Tag Archives: ephemera

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!


Rededicating Derby Square

Salem has quite a few intersections named “squares” but very few square squares. Its most conspicuous one is Derby Square, which was carved out of the growing city 200 years ago. This month’s Derby Square FLEA Salvage ART Market, coming up tomorrow, is marking the Square’s Bicentennial with a special theme and ribbon-cutting, and so I thought I’d examine this early example of urban planning in Salem. The basic background is well-known: John Derby III and Benjamin Pickman, Jr., scions of wealthy Salem families, business partners and brothers-in-law, offered the land on which the majestic and short-lived Derby Mansion formerly stood to the town of Salem in 1816 with the provision that a suitable civic building be built–civic in this context clearly implying both public and commercial functions. The city accepted the offer, and so the new Derby Square was developed over 1816-1817 with the new Town Hall/Market House at its center. It is clearly visible on Jonathan Saunders’ 1820 Plan of the town of Salem in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, from actual surveys, made in the years 1796 & 1804; with the improvements and alterations since that period as surveyed, marked as the #1 improvement and/or alteration to the town.

1820 Map of Salem BPL

Jonathan Peel Saunders, Plan of the town of Salem in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, from actual surveys, made in the years 1796 & 1804; with improvements and alterations since that period surveyed, 1820. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library.

In the tradition of both European cities from the late medieval period onward and urban centers in colonial America, the centerpiece of Derby Square was designed to be a combination town hall and market, with an open arcade on the ground floor and meeting space on the second. Boston’s Faneuil Hall and Old State House had similar dual–even multiple–functions, as had Salem’s first town hall, built in 1636. There does not seem to be agreement on just who was the architect of the new town hall, although Bulfinch is mentioned in some sources, but Joshua Upham built the structure at a cost of $12,000. The lower story opened in late fall of 1816 and the second story was “christened” by visiting President James Monroe on July 8, 1817. The new Town Hall served in that capacity for only 20 years, and became the Old Town Hall with the construction of the Greek Revival structure on Washington Street in 1837-38; thereafter it was principally known as the “Market House”. Derby and Pickman had a vision that extended beyond just one building however, however: they determined the structure, scale, and composition of Derby Square by building several buildings surrounding Old Town Hall themselves and selling adjacent lots with deed restrictions specifying brick or stone construction. This was waterfront property in the early eighteenth century, and Derby and Pickman also donated a way to the water to the town of Salem with the condition that it remain a fish market in perpetuity: the “Derby Deed” lost some of its restrictive strength over the years, resulting in a Salem Marketplace that offers more than fish.

There are a lot of images of Derby Square out there, so I went to the Salem State University Archives and Special Collections to see if I could find some views that were a bit more fresh. Among the stereoviews, ephemera, and pamphlets of the Dionne collection I was able to find quite a few Derby Square-related materials–if I had more time to spend in the victualler records, I doubtless could have found much more. Clearly Market Square/Derby Square operated as a seasonal and regional food market over much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, just as it does now on the summer Thursdays of the Salem Farmers’ Market.

Derby Square Stereo Procter Crop

Derby Square Winter Procter

Derby Square Stereo Moulton

Derby Square Stereoview Moulton crop

Two G.K Procter stereoviews of Derby or Market Square, summer and winter (cropped in half), c. 1861-1882; and two stereoviews of the Square by J.W. and J.S. Moulton Photographers of Salem, who operated from 1873-1881, all from Nelson Dionne Collection of Salem Images at Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Below: a few billheads, also from the Dionne collection, which represent the dominance of the victualling trade in the Market and the inconsistent use of “Derby Square” and “Market Square”.

Derby Square Billhead

Derby Square billhead 1885

And from a private collection, here is an undated photograph of the Square which is quite unusual in its relative emptiness–it was among some Frank Cousins photographs so it could be one of his, but I just don’t know. In any case, I love it!

Derby Square nd

How has Derby Square fared in the age of the automobile? The visual evidence indicates that its integrity was challenged in the third quarter of the twentieth century, given its location in the center of the urban renewal storm. Yet this same (central) location, combined with its classical design and steadfast (central) function, determined that it would not only survive but also stand as a symbol of Salem’s revived prosperity.

Derby Square 1960s SSU

Derby Square Salem Marketplace SSU

Derby Square and Salem Marketplace in the 1960s and 1970s: how horrified John Derby III and Benjamin Pickman Jr., would have been by the Budweiser sign! Below: more sentimental views from early and late twentieth-century postcards.

Derby Square PC SSU2

Derby Square PC 1913 SSU

Derby Square PC Higginson SSU

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Marked by a Witch

I have featured maps on this blog many times: maps allegorical, anthropomorphic, and antique, maps featuring octopuses, spiders, relationships and myriad places and perspectives. An ongoing exhibition of pictorial maps at the University of Southern Maine’s Osher Map Library has inspired me to examine this particular cartographical creation yet again–along with a recent ebay score of one of my favorite local pictorial maps, Alva Scott Garfield’s “Scott-Map of Salem, Massachusetts”. Maps with pictographic elements go way back, but the Osher exhibition is focused on the mid-twentieth century, identified as “The Golden Age of American Pictorial Maps”. I wanted to confirm this chronology in my own mind, so I began perusing the larger collection of pictorial maps at the David Rumsey Map Collection: casual browsing led me down the virtual rabbit hole, of course!  Clearly you can map anything in a pictorial way: plants, animals, commodities, imaginary places, infrastructure and material culture, the past and the present: one of the major reasons the Osher exhibition identifies the mid-twentieth century as a golden age for these maps is the production of so many maps related to the campaigns of World War II, and these are among the most striking maps of this genre. I love global and national pictorial maps (a particular favorite is pictorial-map pioneer MacDonald Gill’s “Tea Revives the World”, produced in the darkest days of Britain’s World War II experience and pictured below), but the more I looked at the Osher and Rumsey maps and my newly-acquired ScottMap of Salem the more parochial my perspective became. Since the golden age of pictorial maps was roughly coincidental with the Salem’s increasing identification as the Witch City, I wondered if this would be apparent on regional and local maps. How often did a witch mark Salem’s place on the map?

Tea-Revives-the-World-Gill

Pictorial Map America 1940 Osher

Two Patriotic Maps from 1940: “Tea Revives the World” by MacDonald Gill and “America–A Nation of One People from Many Countries”, published by the Council Against Intolerance in America, Rumsey Map Collection and Osher Map Library.

Quite often, it seems, though the struggle between Salem’s divergent commercial and cultural identities is also evident on local pictorial maps from the mid-twentieth century. Situated between the big shoe representing Lynn’s characteristic industry to the south and the fishermen of Cape Ann to the north, Salem is represented alternatively by either the House of the Seven Gables or a broom-mounted witch, and sometimes both. Coulton Waugh’s beautiful map of “Cape Ann and the North Shore” (1927) identifies Salem with the Gables and the famous ship Hazard, but over the next several years the witch appears on Griswold Tyng’s illustrated Map of the Eastern United States (1929), Harold Haven Brown’s Picture Map of Massachusetts (1930) and Elizabeth Shurtleff’s very detailed map of Massachusetts, “the Old Bay State” (1930). One of my very favorite pictorial maps, Raymond Lufkin’s “Old Massachusetts” produced for The House Beautiful in 1930, is focused on the state’s architectural heritage, so witchcraft is literally marginalized (along with another notable event in Salem’s history, the landing of the first elephant in North America). Surprisingly there is no witch on Paul Spener Johst’s 1931 picture map of Massachusetts (just a BIG pilgrim), but the increasingly-familiar figure returns on Elmer and Berta Hader’s cartoon map of Massachusetts published in 1932, from their Picture Book of the States. From that point on, the flying witch marks the spot of Salem on most pictorial maps. By the time we get to the end of the “golden era”, Salem is firmly established as the Witch City on Ernest Dudley Chase’s official travel map of Historic Massachusetts, and the “Scott-Map of Salem” can make the rather whimsical claim that “aviation started in Salem”.

Pictorial Map North Shore 1927 Osher

Pictorial Map US Tyng 1929 Rumsey Map Collection

Pictorial Map Massachusetts Brown 1930

Pictorial Map Shutleff 1930

Pictorial Maps House Beautiful 1930

Pictorial Maps House Beautiful detail Salem 1930

Pictorial Map Massachusetts Johst 1931

Pictorial Map Haders 1932 Rumsey Map Collection

How Salem is marked on the map, 1920s-1960s: ABOVE: Coulton Waugh’s map, 1927; details of Tyng US Pictorial map, 1929, Brown “Picture Map“, 1930, and Shurtleff map, 1930; “Old Massachusetts” published by The House Beautiful, 1930; Johst map of Massachusetts, 1931; Hader pictorial map of Massachusetts, 1932; BELOW:  Ernest Dudley Chase’s Historic Massachusetts, “A Travel Map to help you feel at home in the Bay State”, 1957 (published by the Massachusetts Department of Commerce) and Alva Scott-Garfield’s “Scott-Map of Salem, Masschusetts”, 1960.

Pictorial Map Mass 1957 Chase

Pictorial Map Scott-Salem 1960

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Everything for the Garden (Historian)

I had a lot to do yesterday (including gardening) but still managed to devote quite a bit of time to the digital collections of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at the New York Botanical Garden–a very enticing resource that represents only a fraction of the larger Library’s vast holdings, encompassing over 555,000 volumes in its General Research Collection, along with botanical art and manuscripts. I confined myself to only one category of the digitized materials–nursery and seed catalogs–and still managed to kill some serious time; I can only imagine the hours that would be lost to old journal articles, collector’s notebooks, and “Great Flower Books”! There were quite a few Massachusetts growers represented among the nursery catalogs, which dated primarily from the 1890s through the 1920s, including Salem’s very prominent horticulturalist and landscape architect Harlan P. Kelsey and the “Seed King” of Marblehead, James J.H. Gregory. (Both men were very energetic civic activists as well as horticultural entrepreneurs–I plan to focus on their comparative paths a bit later on, when I have more time). These catalogs are such great sources for the history of horticulture, garden design, “homemaking”, as well as advertising and marketing: they just suck you (me) right in–their nostalgic aesthetic appeal is quite powerful too. Here are a few of my favorite covers, but you can access the entire texts online via the Mertz Digital Collections.

Everything for the Garden Henderson 1905

Everything for the Garden Henderson 1918

Everything for the Garden Johnson 1907

Everything for the Garden Elliotts 1894

Everything for the Garden BRECK NYBG

Everything for the Garden Kelsey

Everything for the Garden Maloney 1917

Everything for the Garden Payne 1917

Everything for the Garden Allen 1917

Everything for the garden and “Dreamwo[r]ld” indeed: American nursery catalogs from the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Digitized Collections at the New York Botanical Garden.

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Misplaced McIntire Pieces?

My title is a bit provocative: I am sure art historians know where the various extant pieces of Samuel McIntire’s urns, swags, mantles, etc.. wound up after they were removed from structures that were burning or razed or mistakenly modernized. But I don’t. A case in point is the previous embellishment of the former stable of the John Robinson House on Summer Street. Just this past week I had a coincidental “happening” with this structure. I happened to run across an article in the March 1912 edition of Country Life in America about John Robinson’s garden (he was a famous horticulturist, author, and garden designer) entitled “A Little Garden in Old Salem” which features several photographs, including one of his stable, embellished with McIntire panels and urns taken from a Derby coach house and the South Church which had burned down nine years before. Then two days later, I happened to meet the charming artist who presently lives in the stable, which was converted to a residence many years ago (and separated from the Robinson House). As her house is no longer embellished with swags and urns, I asked her where they went. According to her sources (the stable’s previous owners, and the man who moved her into it), there was a fire, during which people in the neighborhood “saved” the McIntire pieces, but no one is quite sure where they all ended up. I confirmed the fire–which happened in 1950, just one year after the stable had been converted into a garage–but my photographic evidence dates from before this time, and after: obviously we have a present-day building which is quite transformed, as well as swag-less and urn-less.

McIntire Embellished Stable in Salem 1912

Robinson Stable HABS 2 LC

McIntire Collage

Robinson Stable HABS 3 West Elevation LC

Robinson Stable HABS LC

Summer Street Stable Salem

Photographs of the Robinson Stable/House over the years: from “A Little Garden in Old Salem” by Wilhelm Miller (photograph by Arthur G. Eldredge), Country Life in America volume 21 (1911-12): all outfitted with McIntire panels and urns; from the HABS inventory at the Library of Congress, 1940, with panels and no urns but drawings of all ornamentation; today–rebuilt after the 1950 fire with no ornamentation.

Regardless of the whereabouts of the McIntire elements, the 1912 and 1940 examinations of the Robinson stable are interesting comparisons of relative appreciation for the famed architect and woodcarver of Salem: the earlier article scarcely mentions him while the HABS report is all about him! But ultimately one wonders how all that ornamentation got on the stable and off it: I am imagining frenzied pilfering/saving, both on the night of the burning of the South Church next door and the stable 47 years later. And where are all these elements now? I’m just not sure. The Peabody Essex Museum has urns from the William Orne House (demolished 1882) in their collection, and The Visitor’s Guide (s) to Salem published by its predecessor, the Essex Institute, in 1908 and 1916 indicate that urns from the South Church as well as other architectural elements are among its collection. South Church elements are also featured in Volume 13 of the pictorial Pageant of America series, published for the nation’s sesquicentennial. Are these the same urns taken off the stable for the photo shoot–or others rescued on that terrible night in 1903? And where are all those swag and rosette panels that we see affixed to the stable in 1912 and 1940? What is missing and what is accounted for? As I write this I’m looking down Chestnut Street and thinking about all those basements–but sadly, there are only Victorian doors and shutters in my own, as well as lots of late twentieth-century junk.

McIntire Doorhead South Church

McIntire Urns South Church NYPL

South Church Details PEM

 McIntire doorhead and urns from the South Church, destroyed by fire in 1903, from Volume 13 of the Pageant of America Series: The American Spirit of Architecture by Talbot Faulkner Hamlin (1926), New York Public Library Digital Collections. Details of the South Church spire from the Peabody Essex Museum’s archived microsite for its exhibition Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style.

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Silken Skirts and Open Houses

On at least five occasions over the last century, residents of Chestnut Street opened their wardrobes and their houses, donning period clothing while giving house tours on a succession of “Chestnut Street Days” celebrating the apparel, architecture, and culture of Salem’s golden age. The first Chestnut Street was in 1926, organized to recognize Salem’s Tercentenary, and the last was sometime in the 1970s: I’m not sure precisely when but I’m assuming it must have been around the Bicentennial? I’ve posted on these occasions before, but just the other day a very nice man sent me a photograph of the first Chestnut Street Day which I’d never seen before, so I thought I would do so again: we have lots of new residents on the street who are probably completely unaware of these happenings. I also delved into the press coverage a bit and was amazed by the number of headlines the 1939 and 1947 Chestnut Street Days generated: my title is derived from my favorite, “Heavy Silken Skirts Rustle Again at Salem’s Chestnut St.Day Preview”, from the May 27, 1947 edition of the Boston Globe.

Chestnut Street Day 1947 Boston Globep

This preview was followed up by no less than seven articles in the Globe over the next month, covering every little detail of the organization and occasion of the 1947 Chestnut Street Day:  Luncheon Waitresses Chosen for Chestnut Street Day in Salem (all Misses, for the luncheon at Hamilton Hall, the beneficiary of this particular Chestnut Street Day), Salem’s Beautiful Old Houses to be Open for Chestnut Street Day (30 that year!), It Took Two Months to Ripen the 4th of July Rum Punch in Salem (no aspect of the life of “Old-Time Sea Captains” was left uncovered by either the organizers of the Day or the press), and finally, on the eve of the big day:

Chestnut Street Day June 24 1947 Boston Globe Headline

There was definitely a big emphasis on the “garb”, for both men and women, some of which still resides on the street in storage at Hamilton Hall but most of which was sold a few years ago, as I recall. Historic New England also has some clothing in their collection–and films of Chestnut Street days–from the Phillips family. Every piece of evidence indicates that no detail was spared: clothing, food, furnishings carriages, games, house flags, flowers. These days were huge undertakings, apparently involving everyone of every age on the street: a real community effort and display of pride of place. Here are some images from a succession of Chestnut Street Days, beginning with the great family photo I just received and proceeding up to 1952. I don’t have any 1970s images: I wish someone would fill me in on that particular occasion and send photos!

Chestnut Street Days 1926 Trumball

Chestnut Street Day 1626 Tom Sanders

howell-painting-1926-chestnut-street-christies-2006-7200

Chestnut Street Day 1926: Family photograph courtesy of Jim Trumball;  Tom Sanders and his horses and carriage courtesy Martha Sanders; Felicie Ward Howell, “Salem’s 300th Anniversary, Chestnut Street, June, 1926”, Christie’s.

chestnut-street-days

Chestnut Streets Days 1939 carriage SSU

Chestnut Street Day 1939 Gibralter Lady SSU

1939: Flyer featuring Samuel Chamberlain’s “Springtime in Salem”; another carriage and team of horses; two ladies buying Salem’s famous Gibralters from Mrs. Mary E. Barker in period dress, Dionne Collections, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

Chestnut Street Day 1947 Press Coverage

Chestnut Street Day 1952 Ticket

1947 and 1952: One of MANY photographs and stories about the “famous” Chestnut Street Day in the Boston (and even New York) press, and a ticket to the 1952 Day, which featured 25 open houses.

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