Tag Archives: Art

A Pair of Pears

I had a pear-oriented day yesterday. I was trying to work on the syllabus for my upcoming graduate course on Elizabethan England as well as the three-semester schedule for our department’s course offerings. Both are rather tedious tasks so I was taking regular breaks and roaming (both digitally and literally) away for bouts of time. I always like to have an “inspirational image” on my syllabi, and under the pretense of looking for one I spent hours examining Elizabethan portraits. Hours. Who is this, where are they, what are they holding, why are they dressed that way? Then I would feel guilty and go back to the syllabus and the schedule. Then I would take another break and go outside and see what’s popped up in my garden, ride my bike, play with my cats, and come inside and scope out lots in upcoming auctions, between loads of laundry and stabs at my syllabus and schedule. So you see the rhythm of my day, and by the end of this day of searching for Elizabethan images and secreting away from my schedule I ended up fixated on a pair of pears (or two pairs of pears really).

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Pears by Sultan Skinner Auctions

Anonymous follow of William Larkin, Three Young Girls, c. 1620, Berger Collection, Denver Art Museum; Donald Sultan, Pears screenprint from Fruit, Flowers and a Fish, 1989-91, published by Parasol Press, Ltd., New York, Skinner Auctions.

The painting of the three girls is not even Elizabethan–it dates from a bit later. But look at these girls, so beautiful and so ready, but for what? To greet an eminent visitor? To assume command of the household upon the death of their mother? The ripe fruit held by the older two might represent their maturity (and fecundity) while the younger girl is still “playing” with dolls–is this one a representation of Queen Elizabeth? I’m quite preoccupied with this painting: apparently lots of research remains to be done on both its projection(s) and its painter. Sultan’s pears appeal to me aesthetically, though I don’t have any questions about them (such is my reaction to much modern art). In their craftsmanship and detail they do, however, remind me of a very famous Salem pear: Samuel McIntire’s carving of an exemplar pear grown in Ipswich first captured by his contemporary, artist Michele Felice Corné.

Pear Carving McIntire PEM

Pear model by Samuel McIntire, 1802-1811, after a painting by Michele Felice Corné, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem.

I don’t feel like I have to draw Salem connections to every topic I write about here, but sometimes I can’t help it! Salem actually plays a very big role in pomological history as it prospered at a time when pears were much, much, much more important than mere apples, or any other tree fruit. More generally, Salem’s horticultural history is another example of its heritage that gets completely overshadowed by the giant Witch Trials. From Governor Endecott’s pear tree, planted around 1630 and still standing in nearby Danvers (then Salem–read a very complete history here), to the nearly as old and much commented-upon orange pear tree on the Hardy Street property of Captain William Allen, to the popular colonial pear cider, or “perry” made from Salem fruit, to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s grandfather Robert Manning’s vast “Pomological Garden” in North Salem, it is very evident that pears were popular, and perceived as representative of both Salem’s productivity and longevity. In a report on the Horticultural Exhibition held at the Essex Institute in 1850, the Horticultural Review and Botantical Magazine noted that this Salem must be a wonderful place for longevity. While we are boasting of our pears that begin to bear on bushes, three or four years old, these Salemites claim nearly as many centuries for some of theirs.

Pear Tree Danvers PC

Pears Buffum 1877

1910 postcard of the Endecott Pear Tree, Danvers; a pair of Buffum pears, one of the hundreds of varieties grown at Robert Manning’s “Pomological Garden” on Dearborn Street in the mid-19th century, from D.M. Dewey’s The nurseryman’s pocket specimen book : colored from nature : fruits, flowers, ornamental trees, shrubs, roses, &c (1872).

P.S. I did finish the syllabus, but not the schedule.


What to do with my Stereoviews?

I’ve been a collector of sorts for much of my life but I never collected historic photographic images until I started this blog: I quickly realized their power to tell stories and provide context in this, our digital age. So I started buying some Salem images, mostly stereoviews, which were produced in vast quantities in the later nineteenth century. There were about six or seven major publishers of stereoviews here in Salem at that time, but I’ve focused almost all my collecting efforts on images associated with Frank Cousins, as either photographer or publisher. I just completed my collection of his sentimental “Salem in 1876” views, encompassing nearly every corner of central Salem. Now I’ve got a (shoe) box of stereoviews and I’m not quite sure what to do with them.

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Steroview Chestnut Street Cousins

Frank Cousins published views taken both up and down Chestnut Street and all over the city, documenting “Salem in 1876”.

Stereoviews are relatively easy to acquire, especially of a city like Salem which has been selling its image, in one way or another, for quite some time. They turn up online very frequently and I always find them at the larger flea markets and paper shows. My collection is pretty focused on Cousins, but it also has a few views that I have never seen anywhere else, including a great (though completely unattributed and undated) view of Front Street from Washington Street and a rather unusual (forested!) view of the South Church that stood across Chestnut Street from my house for nearly a century. This McIntire masterpiece burned down in 1803: I’m trying to gather as many images of it so I can glean its impact from every possible perspective. My verdant view is contrasted with a more typical image of the church, from the best source for digitized stereoviews: the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views at the New York Public Library (where you can make “stereogranimators”).

Stereoview Front Street Salem

Stereoview Second Church Tilton

Stereo South Church Salem NYPL

(Stereo)view of Front Street, ?date, ?photographer); the South Church on Chestnut by Peabody & Tilton, c. 1875 and Guy & Brothers, c. 1884, Dennis Collection, New York Public Library.

Obviously I have a predilection for streetscapes but I like some (not all; some are creepy) of the more intimate, “up close and personal” stereoviews too. I’ve seen quite a few of people just standing outside their houses, being captured for posterity. A double dose of daily life. I love this image of a Salem Willows summer cottage with its residents, all ready for summer. This is not mine, unfortunately, but from another great source of stereoviews: the Center for Lowell History at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell Libraries.

Stereoview Juniper Point UMASS Lowell SP

“View at Juniper Point, Salem Neck, Mass.”, n.d., Center for Lowell History at the University of Massachusetts Lowell Libraries (the original Willows cottages were built for Lowell residents who wanted to summer on the coast).

So again, what to do with those stereoviews that I do possess? Ultimately I will leave them all to the Salem State University Library’s Archives and Special Collections, because what Salem needs is a Center for Salem History there, as the Peabody Essex Museum ceased its historical-society function long ago. But in the meantime, I’d like to find a more clever and creative way to preserve and display them. I’d like to get them out of the box! I guess I could frame them in some interesting combinations and create a gallery wall, but that’s about the extent of my creativity. Brass floating frames? Display them with a special “twinscope” at hand like this cool exhibit from just last year, Syracuse in 3-D (1860-1910)? I’m open to suggestions, because I do think there is something very engaging–both aesthetically and historically– about images in multiples. As evidence, I give you this beautiful invitation to the Pickering House’s annual garden party by Salem artist Racket Shreve, paired with Cousins’ stereoview, of course.

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Stereo Pickering

Stereoview Pickering House Cousins 1876

Scene from the interactive “Syracuse in 3-D” exhibit by Colleen Woolpert (+ more here); Racket Shreve’s quatre-Pickering House invitation; Frank Cousins’ “Salem in 1876” stereoview of the Pickering House.


Scent of a Queen

While I was looking for spring wine concoctions in A Queen’s Delight the other day I came across a recipe for “Queen Elizabeths Perfume”: Take eight spoonfuls of Compound water, the weight of two pence in fine powder of Sugar, and boil it on hot Embers and Coals, softly, and half an ounce of sweet Marjoram dried in the Sun, the weight of two pence of the powder of Benjamin to make a sweet, long-lasting perfume. As you can see, other delights are in there, including a rose and cypress perfume supposedly utilized by her brother Edward, and a toothpaste made of Mother of Pearl.

Queens Delight 4

This herbal scent seems a bit more complex (and long-lasting) than Elizabeth’s other perfume, recorded in C.J.S. Thompson’s Mystery and Lure of Perfume (1927) and the inspiration for the “perfume garden” designed by Laurie Chetwood and Patrick Collins which won a Gold Medal and the title of “Most Creative” at the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show. I wish I had seen this garden–which presented the evolution of Elizabeth’s perfume from plant to bottle in a “polysensorial” way–but we can all buy a bottle of the finished product at the Historic Royal Palaces gift shop (oh no, they only ship to the U.K). I think I might prefer the marjoram-based scent anyway; rose damask is a bit cloying.

Scent of a Queenp

PerfumeGarden2009

Perfume Garden Sketch ChettwoodArchitects

Elizabeth Perfume HRP

Sketch and photograph of the award-winning Perfume Garden, 2009, from a portfolio here; Elizabeth’s inspirational rose damask eau de toilette, available (in the U.K.) here.

Speaking of cloying: neither of these perfumes contains the exotic ingredient found in so many recipes for scented sachets, pomanders, and waters in the sixteenth and seventeenth century: musky secretions from the anal glands of the civet cat (not a cat at all), which could mask all unpleasant odors and serve as an aphrodisiac. Shakespeare gave King Lear a civet reference–Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination–but a century later it was fortunately out of fashion if Samuel Cowper’s rhyme is any indication: I cannot talk with civet in the room, a fine puss-gentleman that’s all perfume.

Elizabethan Perfume Collage

Barbier Elizabethans 1928

Another perfume recipe from A Queen’s Delight and an Elizabethan perfume bottle from the “Cheapside Hoard” and the Museum of London; the Elizabethan pouchoir print by Georges Barbier from Richard Le Gallienne’s Romance of Perfume (1928).


Playing Card Personas

I love the look of playing cards: the traditional suits, their predecessors (roses, crowns, rings, bells, leaves, hares, acorns…I could go on), and their endless variations and adaptations over the centuries. It is one thing to transform a card into something else entirely, or replace the familiar figures with new entities, scenes or characters (events of the English Civil War, generals during the American Civil War, the non-standard Kings and Queens of every European country, the “dedicated decks” of Salem’s own Parker Brothers), but quite another to bequeath personality to the stiff standardized Kings and Queens of the traditional deck. That artistic feat is impressive to me: so I fell for one of Felix Blommestijn’s cards a few years back, and a collage of Elmo Hood caught my eye immediately when it came across my Instagram feed last week. Now I see that his playing card creations have gone viral over the past few years, but they were quite a discovery for me.The collages are very dear, the prints affordable but apparently sold out everywhere, and I can see why: Hood’s kings, queens and jacks are immediately recognizable, but they are also active (or reactive). Quite the card trick!

Elmo Hood Broken Queen 2014

Elmo Hood Queen and King

Elmo Hood PlayingCard Print

elmo hood jack queen king

Elmo Hood Two Kings

Elmo Hood Love is Rare

Elmo Hood Jack and King

@Elmo Hood collages and prints: “Broken Queen”, “Queen of Hearts/Suicide King”, “Loyal”;  “Most Young Kings get their Heads cut off”; “Diamond Heist”; “Cards were Harmed in the Making of this Art”.  More here and here.


Political Poplars?

I suspect that most of my colleagues who teach American history dislike Thomas Jefferson. I don’t really get into it with them; I prefer to play naive and impressionistic when it comes to American history (because I am), but I have heard and seen disparaging words and glances on more than one occasion. Their opinion was shared by Salem’s Federalists over two centuries ago, who cast Jefferson as a licentious Jacobin even before the disastrous Embargo Act of 1807. But there was one Jeffersonian “policy” that was popular in Salem, at least for a while: the planting of (Lombardy) Poplar trees on the Common and along several streets. Jefferson loved these stately trees, and had them planted not only at Monticello but also in Washington, along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. His poplar advocacy spread north, and in one of my favorite Salem paintings (actually it’s everyone’s favorite Salem painting), George Ropes’ Salem Common on Training Day, the newly-planted poplars are very prominent. Apparently they were also planted along the Newburyport “turnpike”, now Highland Avenue, and a few other new streets.

Washington 1800 LC

Poplars Washington

Poplars Porter MFA

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Poplars lining Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., early nineteenth century, Library of Congress; Poplars in Rufus Porter’s “Boston Harbor” wall mural from the Prescott Tavern in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; George Ropes, Jr., Salem Common on Training Day, 1808, Peabody Essex Museum. 

As attractive as they were (or as Ropes made them), the Common poplars would soon be gone, replaced by maples and elms and more pedestrian trees. Was their disappearance due to nature (the “Great September Gale” of 1815 or their unsuitability to Salem’s climate and/or soil) or politics? I ask this question because of a provocative little passage in one of Sidney Perley’s early articles in the Essex Antiquarian (1911): Political feeling was so strong in the old Jeffersonian days that these poplars were condemned by the Federalists on account of Jefferson having been instrumental in producing them. Some of the Republicans planted these trees in front of their residences to show their allegiance to Jeffersonian principles, and the enraged Federalists were guilty of injuring and destroying them. This was true in Salem in 1801 in several instances, the mischief being of course done under cover of darkness. Captain Samuel Very, who lived at Buffum’s Corner, offered a reward of twenty dollars for the conviction of the person or persons who injured the trees before his house. Very interesting! It sounds like poplars were conspicuous targets, and the grove on the Common must have been offensive to Salem’s Federalists: did they mount an attack? To answer this question, I turned to one of Perley’s contemporaries and the authority on horticultural Salem a century ago, John Robinson, who wrote a great little book on Salem’s trees titled Our trees : a popular account of the trees in the streets and gardens of Salem, and of the native trees of Essex County, Massachusetts : with the location of trees, and historical and botanical notes (1891). A man of science, Robinson discounts political explanations for the disappearance of Salem’s poplars in favor of botanical ones: The stiff Lombardy Poplar (Populus dilatata) once grown everywhere, is now but rarely seen except in a state of decay. Our Common was originally planted with these trees in 1802 from nurseries on the northern side, in the vicinity of Winter Street. But, fifteen years later, the trees were found to be of little value for ornament and they were replaced by elms. There are wrecks of Lombardy poplars on Loring Avenue, beyond the Marblehead branch railroad crossing, near the Willows, and on the Newburyport turnpike in various places……….it turns out that Lombardy Poplars just didn’t “take” in Salem’s soil. There are certainly no Poplar “wrecks” on the Common today, but I think I found a few relics in the Howard Street cemetery, still standing guard.

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Apparently NOT a poplar, but an upright English oak!


Artistic Nationalism

I started this blog to indulge in the discovery (and rediscovery) of Salem’s history, but also American history, which I haven’t really studied in any depth since high school. And I’ve completely forgotten what I learned then, or before, because it was the same old narrative, year after year, Plymouth to Ford’s Theater again and again and again. Past politics. So boring–I hated history by the time I went away to college and was determined to avoid it by majoring in something that was almost completely contrary to my interests and talents: economics. But my time abroad, along with the few history courses I allowed myself to take, convinced me that it was only American history that was boring, so I went on to get my Ph.D. in European history and become a history professor, which is quite simply the best job ever. Of course now I know that American history is not boring (though it is short), because I’ve uncovered more of its layers, including that which is most interesting to me: its culture. My American history curriculum starts with creativity and ends with events, and so I tend to fall down a rabbit hole when I encounter an amazing database like the Index of American Design, a project that commissioned Depression-era artists to produce nearly 18,000 watercolor renderings of traditional American arts and crafts made before 1900 under the auspices of the Federal Arts Project (FAP) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The project encompassed 34 states, regional exhibitions of the renderings, and the creation of a permanent inventory of reference materials with which one can rediscover American material culture again and again and again–as accessed today through the portal of the National Gallery of Art.

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Robert Pohle, “Sheaf of Wheat” Shop Sign, American, active c. 1935, 1935/1942, watercolor, graphite, and pen and ink on paper, Index of American Design

Index renderings are photographic in their simplicity and detail: the artists are documenting and creating at the same time. Like all WPA initiatives, the Index was first and foremost a way to put unemployed people, in this case artists, to work, but like several FAP projects, the goal of archiving all forms of American culture seems to be just as important. The artists of the Index of American Design, just like the architects of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), used their own artistry to capture and preserve American artistry, as a form and expression of artistic nationalism. Their meticulous drawings of shop signs, andirons, cabinets, dolls and dresses, showcased in a series of national exhibitions, enabled an anxious American audience to discover (or rediscover) its own cultural identity, through very familiar forms.

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Margaret Knapp, Silver Teapot, American, active c. 1935, 1934, graphite on paper, Index of American Design

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Lillian Causey, Quilt, applique, American, active c. 1935, Index of American Design

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Bessie Forman, Dress, American, active c. 1935, 1935/1942, watercolor and graphite on paper, Index of American Design

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Bessie Forman, Man’s Hat, American, active c. 1935, 1935/1942, watercolor and graphite on paperboard, Index of American Design

There are several Salem items in the Index (of course), including some very primitive wooden dolls, a cartouche, and a very characteristic chair. I’m biased, I know, but I think more Salem items should have been included–and wondering if the democratization goals of the Index worked against seats of “high” culture?

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Beverly Chichester, Salem Dolls, American, active c. 1935, 1935/1942, watercolor, graphite, and gouache on paperboard, Index of American Design

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Alfred H. Smith, Cartouche from Salem Gate, American, active c. 1935, c. 1939, watercolor, graphite, and pen and ink on paperboard, Index of American Design

William Kieckhofel, Salem Chair, American, active c. 1935, c. 1937, watercolor and colored pencil on paper, Index of American Design

William Kieckhofel, Salem Chair, American, active c. 1935, c. 1937, watercolor and colored pencil on paper, Index of American Design

 

A few posters of WPA/FAP/IAD exhibitions held in 1937-38:

IAD Collage


Massey’s Cove

Sometimes I feel sorry for the so-called “Old Planters”, the very first European settlers of Salem (which they called Naumkeag), who arrived in 1626 from the failed colony further north on Cape Ann. They are a rather overlooked lot. For two years they maintained their own isolated settlement until John Endecott arrived with more settlers and authority and transformed the rather loose Naumkeag into the rather staunch Salem, under the aegis of the Massachusetts Bay Company. And thus the Old Planters gave way to the New. Salem recognizes the Old Planters with a prominent statue of its leader, Roger Conant (who had made his way from Plymouth to Cape Ann to Salem), which is unfortunately located in close proximity to the Salem Witch Museum, thus he is often misidentified and/or overlooked: I shudder to remember all the ridiculous things I have heard tourists say about Conant as I have passed by. The other site associated with these men (and their families) is unmarked and removed: this is their landing place on the north side of the Salem peninsula and the North River: most often called “Massey’s Cove” in the sources. Salem’s great antiquarian/historian from a century ago, Sidney Perley, places this location at the foot of Skerry Street, but the train tracks and Route 1A bypass road that was built a couple of years ago have rendered it relatively inaccessible. Even though it is a very idealistic perspective, probably the best way to ponder Massey’s Cove is by looking Marblehead folk artist J.O.J. Frost’s naïve painting, The Hardships + Sacrifice Masseys Cove Salem 1626 The First Winter. A mighty nation was born God leading these noble men and women, painted in the 1920s.

Massey's Cove Frost

Massey's Cove crop

John Orne Johnson Frost, The Hardships and Sacrifice, Massey’s Cove, Salem 1626, Collection of Historic New England.

And then of course we also have Perley’s seventeenth-century maps from the Essex Antiquarian–not very embellished but most likely pretty accurate. Perley believed that the Old Planters erected 19 cottages along the shore, all of which had disappeared by 1661. The oldest house in this first-settled section of Salem to survive well into the twentieth century was the Ephraim Skerry House on Conant Street, a late First Period house built in the early eighteenth century. It was demolished in 1990, to make way for the bypass road. I tried to conjure up some sort of historical feeling for the Old Planters by accessing some photographs (from MACRIS, dated 1985) of the Old Skerry House, but it didn’t work, as it was just too new.

Massey's Cove map Perley

Massey's cove map Perley detail

Massey's Cove

Massey's Cove Collage.jpg

The Ephraim Skerry House on Conant Street, built between 1710-1724, demolished 1990.


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