanently installed in Plummer Hall. This could be good news—-like everything else the devil will be in the details—but it in no way compensates for the removal of historical materials left in good faith to the care of the PEM’s predecessors by scores of Salem families. Still, Salem has always needed a proper Salem Museum, with texts, objects, and interpretations of key events and themes in its history presented in an installation that is both contextual and chronological. This could be an opportunity to have some semblance of that, as the PEM has wonderful curators and resources, but the institutional reluctance to actually showcase authentic Salem items—combined with the word “experience”—leaves me a bit worried that all we’re going to get is some sort of virtual presentation. Nevertheless I was inspired to put together my own Salem Museum, and here are its key components.

Salem Worlds: I would prefer a thematic presentation to a chronological one, but after teaching history for 20+ years I know that chronology is important—-people want to get the facts straight and in order. So I think I would use a “worlds” approach in which Salem expands from a tiny little settlement into one which is an important part of the entire world, and then create various other worlds which represent different aspects of Salem’s history. Worlds are a way to combine themes and chronology: we need to know about Salem’s experience as a colonial outpost of the expanding British Empire, its role in a world of Revolution, and its preeminence in a world of global exchange, but also about the worlds of ideas, work, and association which flourished within its borders. I’d like to flesh out the isolated world of seventeenth-century Salem and its environs that served as the setting for the witchcraft accusations of 1692 as much as possible, but also trace the legacy of the Trials through the evolution of the “world(s) of Witch City” from its first expressions until today. We need to peer into the worlds of Salem’s many activists—whether they were working for abolition, temperance, social reforms, or suffrage in the nineteenth century, or striking for more job security at Pequot Mills in 1933. I’d like to recreate Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Salem world with texts and images, and also that of one (or more) of the lesser-known diarists whose memorials are locked in the Phillips Library. Different worlds could be explored in keeping with the PEM’s programming (I guess I have to make that concession).

Virtual is fine, but we need objects and texts too: I’ve been to quite a few city history museums (but unfortunately none on this list) and it seems to me that the mix is best. There’s always some sort of “orienting” video, so that might be the best way to deal with the chronology: I love the Museum of the City of New York’s Timescapes in particular. The only way we can create some semblance of seventeenth-century Salem is through cgi, and I cannot watch Pudding lane Productions’ deep dive into seventeenth-century London enough (and my students love it).

My Museum Timescapes

In this era of immersive make-believe, people crave authenticity, so we need to see real stuff too: personally, I’d love to see the 1623 Sheffield Patent, which granted rights to Cape Ann to several members of the Plymouth Colony and was contested by a representative of the Dorchester Company. This is a connecting link between Plymouth and the North Shore, and between Plymouth and Salem: as Cape Ann didn’t quite work out at that time the old planters migrated down the shore. Later in the seventeenth century, let’s widen the circle of persecution a bit by showing items that illustrate the struggles of Thomas Maule and Philip English—what an Atlantic world the latter represents! The widening world of eighteenth-century Salem could be explored through periodicals, ephemera, and any and all expressions of “trade port culture”, which the PEM loves (as long as the port in question is not Salem). Craftsmanship (or simply work), consumption, and activism are themes and worlds that can take us (or Salem) from the eighteenth century through the nineteenth century and all the way up to today.

SHeffield Patent

My Museum Maule

My Museum Handkerchief PEMThe Sheffield Patent, 1623, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum; Title page of Thomas Maule’s New England Pesecutors Mauld, 1697; The Poor Slave (Dedicated to the Friends of Humanity), ca. 1834, copperplate-printed cotton, Boston Chemical Printing Company, The Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Henry Francis DuPont Winterthur Museum (Also in the Phillips Library). 

Art+History=Culture+Connections: The past five months—this entire semester!—has been like a Museum Studies course for me as I have been reading and exploring museums and historical societies around the world to see if I could come up with some compensation for the cultural deficit we have here in Salem, where the institution with most of the historical collections has withdrawn, leaving behind an infrastructure of largely commodified historical interpretation. There are many historical museums doing amazing things, but I’ve been particularly impressed by what I’ve seen (only online) at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. I spent a summer in Santa Cruz years ago on an NEH grant, so I have a fondness for that place anyway, but I love how this particular museum merges art, history, and community engagement into a mission that stresses relevance and region. It is an institution that is governed by the same “connections” mission that PEM references all the time, but their much stronger emphasis on place (in part through history) must make the pursuit of those connections more attainable and meaningful. As I haven’t been there, I’m not sure exactly how SCMAH presents the past, but my Salem History Museum would not recognize divisions between art and history, or material and textual culture. I’d have both, together, and a very particular emphasis on architecture. Lots of McIntire drawings, a whole gallery wall of Frank Cousins photographs, and some modern representations of Salem buildings to illustrate their (ever-) lasting impact. I would certainly have some of John Willand’s houses on a wall of my museum as I already have one on a wall of my house: each one is amazing, and I know he prefers a collective display. I would also feature some of the wonderful photographs of Salem captured by Salem instagrammers: more posts than #pem, just count the hashtags.

My Museum Little collage

My Museum collage

My Museum 30 Chestnut

Willand Gallery

Two sides of Salem artist Philip Little (1857-1942) from the PEM’s own collection: “Submarine Baseball” and A Relic of History, Old Derby Wharf, Salem, c. 1915; A Frank Cousins (18501927) portfolio; John Willand’s 30 Chestnut Street and Chestnut Street “Gallery”.


Stereo-typing

I have a lovely little portfolio in my possession—which long lay undetected and -appreciated underneath a tall stack of much bigger books–discovered joyfully just the other day: the French artist and illustrator Guy Arnoux’s Les caractères observés par un vieux Philosophe du haut de la fenêtre (1920). Here we have examples of visual caricatures transcending the centuries: a twentieth-century artist depicts an ancien regime “old philosopher’s” armchair observations of court life and characters. I looked up Arnoux and his works and quickly found this same book as a lot in an upcoming Swann auction, with an estimated value of $400-$600. My copy has some edge issues, so I’m sure it’s not worth that much, but it is charming nonetheless. My best guess as to its origins is my great-aunt Margaret, a high-school teacher who was quite the art aficionado, but it’s a bit simplistic for her tastes, I think.

Arnoux Characters 1

I happen to love this simplistic, neo-folkish and -primitive mid-twentieth-century style of illustration. Arnoux clearly reveled in it; I found an article about him in an arts periodical published during the Great War in which he tied his artistic aims to that epic event: Mr. Arnoux’s ambition it to be an artist of the people; to fix in their naive minds the memorable events of the greatest war humanity has ever know…..[his] theory of art is almost cubistic. “We must eliminate from artistic representation all that is secondary, all that is unnecessary,” he will tell you. “We can make good photographs; why, then, repeat them in art.” Thus, the Japanese and the Chinese are, in his opinion, the only great and true artists. [His focus is on] the simple reproductions dear to the people, hundreds of thousands of which are sold on the street corners for the modest sums of 12 sous each. Yet he regrets that he cannot make them even cheaper, for he would like to have them everywhere, especially in the hands of the children. Well now you see the inspiration for the cartoonish depictions, but Versailles is an odd setting for a “artist of the people”—I guess everyone was indulging in post-war escapism.

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Arnoux Characters 8

Arnoux Characters 5

Arnoux 5

Arnoux Characters 3

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Arnoux Characters 2

Arnoux Indifferent

Arnoux Cover

ArnouX Immortale

Simple images of the past, and Arnoux’s present.


Several Proofs of Separation

When the American Revolution began to escalate in the late spring of 1775, people wanted to see images of its leaders: Englishmen and -women in particular, were eager to see the “rebel officers” that dared to defy the Empire. So English publishers began issuing printed portraits of George Washington, Israel Putnam, Charles Lee, Benedict Arnold, John Hancock and others which were imaginative, to say the least. The mezzotints issued by London publisher “C. Shepherd” were particularly so, and particularly popular, both in Great Britain and on the Continent, where a succession of publishers took even further license. Supposedly Shepherd’s images of General Washington were based on original drawings by one “Alexander Campbell of Williamsburg in Virginia”, but Washington himself commented “Mr. Campbell whom I never saw (to my knowledge) has made a very formidable figure giving him a sufficient portion of Terror in his Countenance”.

Rebel officers Washington

Rebel Officers George Washington on Horseback MAIN

I love these prints! Both the idea and the reality of them. At the British Museum, you can see a representative sampling of the original 1775 prints, but there were many variations issued over the next three years, investing them with increasing currency. And then they found their way into illustrated texts after the Revolution: only in the later nineteenth century have I see the word “spurious” attached to them. Also “curious”. As you can see below, Major General Charles Lee looks remarkably similar to General George Washington….and now that I look at him, Israel Putnam too! All those Americans look alike.

Rebel Officers Charles Lee BM

Rebel Officers Israel Putnam

Colonel Benedict Arnold looks similar, presented while still “rebellious” by one of  C. Shepherd’s competitors, John Morris. Even General William Howe, whose image was published coincidentally with these rebel officers, looks familiar, though I am distinguishing him here by presenting him in color. John Hancock’s bust portrait is the only really distinctive image among these prints: perhaps because he was not a soldier. Supposedly it was “done from an Original Picture Painted by Littleford”, but no one seems to know who Littleford was. More likely the 1774 portrait of Copley was the source although it doesn’t look very Copley-esque.

Rebel Officers Arnold

Rebel Officers WilliamHowe1777ColorMezzotint

Rebel Officers Hancock

I was drawn to these prints this weekend when I spotted two French derivatives in an upcoming Swann auction: their embellishment made them even more charming, but at the same time they are even more removed from their original subjects. And something is altered in the translation: Hancock is President of the “Congrés Englo-Amériquain” and Putnam “Chief at the engagement of Bunc-Kershill near Boston 17 June 1775”.

Hancock French Swann

Putnam SwannPrints published by C. Shepherd and John Morris, 1775-1777 © Trustees of the British Museum; French prints of Hancock and Putnam, Swann Auction Galleries


An Antiquarian Artist

I’ve been thinking about commemoration—past, present, and future–a lot lately, yet another consequence of the constant interplay between what I do and where I live. I’m pretty sure my understanding of English and western European history between 1400 and 1700 is grounded in historical sources, but I’m increasingly aware that my “knowledge” of American history is much more a product of projection than evidence. And as Massachusetts heads into a prolonged period of commemoration for the 400th anniversaries of Plymouth and its successor settlements (including Salem, which will have to “remember” without its hijacked historical sources), I’ve been reading up on the scholarly literature, and just finished We are What We Remember: The American Past through Commemoration, a volume of essays edited by Jeffrey Lee Meriwether and Laura Mattoon D’Amore. Two essays in particular, D’Amore’s “Patriarchal Boots: Women, Redcoats and the Construction of Revolutionary Memory”, and Anne Reilly’s “The Pilgrimization of Plymouth: Creating a Landscape of Memory in Plymouth, Massachusetts during the Pilgrim Tercentenary of 1920-21”, were quite resonant for me, and almost as soon as I was done with them we were off to see commemoration in practice rather than theory: at the annual reenactment of the Boston Massacre by the Bostonian Society at the Old State House. It was interesting to see the “Colonials” mingle with the large crowd assembled: when well-worn revolutionary phrases were shouted out, I heard several individuals wearing capes, cocked hats, and mob caps replying not yet…..that’s from 1774, or 1775.

We are Crop

Boston Massacre 8

Boston Massacre best

This is a really great event but there are too many glaring lights! Can’t we turn off Boston for a half-hour or so? I suppose not, but we should remember that this epic event was clothed in darkness. Even Revere’s iconic print, which is so important a foundation for our collective memory, casts it in light: it’s not until a century later that we see darker depictions. I wanted to see more after the reenactment, so I started looking around, and came up with several references to a painting by Walter Gilman Page (1862-1934), a prominent Boston artist whose commemorative painting of the Massacre was exhibited in 1899-1900. It received strong reviews, but I can’t find the actual painting anywhere–only illustrations and lantern slides. As you can see, it is dark. Where is it?

Boston Massacre Art Exchange 42

Boston Massacre Page

Page was a wonderful portrait artist (best known for his extremely humanist portrait of a dying Grandmother in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), and an active member of the Nantucket Art Colony, but he seems to have been particularly passionate about historical paintings: he depicted several other revolutionary events (Paul Revere’s ride, of course) and also reproduced portraits of founding fathers. The 1899 article in the Art Interchange (the source of the illustration above) notes that Mr. Page’s keen interest in American history of the Revolutionary period is indicated by his membership in several historical societies—charter member of the Society of Colonial Wars for Massachusetts, charter member and vice-president of the Massachusetts Society of the Sons of the Revolution, and member of the Bunker Hill Monument Association. He is also chairman of the Tablet Committee of the Sons of the Revolution, whose business it is to mark with properly inscribed tablets the scenes of historical events connected with the War of the Revolution. He has been prominently connected with the movement for art and art decoration in the public schools, and is chairman of the Committee of Massachusetts’ Artists for the Paris Exposition of 1900. Artistry and memory: a winning combination, from time immemorial.

Antiquarian Artist Hutchinson.JPG 1900

Antiquarian Artist HancockWalter Gilman Page’s portraits of Thomas Hutchinson (1900, copy of the 1741 portrait by Edward Truman), Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and John Hancock (1906, after John Singleton Copley, Skinner Auctions).


March On

The first of March: a notable historical day from my own geographical perspective, as it marks the anniversaries of both the incorporation of the first English “city” in North America, my hometown of York, Maine (in 1642), and the commencement of the most dominant event (unfortunately) in the history of my adopted hometown of Salem, Massachusetts: the Witch Trials of 1692. March is also one of my favorite months, so I always wake up happy on its first day. I am sure that this is a minority opinion among my fellow New Englanders, for whom March is generally perceived as the muddiest monthIt certainly can be muddy here, and cold, snowy, rainy, dark, windy, and raw. But it can also be bright (like today) with a brilliant sun that seems to highlight the material world in stark detail. It is the month of all weather, and also a month of transition. That’s what I like about it:  you are heading somewhere in March (towards spring); you are not already there (like winter or summer). I like to be en route, in transition, looking forward, in the process—and March feels like that to me, all month long. If you look at magazine covers from their turn-of-the-last-century Golden Age, advertising artistry rather than celebrity, many seem to convey that movement, if only to depict the wind. At least those that don’t feature rabbits.

M27740-26 001

March Harpers 1895

March 1896 2

March Inland Printer 1896

March Black Cat

March 1897

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March Scribners 1905

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March covers from 1895 (2); 1896 (3);1897; 1900; 1905 & 1907; Swann Auction Galleries, Boston Public Library, and Library of Congress.


Topsy-Turvy

I find myself these days full of feelings of dissent and resistance but looking for more whimsical ways to express the same, as you can’t be strident all the time. It’s boring, and exhausting. So a flashing reference caught my attention, to a dinner party in Baltimore in February of 1777 attended by two of the most strident people in history: John and Samuel Adams of Massachusetts. The next day, John noted in his diary [II, 434]: Last evening I supped with my friends, Dr. Rush and Mr. Sargeant, at Mrs. Page’s, over the bridge. The two Colonel Lees, Dr. Wisherspoon, Mr. Adams, Mr. Gerry, Dr. Brownson, made the company. They have a fashion, in this town, of reversing the picture of King George III in such families as have it. One of these topsy-turvy kings was hung up in the room where we supped, and under it were written these lines, by Mr. Throop, as we are told: Behold the man, who had it in his power/ To make a kingdom tremble and adore, Intoxicate with folly. See his head Placed where the meanest of his subjects tread. Like Lucier, the giddy tyrant fell; He lifts his heal to Heaven, but points his head to Hell.

George III

King George III by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, National Trust, Uppark

Well I like this “fashion”, and can certainly think of one or two people I’d like to turn upside down at the moment. I’m sure we all can. Apologies to my British friends: I couldn’t find an image of a Baltimore dining room with a topsy-turvy portrait of King George, so I simply turned him upside down myself. But we must note that like so many of their revolutionary sensibilities, the new Americans were simply following a British example: in this case the “world turned upside down” sentiments of the English Revolution in the previous century. The leader of that revolution, Oliver Cromwell, was himself turned upside down when an Indian monarchist of the Victorian era purchased his portrait and displayed it topsy-turvy in a delayed protest of the regicide: the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery followed suit when it acquired the portrait, and Tate Britain when it exhibited it. Another topsy-turvy ruler is Philip V of Spain, whose portrait is traditionally upended in the Almodí Museum in Xàtiva, in retribution for the burning of the city at the close of the War of the Spanish Succession.

Topsy Turvy Tate cromwell_for_web_0

Robert Walker (in the style of), Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

Topsy Turvy King 2

The first Bourbon King of Spain, Philip V.

Later in the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, the upside-down, topsy-turvy motif was mostly used in a satirical or critical way, the point having been established: “it is monstrous that the feet should direct the head” (in the words of my favorite queen, Elizabeth I, to make up for turning George III upside down) or something’s not right here. There was also a two-sides-of-the-same-coin message in some topsy-turvy images, as well as a general sense of we’re being tossed about/PLAYED. That’s how I feel.

topsy turvy collage

TOpsy Turvy Economy 1979 Jean-Michel Folon Smithsonian NPGTopsy-turvy “Talons” Kaiser Wilhelm I and Emperor Napoleon III, 1878, Victoria & Albert Museum; the Topsy-turvy Economy, 1978, Jean Michel Folon, Smithsonian/National Portrait Gallery.


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