Tag Archives: Art

Cabin in the Sky

The evening before last I was incredibly privileged to be able to attend a gathering in a ship’s cabin at the top of the Hawthorne Hotel. Not an actual cabin of course, but a rather convincing model, built for the Salem Marine Society in the 1920s as a condition of the sale of their building to the developers of the hotel. The Society, which was founded in 1766, had met continually at this location since 1830, and while its members do not seem to have been particularly attached to their Italianate Franklin Building (which replaced the earlier McIntire Archer Block, destroyed by fire in 1860), they were very attached to the site. And so the new hotel opened in 1925 featuring not only six stories and the latest accouterments, but also a rooftop cabin room, inspired by the actual captain’s cabin of one of the last great Salem East Indiamen, the barque Taria Topan. This cabin in the sky also represents the fruitful collaboration between the barque’s one-time commander, Captain Edward Trumbull, and the architect of the Hawthorne, Philip Horton Smith. It remains the private meeting room of the Salem Marine Society and their occasional guests, of which I was fortunate to be one.

Salem Marine Society Cabin HH

Cabin Room HH

SMS Cabin Interior

Hawthorne Hotel Buildings Collage

Cabin HH Exterior

Nathaniel Bowditch presides over the Salem Marine Society’s cabin at the top of the Hawthorne Hotel, the evolution of construction on the spot, from Samuel McIntire’s Archer Block (completed by 1810) to the Franklin Building (built after 1860) to the Hawthorne Hotel (built in 1925); X marks the spot of the rooftop cabin.

I was so excited to be in this space that I was a bit frenzied and not very good company, I’m afraid. I just wanted to see and capture everything. My skittishness was compounded by the fact that it was an absolutely beautiful early evening, and the ship’s cabin opens up onto an equally enticing (on such a day) ship’s deck, affording amazing views of Salem in every direction. Up in the air, surrounded by water on three sides, Salem’s original maritime orientation is all too apparent: the next time someone complains to me about how inaccessible is, I’m going to tell them to take a boat.

View of the Harbor from HH

View of Salem Common

View of Essex Street from Rooftop

But all those dashing sea captains were back inside, hanging from the teak-paneled walls in the form of portraits (alongside navigational instruments and paintings of ships) and encased in the Society’s registry of masters, a vast compendium of faces from 1766 to the present. I could have spent hours with this volume, gazing at all these drawings, paintings, silhouettes, and photographs of men and (finally!) women. There are so many ways you could use this source: it’s not just a record of maritime history, but also genealogy, social history, military history, even fashion history. Hats, no hats, hats, no hats.

Captain Abbot

Captain Fisk of Salem

Captain Collage

Captains Collage

Captain Fillebrownp.

Captains Abbot, Fiske, Chipman, Millet, Ward (clockwise), Tucker (right) and Webb, masters and members of the Salem Marine Society; a 20th century portrait of Captain John Fillebrown, who served in the War of 1812 and died a prisoner of war at Dartmoor Prison in England, along with 270 other Americans.

There were stories to be found in the cabin as well. The most apparent and dramatic one concerned the status of the Society’s very first honorary member, Matthew Fontaine Maury, Commander in the U.S. Navy and the first superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory. Despite his maritime magnificence, Maury was a Virginian and so not eligible for membership in the Society, but its membership honored his achievements by bestowing an honorary membership on him in 1859 and hanging his portrait on the wall of their original rooms.Two years later, after Maury resigned his commission and joined the Confederacy upon the start of the Civil War, the Salem mariners rescinded his membership, condemned him as a traitor, and placed his portrait head down and against the wall. This “reverse orientation” remains to this day, though a visiting delegation of the Mary Washington Branch of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities gifted the Society with another image of Commander Maury in 2008, which hangs alongside the reversed portrait. And so now, in the words of the southern Commander, “All is Well”.

Salem Marine Society Cabin Interior

Sticken from our rolls


Preparing to Paint

Is there anything more engaging than an artist’s sketchbook? Or even a notebook with a few sketches in it? I suppose the end product doesn’t have to be visual, it’s the insight into that conception/creation/ working it out process that I’m interested in, but imagery tends to be far more accessible, of course. I use Leonardo’s notebooks extensively in my Renaissance, Scientific Revolution, and early modern courses, and students are immediately engaged, entranced even, far more than they are when I show them the finished product. It’s interesting to see the wanderings of a very fertile mind in his case, what inspired him and what he also had to work out: perspective, motion, hands. Most of Leonardo’s sketches never made it onto canvas; once a particular challenge was overcome he moved on to the next one, but the sketchbooks of more (focused, disciplined, on-task???? it’s hard to compare Leonardo negatively to anyone) artists illustrate the progress from page to paint: those of Claude Monet immediately comes to mind. But again, it doesn’t have to be about images. The sketchbooks of  Massachusetts artist Alvan Fisher (1792-1863), a pioneer in American landscape, genre, and “view” paintings, gives us insights into his preparation for one of the first views of Salem from “Gallows Hill”, a scene that would be imitated time and time again over the course of the nineteenth century. Fisher jotted down notes about the Salem Witch Trials in his sketchbook, indicating that his inspiration for the Salem painting was not just the view he saw before him, but the events that brought him to this particular place.

Fisher View of Salem from Gallows Hill

Fisher Sketchbook no 5 1824

Alvan Fisher’s View of Salem from Gallows Hill (1818), Collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, and Sketchbook no. 5, containing notes about the Salem Witch Trials, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. With the recent validation of Proctor’s Ledge below rather than Gallows Hill above as the 1692 execution site, it occurs to me that the inspiration for this famous “view” is based on a falsehood! Indeed, I think that the figures in the foreground are sitting on THE ledge. But clearly a perspective from that point would not be as revealing of the city below.

From what I can see, most of the sketches in Fisher’s notebooks in the Museum of Fine Arts contain more conventional preparatory sketches: houses, hills, streams, animals. Creatures, particularly creatures in motion and even more particularly birds, seem to captivate artists for centuries, from Leonardo to Salem’s most famous artist, Frank Benson. Browsing around sketchbooks which have been digitized (especially those included in this archived exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art), I can’t tell which is more captivating to me: individual sketches or the entire sketchbook, the works themselves or the works in progress. 

Fisher Notebook 1

Benson Sketchbook 1882

Bird Collage

Sketchbook Rockport

Sketchbook Porter

Page from Alvan Fisher’s Sketchbook no. 1, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Autographed sketch by Frank Benson, 1882, Skinner Auctions; Leonardo’s sketches from the Codex on the Flight of Birds and one of Benson’s bird sketches, Northeast Auctions; Covers of sketchbooks of Harrison Cady (1943) and Fairfield Porter  (1950) from the Archives of American Art.


August Americana Picks

August is the season of Americana offerings at auctions and antique shows, and I have my eyes on a few lots in upcoming auctions at my favorite regional auctioneers.I really don’t “need” anything, but that has never stopped me from looking, pretty much everywhere I go, but especially through online auction catalogs and at previews and shows. What am I looking for? I’m always entranced by transferware, even though (or perhaps because) I sold off my own collection of pink a few years ago. Creamware, pearlware and mochaware. MAPS, especially schoolgirl maps. SIGNS, Salem especially, but not necessarily. Fancy chairs, always. Interesting paper. Anything with an unusual texture or history. In the past, Federal card tables: they are going for a song now but I simply have too many. So here is what is tempting me from sales coming up over the next week or so at Northeast and Skinner Auctions.

at Northeast:

August American TT

August Americana Colonial Cupboard Northeast

August Americana Ships Passage 1817

August Americana Salem Harbor Soup Plate

Copeland Spode’s Transferware Tissue Patterns; Colonial Cupboard made in Hudson Valley, New York;  Ship’s Passage for the Brig “Ceres” of Salem, signed by President James Monroe, 1817; English creamware soup bowl (one of a pair–the other features Nantucket Harbor) decorated with green enamel and black transfer print of Salem Harbor.

At Skinner:

August Americana 1 Skinner

Americana Auctions Metamorphosis Skinner

August Americana Eagle Print Skinner

August Americana Chairs

August Americana Desk Skinner

A polychrome transfer-decorated Liverpool Pottery creamware pitcher, bearing the name of Captain James Barr, a Salem Privateer whose house is still standing on Lynde Streeet; A Metamorphosis, America or England, 18th century, watercolor and ink on paper depicting Adam and Eve, and a lion changing into a griffin; Framed print of an eagle with an olive branch; Set of NINE fancy chairs with old green paint (it looks black to me, but the description says green); a nineteenth-century schoolmaster’s desk. This last item is a bit rustic for me, but for some reason I just love it. Maybe because it’s almost back-to-school time. Maybe I want to bring it back to school WITH me and carry it around from room to room to bolster my mastery!


The Two Mrs. Fenollosas

I came across a dress so beautiful the other day that I started thinking about its owner/wearer, Elizabeth Goodhue Millett Fenollosa, wife of the famous “Orientalist” and cultural ambassador Ernest Fenollosa, who happened to grow up in the house right next door to mine here in Salem. Actually “Lizzie” Fenollosa, who was also Salem-born and -raised, was Fenollosa’s first wife, who accompanied him to Japan, where he was eventually appointed Director of the Imperial Museum in Tokyo in 1888. Here is the Worth dress, which the curators of the Philadelphia Museum of Art believe might have been worn for her presentation at the Imperial Court coincidentally with her husband’s appointment.

Fenollosa Dress

Women’s Evening Dress: Bodice and Skirt. Designed by Charles Frederick Worth, English (active Paris), 1825 – 1895. Worn by Mrs. Ernest Fenollosa, c. 1886-1887, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Owen Biddle, 1978.

I had never seen this stunning dress before but I was not surprised to see it in the collection of the Philadelphia museum, as the Fenollosas’ daughter Brenda was married into the prominent Biddle family of that city in 1913. Her son Owen Biddle and his wife donated the gown (along with another) to the museum, and she herself donated a lovely Meiji scroll from her father’s collection (and in his memory) in 1941. I was surprised to see another Fenollosa-related item in the museum’s collection, however: a photograph of her father’s second wife, Mary McNeil Fenollosa, by the photographer Eva Watson-Schütze, dated 1905. Obviously this item was not donated by the Biddle family, for the Fenollosa divorce was scandalous its day. I have no idea what Brenda’s feelings were, but her mother named Mary as a co-respondent in the 1895 proceedings.

Fenellosa Mary

Portrait of a Woman in Japanese Dress (Wife of Ernest Fenollosa), Eva Watson-Schütze, 1905. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1905. Gift of Harvey S. Shipley Miller and J. Randall Plummer, 2004.

Ernest and Lizzie Fenollosa were childhood sweethearts in Salem; they were married right after his graduation from Harvard and then set off together for Japan, where he took up a position at the Imperial University at Tokyo and became fully immersed in traditional Japanese culture, eventually rising to his post at the Imperial Museum. He converted to Buddhism, but they did not appear to lead an ascetic lifestyle, if their house, their many western visitors (and her dress!) are any indication. During their time in Japan, Fenollosa also acquired a huge collection of traditional Japanese art, which he sold to Boston physician and philanthropist Charles Goddard Weld with the condition that it eventually be donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where it now constitutes the Fenollosa-Weld Collection. The Fenollosas returned to Massachusetts in 1890, where he was appointed curator of the Department of Oriental Art at the MFA and organized several high-profile exhibitions. After he took up with Mary McNeil Scott, a twice-married southern secretary at the Museum, both his marriage and his curatorial career were over–although he continued in his scholarly activities. Lizzie and Brenda remained in the Boston area, but Ernest and Mary took off after their marriage: to New York, back to Japan (she had spent time there too, which explains much of their instant connection), to Mobile, Alabama (her hometown), and to London, where he died of a heart attack in 1908.

Fenollosa CollageElizabeth Goodhue Millett Fenollosa, Ernest Fenellosa, Mary McNeil Scott Fenollosa.

The two Mrs. Fenollosas were very different women bound together by one man, as well as their experiences in Japan, I suppose. Elizabeth Fenollosa seems to have been a private woman, although by all accounts she was a gracious hostess and certain details about her divorce did leak out to the papers…..Mary Fenollosa was much more public, writing popular novels under the pseudonym Sidney McCall, poems under her own name, and serving as an advocate for her husband’s work after his death. Truth Dexter, her first and most popular novel, tells the story of a southern wife (the title character) whose marriage is endangered by a brazen Boston socialite! That was too much for Lizzie, who told the New York Times that her intellectual ex-husband must have collaborated on the book as it contained too many little-known details of their lives together. I think that book, plus the fact that she’s a Salem girl, puts me on Team Lizzie, but both women certainly lived colorful lives that took them far from their places of origin.

Fenollosa House Buffum Street

Fenollosa House Japan Harvard Houghton

From Salem to Tokyo: Elizabeth Fenollosa’s childhood home on Buffum Street in Salem, and the Tokyo home she shared with Ernest, Fenollosa Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University.


Midsummer Mallows

I like several varieties of plants in the large mallow (malvaceae) family, most particularly the older common varieties rather than the showy hollyhocks and hibiscus which are really too big for my garden. There are musk mallows and malva sylvestris at the front of one border, but in the back is my very favorite: marsh mallow, or althaea officinalis. This is an old, fabled plant which is tall and velvety, with soft pink flowers, appearing just about now. Like all plants which officinalis status, marsh mallow was an important medicinal plant in the ancient, medieval, and early modern eras, the basis of soothing syrups and balms for throats, stomachs, skin–even teeth. The marsh mallow plant had edible uses in the past too: its sap was extracted and mixed with nuts and honey (and later sugar and corn syrup) to make a confection, and its root was boiled for use in both sweets and “sallets”. Modern marshmallows have no marsh mallow in them, but several “organic” skin creams do. I looked in vain through my sixteenth-sources for a sweet marsh mallow recipe, but found it as a principal ingredient in one of the recipes to cure lovesickness in Jacques Ferrand’s classic seventeenth-century treatise. So there you are: a plant that is both utilitarian and beautiful.

Mallow 3

Mallow 9

Mallow 1

Above: my marsh mallows. Below, hollyhocks in the Ropes Mansion Garden–I’m showing you close-ups rather than the entire plants because they seem to be stricken with some sort of rusty disease. My other mallows have this too–not very attractive–but the marsh mallows seem immune! 

Mallow 7

Mallow 6

Mallow 5

marsh-mallow Fidelia Bridges Prang

Salem-born Fidelia Bridges’ Marsh Mallows, produced for Prang in the 1880s, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.


Felines in Frames

In GREAT anticipation of my visit to the Worcester Art Museum in order to see their big summer show, Meow: A CatInspired Exhibition (featuring cats-in-residence!) I have curated my own little digital exhibition, as I have a very large (digital) folder full of cat paintings.I could feature fifty paintings here, but I have restricted myself to seven, ok maybe nine. In chronological order, with commentary:

girl-with-garland_large

Cats HenryWriothesley

Hans Süss von Kulmbach (German, Kulmbach ca. 14801522 Nuremberg), Girl Making a Garland, c. 1508, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; John de Critz, the “Tower” Portrait of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, imprisoned following the Essex Rebellion in 1601 with his cat Trixie. Buccleauch Collection, Boughton House.

Here we have enclosed portraits of remembrance and appeal: Southampton wants to get out of the Tower, and ultimately King James will release him. Cats are not pets in the pre-modern era, so typically they are depicted in the background, disassociated from humans and being cats: eyeing something to eat, chasing something, lying about. But here we have some very close-up, still, companion cats: unusual. The Southampton portrait and the significance of the cat has been dissected many, many times: my favorite analysis is here.

van Hoogstraten, Samuel, 1627-1678; A View through a House

(c) National Trust, Fenton House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A Sleeping Cat circa 1796-7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

The nineteenth century is the golden age of cat paintings: cats move into the foreground, and even displace dogs in domestic settings (I think; but I could be biased). Certainly the American folk artists of the first half of the century loved cats–they are nearly omnipresent in the works of Zedidiah Belknap and Joseph H. Davis. Not only are they a fixture in the home, but also a subject of serious scrutiny, even preoccupation: so many Steinlen cats. I’m finishing up with another artist’s cat, featured in Eric Ravilious’s study of Edward Bawden in his Studio, from 1930. This is not the most aesthetically pleasing depiction of a cat, perhaps, but as every cat owner (companion? host? feeder?) knows, it is a very characteristic one.

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Illustrations of the Improv’d Garden

I discovered the prolific British illustrator Clare Melinsky just recently, and apparently too late to obtain the examples of her work that I covet the most: illustrations based on several eighteenth-century gardening manuals by clergyman John Laurence, including: The Clergy-Man’s Recreation: Shewing the Pleasure and Profit of the Art of Gardening, The Gentleman’s Recreation: Or the Second Part of the Art of Gardening Improved, and (an apparent pseudonym) Charles Evelyn, The Lady’s Recreation: Or, the Art of Gardening Farther Improv’d (bound together in variant editions, 1717-1719, along with The Fruit-Garden Kalendar: Or, a Summary of the Art of Managing the Fruit-Garden). These are wonderful little practical books, and Melinsky’s clean linocut prints look like they are culled from the texts: they are period perfection and absolutely charming. Melinsky’s portfolio includes everything from The Witches of Salem: A Documentary Narrative (London: Folio Society, 1982) to the covers of the Bloomsbury boxed set of hardback “signature editions” of Harry Potter, and lots of flora and folktales and Shakespeare in between. Everything looks lovely, and I look forward to enjoying more of her work as time goes by but right now I’m pretty fixated on the unattainable “improv’d garden”  images–though her similar Robert Burns postcards might just suffice.

Melinsky Cards Collage

Melinsky Cards Collage Garden

Melinsky Collage

Melinsky Kew Gardens

Laurence Gardening Improvd Front

Melinsky Witch Linocut

Clare Melinsky’s Linocut “Gardening Improv’d” cards, along with a more “modern” illustration of Kew Gardens and a witch (just because) from here and here; Frontispiece ilustrations to Laurence’s Gardening Improv’d parts II and III, 1719.

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