I am pleasantly tired at the end of a busy weekend, which included: a sunset sail, several garden walks, a tour of the Coast Guard’s tall ship Eagle, long conversations into the night, the annual vintage car show on Chestnut Street, and a Red Sox game. Highlights of a New England summer all in one weekend! We have (for now) made it out of the muggy days of midsummer and are in the golden days of late summer: no humidity, just bright sun, warm days and cooler nights with just a whiff of Autumn in the evening breeze. The disappearance of humidity always recovers my will to live: I am not a summer person, but as long as there is a cool breeze mitigating the hot sun I’m fine—-everybody’s fine. I’m sure the humidity will return—and Fall will be here soon—which makes beautiful August days like these all the more precious.
Mid-August in Salem and Boston: a sunset sail on the Schooner Fame Friday night, Salem Story Walk in the Ropes Garden & a visit to the US Coast Guard’s Barque Eagle on Saturday, the Phillips House-sponsored annual vintage car meet on Sunday morning, at Fenway Sunday afternoon (the Red Sox lost in extra innings–I was so impressed with the score-keeping of the kid in front of me, who only took a break for an ice cream cone).
Every August features an Americana focus in the antiques world, and auctions and shows present their best items made in America. I made a shopping list while browsing through next week’s Americana auction at Skinner: rainbow spatterware, a nineteenth-century wooden bucket with “good girl” painted on it, cherry card tables, and an amazing schoolgirl map of the world. I don’t need any of these things but a girl can dream! There are some great silhouettes in this auction as well, including several by the “Puffy Sleeve Artist”, an anonymous favorite of collectors. I was rather surprised by the low estimate placed on this lady with the blue dress: $600-$800. Two years ago, another silhouette by the same artist fetched $6600 in a Skinner Auction, and another Puffy Sleeve Artist creation sold for $8750 at a Christie’s auction in 2012.
Two silhouettes by the “Puffy Sleeve Artist” at Skinner Auctions: a necklaced lady in a blue dress (upcoming here) and Henrietta Wakefield Wearing a Red Gown and Holding a Fan, both c. 1830-31; another red-gowned Puffy Sleeve silhouette of the same vintage, Christies.
Well, as you can see, it’s pretty easy to tell that these silhouettes were made by the same artist, even for a laywoman such as I (although this last lady looks a bit full-blown). It seems odd that we can’t identify the artist by more than his (or her) most distinctive motif: whoever it was was quite prolific and 1830 wasn’t that long ago (in historical perspective). Donna-Belle Garvin of the New Hampshire Historical Society has made a case for John Hosley Whitcomb (1806-49) a deaf-mute artist from Hancock, New Hampshire (“Family Reunited: A Tale of Two Auctions,” New Hampshire Historical Society Newsletter Volume 29, Spring 1991), and the attributed artist of a pair of attributed hollow-cut silhouettes of gentlemen sold just a few days ago in a Willis Henry auction. If the “Puffy Sleeve Artist” was indeed Whitcomb, he appears to have exercised a more restrained style with his gentlemen: the ladies look a bit more distinctive, whimsical, and even modern in their abstraction. Whoever he or she was, my favorite examples of the Puffy Sleeve Artist’s work are those examples in which these women are holding books, identifying them by both age and initials, and something other than their puffy sleeves.
A John Hosley Whitcomb silhouette and “Puffy Sleeve Artist” silhouette from last weekend’s Willis Henry auction; Puffy Sleeve Artist silhouettes dated 1831 and 1830 from Christie‘s and Northeast Auctions.
Appendix 8/5/15: Silhouette expert Peggy McClard (her extremely informative website is here) has informed me that the lady in pink above is not by the Puffy Sleeve Artist, and also that he has recently been identified as the western Massachusetts “profile cutter” Ezra Wood by Michael and Suzanne Payne (see the Magazine Antiques, July/August 2014).
August is beyond peak time in New England gardens but there is still a lot of color out there: primarily from phlox, phlox and more phlox. I’ve been taking pictures on my local travels and those below are from eastern Massachusetts, coastal New Hampshire, and southern Maine. The first group were taken during a visit to Fuller Gardens in North Hampton, New Hampshire. The garden was designed by landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff (of Colonial Williamsburg fame) for the 50th governor of Massachusetts, Alvan Fuller, and his wife Viola, who maintained a summer seaside home in North Hampton, which is only about ten miles from the Massachusetts border. The house is no longer there, but its adjacent gardens are, laid out in a series of “rooms” in the Colonial Revival fashion. Everything is so immaculately maintained, especially Mrs. Fuller’s beloved roses, that it is a treat to visit here in August when nearly every other garden I see (including my own) is looking a bit tired and overgrown.
Up the road a piece, some gardens and flowers in Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Prescott Park in the afternoon and early evening, a vertical garden on a utility box, and the terraced garden across from the Moffat–Ladd House (1763) on Market Street.
Some very diverse images of plants and landscapes in southern Maine: a coastal garden in Kittery Point, a checkerboard courtyard, a border, and my father’s cabbage, all in York.
Back home in Massachusetts, the colonial garden at the Parson Capen House in Topsfield, with its raised beds and very practical herbs and flowers, and my own Salem garden, which I think is a bit behind due to its sheltered location: the bee balm is still reigning, the phlox (I have only the white, mildew-resistant David variety) is just starting to bloom, and the ferns are starting to sag: August is not their month.