Starting 2023 off with some color and creativity; I need some brightness. There is a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I which I have long admired: it’s from relatively early in her reign, and the artist is anonymous. It’s a serious portrait of a young woman of faith: holding a book (for prayer, presumably) and with a poetic inscription about transubstantiation below: it’s certainly not an official portrait as she would never be so open about her personal religious beliefs in her quest to be Queen of the English people rather than just Queen of the English Protestants. The other notable aspect of the portrait is the frame: there really isn’t one, it’s a faux gilt “frame” which is painted on the same board as the portrait. Later on, much later on, this will become a more common trompe–l’œil technique, but I think it was pretty novel in 1565!
@Christie’s Images Ltd. The caption reads: Twas God the Word that spake it: And what that Word did make it, That I believe and take it.
When I was looking for a nice image to post for Elizabeth’s birthday this past fall, I came across one of the “Runneth Over” adaptations by DVM/Maloos: and that of another Renaissance Woman! More Rainbow portrait and MonaLisa, you can’t beat that.
Then I was off and running, discovering lots of cool images. I like to use a relatively narrow focus to discover things, but as I moved forward in time I realized that “frame as part of the picture” is not a discreet search term for modern art. There are indeed quite a few such playful paintings, so I’m just including a few of my discoveries below: I really like the work of JorgeAlberto, whose encased queen card is just one of his faux frame paintings, and I also like this shadowy lemon. As their titles suggest, Sarah Gilman’s Trompel’oeilafterGijsbrechts paintings reproduce the framed “memo-board” paintings of seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish artists rather deliberately.
As the Runneth Over works demonstrate, not all “integrated frame” paintings need to be illusory: my last featured artist is CarolynMisterek, whose “Everyday Occurences” paintings feature an assemblage of botanicals, flat color, and frames. They seem unassuming yet striking at first glance, but the frame adds something besides dimension: formality, finish, fancifulness?
I try to shop local whenever possible: compared to decades past, it’s not difficult as Salem seems to have become as much of a shopping destination as a dining one. But you’ve got to pick a side: goth or gleeful? dark or bright? macabre or merry? Krampus or Santa Claus? Because of the ever-increasing exploitation of the tragedy of 1692 and its contrived connection to Halloween, “witchy” shops, an aesthetic very broadly defined in Salem, have proliferated over the past few years, reaching the level of self-sustaining demand. This article asserts that Salem has become an “alt fashion hotspot” for those seeking gothic garb, and explains the supply and the demand far better than I can! Maybe you can have it both ways—there are certainly some Salem shops that manage to merge the macabre and the merry quite creatively—but with a list consisting of babies and mostly middle-aged people, I’m squarely in the Merry Christmas camp.
It’s difficult to take photographs of shop windows in the daytime, but WitchCityConsignment’s windows represent Salem Christmas shopping well: all is bright but there are looming monsters!
So let’s take a walk down Essex Street from the Witch House to the Hawthorne Hotel and I’ll point out some of my favorite shops along the way and on the side streets. Remember my “merry” bias: this is not an all-inclusive tour! I’m so down on witch-kitschiness that I’ve sworn not to patronize businesses that even have “Witch City” in the name, but I have to make occasional exceptions. I can’t resist Witch City Consignment: there’s so much to see and buy there, though generally I end up buying more things for myself rather than friends or family. I can’t resist the Salem stuff and right now I’m into “apothecariana” or whatever you call it: I love these turn-of-century gold-lablel pharmacy bottles and they are on sale! WitchCityWicks across the way has great candles: I’ve been buying them from the pre-brick-and-mortar days. This section of Essex Street is pretty gothy with the looming Vampfangs and the new Blackcraft, a southern California company which transformed a Colonial Revival bank building into an all-black emporium with a red witch descending from the center ceiling medallion. I skipped the former and went into the latter, for a very brief spell.There’s a lot of black in the store, but very little craft: strictly made in China as far as I could tell. On to Town House Square past the Christmas Tree in Lappin Park.
Witch City Consignment wares; nice to see the cheery windows of the Gulu-Gulu Cafe after I left Blackcraft.
I craved more craft and more merry after Blackcraft, so I headed right for a trio of shops on the corner of Washington and Front Streets owned by a very creative and entrepreneurial couple: the brand new SpruceHome, Oak+Moss, and Roost&Company. Much shopping ensued: these shops have something for everyone, and their wares are unique yet usable, tactile and textural, both decorative and utilitarian. I scooped up napkin rings and onesies, managed to resist all manner of cocktail culture, but had to have my very own merry & bright banner!
Spruce Home and Oak+Moss.
There is great shopping on Front Street (particularly at J.Mode for women’s clothing) which runs paralell to Essex on either side of Derby Square, but I did so well at the Spruce/Oak/Roost triumvirate that I headed straight for Emporium32 on Central, before getting back on Essex. Here we have the curation of yet another creative couple, who have packed their tin-ceilinged shop with more whimsical wares, including nostalgic Christmas decorations, jewelry, prints, very visual books, barware and outerware. It’s a great accessory shop, and also a wonderful place to shop for men with hats, gloves, and shaving stuff galore. Plus it’s just a merry place, which always cheers you up, no matter the season (and they always have the best windows, in every season). At this point, I have to admit that I had my husband with me and we had nearly reached his shopping capacity, so it was time to break for lunch at the tavern at the Hawthorne Hotel (and drinks, of course: I had this delicious blood orange & bourbon cocktail, below). 1925, the latest venture from the Emporium entrepreneurs, will be opening in the corner shop of the Hotel in the new year.
With sustenance, my husband declared he could do two more shops and no more, so we set off for the Peabody Essex Museum shop and Diehl–Marcus&Company, a lovely store located in a Bulfinch building almost across from Emporium 32 on Central Street. Even when I was furious with the PEM for removing the Phillips Library to Rowley (five years ago!) I still shopped in its lovely shop: its buyers have always found the best things. This particular year, the PEM shop seems to have embraced all things Salem, commissioning little wooden replicas of all of its buildings from The Cat’sMeow. I want them all and I couldn’t possibly choose, so I “settled” for some Ropes Mansion placemats, among other items. There’s no question that more damage would have been done if my husband wasn’t with me, and I will have to return to do some actual shopping for others. It does seem a bit odd to me to be featuring all these buildings that are not presently open to the public, particularly the empty Plummer Hall, long home to the Phillips Library, and its adjoining and also-dark Daland House: maybe these little houses are a sign of future openings?
All the PEM houses! The Museum even installed a ye olde Salem Christmas neighborhood in the windows of one of its empty storefronts on Essex Street.
After Diehl–Marcus, my husband dropped out and I was on my own in the shops of Church Street and at Pickering Wharf: the former is a sparkling street of signs while the latter is looking a bit shopworn, I must admit (no fault of the shopowners but rather of their landlord, of course). But I always like to buy a few things at the MarbleFaun at the Wharf, a book and gift shop for anglophiles and Hawthorne-philes (more books at the PEM shop and WickedGoodBooks on Essex Street), and I knew that Joe’sFishPrints had some cute coffee cups which would work for everyone on my list except the babies.
Candles (+ great tea and soap and lots of other things) at Diehl-Marcus, fish impressions at Pickering Wharf, very pretty hand-crafted jewelry at JenniStuartFineJewelry and more apothecary bottles at HiveandForge/Red Antler Pharmacy. This combined and eclectic shop also features a lot of taxidermy, so be forewarned if that’s not your thing, but also the crafts of 30+ makers.
I realize that my shopping guide is a bit late and long, but I’d like to mention a few online local makers and sellers as well: please add more in the comments!
The combination of a leg injury and a lot of work demands kept me inside and inactive at the end of last year and the beginning of 2021, but now that I am healthy and home full-time, like everyone else in Corona-world, I have more time for short runs and long walks, observing respectful and mandatory distances of course: last week I was walking around a neighborhood in nearby Beverly and found myself on the wrong side of the road as sidewalks are now one-way only, and masks are mandatory here in Salem. Even before these measures were put into place, everyone was keeping their distance, and so on nice, sunny days when there are more people on the streets you can observe circling encounters. This past weekend I took a walk up to Greenlawn Cemetery though North Salem and checked in on some of my favorite houses along the way: a cute Greek Revival cottage I’ve always admired, the Dearborn Street house where Nathaniel Hawthorne once lived, and a rather ramshackle early 19th-century shingled house which appeared to have survived unscathed through the years of Victorian protuberances and twentieth-century siding experiments. When I approached the latter, I saw a completely different house: huge shed dormer overwhelming its sloping roof, ripped-out door, vinyl siding. Had “my” house been torn down and replaced with this monstrosity in a matter of mere months? No, looking closer, I realized this was the same house, utterly and tragically transformed: was the same house, it survives no longer. In the same general vicinity more shed dormers loomed, horned in by developers who want to squeeze as many units as possible in old wood-frame houses, enabled by a city which prioritizes any form of development over historic preservation. So obviously, I could go on—indeed I am just getting warmed up—but I’m a bit too emotional and angry to write about this right now. A post on the plague of dormers and the death of historic preservation in Salem is coming, but later, after I’ve done my due diligence and reflected (and calmed down) a bit. I don’t think the vision of that martyred house will fade, unfortunately, but I will not refresh it: I’ll have to avoid Osborne Street for the rest of my life.
And let’s face it, melancholia looms right now: we all need a little bit of escapism rather than a diatribe against shed dormers! So I am going to post about architecture today, but features illustrations that are more whimsical than realistic. I’ve always loved architectural illustration, ever since I was a teenager when I discovered a cache of my uncle’s renderings in the attic: I never knew him; he died just after his graduation from architecture school and these drawings were packed away. They were a touchstone to him but I also just really liked them. Since I look at them as works of art rather than technical drawings, I’m drawn to more historical and whimsical examples: in fact, many of my favorite examples are more properly labeled illustrations rather than architectural illustrations. I love aesthetic depictions of structures, both interiors and exteriors, but I really love illustrations which include people, both inside and alongside their houses, large and small. So that’s what I am featuring today: it makes me happy just to look at these illustrations, and hopefully you will enjoy them too. Because I’ve been focusing so much on women in this Suffrage Centennial year, I thought I would give the men their day: so here is my portfolio of Men and Their Houses, all dwelling in a shed-dormerless world.
I think these are going to get progressively artistic, and we’re also going to go back in time (by subject): the artists’ portfolios, websites and/or shops are linked below.
Design for a “Mannerist” house with a “catslide” roof in Kent by CharlesHollandArchitects; Mies van der Rohe depicted before his famous Farnsworth House, by Spanish illustrator and author Agustin Ferrer Casas in his graphic novel Mies.
A very Salem weekend before Christmas highlighted by the Christmas Dance (now called the Holiday Dance) at Hamilton Hall, preceded by pre-parties at gloriously-decorated houses, and followed by shopping downtown on Sunday. I was supposed to wrap all my presents last night but fell asleep on the couch while watching the 1970 version of Scrooge (not as good as the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol, but it had to do, yet even a musical could not keep my eyes open; in particular this musical).We had terrible weather on Saturday–sludgy snow/rain–but Sunday was unseasonably warm until a wind whipped up in the later afternoon. Not picture-perfect “Christmas Weather” but lots of people were out and about anyway.
Saturday: the Hall next door before the big dance and showing our ephemeral cover of snow–now gone. I took a few pictures of one very stylishly-decorated Dutch Colonial during one pre-party, but then misplaced my camera–magically it appeared at the very end of the evening when we ended up at the Merchant. No matter, because I can never take good pictures at the Dance. I hope you can make out the wonderful Christmas tree below–lit from within by a lady offering up a gift!
And some online shopping: LOVE these “Windows of Salem” hand-drawn digitally-designed cards by EVArtandDesign: you can buy individual cards or a curated-collection with partial proceeds donated to Historic Salem, Inc.
I don’t think I will ever tire of anthropomorphic animals, no matter how old I get. This weekend, to mark National Handwriting Day (not really, but any excuse to shop), I purchased a print of a letter-writing fox from the Litus Gallery, and then went back for more. The very dynamic discussion in response to my Samantha statue post last week referenced the word “whimsical” several times, so I wanted to reorient myself to that word and sense and to me, these works are most definitely whimsical, fanciful, even dreamy. But beyond the aesthetics, many of the Litus images (as alluded to by their titles) are also referential: the title of my fox is “Michael Drayton writing the Second Part of the ‘Poly-Olbion’, Fleet Street, 1617 and I also purchased a print of a clerk-like cat titled “John Selden leaving Hare Court, Inner Temple, August, 1614.” I don’t think that either the poet or the jurist was painted in these situations, but other examples of the Gallery’s work are based directly on particular paintings. I thought it would be interesting to match up the originals with the adaptations. The differences are not hard to discern!
Weighing the Fruits after Jan Vermeer’s ‘Woman Holding a Balance’; Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, 1664, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./ The Turnip Spinner (After Chardin’s ‘Gabriel Godefroy watching a top spin’/ Jean-Siméon, Portrait of the Son of M. Godefroy, Jeweler, Watching a Top Spin, c. 1735, The Louvre/ The Eight Lives of Mr. Tybalt (after Nicolaes Eliaszoon’s ‘Portrait of Nicolaes Tulp’; Nicolaes Eliaszoon Pickenoy, Portrait of Nicolaes Tulp, 1633, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam/The Book-Keeper (after Rembrandt’s ‘Young Man at His Desk,’); Rembrandt, Scholar at his Desk, 1631, Hermitage Museum/ I want, I want, after William Blake; William Blake, “I want, I want” fromFor Children: the Gates of Paradise (1793)/ Il Ladro di Fragola (after Jean Baptiste Chardin’s ‘Basket with Wild Strawberries’; Jean Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, Basket with Wild Strawberries, 1731.
Today I have an entry in my very occasional series of What I Want Now: things I am craving at this very minute. Generally these things fall into two categories: items that I have just discovered and want instantly and items that I have known about for a while but suddenly must have. Today I am thinking about collectible “King Penguin” books, an illustrated hardcover series that Penguin published between 1939 and 1959, including 76 titles. I have four and now want more. These are slim volumes with striking covers: like another series which I admire and collect, Britain in Pictures, it was the aesthetic quality of these books that first captured my attention rather than their content. They look great on a shelf, and in multiples, so I really need more, now. I bought my four volumes in a brick-and-mortar store that is no more, so I think I’ll have to expand my collection from online sources but I’m a bit hesitant as condition is everything with these books: not only do they have beautiful covers, they have lovely spines, and this is the part of the book that gets the most wear and tear. Yet despite my trepidation, I will press on, and if anyone out there reading this wants to help, I have Crown Jewels, Elizabethan Miniatures, Some British Moths, and Flowers of Marsh and Stream in my possession and really want Animals in Staffordshire Pottery, the two (edible and poisonous) mushroom books, both of which have amazing covers, A Book of Toys (with toy penguins on the cover), Spiders, The Bayeux Tapestry, The English Tradition in Design, A Book of Scripts, Tulipomania, and just for the season, Compliments of the Season.
King Penguin titles I have and want, and illustrations from Janet Leeper’s English Ballet and James Laver’s British Military Uniforms. The best source for learning all about collectible Penguin titles is here. Oh, and this one too, please: for $92, I assume its spine its perfect.
There is a holiday more feminine than Thanksgiving and it is today: the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria, whose hagiography established her as the patron saint of philosophers and students in the Middle Ages, and of unmarried women and milliners in the modern era. An interesting evolution from the spiritual to the secular, like many medieval saints, with librarians and all penitents in need representing the transitional beneficiaries. According to her Legend, Catherine was a lovely young woman of noble birth in the early fourth century who converted to Christianity following a vision. She caught the eye of the Emperor Maxentius (r. 306-312) and her refusal to marry him resulted in her martyrdom: after she shattered the first instrument of her torture and execution, a spiked wheel, with a mere touch, she was put to the sword and beheaded. Catherine is seldom seen without these attributes as reminders of the strength of her faith, but there is also a genre of Renaissance depictions which show her rising above them and vanquishing the evil emperor.
Friedrich Pacher, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, 15th-16th century, deYoung/Legion of Honor Museums, San Francisco; Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, with the Defeated Emperor (c. 1482), Philadelphia Museum of Art.
I’m not sure of the precise transition, but at some point in the later eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, Catherine evolved in a patron saint for spinsters, or more precisely unmarried women over the age of 25. This was particularly a French development, and young women began to commemorate the day by praying to Saint Catherine for a husband, donning hats specially made for the occasion, and sending notes and cards to each other as a form of comfort and companionship. The emphasis on hats led to another evolution of Catherine’s patronage, and she became associated more specifically with unmarried women who worked in the fashion and millinery trades of Paris, where large “Catherinette” celebrations occurred on this day in the 1920s and 1930s, a “tradition” that was revived after World War II and apparently continues to this day. As would only be fitting for the women who worked in these creative industries, the hats worn by the Catherinettes were often (but not always) confined to Catherine’s colors of yellow (for faith) and green (for wisdom), but also exemplified unlimited forms of structure, substance and style. And still do.
Catherinettes in the 1930s (from Ernest Flammarion’s Paris (1931)) and 1950s; a modern print of vintage Catherinettes; a St. Catherine’s Day card from the 1940s, and a Chanel Catherinette creation, 2013.
I have a little gallery wall of Salem images I’ve collected over the years in my downstairs hall, mostly prints, but a few photographs–among them a faded hand-tinted image of an ethereally-dressed woman descending the steps of the Andrew Safford house which I long-presumed was by Wallace Nutting. It has all the Nutting touches: the hand-coloring, the colonial-esque setting, the dreamlike character, and of course there are thousands of Nuttings out there, maybe more. But when I actually took it off the wall the other day to see the signature, the attribution was to “Florence Thompson” rather than Nutting: Florence Thompson of Salem, a “Nutting-like” photographer of the early twentieth century. It didn’t take long to find more Florence Thompsons in auction listings, particularly those of the Nutting and “Nutting-like” expert Michael Ivankovich, but I haven’t been able to flesh out her life here in Salem or any of the details of her background or business. There were so many women entrepreneurs in this little city at this time–and then there was Frank Cousins, who must have shared her Colonial Revival leanings if not her predilection for fanciful settings. I wonder if she learned her craft from the master, and was one of the many women who worked for Nutting at his Framingham studio. I wonder where she produced her works—and where she sold them. I’ve got a lot of questions about Florence Thompson, but for now, just a few examples of her Nutting-like work from the 1910s and 1920s: more evidence of the seemingly-insatiable demand for calm and crafted antiquarian images in an age of dynamic change. When I look at these “compositions”, I can’t help but think how radically our artistic sensibilities have changed over a relatively short amount of time, a mere century.
My Florence Thompson print, “The Safford Door” (which looks very similar to the popular Nutting print, “The Sea Captain’s Daughter”, which you can see here); “The Clarks’ Door”, 1911, Etsy seller Bittersweet 13; (same model? Maybe Thompson just moved her from door to door); “The Cushing Door”; “Hillside Pasture”; “Annisquam”, all from Ivankovich Auctions, along with Wallace Nutting’s own “Salem Dignity”, a bit more dignified without the waif. Its title was based on the Alice Morse Earle quote: Salem houses present to you a serene and dignified front, gracious yet reserved, not thrusting forward their choicest treasures to the eyes of passing strangers; but behind the walls of the houses, enclosed from public view, lie cherished gardens, full of the beauty of life.
I must admit that I stole the title of this post from the online shelter magazine Lonny: I couldn’t resist, but it is so obvious you would think I could have come up with it myself! In terms of content, however: my bowls are very different from theirs. Not being a big fan of either football in general or the Super Bowl in particular, I have to seek alternative activities for this weekend and shopping for or merely seeking material objects always works for me. As bowls are probably the most utilitarian object around–perhaps even more so than plates–there was a big sea to navigate but nevertheless I came up with a top ten list pretty quickly. My preferences run to antique with glazed or embellished finishes–I am currently obsessed with silver lustreware–but a touch of subtle iridescence or whimsy on a bowl of any vintage will always catch my eye.
Okay, let’s get a big more realistic: I might be able to swing for the silver lustreware bowl but certainly not the mochaware one. I have a pantry full of Mason Cash bowls, so I certainly don’t need any more, but I like basic yellow ware bowls, both old and new, particularly the white-banded variety. Many modern potters seem to produce updated creamware bowls, in a variety of interesting shapes and glazes.
And finally, the best bowl haircut of all time: on the heroic, short-lived King Henry V (1387-1422): as depicted in a portrait by an unknown artist in the late Tudor era–an age which fixed his image for all time.
In honor of Halloween and the ongoing harvest season, as well as my continuous fascination with anthropomorphism, today I have a portfolio of images which I have labeled “scary vegetables”, some of which are scary because of the human-like characteristics assigned to them (in both the mandrake and pumpkin-head traditions) and others which are simply scary. I’ve featured this topic before, but this variation is a bit more creepy and much more focused on vegetables in general and root vegetables in particular. There’s nothing particularly modern about these images: the aforementioned mandrake with its humanoid roots was a medieval forerunner, and Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s whimsical portraits definitely made plants-in-human-form the embodiment of grotesque in the Renaissance and influenced surrealistic expressions centuries later. Some plants are scary just on their own–especially their roots–but others require a bit of artistic embellishment. I’m not quite sure why Diego Rivera’s radishes are so very menacing, but they certainly are!