Tag Archives: Art

Mr. Berry’s Portfolio

The pen-in-hand sketching architect is one of my favorite perspectives of Salem’s material landscape, and there were quite a few, from the 1870s on. Salem was an important design source, from the Centennial through the height of the Colonial Revival in the 1920s. I recently discovered a slim volume of hand-drawn houses by a young architect from southern Maine, William E. Berry, which does not contain any Salem houses but is nonetheless so completely charming that I wanted to feature it: I love his drawings, which are much more impressionistic than measured, as well as his captions—even his chosen fonts! I was not surprised to learn that he was a friend and colleague of Arthur Little, another architect who sketched old buildings along the New England coast for inspiration: if you spend an hour or so looking at Little’s sketches in Early New England Interiors (1878) and Berry’s Pen Sketches of Old Houses (1874) you will be plunged into the world of the young New England architect of the era, engaging with the design details all around him (unfortunately I don’t think there are any similar volumes by her, although it would be interesting to compare if there were).

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Barry 3The “OLD Mansion” above is the Sewall House or Coventry Hall in York, Maine, my hometown: growing up in a large shingle house in the Harbor, this was always my touchstone for what a “proper” house should look like.

Barry 4 (2)Can anyone tell me about this house in Saco, Maine?

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Grove HallWOW. This is (was) the “Dearborn House” in Grove Hall, in Boston. You can read more about this amazing house here, or at least the search for more information about this amazing house. The photograph is by A.H. Folsom, c. 1868, Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

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Barry 6 (2) The Tufts House in Medford, an unknown (???) Boston house, and some exterior and interior details, including amazing “portable paneling”. Mr. Berry also went down south, but I am not going with him.


The Unveiling of Salem Women

A big transition here from New Deal Salem to Governor Endicott’s Salem but I am joyfully skittering back to the early modern era for #SalemSuffrageSaturday after spending too much time in the twentieth century for the #Salemtogether project of the last month or so! It’s dificult to uncover seventeenth-century women—both in Europe and in the New World: you generally need a flashpoint. Obviously the Salem Witch Trials was a HUGE flashpoint which created a window through which we can see several women closer up at the close of the seventeenth century, but earlier on, there’s not a lot to go on. So a debate about the veiling of women in the 1630s is an opportunity to examine perceptions of women—in a very general sense. Likely at the instigation (or at the very least the encouragement) of Governor John Endicott, often characterized as a “hot-headed” Puritan and certainly a strident separatist, the Reverend Samuel Skelton, the first minister of Salem’s First Church, ordered women to wear veils to church in 1630, “under penalty of non-communion, urging the same as a matter of duty and absolute necessity”. Under the remainder of Skelton’s tenure, and through the short term of his successor Roger Williams, this was the policy, and it was a controversial one, drawing the very public disagreement of the prominent Reverend John Cotton of Boston, who saw veils as more ceremonial than scriptural and demeaning to women in a more representative Reformed perspective.

pixlrThe MEN: pro-veil John Endicott and anti-veil John Cotton.

I have to back up a bit chronologically and go back to England to put this issue in its proper context: Endicott’s point of view is confusing to me as it is actually CONTRARY to that of the Puritans back home, who identified veils with the traditional “churching” ceremony in which new mothers were “purified” through a ritualistic return to the Church. There was no scriptural reference to this ceremony, so Puritans rejected it. But on the other hand, there WAS a very key scriptural justification for women wearing veils in church, from the Apostle himself, St. Paul: “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a woman ought to wear a veil on her head, for the sake of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:710). So this was a paradox, between tradition, custom, and the Bible—which of course can be interpreted in alternative ways—leading to debate along the spectrum of English Protestantism from the Elizabethan era to the onset of the English Civil War. In the earlier period, Puritan Thomas Cartwright alleged that the customary wearing of a veil was a Judeo-Catholic invention which should be abolished, while Archbishop of Canterbury John Whitgift responded that this was a trifling matter, which women could decide for themselves: “let the women themselves answer these matters”. He asserted further that the wearing of veils was a civil matter, a custom, rather than a ceremony of the Church. Whitgift’s voice of moderation was echoed later by the Reverend Cotton, who not only engaged in a fierce public debate in Boston over the veiling of women, a debate that was so “enthusiastic” that John Winthrop had to “brake [it] off”, but also traveled to Salem to encourage the unveiling of its women in a sermon which was characterized as both enlightening and immediately effective by William Hubbard in his General History of New England (1680): Taking an occasion to spend a Lordsday at Salem, in his exercise in the forenoon, he by his doctrine so enlightened most of the women in the place, that it unveiled them, so as they appeared in the afternoon without their veils, being convinced that they need not put on veils on any such account as the use of that covering is mentioned in scripture…….[He] let in so much light into their understandings, that they who before thought it a shame to be seen in the public without a veil, were ashamed ever after to be covered with them”. Well, this was quite a moment, especially as Endicott seemed to be advocating for a policy in which women should wear veils “abroad”, meaning in public, rather than just in Church, and another reminder (there are so many!) that you can’t paint “Puritans” with a very broad brush, as is definitely the practice in Salem today.

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Screenshot_20200515-210231_ChromeThe WOMEN: what were they wearing? Well, these are English women rather than Salem women but they are contemporary and this first portrait is one of my very FAVORITES: an anonymous painter and subject, it it titled “A Puritan Lady”, 1638, Berwick Museum & Art Gallery. I think it was back to the “steeple-crowned hat”, if they ever took them off! You tend to see veils for particular occasions and times of life: the second portrait is of Jane Trevor, Lady Myddleton as a WIDOW, so she is wearing a mourning veil. National Trust, Chirk Castle, c. 1670.


Ideal Illustrations: Men and their Houses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Death of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Little Sister

I’m seeking to cast some light on relatively or completely unknown Salem women for my #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts, in addition to the usual suspects, who live on in perpetual sunshine. Sometimes this is difficult to do, as the sources simply aren’t there, and sometimes you can only illuminate these women through their association with something or someone who leaves a source-strewn trail. Today my focus is on Maria Louisa Hawthorne (1802-52), the younger sister of Nathaniel Hawthorne: we can get to Louisa (which she was called) through Nathaniel, but also, unfortunately, through her tragic, even sensational death. In a very telling and consequential mid-nineteenth-century moment, Louisa found herself, after a lifetime of service to the various family members in Salem whom she was also quite dependent on in her single state, and after a rare vacation to that celebrated hotspot Saratoga Springs, on board the paddle-wheel steamboat Henry Clay on its journey from Albany to New York City on July 28, 1852 when a ravenous fire on board forced her to choose: conflagration or the deep, dark Hudson. She choose the latter, and drowned, in one of the River’s worst maritime disasters, in the conspicuous company of former NYC Mayor Stephen Allen, landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing, the granddaughter of a President and the sister of a Senator, among many other victims.

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ArmeniaNew York Daily Times, Aug. 2, 1852; Nathaniel Currier, “Burning of the Henry Clay Near Yonkers,” Metropolitan Museum of Art; The survivor: the Armenia, Antonio Nicolo Gasparo Jacobsen, Christie’s.

It wasn’t just the distinction or associations of some of the victims, it was the way they died. In a display of what can only look like wanton recklessness to us, the Henry Clay was engaged in a fiercely competitive race with another steamboat, the Armenia, on their way to New York City, passengers be damned. Apparently this was common: the fastest steamship (not the safest!) drew the most passengers. The Henry Clay was apparently well in the lead, its engines bursting to capacity, when the fire broke out in their compartments. The ship’s pilot aimed for the banks of the Hudson, but those passengers in the stern (like Louisa) were trapped, and faced with that very difficult choice. To make matters worse, the ship’s paddle wheels kept spinning, further imperiling those who did jump into the river. Louisa was on this journey with her uncle John Dike, the husband of her maternal aunt Priscilla Manning, who survived the wreck and traveled directly to Concord to tell Nathaniel. The siblings were close, as Nathaniel’s letters testify: Louisa was the first person he had written to after his marriage to Sophia Peabody, asking her to come and visit them at the Old Manse, and just before her death, he had written and asked her to come and live with his family permanently. Sophia Hawthorne recounted Mr. Dike’s appearance in a letter to her mother a few days later:

This morning we received the shocking intelligence that Louisa Hawthorne was lost in the destruction of the steamer “Henry Clay” on the Hudson, on Wednesday afternoon, July 27. She has been at Saratoga Springs and with Mr. Dike for a fortnight, and was returning by way of New York, and we expected her here for a long visit. It is difficult to realize such a sudden disaster. The news came in an appalling way. I was at the toilet-table in my chamber, before seven o’clock, when the railroad coach drove up. I was astonished to see Mr. Pike get out. He left us on Monday morning,–two days ago. It struck to my heart that he had come to inform us of some accident. I knew how impossible it was for him to leave his affairs. I called from the window, “Welcome, Mr. Dike!” He glanced up, but did not see me nor smile. I said, “Go to the western piazza, for the front door is locked.” I continued to dress my hair, and it was a considerable time before I went down. When I did, there was no Mr. Dike. “Where is Mr. Dike?–I must then have seen his spirit,” said I. But upon going to the piazza, there he stood unaccountably, without endeavoring to enter. Mr. Hawthorne opened the door with the strange feeling that he should grasp a hand of air. I was by his side. Mr. Pike, without a smile, deeply flushed, seemed even then not in his former body. “Your sister Louisa is dead!” I thought he meant that his own sister was dead, for she also is called Louisa. “What! Louisa?” I asked. “Yes.” “What was the matter?” “She was drowned.” “Where?” “On the Hudson, in the ‘Henry Clay’!” He then came in, and my husband shut himself in his study. Their son Julian recalls in his memoirs that after receiving the news, Mr. Hawthorne went out, and was seen no more that day. 

At this point (July 30), Louisa’s body had not been recovered, but it was three days later, and Sophia then wrote to her sister Mary: I find that Louisa was not burned, but drowned.

Hawthorne NYT Aug 2 1852

Sophia_Letter_NYPL_DG-removebg-previewNew York Daily Times, August 2, 1852: Sophia Peabody Hawthorne Letters at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

The deaths of Louisa Hawthorne and her fellow victims were consequential: given the proximity of the tragedy to New York City (Riverdale) and the prestige of some of the victims, this was a story that did not fade away, all summer long and into the fall. Inquests were held, and trials, as the Henry Clay‘s owners and officers were tried for manslaughter. They were all acquitted, but in August the Steamship Act of 1852 was passed in Congress, imposing inspections, regulations and licensing on the industry, and expressly outlawing racing, “to provide for the better security of the lives of passengers on board of vessels propelled in whole or in part by steam.” A tragic and consequential death, but what of Louisa’s life? I’m sad that I can’t flesh it out a bit more: beyond the childhood companion to her brother and sister, the seamstress, the young woman always taking care of one Manning or another, the maiden aunt who was a favorite of Nathaniel’s and Sophia’s children. I’m sure she was all these things and a lot more, and I’m not sure whether she preferred to spell her family name Hathorne or Hawthorne.


The Needle’s Currency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Copley Cousins

Two portraits of young Salem women of the mid-eighteenth century, both named Mary and newly-wed, painted by John Singleton Copley wearing the same dress! Whether you’re delving into the reform-minded Salem women of the nineteenth century or the merchant princesses of a century earlier, you quickly form the impression that both groups lived in small worlds. Mary Turner Sargent (1743-1813) and Mary Toppan Pickman (1744-1817) were born and married into money, and their portraits reflect their wealth and status: their shared dress shimmers and glows in Copley fashion, and handcrafted Georgian detail creates a solid background for their portrayals.

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Copley Detail (3)Mrs. Daniel Sargent (Mary Turner), Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; and Mrs. Benjamin Pickman (Mary Toppan), Yale University Art Gallery + plus a crop of the serpentine trim on their dress.

I love John Singleton Copley’s American portraits: they seem far more authentic, engaging, and artful than the English paintings from his later career. These women lived in a world he knew well, and into which he would eventually marry. Unlike our two Salem Marys, he was not born into wealth and privilege, but his marriage to Susanna Farnham Clarke, the daughter of the prominent Boston merchant Richard Clarke (who lost a valuable cargo to the Boston Tea Party) as well as his talent and productivity enabled him to rise quite high in pre-revolutionary society. He painted famous patriots and loyalists alike, but he was firmly in the latter camp, and thus he decamped to England in 1774. Mary Turner Sargent married into a family of Gloucester patriots; Mary Toppan Pickman’s husband Benjamin was a Loyalist exile—I’m wondering if he ran into Copley in London, as that was another small world.

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Copley family cropJohn Singleton Copley, The Copley Family, 1776-77, National Gallery + a crop of Susanna’s blue dress.

There are two other Copley portraits of Salem women that I know of: that of Lydia Lynde Walter (1741-98), a contemporary of the two Marys, and Abigail Pickman Eppes Gardiner (1733-1980), Mary Pickman’s sister-in-law! One imagines lots of chatter among these women about their portraits—and comparisons. Were the two Marys jealous of Abigail, who is clad in indulgent drapery in more individualistic fashion? Abigail had to go with a more classical look, perhaps, so not to look too provincial when she departed for England and Loyalist Land. Lydia Lynde Walter lived with her husband William, the rector of Trinity Church, until 1776 and then they fled to Nova Scotia, a Loyalist destination for those who wanted to remain in North America, where they sat out the Revolution and remained until 1791.

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Brooklyn_Museum_-_Mrs._Sylvester_GardCopley iner,_née_Abigail_Pickman,_formerly_Mrs._William_Eppes_-_John_Singleton_Copley_-_overallLydia Lynde Walter,Virginia Museum of History and Culture; Abigail Pickman Eppes Gardiner, Brooklyn Museum.

Of all these women, only Mary Toppan Pickman remained in Salem throughout her life. Mary Turner Sargent was the great-granddaughter of the John Turner who built the house which would eventually become known as the House of the Seven Gables, the granddaughter of the John Turner who would replenish the family fortune, and the daughter of the John Turner who lost it all—so I guess it’s a good thing that she resided in her husband’s native city of Gloucester, somewhat removed from the scene of her family’s failing fortunes. Mary Pickman remained in Salem even as her husband left for London, managing those properties that were not confiscated and raising their four young children (+ taking care of elderly parents). She seems to have done a a more than capable job, as tributes to her capabilities and pleasant nature are numerous. She and her husband exchanged letters during the course of the Revolution, but of course only ONE of hers survives compared with many of his. Fortunately it is revealing. In June of 1783, she wrote:

I am happy my dear Mr. Pickman that I have once more heard the glad tidings of peace, but my happiness will not be complete until till you return. The satisfaction you received from my letter could not be greater than I felt as seeing yours of the 20th February. I am glad you are disposed to return to America and have no doubt that in a short time every obstacle will in a short time be removed—our fortune is not so much depreciated perhaps as you imagine. We have a very good one left enough to answer any purpose. It has not been in my power to purchase any bills lately but will if possible send you sufficient to pay all demands before you leave England….. (George Francis Dow, ed., The diary and letters of Benjamin Pickman (17401819) of Salem, Massachusetts).

He had been gone for TEN years, leaving her with all of their family responsibilities and instead of writing the war is over, come back immediately, I’m exhausted she writes of her incomplete happiness in his absence and promises to send money to settle his debts before his departure. By all accounts the Pickmans had a very happy marriage, strong enough to withstand this separation: they had two more children in the years following his return.

Looking at the portraits of the blue-dressed Marys and Lydia Lynde, painted in 1763-64, it seems impossible to imagine how much their lives will change with the Revolution; Abigail, posing in the 1770s, looks a bit more wary. Copley captured a waning colonial world, and then left it.


It Seems as if Hannah is Hiding

These #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts are challenging:  and it’s only February! Especially as I am drawn to the more “hidden” women: whose stories, it seems, you can only get to through men. I’ve been interested in Hannah Crowninshield (1789-1834) for a while: she was part of the large and dynamic Crowninshield family in its most powerful era, she was a “maker” and an artist, she was the protegee of the Reverend William Bentley, she was the wife of a naval commodore who married her younger sister after her untimely death. Fortunately we do have some things that she created that can, in effect, “speak” for her, because otherwise I could only shed light on Hannah through her father, her mentor, her husband, or a cat. My interest in Hannah actually began when I spotted a charming watercolor of a cat named Pompey, who accompanied her father and brother in their voyage across the Atlantic in the famous pleasure yacht Cleopatra’s Barge, built for their wealthy cousin George Crowninshield in 1816. Pompey was lost at sea on the voyage, “a victim to his patriotism.”

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I needed to know who created this charming “memorial,” hanging in the reconstruction of Cleopatra’s Barge cabin at the Peabody Essex Museum, almost as soon as I saw it: Hannah Crowninshield (an attribution found at the Smithsonian, rather than the PEM), daughter of the ship’s captain. There are extant and unattributed portraits of her father Benjamin (known as “Sailor Ben” to distinguish him from other Benjamin Crowninshields) and brother “Philosopher Ben” in the collection of the PEM (though inaccessible in its spare database): did Hannah paint these?

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Like many people of her era, we can see Hannah Crowninshield through the Reverend William Bentley’s eyes and diary. Actually we can “see” much more of Hannah than most of her contemporaries, as she and the Reverend were very close. They were next-door neighbors, living in two sides of what is now known as the Crowninshield-Bentley House: Bentley baptized Hannah, and married her to James Armstrong on March 29, 1819. His diary entry for that day indicates just how heartfelt his feelings were for her: this day I passed through the most interesting scene of my life. I came to the family of H. [Crowninshield] in 1791. In 1789 I had baptized Hannah, d. of Benj. and Mary Crowninshield, two years before I came into the family, tho I had before lived in a branch of it. As soon as Hannah was of age for instruction she was put into my care. She has rewarded it with her virtues & accomplishments. This day I delivered her in marriage to an officer of the Navy [Lieut. James Armstrong]. He is from Virginia, but to me unknown. What the prospects are I cannot guess. The event is not from my wishes or at my will. The sympathy was beyond description. The hundred I have united never gave such emotions. I knew nothing contrary to the hopes of the young man & that is the evil, that even this consolation is not borrowed from the ample means to render it happy, being rather my ignorance than my observation. The branches of the family were represented on the occasion & after the ceremonies H. retired to her Father’s in Danvers. The questions were Will she go to Virginia? It is said not, but the property was not then conveyed. Thus after nearly 30 years all our hopes are unknown. Why did not so accomplished a girl find a bosom friend in Salem. They who respected her did not dare to ask without means to support, and they who looked for fortune could not find it. All the domestic relations were not such as ambition could desire. I hope H. will be happy. It will be my happiness. My best wishes attend her. This rather anguished entry speaks to one of the most cherished relationships in the Reverend’s life, I believe.

20200211_125837PEM’s Bentley-Crowninshield House, which used to be located a bit further along (eastward) Essex Street.

But back to Hannah. Or Hannah and the Reverend. He refers to several of her compositions: an illustration for Marblehead mariner Ashley Bowen’s autobiographical journals, depicting his life as a ship’s voyage, a rather scary chalk drawing of 82-year-old Major-General John Stark, whom they visited in New Hampshire in 1810 (so scary that it was quite modified in lithographic and portrait form, but still, there are contemporary comments that it was “lifelike”), a reworked seventeenth-century portrait of Captain George Corwin which Bentley found “defaced,” and a much nicer watercolor portrait of James Tytler. All of these portraits are supposedly in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum according to Catalog of Portraits in the Essex Institute and the Catalog of American Portraits, but I can’t find any reference to them on the PEM’s site. It seems as if Hannah is indeed hiding—somewhere in the Peabody Essex Museum!

Hannah Bowen

Hannah Stark Collage

Hannah C. Corwin 1819

Hannah Crowninshield James TylerThe Catalog of American Portraits, accessed via the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, lists the following portraits by Hannah Crowninshield as part of the PEM’s collection: a self-portrait, a portrait of the Reverend Bentley, and the portrait of James Tytler, in addition to a portrait of Simon Bradstreet in the collection of Historic New England. Hannah’s portrait of Scottish radical publisher/apothecary Tytler, who lived briefly (and died) in Salem, illustrates his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography page.

As I was writing this post up on Thursday morning, I did see that there were some materials on Hannah in the Benjamin Crowninshield Family Papers (MH16) at the Phillips Library up in Rowley, and thus a dilemma presented itself: do I have time to run up there before my grad class at 4:30 so I can do justice to Hannah in this post? What if I run up there and there’s not much to see? The answer to the first question was “no”, so I might have to provide an addendum to this post at a later date: and for local history afficionados like myself out there, never take for granted the luxury of a historical society/repository in your own town! For now, I can only discern this much about Hannah Crowninshield Armstrong: she and her husband did not confirm the Reverend Bentley’s worst fears and head to his native Virginia after their 1819 marriage, they did not have any children, and she died in May of 1834 at age 45, after which her husband married her younger sister Elizabeth. The dating of her works in the Catalog of American Portraits indicates that she continued to paint after her marriage—-but that’s about all the light I can shed on that time of her life at this point. The Peabody Essex Museum actually credits and showcases one of her works on its website, although you will never, never find it by searching on the website itself:  only an external search engine will take you to it! It’s a painted work box made for her mother, and apparently the PEM also possesses a portable desk painted for her sister Maria (again–you will not find this at or through PEM but rather in Betsy Krief Salm’s Women’s Painted Furniture, 1780-1830. American Schoolgirl Art). I remain hopeful that some day, one day, the hidden figures  of Salem history, both women and men, will have their day when the Peabody Essex Museum, decides to cast some light on them.

Hannah Crowninshield Work Box (2)Hannah’s painted work box, made for her mother Mary Lambert Crowninshield, Peabody Essex Museum—this seems to exist only on an earlier incarnation of the PEM website here, and not the current one. You can really access much more of the collection–and much more information– if you search externally rather than through the current website.


The Knave of Hearts

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

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

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


Sarah Symonds of Salem

When I was a perpetual antiques hunter and picker some time ago, I would run into cast iron doorstops and plaster wall plaques with chipped paint depicting houses and gates and various interior details everywhere: they did not appeal to me and I passed them right by, but I remember seeing them often, in Maine, New Hampshire and western Massachusetts. When I moved to Salem I realized they were Sarah Symonds pieces, crafted right here by a very entrepreneurial artist. To be honest, I remained rather immune to their charms, even in my intense Salem collecting phase, and I still don’t really appreciate them, but I see that many other people do as their prices have certainly increased dramatically. I do have deep appreciation for Sarah the businesswomen, though, and the artistic ambassador of “old Salem,” along with her contemporaries Mary Harrod Northend and Caroline Emmerton.

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Screenshot_20200203-095432_ChromeSarah Symonds pieces from the archive of sold lots at Worthpoint; if I was going to purchase one it would definitely be the Gardner Pingree House.

Sarah (1870-1965) was a ninth-generation Salem resident, descended from the John Symonds (c. 1595-1671) who emigrated from East Anglia in the 1640s. He was an experienced joiner who trained his sons James and Samuel in the cabinet-making trade. The Symonds shop excelled and flourished, and its products are among the most valued pieces of early American furniture today: a small valuables cabinet made by James was purchased by the Peabody Essex Museum for nearly two and half million dollars in 2000. Successive generations of the Symonds family turned to other occupations, but they remained in Salem, and a street named after them testifies to their long residence. Sarah seems to have spent her whole life in Salem: she graduated from Emerson College in Boston (to which I assume she took the train) and later vacationed in a summer cottage in Marblehead but other than these forays she seems very bound to Salem, and to her work. I’m not sure exactly when she first started making bas-relief sculptures and plaques—most likely in the 1890s, and perhaps influenced by the careers of the Salem sculptors Louise Lander and John Rogers—but she received several mentions for her Hawthorne pieces in the press coverage of the centennial commemoration of his birth in 1904. And then she was launched, making and selling pieces in the recently-moved John Ward House on the campus of the Essex Institute, at the Snug Harbor Shop adjacent to the House of the Seven Gables, for a gift “shoppe” at the Hawthorne Hotel, and ultimately at the “Colonial Studio” in the Bray House on Brown Street. As you can see below, she also fulfilled orders by mail.

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There are several folders of Sarah’s business records in the Phillips Library and when I started going through their contents I became very fixated on the copyright registration certificates she filled out for each of her sculptures: in my real job I’m a sixteenth-century historian, so I’ve never used sources like these! They are so detailed, written in her own hand, and it occurred to me that seldom do we see artists describe their work so matter-of-factly. No doubt her applications were prompted by the passage of the 1909 copyright law, which extended protections to “works of art; models or designs for works of art”: her first certificates date from just after the passage of this landmark law (which replaced a law made in 1790!)

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I like to blame Daniel Low for the increasing prominence of the Salem witch, emblazoned on anything and everything, but to be fair, Sarah expanded her witch offerings over the first half of the twentieth century consistently: that category grows and only rivals “Salem’s Colonial Doorways” on her price lists. You can kind of feel some of her Colonial Revival contemporaries (especially Mary Harrod Northend) shirking away from the witch, but Sarah ran with it, producing round witches, tall witches, witches on brooms, witches with cauldrons, witch plaques and freestanding “statuettes,” witch medallions, and ink-well witches. Oh well, a lady has to make a living—and give her customers what they want.

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20200121_133608Sarah Symonds papers at the Phillips Library, Rowley:  MSS 0.202; The library also has some price lists. There’s an article about Sarah’s bas-reliefs by Barbara Morse White in the Antiques Journal (1976), and you can also read a short biography by Salem preservation architect John Goff here


A Feminine Focus

The Reverend William Bentley’s Diary is justly famous as a detailed source of much of Federal-era Salem’s history, but I think that three memoirs written by Salem women deserve a bit more storied reputation as sources: Marianne C.D. Silsbee’s Half Century in Salem (1886), Eleanor Putnam’s (the pseudonym of Harriet Bates) Old Salem (1886), and Caroline Howard King’s When I Lived in Salem 1822-1866 (1937). Of these three reminiscences, I find myself returning to Silsbee’s Half Century again and again, so I thought I would feature her on my third Salem Suffrage Saturday post. She is of the next generation, and in a much more enviable position, than the Hawthorne sisters of last week’s post: I think she was also a working woman (like all women!), but by choice rather than necessity.

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20200114_111551_20200120094207958A Half Century in Salem, and two photographs of Marianne Cabot Devereux Silsbee from her 1861 photographic album at the Phillips Library in Rowley (PHA 58): the first dated 1851 and the second 1861.

Marianne Cabot Devereux was born in Salem in 1812 to Eliza Dodge Devereux and Humphrey Devereux: I believe that her father, who had been captured by the British during the War of 1812 and imprisoned on Bermuda, was not present at her birth. Upon his release and return, Humphrey eventually moved his family into a Chestnut Street mansion, but Marianne’s early life was spent elsewhere: I’m not sure exactly where her childhood residence was, but she remembered spending a lot of time at her maternal grandmother’s house on Front Street. Around the time that the Devereux family moved to Chestnut Street, Humphrey commissioned a pair of portraits of himself and his wife by Gilbert Stuart: I was thrilled to discover the latter in the collection of the Rehoboth Antiquarian Society, but I could only find a heliotype copy of Mr. Devereux’s portrait in the The Pickering Genealogy. 

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Silsbee Humphrey Devereux Pickering Genaology Vol 1 (2)

Mrs. Devereux looks rosy-cheeked in her Stuart portrait, which apparently pleased her very much (her dress apparently was not as pleasing, so the artist Chester Harding later repainted the ruff and drapery) but she was in fact an invalid, and died eleven years after this portrait, when Marianne was sixteen. I’m on the precipice on the dreaded psycho-history here, but I think that Marianne’s reverence for older women, so apparent in A Half Century as well as other works, might stem from her mother’s illness and death. I’m on stronger ground stating that the early years covered in A Half Century were based on her mother’s letters to Marianne, rather than her own reminiscences. So you kind of get a double feminine focus in this text, which dwells on food, shops, schools, entertainments, dress, homes—the life of women, or should I say relatively wealthy women—as well as “external” events: Lafayette’s visit in 1824, when the first steamship line commenced trips to Boston. The book is much more focused on personalities than events however, and women really pop out: the honorable Elizabeth Sanders (who will definitely be the subject of a later post), the charming Mrs. Remond, who catered all the meals at her beloved Hamilton Hall.

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Marianne Cabot Devereux Silsbee expressed herself a bit more publicly, but she was a traditional woman of her time, focused on her family and friends. She married Nathaniel Silsbee Jr., son of a U.S. Senator and later two-term Mayor of Salem in 1829 and moved into the Silsbee mansion on the Common (now undergoing a major renovation and expansion). They had five children, two of whom, George and her namesake Marianne, died in childhood. The Silsbees left Salem for Boston in 1862 when he became Treasurer of Harvard, and there was another move to Milton following his retirement. Throughout this time she wrote poems and reminiscences, some published, some not. Her first publication, Memory and Hope, a compilation of mourning poems edited and introduced by her, was issued anonymously in 1851 (one can understand her interest in this topic given the early deaths of two children), and thereafter there are published children’s rhymes, a handwritten journal of poetry entitled My Grandmother’s Mirror, A New England Idyll (a reference to her maternal Dodge grandmother, who was a Pickering), a book about the Boston Ladies Club, and finally A Half Century in Salem. 

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20200121_111833The Silsbee Mansion on Salem Common in 1884, George H. Walker; Memory and Hope (1851); Title page of My Grandmother’s Mirror (Essex County Collection, Phillips Library, E S585.3 1878).

Much of her writings dwell on home life, social life, all the little things that surround one’s daily existence: one poem in My Grandmother’s Mirror creates a scene in the old Pickering house, while another is written from the perspective of a woman who dwelt within the border, of the town of peace and order, Our pleasant little Salem, on the margins of the sea surrounded by her children and children’s children. Yet Mrs. Silsbee was also an active and engaged woman: a mayor’s wife who carried on a long personal correspondence with abolitionist Lydia Maria Child and whose personal photograph album compiled in 1861 contains as many photographs of soldiers and politicians as it does her own children and grandchildren. Most of the men in uniform are her own family, including her older brother, George H. Devereux, former adjutant general of Massachusetts, and his soon-to be heroic sons, Arthur F. Devereux, commander of the Salem Light Infantry and later the Massachusetts 19th at Gettysburg, and John F., a Captain in the 11th Massachusetts Infantry, as it was perhaps impossible to separate the private and public spheres at this particular time. Several photographs of President Lincoln are included, but also an image of what I can only presume to be the family cat! When it was over, once can hardly blame Marianne Silsbee for desiring to look back to a dimmer, and thus more pleasant past.

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The private and the public: Mrs. Silsbee’s poetry and President Lincoln in her photograph album: Phillips Library E S585.3 (1878) and PHA 58 (1861).


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