This past weekend I spent an hour or so browsing (digitally) through Eugène Grasset’s La plante et ses applications ornementales (1896) and then stepped outside to see that my lady’s slippers were in full bloom: no competition, they win hands down. There are nineteen this year: every year I seem to gain one slipper. Other spring plants are enhanced in Grasset’s “applications”, but for the most part I think I prefer nature at this time of year. Yet has things that I don’t have so I think I’ll showcase both, as this was a man that could even make a dandelion look beautiful!
My trillium are finally in bloom about two weeks behind everyone else’s; the lady slippers!
The PEM’s Peirce-Nichols garden has a veritable sea of bleeding hearts, but I was too late for the Solomon’s Seal and Columbine so I give you Grasset.
Irises and Roses from the PEM’s Ropes Garden, and Grasset’s versions.
There are no trees in La plante et ses applicationes ornementales but Salem has one of the most beautiful trees/shrubs in bloom right now: the Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), a southern native that can be found in many cemeteries up here, but also notably in front of the grand Wheatland-Phillips house at 30 Chestnut Street. I’ve always thought that this tree suited the exterior embellishment of this house perfectly, but it looks lovely in the Harmony Grove cemetery as well. Even its shadow is beautiful.
Salem’s Fringe trees and Grasset’s dandelion design.
Just off Salem Common was a rather nondescript house, long consigned to institutional use, which was rescued by a couple who transformed it into what can only be described as a show house, with every single surface polished and embellished to perfection. Everyone in Salem watched the exterior metamorphosis with great interest, and then the doors of One Mall Street were opened up for the 2016 Christmas in Salem house tour and we were able to see inside, where everything was color and light, with more texture and detail than one could capture at first impression. That’s why I was so fortunate to be invited back into One Mall Street a month ago, and shown around by its owner-restorers, whose plan was to strip the c. 1800 house down to its studs and then rebuild it, with the best materials and more classical detail than its original builder could afford. A sun-splashed courtyard on the eastern side of the house (once an asphalt driveway) provided the orientation, and the house’s own “bones” the inspiration. The end result is a house that is nondescript no more.
As you might guess from the renderings just above, one half of this restoring couple is an architect: this is not a shoemaker’s-family-has-no-shoes scenario! Clearly this project was a labor of love. And now that it is complete, the family is moving on to a new one—in Vermont— and One Mall Street is now for sale. I can’t imagine a house in more move-in condition: essentially it’s been rebuilt from (below) the ground up: from the basement bar and workshop to the attic apartment. This house’s past is a bit murky (it was moved to its lot in 1906; no is really sure from where) but its future is clearly very bright.
Above: One Mall Street in Salem today and in 1997 (MACRIS); various plans, the beautiful entrance hall and stairway, living room, kitchen, dining room, study, and back stairway. Below: more staircases, the amazing more-than-finished basement, complete with bar, pool table, and workshop—and that ceiling! This house has the most beautiful ceilings I have ever seen: I came right home and called the plasterer.
All summer and fall the Salem Maritime National Historic Site is featuring a virtual exhibition called “The Augmented Landscape” which brings eight spectral sculpture assemblages–visible only through a smartphone equipped with the layar app–to Derby Wharf. It’s a more artistic form of Pokémon Go, with global and topical themes and layered connectivity. Everyone in Salem is missing the site’s major attraction—the Friendship–and while this exhibition/experience is not a replacement, it is certainly a distraction! The creations are the work of four artists commissioned by Boston Cyberarts: John Craig Freeman, Kristin Lucas, Will Pappenheimer and Tamiko Thiel. Thiel’s “GardenAnthropocene” imposes a vivid and chilling vision on a familiar place, a “dystopian science fiction future for the landscape as we enter the Anthropocene, a new geologic time period created by human activity……[in which] native plans grow and mutate in response to the earth’s changing conditions, adding to their evolving climate and altering the landscape as we know it”. This doesn’t sound–or look–good!
Thiel’s other installation, “TreasuresOfSheRem” focuses more on the past than the present, featuring the coins and commodities that Salem traders brought to the East to exchange for tea, spices, porcelain and other exotic goods. Poppies, yes, but somehow I didn’t know that sea cucumbers were so important to the China Trade……
More familiar cod hover over the wharf in Will Pappenheimer’s “Ascension of Cod” and privateers clash, visualized through a “virtual ball of classic galleon type ship masts obtained from disassembled ship models accessed from shared 3D model websites”. I think I was supposed to conjure this up (and that’s what it feels like) in front of the Derby House rather than by Pedrick’s storehouse—I couldn’t quite master the geographical aspect of these installations and ended up with strange things in strange places (but maybe that’s the point?)
My favorite installation is Kristin Lucas’s “Elephant in the Room”, referencing the Crowninshield Elephant that landed in Salem in 1796. He looked funny in the Derby Garden and a bit better in front of the Custom House, but never really in his element. Lucas’s “Goodbyes” also stressed out-of-element images, representing departure, which (on the other hand) is of course quite appropriate for a port. For me, the most literal of the virtual installations are John Craig Freeman’s “Virtual China” and “Virtual Russia”, which project images of Wuhan and St. Petersburg onto Salem’s port[al], emphasizing global connectivity, past and present.
This is actually a post on Salem wallpaper, but there are so many anecdotes about long-forgotten patches of paper found in closets and cupboards by vintage wallpaper hunters/reproducers like Dorothy Waterhouse and Nancy McClelland that I thought I could get away with a more provocative title. A great example is “The Creamer” pattern manufactured by Thomas Strahan & Company in the 1930s after its discovery in the upstairs closet of a house (still very much standing) on Essex Street which belonged to the Salem stationer Benjamin Creamer. Before his untimely death in the early 1850s, Benjamin and his brother George were major stationers in Salem, supplying both writing papers and “room-papers” to their customers; George carried on alone from that date.
“The Creamer”, manufactured by Thomas Strahan & Co., after a fragment found in the Nicholas Crosby House on Essex Street, home of the Benjamin Creamer family in the mid-nineteenth century; a trade card for Creamer Stationers.
I’ve checked in all (12) of my closets and found no remnants of rare French wallpaper, sadly: just dull old paint befitting a house that was once home to boarders and one very large family. But there are lots of other places to look for Salem wallpapers: Historic New England has digitized its extensive collection, the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum of the Smithsonian maintains a treasure trove of wallpaper images online, and both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, also have wallpaper samples among their digitized collections. And if you can’t find the original paper, images and descriptions of colonial reproductions in trade catalogs can also offer impressions of what once was, as well as verification of the importance of Salem as source. I love to look for and at old wallpaper for both aesthetic and historical reasons: it gives you the ability to imagine existing houses in earlier incarnations, and verifies the existence of houses that no longer exist. First the former.
French block-printed paper, c. 1820-25, manufactured by Jacquemart & Bénard, originally in the Lindall-Gibbs-Osgood House on Essex Street, Cooper-Hewitt Collection; A fragment of paper taken from the upstairs chamber of the Capt. Thomas Farless House at 120 Derby Street, 1862, Cooper-Hewitt Collection; Two wallpapers associated with the Gardner-Pingree house: Zuber et Cie’s “Grinling Gibbons” and Nancy McClelland’s “Pingree House”, Cooper-Hewitt Collection and Hannah’s Treasures on Etsy; “Nathaniel Hawthorne” wallpaper, c. 1920, once installed in the House of the Seven Gables, Cooper-Hewitt Collection; a Nancy McClelland catalog from 1941.
The wallpaper samples below were taken from houses that no longer exist: I had no knowledge of most of them so now I’ll have to go down another rabbit hole and find out everything I can about them! Just look at the first fragment below, from the Louisa Rhodes house on Essex Street (where was that?) and the collection of Historic New England: stunning. There are three Salem reproduction wallpapers manufactured by the venerable firm M.H. Birge & Co. in the collection of Cooper-Hewitt, all from houses that are no longer standing. One pattern (the last below), simply called “Old Salem” is also in the Historic New England archive, which includes the extraordinarily detailed notation: an old colonial paper……laid by J.W. Everill on Dr. Cook’s house in Norman St., Salem, Mass., Oct. 22nd and 25th, 1852. A notation on the old paper from which this was taken established its age in this country as 63 years. Yet, the fact that this sample was made in sections or black, and fastened together, offers evidence that it was many years older. No papers being produced in rolls or continuous strips until after the year 1790. This Louis XV paper with its Swiss influence comprises a vista of romantic scenes, medieval castles and crags above a river. The author gets a bit more fanciful here, but his observations are still interesting: In picturing Dr. Cook’s house, as it was in the old days when the Halls echoed with laughter, and wax tapers were in vogue, the customs of dress with the men in knee breeches with silver buckles and gold lace, women in trailing brocades and rare laces, not to overlook the powdered puffs, and the negro servants coming and going on household errands, all tend to show why the charm of coloring, as well as the decorative character and excellent drawing of this design prompted its appropriate use. But I thought it was laid in 1852, hardly the setting described above: maybe it was stuck in a closet until that time?
Wallpapers from the lost Salem houses of Louisa Rhodes (Historic New England); Mr. Sibble of Hancock Street (Birge, Cooper-Hewitt); Mr. Holbrook’s house at the corner of Elm and Charter Streets (Birge, Cooper-Hewitt), and Dr. Cook on Norman Street (Birge’s “Old Salem”, Cooper-Hewitt and Historic New England collections).
We walked through the Salem Woods on this past Saturday and saw fiddleheads along the trail, the prelude to a carpet of ferns. I am embarrassed to admit that I reached this relatively advanced age without realizing that fiddleheads are in fact only a stage of a plant’s development rather than a completely independent full-grown plant. I know of course that nascent ferns (principally Ostrich and Cinnamon in our region) look like fiddleheads, but I thought that fiddleheads were another plant altogether! This was the weekend’s big revelation. I seem to have false childhood memories about fiddleheads too: my mother loved them and loved to cook them, and I have a hazy memory of bowls of buttered fiddleheads all summer long, but that can’t be true, as there are only a few months (chiefly April and May) when they are available. I’ve never been a big fan of fiddleheads on the table, but I like the motif, and I currently have a subtle fiddlehead pattern on my back-parlor couch—I found several artists who were inspired its signature curved form. For this May Day, fiddleheads seem like a very appropriate plant—or frond—to spotlight.
Fiddleheads in flesh in the Salem Woods above, and on fabric below, on my couch and on screen-printed silk fabric by Georgina von Etzdorf, 1991, Cooper Hewitt Museum.
This past weekend was very busy in Salem, with the monthly Derby Square FSA market and the annual Jazz and Soul Festival, the Antique and Classic Boat Festival, and the New England Kayak Fishing Tournament all happening. My husband participates in the latter so I seldom saw him–kayak fishing is serious business! I wandered around on my own not really wanting to commit to a crowd, but as we missed the antique car meet last week I knew I had to see the boats. This summer’s very hot and humid weather seems to have finally lifted, so I took the long way there and back and snapped some photographs of window boxes, which are overflowing just about now. I love this first one, it’s a basement window box on Botts Court: a perfect adornment for an urban old house! Great shutters too.
On to the boats. Usually I go for the Chris Craft, but there wasn’t one this year. A Wagemaker runabout came closest to that standard, but my favorite boat of the festival was something a bit more exotic: a Norwegian sailboat, or “Bindel Faering Nordland” built in the 1960s and named Kanin, after the Norse god of cute and fluffy rabbits. With its carved bow and stern, it reminded me of a Viking ship, and I’m sure I’m not alone. The biggest boat was a 62′ foot “Commuter” built in 1923: it was rather difficult Miss Asia in one photograph. Boats such as these were utilized by their wealthy owners to commute from New York or Boston to their summer cottages in Newport or some other “gold coast”, and then down to Florida for the winter. An amazing display of craftsmanship, restoration effort, and wood on the water by Miss Asia and all of her fellow festival boats.
Kanin, Miss Asia, and their dockside neighbors at the 34th annual Antique & Classic Boat Festival.
At this time of year I’m in back-to-school mode and absolutely exhausted by keeping up with the garden, so my focus shifts to the inside. I think I’ll get back outside when it gets cooler in September, as I want to rearrange some things and prolong life and time in my garden as long as I can, but right now I’m focused on interior adornment and projects (this is one way to ignore all of the academic duties that are piling on about now). Leafing through a bunch of magazines this past weekend, I found some objects of adoration in, of all places, WSJ, the magazine of the Wall Street Journal: plates adorned with colorful parrots, infused with old-world elegance through a hand-painted process involving sixteen layers. The 12-piece collection is the collaboration of Gucci Creative Director Alexandro Michele and porcelain manufacturer Richard Ginori. I want them all, but at $295 a plate, it will be difficult to justify just one, I’m afraid! The article identifies Michele’s inspiration as “one rare French volume from 1801 on specimen birds”, which was all the cue I needed to identify Jacques Barraband (1767-1809), a French zoological and botanical illustrator whose work inspired imitators even in his own day. While Barraband’s work must have struck his contemporaries as “new” in their colorful realism, Michele was inspired by their antiquated aesthetic, as am I.
Today is the birthday of the man who literally made Golden Age Salem, expanding his woodcarving skills into architecture and interior decoration exemplifying the Federal style: Samuel McIntire (1757-1811). Frankly, I’m not sure Salem is McIntire-esque anymore but my corner of it is still McIntire world, and for that I am very, very grateful. My house is in the McIntire Historic District and every morning I look out my bedroom window at two McIntire structures: Hamilton Hall and the (recently sold) Captain Jonathan Hodges House at 12 Chestnut Street. Just around the corner on Cambridge Street is one of my favorite McIntire houses, the Thomas Butman House at #14. The microsite for the Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style (2007-2008) exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum is still up, so you can check out “his” Salem for yourself, but I am featuring another introduction on this day: a children’s book titled A Shilling for Samuel (1957) written and illustrated by Virginia Grilley.
Grilley seems to have been a well-known children’s book author in the 1950s and 1960s, and she also wrote and illustrated several books about the Salem of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the great “scribe” and “romancer”. She liked to conjure up historical places, in both words and pictures. A Shilling for Samuel is very much in the tradition of another example of mid-century Salem juvenile fiction, Carry on, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham, which was published just the year before. In both books, Salem boys are inspired by the bustling, cosmopolitan environment all around them as well as their innate interests and talents to develop their specialized skills and make their way in the American way. In Grilley’s story, Samuel grows up along the water (in a house on Mill Street–could it be this one? I’m just not sure) and learns about carpentry and carving from his father, but his family wants a different life for him: go to sea, young man, that’s where fortunes are made. Nevertheless he loves to carve and look at the “strangely-shaped roofs” of his native town and seeks to replicate everything he sees around him in wood. The first shilling he receives for a carving, combined with the pattern books he spots in Mr. Shillaber’s bookshop, propel him on his life’s path. The rest is history–outside my window.
Pages from Virginia Grilley’s A Shilling for Samuel; a mahogany McIntire window bench coming up in a Christie’s auction next week–certain to fetch many, many shillings!
I think I’m the last person on the internet to discover the work of London-based Chilean artist Livia Marin, but I don’t care: I must feature these examples of melting ceramics (in the classic Willow pattern) because they are just so cool. We have a healthy tea culture here in Salem, and I can just picture a tea party with whole pieces on my dining room table and a display of these pieces on the mantle. According to the statement on her website, Marin “employs everyday objects to inquire into the nature of how we relate to material objects in an era dominated by standardization and global circulation” in order to “offer a reflection on the relationship we develop with those often unseen objects that meet our daily needs”: a much more thoughtful approach to my own preoccupation with the art (and history of course) of the everyday. I suppose I could come up with a long essay on how these objects are emblematic of the China Trade and all the myriad consequences of European imperialism, but really, I just like the way they look.
When I was assembling my portfolio of Renaissance “green” merchants, I came across a Lorenzo Lotto portrait that I had seen long ago and then forgotten: I remember being perplexed by it then and remain so now. It is Man with a Golden Paw, dated 1527, featuring a man leaning forward and slightly to the side with a (embellished, sincere) hand on his heart and a lion’s paw in his other hand. When I first saw the portrait in my early 20s I remember being struck by his appearance (is he wearing earmuffs?), now I’m more interested in the lion’s paw.
Lorenzo Lotto, Man with a Golden Paw, 1527, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
The meaning and placement of this particular paw has not been established with great certainty, but most art historians seem to think it offers a clue about the name or occupation of the sitter: a Leo-like name, a goldsmith? Lions in general, and pieces of lions in particular, are so often utilized in art forms throughout history that context is all-important. In medieval and Renaissance Europe, the lion had myriad religious and secular associations: as the long-reigning King of Beasts, he represents strength, majesty, courage and fortitude, even Resurrection. Conversely, but still expressions of his power, the lion could represent pride or vengeful wrath. In religious iconography he is associated most strongly with St. Mark and St. Jerome, who removed a painful thorn from a lion’s paw and received a friend and servant for life in return: any possibilities for our painting in this particular story? In various poses, the lion represents a range of attributes in heraldic devices as well, always kingship, bravery, fierceness, and more subtle watchfulness (as it was a medieval belief that lions slept with their eyes open). Lotto’s paw-holding man holds my interest because at this point in time (again, 1527) the lion reference could mean anything: a rather mundane association to family name or profession, a testimony to skill, strength, or power, an expression of faith. But not long after this moment, his prized paw will be reduced to a mere decorative motif, shorn of its long-held symbolism and so commonly featured in the decorative arts from the eighteenth century onwards that it becomes almost invisible–certainly not the focal point of the piece.
Detached (literally and symbolically) lion’s paws, 17th- 21st centuries:
Gilt Bronze Lion’s paw furniture mount, French, late 17th-early 18th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Sketches of Raphael Cartoons by Sir James Thornhill, c. 1729-1731, Victoria and Albert Museum; Excavated Lion’s Paw from the Victorian conservatory at Tyntesfield, Archaeology National Trust SW; Lion’s Paw bookends, Restoration Hardware.