Category Archives: Design

Imag(in)ing Authors

I don’t think that there is any doubt that we used to glorify authors much more in the past than in the present: while the written word is still alive and well (for now) its producers are not the focal points of our popular culture that Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald once were, except for those long-dead but seemingly eternal celebrity scribes like Will and Jane. There is so much material evidence of author adoration from a century and more ago : portraits, pilgrimages to literary “shrines”, biographies, the various Victorian “Authors” games–first produced right here in Salem— designed to develop literary familiarity and appreciation from an early age.But that is not the literary or the material culture that we live in now, so I was kind of surprised to encounter two “Odes to Authors” prints while I was browsing around the website of Anthropologie, of all places. These are the work of artist Valerie Suter, who is apparently a voracious reader of twentieth-century fiction.

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Odes to Authors Virginia Woolf and Djuna Barnes by Valerie Suter, available here.

I went over to Suter’s website and found lots more authors: clearly they are her primary inspiration at this point in her life/career. She works in various mediums (including animation and clothing) and portrays her literary subjects in accessible and whimsical ways, occasionally doing something or in each other’s company, like the familiar subjects of A Moveable Feast  and Mark Twain playing pool, below. Lots of color, patterned backgrounds, interesting scale, and an almost complete absence of any formality or pretense bring these authors to life. I really want Josephine Tey, author of one of my very favorite books, The Daughter of Time (1951).

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authors-john-steinbeck

authors-twain-and-paine

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authors-joan-didion

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daughter-of-time-penguin-classic

Paintings by Valerie Suter: Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast; John Steinbeck among chrysanthemums, Mark Twain playing pool, E.B. White, Joan Didion & Josephine Tey; Penguin Classic cover of The Daughter of Time. 


You are what you do/like

I was in an antique shop several weeks ago when I spotted some framed prints published by J.N. Toy and W.R.Lucas in Baltimore in the early 1830s. They were that odd kind of anthropomorphic mixture of human, creature, plant and/or materials that always appeals to me, so they instantly captured my attention. I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to purchase them, so I snapped some pictures, but the combination of glass and lighting did not capture them very well–later I searched for some better images and fortunately found them, or most of them (The Botanist below is under glass). These lithographs are the products of a short-lived partnership between two Massachusetts-born printers, George Endicott and Moses Swett, both of whom had worked at the Pendleton Firm in Boston. I’ve admired Pendleton prints  for a while, so that’s probably another reason why these odd little prints appealed to me. Apparently these are political caricatures, illustrating an increasing (threatening) feminine presence in these endeavors, but I think this is lost in the translation of time. To me, they just look like ladies who are enthusiastic about their various pursuits (except for maybe the fish lady).

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endicott-swett-crockerya

endicott-swett-fish

endicott-swett-fish-color

endicott-swett-botanist-print

Lithographs by George Endicott & Moses Swett, published by J.N. Toy and W.R. Lucas, Baltimore, 1831-33, Collections of Winterthur Library and the Library of Conress.


That’s the Ticket

Well now we are in this rather ominous week between Halloween and the Election. How t0 deal with it? By retreating into the past, of course! I’ve been curious about the mechanics of elections for a while, actually, and decided to indulge my curiosity by browsing through some local digitized collections of electoral ephemera. The large collection of nineteenth-century election ballots at the American Antiquarian Society is particularly engrossing: so many stories and ideas and trends are encapsulated on these little scraps of paper. For a non-Americanist such a myself, it took quite a bit of background work just to identify the myriad political parties as well as the issues that were driving their formation, and I also came to realize that the transitions from written to printed party tickets, and from party tickets to official ballots, were very momentous, almost on a par with the evolution of voting via machine or electronically. Who knew that the Australian ballot was a secret ballot, first adopted in the United States in Massachusetts as late as 1888? Certainly not me. Here’s a small sample of a great collection, beginning with a very early printed ballot which features Salem’w own Timothy Pickering and also illustrates the electoral college very clearly.

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Freedom is expressed in both words and images on nineteenth-century Massachusetts election tickets, often and in various ways: the “Free Bridge and Equal Rights” ballots from the 1820s which refer to the proposed Warren bridge over the Charles River, linking Charlestown and Boston, a liberty pole, the “Free Soil” party that split off from the Whigs over the issue of slavery, the linkage of nearly every candidate “and liberty”. The first two tickets below are also illustrations of the hybrid print-script tickets produced before printed “party tickets” became the norm after 1840 or so.

ticket-2-free-bridge-1827

ticket-3-liberty-pole-1829

ticket-free-soil-1848

And after the Civil War: color, more elaborate typography and imagery, and a spectrum of emergent political affiliations, including various Labor and Greenback parties, Prohibition, Liberal, Independent, Citizens’, Peoples’ parties and both regular and varietal Republicans and Democrats. The party ticket evolved into such an familiar form that it would even be mocked through caricature. And then it became much the official ballot, much more private, and consequently much less interesting.

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Election tickets from 1800, 1829, 1848, n.d., n.d., 1870, 1876, 1883, n.d, and n.d., all Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society and available here.


Seasonal Spider (webs)

Well, Halloween is less than a week away so I suppose I should post on something seasonal: my October avoidance of downtown Salem has actually made me less aware of this holiday, although yesterday it dawned on me that I was not prepared for trick-or-treating and should start accumulating all of the candy I will need. It seems as if I always run out, no matter how much I buy. In my neighborhood there is a range of Halloween/Fall decorations:  some completely over the top, others more subtle. My favorite seasonal decoration preferences run more to the natural than the macabre: I’ve always thought that bats are wonderful, and I have developed a healthy appreciation for spiders over the last few years. There are quite a few spiders, with webs and without, around Salem these days, but today’s post is really more inspired by interior decoration than exterior embellishment, and specifically by a New York Times article from a few weeks ago about the restoration/redecoration of two historic “literary shrines”: the Connecticut houses of Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe. In the parlor of Twain’s house, workers are installing a reproduction 1880s wallpaper with spiderwebs designed by Candace Wheeler, an absolutely amazing artist who, along with her design colleagues in her firm Associated Artists, was primarily responsible for the original decoration of the house. Just one look at the wallpaper started me down both a Candace Wheeler path and a spider/web path–so here’s the latter, beginning with the Mark Twain’s parlor paper and proceeding back and forth through the ages and back to Salem.

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spiderweb-textile-mfa-2004

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Candace Wheeler wallpaper, Metropolitan Museum of Art: Contemporary spiderweb wallpaper in two tones, Walls Republic; Japanese silk embroidered spiderweb textile, early Meijii era, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; English “Spider Print” Textile Length, 2004, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the best “natural” Halloween vignette ever: Bat and a Spider Web, 1782, Philadelphia Museum of Art; my favorite medieval spider, British Library MS Sloane 4016; a Salem spider.


Fashion Shoots in Salem

I would not say that Salem is the most fashionable place I’ve ever been to, but it does have its moments, and one of those moments is happening now. When it comes to clothing, “Salem style” is dominated by perceptions and projections of revamped goth, but this motif has penetrated the highest realms of fashion in recent years. The Fall 2007 ready-to-wear collection of the late great Alexander McQueen was inspired by the experience of his distant ancestor, 1692 victim Elizabeth Howe, and this year has been proclaimed “the season of the witch” by several fashion journalists who noted the dominance of capes, collars, chokers, and “chanelling gowns” in the spring runway shows. According to The Gaurdian‘s Priya Elan, the idea of “caricature” is what the witchy aesthetic is about, distilling femaleness down into opposites. It’s a high-fashion update of goth, with its incorporation of Victorian fashion and the tension between bold, dark colours, delicate fabrication, malevolence and timidity. Standing in opposition to the unfussy silhouettes of athleisure, it retains a certain otherworldly mystique and is all the more interesting for it. 

witchy-wear“Salem-inspired” looks from Alexander McQueen (Fall 2007) and Prada (Fall 2016), Vogue Magazine.

This “witchy aesthetic” is on full display in the September 2016 issue of W Magazine, which features a portfolio of images entitled “Power” by renown fashion photographers Inez van Lamswweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, shot in Salem. To set the scene, the introduction to the fashion story proclaims that “over 300 years have passed since the Salem witch trials, but echoes of the hearings still haunt the Massachusetts town”, apparently making it the perfect setting for moody modern enchantresses. Shot at Pioneer Village and Derby Wharf and a few other locales around town, the photographs are beautiful but the projections pretty standard.

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salem-fashion-6-w W Magazine photographs by Inez and Vinoodh, styled by Edward Enninful.

But there are other aspects of “Salem Style”. The Peabody Essex Museum is the beneficiary of two major collections of contemporary fashion, those of local icon Marilyn Riseman and international icon Iris Apfel. Certainly these pieces (700+900) are more of a reflection of these ladies’ styles rather than that of Salem, but at the very least they will make the city a more fashionable destination! And while it doesn’t have the couturier air of the W Magazine shoot, the Boston Globe also chose Salem for its Fall 2016 fashion feature. Rather than atmospheric fog and weathered buildings, the Globe feature was shot at the recently-refurbished Merchant hotel, with its bright and colorful, even glossy, interiors. Here we have a more enlightened expression of Salem style. 

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salem-fashion Photographs by Sadie Dayton for the Boston Globe/Styling by Janine Maggiore/Ennis, Inc.

Appendix:  Some tourism features on Salem from the past could almost be fashion features—I particularly like this National Geographic photograph from 1945 and Life magazine photo from 1949, which illustrated an article on Marion Starkey’s Devil in Massachusetts. 

Girls pose by a jail that recalls the witch trials of 1692 in Salem

salem-fashion-nina-leen-august-8-1949 B. Anthony Stewart for National Geographic, 1945/ Nina Leen for Life Magazine, 1949.


An Urban Village in Salem

In preparation for the little talk I’m going to be giving about a post-fire neighborhood in Salem next weekend, I’ve been reading up on turn-of-the-century urban planning, design and construction trends. I’m much more comfortable in the Tudor realm than that of the Tudor Revival, but through my amateurish yet persistent pursuit of information about Salem’s rebuilding after 1914 fire, role in the Colonial Revival movement, and the early preservation movement I have been able to develop a fair amount of familiarity with the primary and secondary sources. Plus, I have several friends who are real architectural historians who are also happy to help–as well as very helpful commentators here.  I’ve written about this particular neighborhood, Orne Square, before, but I approached it again with an open mind, so I could glean a few more details about its origins, and a lot more context.

Orne Square Ruins

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Orne Square in the summers of 1914 and 2014.

When I last considered Orne Square, I assumed that it was a very scaled-down, Americanized, and urban (or suburban) example of the Garden City Movement initiated by Ebenezer Howard’s To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898) and Garden Cities of To-morrow (1902) and conceived and implemented by the Boston architectural firm of Kilham & Hopkins, who were very connected and very involved in Salem’s rebuilding according to progressive principles that were both aesthetic and economic. By 1914, Kilham & Hopkins had completed the majority of their work on the new Boston neighborhood of Woodbourne in Jamaica Plain, clearly inspired by one of the most conspicuous English Garden City “company towns”, Bournville in Birmingham, which Walter Kilham had visited himself, finding it “architecturally charming, but fearfully paternalistic as only the English can be”. They would go on to build the Atlantic Heights neighborhood in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and workers’ housing in Lowell for the Massachusetts Homestead Commission. In between, they designed and constructed a variety of buildings for the devastated Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company in Salem, including housing for its workers, and a neighborhood of affordable single-family and duplex brick cottages in North Salem. They were the likely architects of Orne Square, so everyone said, but I could never find confirming evidence, and somehow the style, the material, the client, and the overall commission just didn’t seem to point to the extremely busy Kilham & Hopkins firm. Salem was awash with architects in 1914-1918 (I have a working list of 63, and I’m sure there were more), many equipped with the MIT-credentials and social connections of Walter Kilham and James Hopkins. The owner of the Orne Square property, the private Phillips Trust, didn’t seem quite as taken with the Kilham & Hopkins as the public Salem Rebuilding Trust: the former had already hired the renown local architect William G. Rantoul to rebuild a three-family structure on the site of its Warren Street “tontine” block. The Orne Square commission went to an architect who was not local (yet), but who had several strong Salem ties: Ambrose Walker, then of Brookline, who had previously shared a Boston office and practice with his MIT classmate Ernest Machado (who died tragically young in 1907) and presently did so with A.G. Richardson, another Salem architect who was then occupied with rebuilding wasted Fairfield Street with brick Colonial Revival structures.

Bournville Village Trust

Bourneville Model Village

Kilham & Hopkins

Urban village Rantoul Architectural Forum 1917 vol. 26

Michael Reilly’s Bournville Village poster ( MS 1536 Box 59, reproduced with kind permission of the Bournville Village Trust, Library of Birmingham), and the Village itself, built by Cadbury as a model village for its factory and workers in Birmingham; Kilham & Hopkins plans for the Massachusetts Homestead Commission and a “low-rent” brick two-family house commissioned by the Salem Rebuilding Commission, 1915, Architectural Forum, Volume 28 and Phillip Library, Peabody Essex Museum; William G. Rantoul’s newly-completed Warren Street buildings, Architectural Forum, Volume 26.

I was going to save Walker for my talk next week but his identity seems to have leaked out so I might as well make the big reveal here! I have no idea why it was such a big secret for so long anyway: I found the building permit as well as notices in several trade journals pretty easily. I’ve chased down a few of his other commissions as well and while there does seem to be considerable variation in the styles of architects of this era, they do tend to favor certain materials, and Walker nearly always built in the distinctive Portland cement you see so perfectly illustrated by Orne Square. No brick for him, and wood was not a recommended building material in fire-anxious Salem at the time. I’m not entirely sure why Orne Square did not become an acclaimed development at the time of its completion–or after–when the two great propagandists of Salem architecture, Mary Harrod Northend and Frank Cousins, wrote about the resurgence of the Colonial in Salem after the great fire. I suspect it was not Colonial enough for these revivalists! Northend at least references Walker’s work (but does not name him) in her influential article for the September 1920 issue of The House Beautiful, Worthwhile Homes built in Salem since the Conflagration of 1914″: There is a grouping of some twenty stucco houses designed for moderate rentals in Orne Square which should not be omitted. The houses are artistic and comfortable, and the development worthy of being copied in any small city. Indeed, about a decade after the completion of Orne Square we do see the distinct design of one of its “2 1/2 story stucco duplexes” appearing in several (I’ve found seven–from Hamilton, Ohio to Santa Cruz, California) regional newspapers across the country, generally accompanying Walker’s text about the affordability and durability of duplex living and masonry construction. As the Portland Cement Company proclaimed in its contemporary advertising, “This is the age of cement”. There very well may be more Orne Squares out there.

Orne Square 1926

The word that pops out the most for me in Mary Harrod Northend’s description of Orne Square above is “artistic”: I’m very familiar with her work, and she uses that word rarely. I think she recognized the craftsmanship of these houses, but their more streamlined style was a bit beyond her comfort zone. Rantoul’s and Richardson’s brick houses with their colonial trim looked familiar, while Walker’s artistic houses appeared a bit different, even foreign. So that brings me to back to the Garden City movement, and Walker’s inspiration. I’m not going to go into great detail here, because I want to save something for my talk, but he was of a generation of architects that was definitely influenced by the goals of the Garden City, but was also exposed to its limitations, especially in America, which was never going to see wholly-planned cities, only neighborhoods within existing ones: urban villages like Woodbourne in Boston, the Connecticut Mills Village in Danielson, CT designed by Alfred Bossom, the Westinghouse Village in South Philadelphia, and John Nolen’s Urban Park Gardens in Wilmington, Delaware, all constructed contemporaneously with Orne Square.

Urban Village Danielson CT CT Mills Alfred Bossom architect AABN 1919

Urban VillageWestinghouse Village Philadelphia 1919 Clarence Wilson Brazer arch

Urban Village Union Park Gardens Wilmington Nolen Cornell

Urban Village Shakespeare Frank Chouteau Brown Architectural Year Book

Connecticut Mills Village, Danielson, CT, Westinghouse Village, Philadelphia, The American Architect, 1919; Union Park Gardens, Wilmington, Delaware, John Nolen papers, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. And one that didn’t get built:  Frank Chouteau Brown’s plans for a “Shakespeare Village in the Fens” of Boston, from the Boston Architectural College’s Current architecture: published in connection with a joint exhibition held in Boston, November 1916.

It is also important to note that Walker did not come from Salem or the North Shore, so he wouldn’t have been so subject to the dictates of its weighty architectural tradition. He became a Salem architect after his marriage to Machado’s younger sister Juanita in 1923, moving into the family home on Carpenter Street, becoming a trustee of the House of the Seven Gables, becoming the fire-proofing expert for several local organizations, and writing a scholarly paper on Samuel McIntire. But before that he was living in Brookline, not far from what I think of as one of the earliest urban villages, the Cottage Farm neighborhood, practicing in Boston, and immersed in a community made up of his very accomplished and worldly family, his fellow MIT graduates, and his colleagues–an artistic village of sorts.(Though no doubt he was also catching the train to Salem regularly, as by several accounts his courtship of Juanita occurred over two decades).

Appendices: Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose Walker in the 1930s; Walker’s drawings from the MIT Summer School, 1895, “The Georgian Period”, ed. William Roch Ware.

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Perroquet Plates

At this time of year I’m in back-to-school mode and absolutely exhausted by keeping up with the garden, so my focus shifts to the inside. I think I’ll get back outside when it gets cooler in September, as I want to rearrange some things and prolong life and time in my garden as long as I can, but right now I’m focused on interior adornment and projects (this is one way to ignore all of the academic duties that are piling on about now). Leafing through a bunch of magazines this past weekend, I found some objects of adoration in, of all places, WSJthe magazine of the Wall Street Journal: plates adorned with colorful parrots, infused with old-world elegance through a hand-painted process involving sixteen layers. The 12-piece collection is the collaboration of Gucci Creative Director Alexandro Michele and porcelain manufacturer Richard Ginori. I want them all, but at $295 a plate, it will be difficult to justify just one, I’m afraid! The article identifies Michele’s inspiration as “one rare French volume from 1801 on specimen birds”, which was all the cue I needed to identify Jacques Barraband (1767-1809), a French zoological and botanical illustrator whose work inspired imitators even in his own day. While Barraband’s work must have struck his contemporaries as “new” in their colorful realism, Michele was inspired by their antiquated aesthetic, as am I.

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Parrot Barraband 2

Perroquet Plate Design Boom

Perroquet Plates WSJ

Perroquet Plates WSJ 2

Perroquet Plates WSJ4

Derian Parrots

Original Jacques Barraband parrot prints from Levaillant’s “Histoire Naturelle des Perroquets” , Ursus Books & Prints, and Shapero Rare Books. The Michele/Ginori plates from designboom (image ©designboom) and the WSJ magazine (photographs by Martyn Thompson). John Derian has ample antique-inspired parrots among his offerings too, including a 12-piece set of wall trays (works and photographs © John Derian).


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