Category Archives: Current Events

Shakespeare Simplified

The Shakespeare400 happenings were in full swing yesterday, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death: April 23 is always a big Shakespeare day because it is the accepted date of his birth and the actual date of his death, and in this particular year yesterday was even BIGGER in Shakespeare world, on both sides of the Atlantic, perhaps even around the Anglophone world. I was thinking about Shakespeare and how I wanted to mark this moment with a post, and there were just too many possibilities: too many historical and cultural sources, too many interesting words and characters, too many deifying moments in centuries past. So I decided to get more personal and focus on my own introduction to Shakespeare, in the form of a classic text titled Tales from Shakespeare first published in 1807 and never out of print thereafter. The Tales was the work of a pair of London siblings, Charles and Mary Lamb, who managed to produce abridged and modernized tales of Shakespeare’s plays despite family tragedy and between bouts of the latter’s insanity (Mary had actually injured her father and murdered her mother a decade earlier while Charles was out of the house; she was released to his care but he kept a straitjacket within easy reach). Charles abridged the tragedies into plain modern prose, and Mary the comedies (!!!); they collaborated on the preface. The first edition, with illustrations taken from copper-plate engravings by William Blake, appeared in 1807 under only his name.

Tales from Shakespeare 1807

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William (and Mary) Lamb, Tales from Shakespeare for the Use of Young Persons, with illustrations based on the copper-plate engravings of William Blake (1807), Folger Shakespeare Library; My edition of Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, with illustrations by Karel Svolinsky.  Middlesex: Paul Hamlyn (1968).

I use Shakespeare quite a bit in class to illustrate certain aspects of Elizabethan and Jacobean life, and while I will quote his words directly to my students I must admit that I still consult my childhood version of the Tales to figure out exactly what I want to quote from.  Or to remind myself: this book gave me a frame of reference to which I can tap into pretty easily, and which I have “filled in” over the years by reading the source plays. I’m sure this is what the Lambs intended, and I’m grateful to them. I also enjoyed learning about the publishing history of their book over a few hours yesterday: obviously I could have spent many more. Following Blake’s example, a succession of illustrated editions issued over the period from about 1860 to 1940 seem to have ensured the continued popularity of the Tales, which eventually became Lamb’s Tales (like my 1960s edition, above). The most accomplished illustrators of their eras embellished glorious editions: Sir John Gilbert in 1866, Arthur Rackham in 1899 and 1909, Louis Monziès in 1908, Walter Paget and Norman Price in 1910, Louis Rhead in 1918, Elizabeth Shippen Green Elliott in 1922, D. C. Eyles in 1934. And then of course there were also mountains of not-so-glorious (in imagery) editions produced “for use in school”: how can we possibly measure the impact of this essential epitome of Shakespeare?

Tales Cover Collage

Tales Rackham Collage

Tales from Shakespeare Paget Collage

Tales from Shakespeare Rhead 1918

Tales from Shakespeare Green 1922

Tales from Shakespeare Puffin

A very poorly proofread Gilbert edition from 1882 and the Boydell Gallery edition from 1900; Title page and illustration from a 1909 Rackham edition; Illustration and front and back matter from 1910 Paget edition; Louis Rhead illustration, 1918; Elizabeth Shippen Green Elliott frontispiece, 1922; variant Puffin Classics editions (with an introduction by Judi Dench).


Considering Caroline

The House of the Seven Gables is featuring a new exhibit on its founder, Caroline O. Emmerton (1866-1942) in commemoration of the sesquicentennial of her birth and as the rather mysterious Caroline has long intrigued me I took advantage of a preview invitation to check it out even before the official opening. Despite her fortunate birth into one of Salem’s wealthiest and most philanthropic families, her connections, and her achievements, Caroline is a bit enigmatic, and I was hoping that Caroline Emmerton. An Unbounded Vision would shed new light on her for me. It did, but my suspicion that Caroline can only really be known in context rather than strictly on her own was confirmed. The exhibit actually presents Caroline in several contexts and it is through these perspectives that we come to know her: the wealth, privileges, and sense of civic duty that came to her through her family, her interest in the emerging Settlement Movement, with its aims of aiding and assimilating (or “Americanizing”) the country’s expanding immigrant communities, and the corresponding Preservation Movement, which aimed to preserve the pre-industrial past in an era of dynamic change. You can definitely perceive how Salem shaped her. The exhibit appropriately emphasizes Caroline’s settlement activities over her preservation goals but you certainly get the sense that they are going to merge with the formation of the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association in 1910.

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Caroline Emmerton: an Unbounded Vision, at the House of the Seven Gables through August 31: A young Caroline and a very famous photograph of her with children at the Settlement House c. 1920; Exhibition panels, which were also produced in Spanish (a 21st-century update on Caroline’s settlement goals).

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Gables 3Gables Scrap Collage

Context, context: the Gables in the Community. Great photograph of a Derby Street factory and worker, instructing neighborhood girls in the Settlement House kitchen; newspaper clippings from a Gables scrapbook.

So the context was definitely there but what about the personal Caroline? There was a sense of her in the exhibit, actually: a photograph of her home on Essex Street (with a wallpaper sample and a few household possessions), a range of photographs of her at different stages in her life, an original notepaper version of her (very ye Olde) tour for the Gables, and my favorite, the hand-written manuscript of her book Chronicle of Three Old Houses, which she published in 1935 for the 25th anniversary of the Gables. It was lovely to see these things, and also to talk with Irene Axelrod, the former Research Librarian of the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, who knows more about Caroline than anyone else. I asked Irene where Caroline went to school, because in my experience institutions often offer up lots of evidence, and she said that Caroline was tutored at home and then probably went on the Grand Tour. So there goes that source. Irene told me that her research forayed into oral history, and she was able to interview some (quite old) people that actually knew Caroline. So that’s about as close as I’m going to get, I think: four degrees of separation?

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Gables Emmerton Handwriting

LOVE this handwritten manuscript of Caroline’s Chronicles of Three Old Houses complete with little intextual illustrations! The companion book to the exhibition by David Moffat features a full-page view, along with lots of other illustrations from the Gables archives, sources, and more context.


Off to London, Leaving Links to Salem Ladies

I’m off to London for Spring Break so will not be posting for a while, but I wanted to leave some links to some of the posts I’ve written on Salem women to fill in for me in my absence. It is Women’s History Month after all, and some of these ladies did not get the love and attention that I feel they deserved! Finding these ladies was an exercise that convinced me that I need to figure out how to develop an index for this compendium when I get back.

I know London is not the typical Spring Break destination, but it is always my favorite destination: for this particular trip (on which I will be accompanied by students!!!!) I have the Botticelli Reimagined exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum on my agenda as well as Samuel PepysPlague, Fire and Revolution at the National Maritime Museum, and I really want to visit Sutton House in Hackney, as Tudor structures are relatively rare in London. Then all (or some) of the usual places. I know London pretty well but am open to suggestions (particularly for food–I never know where to eat) so comment away: I am not bringing my laptop but will check in with my phone.

Botticelli London Vand A

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Sutton House Hackney

A Botticelli variation, a Pepys poster, and a drawing-room in Sutton House, Hackney.

So here are some links that will lead you to Salem ladies, if you are so inclined. Despite years of blogging, I’ve hardly scratched the surface when it comes to interesting and notable Salem women, as I have sought to expose those whose stories don’t get told again and again and again. I seem to be drawn to artists, but there are lots of entrepreneurs and activists and just interesting women whom I have yet to “cover”–some men too!

Colonial women: A Daring Woman; Ann Putnam; The Pardoning of Ann Pudeator; Four Loves; Minding the Farm.

Authors:  A Scribbling Woman from Salem; The Little Locksmith; Mary Harrod Northend; Mrs. Parker and the Colonial Revival in Salem (could also go under “artists”); Tedious Details.

Artists:  Painting Abigail and Apple Blossoms; Fidelia Rising; Miss Brooks Embellishes; Salems Very Own Wallace Nutting;Paper Mansion.

Uncategorized:  The Mysterious Miss Hodges; A Salem Suffragette; The Woman who Lived in my House;  Ladies of Salem; A Salem Murder Mystery; The Hawthorne Diaries; Factory Girls and Boys; Little Folks and Black Cats; Bicycle Girls.


Salem Film Fest 2016

CATS, architecture, the Renaissance (or pseudo-Renaissance)…all my favorite topics are featured in documentary films screening at this year’s Salem Film Fest, which opened last night with Curious Worlds: the Art & Imagination of [miniaturist] David Beck. The festival is now a Salem tradition, in its ninth year, and of course a welcome addition to the non-witchy/kitschy calendar. I usually go to one or two films, and regret not seeing more. Even though the slogan of the festival is Come to Salem, See the World, its organizers always include some local productions, so the entire experience has a “glocal” feel to it, which seems appropriate for our city, our time, and this particular medium. This evening we will see Concrete Lovethe Böhm Family, which purportedly “paints an intimate and pointed portrait of the complexity and inseparability of life, love, faith and architecture” through its examination of the life and work of German architect Gottfried Böhm, the patriarch of an architectural dynasty which includes his three sons. This weekend, I’ve got my eye on Projections of America, featuring 26 short propaganda films about America: the people produced for European audiences following the liberation of France in 1944, Kedi, all about the hundreds of thousands of cats that roam the streets of Istanbul, American Renaissance, a short on Renaissance-faire culture (I can’t miss this, as hopefully it will give me all sorts of insights into my students), and The Million Dollar Duck, (not to be confused with the 1971 Disney film of the same name) about the fierce competition among six artists to win the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, the only juried art competition sponsored by the U.S. government. I feel honor-bound to see this last movie, as one of Salem’s most illustrious artists, Frank Benson, was actually one of the competition’s first victors!

Salem Film Fest Concrete Love Poster

Salem Film Fest Poster_Projections_of_America

Salem Film Fest Kedi Still

Salem Film Fest Kedi Cat

Salem Film Fest AMERICANRENAISSANCE_web_1

Salem Film Fest Million Dollar Duck

Duck Stamp

German poster for Concrete Love: the Böhm Family; Projections of America poster;  character cats in Kedi; a “Renaissance” plague doctor in American Renaissance, poster for The Million Dollar Duck, and Frank Benson’s winning design from 1935.


Leaping Ladies on the Loose

On this quadrennial February 29, a follow-up post to one from the last leap year. I don’t have any radical new insights into the public perception of this occasion in the past, but I do see some connections and characterizations of which I was previously unaware. As before, and as usual, it was the Victorians who cemented the idea of women “leaping” outside of their conventional role at this time by proposing to their prospective spouses, beginning with Victoria herself. It was widely known that the young Queen proposed to her beloved Alfred in 1839 (not a leap year but she was Queen), and their marriage did occur in the following bissextile year. Apparently it was fine for Victoria, but such assertiveness among mere mortal women was not quite so tolerated, as Leap Year depictions became more cutting and critical in several ways as the nineteenth century progressed. Postcards were used to depict mismatched marriages: the woman is too rich, too old, too large. The “tall bride” is a consistent trope, and I think the very popular Raphael Tuck & Sons Leap Year postcard of a bride towering over her royal groom is a reference to the sensational marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt and the Duke of Marlborough in 1895. In addition to images of brides buying their grooms, Leap Year postcards from the peak period of 1896-1916 depict women who are pushing against the constraints of their gender: women who “scorch” the streets on a bicycle or ask for the vote, women who sought to “wear the pants” not only on February 29 every four years, but on every day in every year. Ladies are pictured hunting, trapping, and hooking men in Leap Year post and trade cards up until the teens, after which milder messages predominate, most likely because of the twin forces of the First World War and women’s suffrage.

Leap Year Life 1896 Cover

Leap Year Vanderbilt Marlborough Wedding

Leap Year Gauntlet Tuck 1911-12

Leap Year Raphael Tuck

Leap Year Tuck Collage

Leap Year Brill Collage

Leap Year Card Collage

Leap Year 1908 BPL

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Life Magazine February Leap Year Cover, 1896, New York Public Library Digital Gallery; Raphael Tuck & Sons Oilette Leap Year Cards, 1904-1912, from a selection here; “Cupid’s Coffin” illustration of the Vanderbilt-Marlborough Wedding by Charles Dana Gibson for Life, sourced here; George Reiter Brill Cards, Playles; Trade card and Postcards from the Boston Public Library and Smithsonian Institution.


What I want now: George Washington

I have no intention of discussing current politics on my blog which is supposed to be a break from reality for me and my readers (I hope), but the rhetoric and reality of this election is really depressing me; I’ve got to get out from under its weight in the only way I know how: by going back. We need a hero! And since today is the birthday of one (the real birthday, as opposed to last week’s more generic “Presidents’ Day”), let us focus on George Washington. Now remember, I am not an American historian so I have a rather romantic view of our first president, which suits my purpose of historical escapism. My glasses are not quite as rose-colored as those of Parson Weems and his fellow hagiographers of the nineteenth-century, but I still want to see the General and the President in vivid twentieth-century color, as an example of someone who was truthful, moderate, restrained and resigned, heroic yet humble, selfless yet self-conscious, never-seeking but always-serving, and predisposed more towards action than words. Here are some twentieth-century images, in color, which capture those qualities.

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Grant Wood, Parson Weems’ Fable, 1939, Amon Carter Museum of American Art; (I do believe Washington was truthful, but the cherry tree story is still a fable created by Parson Weems–this is an amazing HISTORICAL painting). Below, the cherry tree story is integral to Washington’s depiction by Rosalind Thornycroft in Herbert and Eleanor Farjeon’s Heroes and Heroines (1933).

George Washington Thornycroft 1933

George Washington 1910 Penfield NYPLDC picture

Washington Lithograph 1930 poster

George Washinton Schuker 1920s

Washington War Bond WW

Washington Morality Poster 1974 Smithsonian

Washington from the 1910s through the 1970s: leaving Mount Vernon by Edwin Penfield, the popular General by Charles Schucker, the standard of civic duty and morality. New York Public Library Digital Gallery and Smithsonian Institution.


Ice Sculptures 2016

This weekend is the annual Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate and Ice Sculpture Festival, sponsored by Salem Main Streets, The Salem Chamber of Commerce, and Destination Salem, as well as all of the downtown businesses which underwrote the installation of ice sculptures on the sidewalks of Salem. It’s such a lovely idea, especially for a city that (in my opinion) has put too many eggs in the one basket of witchcraft tourism. As I walked by kitschy witchy businesses displaying signs on their front doors indicating that they were “closed for the season” (of course they meant the off-season, which is most of the year), it was a pleasure to see enthusiastic picture-takers clustered around ice sculptures of Gustave Klimt’s The Kiss, various sea creatures, and the Mad Hatter, and even imbibing in Rockefella’s amazing ice bar, which must take the prize this year. It was a beautiful day–not too cold–and sunny, so lots of people were out and about and the restaurants looked busy. Last year’s snowmaggedon must have chilled this event a bit (though it was still definitely on) but this year’s weather was perfect–and several of the statues were illuminated at night for the first time.

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Just a few of the ice sculptures downtown this weekend: you can download the map of the rest here.


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