Tag Archives: Bees

Art+Science

The Salem Arts Festival was this past weekend in Salem: its tenth anniversary. Last year plastic-bag jellyfish were suspended above Derby Square and Front Street; this year it was all about bees. Salem’s art scene is very vibrant now, but this little city has always had a bustling community of artists (well, after the Puritans morphed into the Congregationalists) and craftsmen. I’ve written about quite a few individual artists, but I thought I would look for more collective precedents, and that quest took me directly to the fairs of the Salem Charitable Mechanic Association (1817-1932). The records for this association, like those of nearly every Salem institution and organization, are completely inaccessible, as they are in the Peabody Essex Museum’s Phillips Library, which has been closed in Salem, removed to Rowley, and for which digitization plans are nonexistent at present. But fortunately the Association wanted to showcase the creations of all its exhibitors, and so compiled a wonderful program for its first fair in 1849 that has been digitized in several places. This was held in its very own Mechanic Hall, built a decade before.

Art + Science collage

Art + Science The_Salem_Charitable_Mechanic_Association

Art + Science Mechanic Hall SSUTwo copies of  Reports of the First Exhibition of the Salem Charitable Mechanic Association, 1849, a certificate from the exhibition (Boston Athenaeum), and Mechanic Hall at the corner of Essex and Crombie Streets in Salem, built in 1839 and destroyed by fire in 1905 (Dionne Collection, Salem State University Archives).

This program makes for very interesting reading for several reasons. First of all, the judges of each category are very detailed and opinionated about their criteria for awarding diplomas and silver medals–although it appears that everyone who showed up got the former. The sheer eclecticism of the entries is notable, as is the relatively small number of industrial entries–surprising as the exhibition was occuring in the midst of the Industrial Revolution in Massachusetts. The organizers address this deficiency in their introduction: it is to be regretted that there was not a greater display of the Manufactures of Old Essex, especially of Cotton and Woolen Goods. Andover and Newburyport, with their numerous and extensive Cotton and Woolen Manufacturing Establishments, did not exhibit a single article. Saugus with her Flannel and Yarn Factories—-none, and Danvers, with her Carpet and Tweed Factories, was also deficient. When we consider that Essex County produces more than the whole State of South Carolina—-that her products are more than twenty millions of dollars—and a fair share of it in the articles alluded to—the display was not what it should have been. But notwithstanding these adverse circumstances, the energy and the perseverance of the mechanics of Salem, essentially aided by the Ladies, produced one of the most beautiful exhibitions ever witness in this vicinity. I guess they just didn’t get the word out! And yes, “the Ladies” are very well-represented in this 1849 exhibition, which showcased every possible type of art: mechanical and utilitarian, “fine” and decorative.

PicMonkey Image

1849salemmechassoc_obvDiplomas and medals for “drab” clothing, an artificial leg, mineral teeth, a miniature steam engine and a Patent Cloth Folder used at the Naumkeag Steam Mills in Salem, among other exhibits; a rare medal from the 1849 exhibition, from John Kraljevich Americana.

Above all, the integration of art and science seems very apparent in this exhibition: perhaps it is highlighted by the paucity of industrial exhibits but there are still many categories that we would consign to an arts festival today rather than one celebrating “mechanics”. Besides “Fine Arts”, everything created with a needle was on display, along with everything for the house and the body. This exhibition was all about creation, pure and simple. I love this universality and lack of separation between the artistic and the scientific: it illustrates the continued influence of the culture of the Renaissance, the period in which I was trained, during which everything was an art. But the Charitable Mechanic Association had its categories too, some of which seem rather arbitrary: the sole Daguerreotype exhibitor, one of Salem’s three practitioners at the time, was D.S. Bowdoin, who won a silver medal in the Fine Arts category for “a very admirable collection of Specimens, showing great skill in the mechanical execution, good taste in the arrangement of subjects, and in the management of light and shade”.  To me, the daguerreotype seems a near-perfect combination of art and science.

Bowdoin collageI couldn’t find any D.S. Bowdoin daguerreotypes from 1849, but here are two cartes de visite from later: studio portraits portrait of Robert Daley (or Daily), a Salem “expressman”, c. 1855 (Historic New England) and John Lewis Russell, a well-known botanist and Unitarian minister (Wisconsin Historical Society). According to the later photograph, Bowdoin’s studio was in the Downing Block, Salem.

Back in the present and now that I think about it, this arts festival does indeed bridge the gap between art and science in its own way: what could be more technological than transforming commissioned plastic bees into building materials? I have never really understood the stem vs. steAm debate, and let’s throw an H for history in there somewhere!

bee collage 2

Arts Festival 1

Arts Festival 3

Arts Festival 2

Arts Festival 4

Arts Festival 8

Arts Festival 6

Arts Festival 7

Arts Festival 9Scenes from the Salem Arts Festival on Saturday: my neighbor Racket Shreve’s “Best in Show” painting in the gallery in Old Town Hall along with “Remembering Georgie” by Heather M. Morris; the Mural Slam—just loved this work-in-progress of “Salem from Above” by Casey Stanberry, especially in its partially finished state.


Busy Bees

I know that bees are experiencing some serious challenges at the moment, but it seems to me that there are much more of them out there than in previous summers—at least in our region. I’ve encountered mini-swarms on rural walks in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts over the past month, it seems like individual bees have been buzzing around my garden constantly since July, and just the other day I saw hundreds of bees affixed to the sunflowers in the large patch at Colby Farm up in Newbury: neither bees nor people can resist this flagrant perennial display!

Bee Sunflowers Best

Bee Sunflowers Closeup

I went into my clip file—comprised of very random digital images which I find interesting or attractive and store away for whenever or whatever (other people seem to use Pinterest this way but I just don’t)–and found several bee images there that I had clipped or snipped over the last few months: books, ephemera, creations. So clearly I’ve had bees on the brain: maybe because I decided to forego sugar over the summer and thus became more intensely focused on honey. In any case, this seems like a good time to get these images out there–Thomas Tusser suggests that the ongoing process of “preserving” bees demands a bit more human attention in September in his classic agricultural manual Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry (1573):  Place hive in good air, set southly and warm, and take in due season wax, honey, and swarm. Set hive on a plank (not too low by the ground) where herbs and flowers may compass it round: and boards to defend it from north and northeast, from showers and rubbish, from vermin and beast. Tusser is one of many British and continental authors writing about bees and beekeeping in the sixteenth century, and over the succeeding centuries this sub-genre continued to flourish, right up to the wildly-popular Beekeeper’s Bible. I’ve written about bee books before, but my favorite recent discovery is Samuel Bagster’s Management of Bees, with a description of the Ladies’ Safety Hive (1834). Bagster has a very entrepreneurial attitude towards bees, and is striving to transform their keeping into a feminine avocation with his promotion of the “Ladies Safety Hive”: they can be built at home or delivered by Bagster, fully-equipped.

bee collage

Bees Bagster

My apian ephemera is focused less on the bees than their hives: which of course serve as an accessible symbol of industry and by extension, achievement. The most prominent uses of beehive symbolism on Salem ephemera that I have found were issued by the Salem Charitable Mechanic Association (which it clearly borrowed from the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, or vice-versa) and Frank Cousins’ many trade cards advertising his Bee-Hive store but there is also an early trade card for the Salem goldsmith and jeweler Robert Brookhouse which features the very Salemesque combination of hive and ship. I discovered a completely new type of ephemera this summer–watch papers–of which there is an interesting collection at the American Antiquarian Society, including several embellished with beehives.

Bee Certificate

Bee Hive MA Charitable HNE

Trade Card beehive

Bee Brookhouse

Bee Hive Watch Paper AAS

Ephemeral beehives: Phillips Library (printed in EIHC Volume 113); Historic New England; and courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

Another discovery of this fading summer are the amazing textile creations of Mister Finch, which you must see for yourself. His bee is among the more realistic of his species–check out his website for more surrealistic creatures. And then there is Tamworth Distilling, to which I returned several times, which manufactures several varieties of botanical gins, including the Apiary Gin pictured below. To be honest, this was a bit too honey-based for me: gin is my favorite spirit and I tend to be a London Dry traditionalist. But I love the bottle, of course (and their cordials).

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Bee Gin

Mister Finch Bee and Tamworth Distilling Apiary Gin.


The Apian Emperor

In honor of Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor of the French (not Emperor of France, an important distinction and consequence of the French Revolution) on this day in 1804 I thought I would explore his adoption of bee symbolism in greater detail than my first attempt a few years ago. Napoleon had to pay tribute to tradition in order to legitimize what was essentially a military coup d’etat–and bees go way back, not as far back as the Roman laurels and eagles which he also adopted, but way back in French history. In my previous post, I identified Charlemagne as the source of Napoleon’s bees, but actually it was Childeric, a Frankish king who was the father of Clovis, who converted to Christianity and unified all the Frankish tribes under his sacred kingship after 496, the first of the Merovingian line. Childeric’s grave was accidentally discovered in Tournai in 1653, and inside his tomb was a treasure of coins, jewelry, iron, and 300 bees (sometimes referred to as “fleurons” or cicadas but they look like bees to me, and apparently also to Napoleon). The governor of the Spanish Netherlands commissioned his personal physician, Jean-Jacques Chifflet, to catalog and study the finds, which were published in one of the first archeological works in European history, Anastasis Childerici I Francorum regis, sive thesaurus sepulchralis Tornaci Neviorum effossus et commentario illustratus (1655). One hundred and fifty years later, when Napoleon was looking for a “French” symbol that was not a Bourbon Fleur-de-lis, the bee seemed to fit the bill, and it was lavishly utilized in his coronation–and after–essentially becoming the “Napoleonic bee”.

Napoleon and Childeric

Napoleon Bee Childerics Tomb

Napoleon Bee detail

Napoleon Tapestry Portrait

Napoleon Tapestry detail bees

Bonaparte Sisters

Napoleonic Plate Sevres

King Childeric in British Library MS. Royal 16 G VI f. 9; Childeric’s bees in Chifflet (1655); a Napoleonic bee from his 1804 coronation robe; tapestry portrait and detail of the coronation robe after a painting by Baron François Gérard, 1805, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Napoleon’s half-American nieces, “The Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte”, sitting on a bee-upholstered couch, Jacques-Louis David, 1821, Getty Museum; the full Napoleonic regalia, bees and all, Sèvres plate, 19th century, Victoria & Albert Museum.

 


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