Tag Archives: George Washington

An Executive Mansion

For this Washington’s birthday weekend, I am thrilled to be able to feature photographs of the ongoing restoration of the Joshua Ward House, where our first President stayed when he visited Salem in the Fall of 1789. I featured the house in a previous post, where you can see historic photographs and read some of its history, but I was not able to access the interior at that time. Since then, the house has been purchased and is presently being transformed, with great attention to detail, into an inn. I have no name or link yet, but will certainly revisit this project: my strong impression is that the owner wants to pay homage to the house’s namesake builder, the worldly merchant, successful distiller, and every-hospitable Joshua Ward, and dispel its dubious haunted reputation forever. Even though it’s right around the corner from my own house, I am booking a room as soon as it is opened: the very room where President Washington slept, restored to all of its former glory.

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Washington on horseback 19th C

As I had never been in the house and long desired to, my expectations were…great, and I was not disappointed. Even in its present state, a work site, it is beautiful both in its entirety and its details. Seeing it so exposed made it even more beautiful perhaps: layers of paint being sanded off, ceilings opened to the rafters, pocked beams everywhere, doors on the floor. It seemed both vulnerable and stalwart to me, especially as I looked out the windows (of George’s second-floor bedroom, of course) and thought of all the things this house has seen: water and wharves when it was first built in the 1780s, then a filled-in busy downtown, then a huge Gothic fortress-train depot, then nothing because commercial structures blocked its view, then a notorious traffic-clogged “plaza”, now a mixed picture of preservation and poor planning. The Joshua Ward House has weathered all of these developments and is standing by, nearly fully-equipped, for future ones.

First floor: looking out at Salem; famous entrance hall and staircase; soon-to-be inn tavern room; front and back fireplaces.

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Second Floor: more of the famous staircase, Washington’s bedroom, opposite (southeast) bedroom, entrance to the back of the house.

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Through, back, up: stairs, second and third floor bedrooms, the attic.

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Details, details:

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Pieces of the past (even the relatively recent past):

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Some orientation: Jonathan Saunders’ c. 1820 map of Salem (house marked by * ) and Sidney Perley’s 1905 map, both from the Boston Public Library; the Ward House in the mid-20th century, obscured by billboards and facades, and today.

Salem 1820 Saunders

Salem 1905 Perley

Ward House Billboards

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Where Washington’s Ancestors Slept

For George Washington’s real birthday, I’m featuring his ancestral home:  Sulgrave Manor, in Northamptonshire. The early Tudor building still stands, and marks the point of departure for our first President’s great-great grandfather for America in the seventeenth century. On the eve of the First World War (and in commemoration of the War of 1812), the British Peace Centenary Committee bought the Manor and presented it jointly to the peoples of Britain and the United States in celebration of the hundred years of peace between their two nations. The Manor was endowed by funds raised by the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America a decade later, and it also maintains itself as an event and educational venue. I visited the Manor years ago, when it seemed to me to be in excellent condition, but it has recently been placed on the watch list of the most endangered heritage sites in the world by the World Monuments Fund. On the website, statements by the Sulgrave Manor Trust note that Sulgrave Manor has suffered from a lack of investment and is struggling to cope with the repairs and on-going maintenance this Tudor house and its associated buildings desperately need and reveal the intent to establish archive and exhibit space for its large collection of George Washington memorabilia.

Sulgrave Manor WMF

Sulgrave Manor Detroit LC

Sulgrave Manor PC Blomfield

Sulgrave Poster Wilkinson

Sulgrave Manor wallpaper V and A and PRO

Sulgrave Manor Entrance pc

Sulgrave Manor today and in vintage postcards by Reginald Blomfield (who designed its Arts and Crafts gardens) and the Detroit Publishing Company, c. 1910 (Library of Congress); reproduction of a Norman Wilkinson poster of the Great Dining Hall after its restoration, and wallpaper fragment which is identical to one from Sulgrave in the UK National Archives depicting Charles II and Queen Catherine–the Washingtons were LOYAL Royalists in the seventeenth century! (Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum); flags at Sulgrave’s entrance, 1930s.

Sun and Ice in Salem

A beautiful winter weekend for the 12th annual Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate & Ice Sculpture Festival.

There were lots of people downtown: I have no doubt that this Salem Main Streets event helps the restaurants at a quiet time of year (although Salem’s restaurant scene seems to be flourishing anyway); I really hope that it helps the shops too. The wine and chocolate tasting that kicks off the weekend is always such a crush that I skip it, but I would never miss the ice sculptures.

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Seeing yellow:  this tree was full of fat yellow-breasted birds–finches? Mr. and Mrs. Pac-man; the Miles Ward looked especially lovely to me today.

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It’s rather difficult to photograph ice, especially if there’s no background….my favorite sculpture is definitely that of the Salem Diner, acquired by Salem State University last summer and newly-reopened. On the way back home, I noticed that the Joshua Ward house is for sale: this is where George Washington slept when he visited Salem in 1789.

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Presidential Plates

Because I dislike Presidents Day so much (because of its ahistorical morphing of all the presidents together, thus denying their individual achievements, as well as the fact that it never seems to occur on the actual date of either Washington’s or Lincoln’s birthdays, the particular presidents it claims to commemorate), I’m going to downplay the historical and emphasize the material today with a very brief examination of Presidential china. The morphing of presidents is a very popular pastime today (see this viral video), but I prefer not to morph.

I spent (another) snowy afternoon looking through two books (Official White House China by Margaret Brown Klapthor and Susan Gray Detweiler’s American Presidential China. The Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) and accessing two online sources (the White House Historical Association’s “Picturing the President’s House” digital series (so well done!) and the McNeil Americana Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) and quickly formed an impression of presidential plates:  those from the first century of the presidency are far more aesthetically pleasing and interesting than those from the second.  Twentieth-century presidential china is, for the most part, boring.

Here are some of the early presidential plates, starting with that of the Washingtons, a gift to Martha from Dutch East India trader Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest, who commissioned the design in Canton, China. I love the chain of 15 states, the state of the union in 1796. The service commissioned by James and Elizabeth Monroe from the French firm of Dagoty-Honoré is considered the first official White House china because of its patriotic motif:  surrounding the eagle are five vignettes depicting Strength, Agriculture, Commerce, Art, and Science, the foundations of the new nation. Successive presidents apparently used the large Monroe service (400+ pieces) for big state dinners but also brought their own china into the White House for daily use:  Mr. and Mrs. John Quincy Adams used this neoclassical service (with seahorse motifs), likely manufactured by the La Courtille Factory in Paris and purchased during Mr. Adams’ earlier diplomatic service in Europe, during their time in office.

Presidential China Plate

Presidential China Monroe

Presidential China Adams

Porcelain plates used during the Washington, Monroe, and Adams administrations, McNeil Americana Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

There is no doubt that the star of early presidential china was the set purchased by James and Dolley Madison from the Nast Factory in Paris:  an absolutely stunning (and modern!) design featuring wheels, of all motifs. It seems to be very sought after; at first I thought this was because of its relative rarity, given the fact that the Madison White House was burned down by the British in 1814.  But it seems like most of the service survived (did Dolley sneak it out in the last hours, along with that great portrait of George Washington?), so I think its value must be based on the unusual design. I love it, and am even tempted to buy a copy–nearly every presidential library’s shop, including the JFK Library here in Massachusetts, seems to offer reproduction presidential china produced by Woodmere.

Presidential China Madison

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Presidential China Madison Nast Dessert Cooler 1804

The Madison China, purchased c. 1806 from the Nast Factory in Paris.  Plate and sauce boat, Philadelphia Museum of Art; dessert cooler, White House Historical Association.

The Lincoln “Royal Purple” china, pictured below on the cover of Detweiler’s book, was certainly expensive, like most of Mary Todd Lincoln’s White House “improvements”, but it seems to have stood the test of time and was supplemented and complemented by later sets. The scalloped shape set it apart from its predecessors, and like all White House china commissioned before 1918, it was made in France, by Haviland.

American Presidential China

In terms of their china choices, the two most innovative, or nationalistic (as well as naturalistic), first ladies were Lucy Webb Hayes and Caroline Harrison. Quite by chance, Mrs. Hayes met an artist and reporter for Harper’s Weekly named Theodore R. Davis who convinced her to use native American flora and fauna in the design of a new White House service in 1880; the end result, designed by Davis in collaboration with the Haviland Factory in Limoges, France, was a rather dramatic departure from the traditional styles of the mid-nineteenth century.  A decade later, Mrs. Harrison incorporated the naturalistic theme in her own design, but also paid tribute to tradition with the eagle and stars, and to Mrs. Lincoln’s plates with the  scalloped edge.

Presidential China Hayes Soup Plate 1880

Presidential China Rutherford B Hayes 1880 Haviland

Presidential China Harrison

Soup plate and serving platter from the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, designed by Theodore R. Davis in collaboration with the Haviland Factory, Limoges France, 1880, Philadelphia Museum of Art and White House Historical Association; A soup plate designed by Mrs. Benjamin Harrison (Caroline Lavinia Scott) and manufactured by Tressemanes and Vogt, Limoges, France, 1891.

With the arrival of the twentieth century we come to the era of domestic production (mostly by Lenox) and rather boring bands: lots of gold, along with blue (Roosevelt), green (Truman and Bush), red (Reagan), and yellow (Clinton). The only departure from these restrained designs seems to be the Johnson wildflowers. I’m not sure what the Obama plans are regarding china, but in the mean time, we do have the “Abraham Obama” tea set by Ron English ( I suppose I am engaging in a little bit of presidential morphing after all) and you can also custom order your own flowered presidential plate here; I might go for Teddy Roosevelt myself.

Presidential China

President Plate Rothshank

Master Remix

There’s an interesting exhibition at the Boston Athenaeum this summer featuring some of the major works of George Deem, an artist who mastered painting the masters–in his own variant ways.  Deem (1932-2008) was so fascinated with the works of Mantegna, Caravaggio, Matisse, Picasso, and most especially Vermeer, that he repainted them in an engaging manner that not only plays with art–but also with time.  The exhibition, entitled George Deem:  the Art of Art History, features 30 paintings that focus on Deem’s re-worked and re-imagined Vermeers as well as those of several eminent American artists, like the provocative School of Sargent, below.

George Deem, School of Sargent (1986).  Private Collection, Stamford, CT.

I find this painting particularly captivating:  it really looks like Madame Gautreau is gazing at The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit and they back at her!  Odd to have such iconic ladies in the same picture together. Another Deem take on the Boit girls is below, along with George Washington and his Portrait (1972), based on the Gilbert Stuart portrait. I really like both the idea and the image of this painting.

George Deem, George Washington and his Portrait (1972).  Collection of the Boston Athenaeum; Sargent Vermeer (2007).  Private Collection, Hartford, CT.

Living in an expansionistic age, Johannes Vermeer incorporated maps into the backgrounds of several of his paintings and Deem brings the map into the foreground in Vermeer’s Map and the near-foreground in A Stool, a Chair, and a Map, and a few other Vermeer-inspired paintings.

George Deem, Vermeer’s Map (1982).  Private Collection, Falls Church, Virginia; A Stool, a Chair, and a Map (2003). Estate of George Deem.

As one who has spent lots of time drinking in every little detail of Vermeer paintings, I can understand Deem’s obsession with Vermeer (about whom he has also written a book: How to Paint a Vermeer:  a Painter’s History of Art, 2004) and it is fun to see these background details (like The Red Chair, below) fill the frame.

George Deem, The Red Chair (2002).  Private Collection, West Hartford, CT.


Given that my garden is bordered by a high brick wall–the backside of Hamilton Hall–someone in its past began training a pair of yews to grow up alongside it espalier-style.  I’m grateful that this happened.  I’m not a big yew fan, but the espaliered yews soften the edges of the wall and are relatively low-maintenance.  We normally trim them once a year, and the rest of the year (all seasons) they look pretty good.  Obviously their design is quite informal; a couple of years ago while Hamilton Hall was getting a new roof a cornerstone fell on the top one (narrowly avoiding me, actually), taking out several branches, so they don’t quite match.

Espalier techniques go back several centuries, maybe even to the Romans.  I’ve read that they were utilized in the enclosed gardens of the medieval era, which makes perfect sense but is apparently not true.  The keeper of the gardens at the Cloisters Museum maintains that espalier was a Renaissance invention (or revival), which makes even more sense given the contemporary quest for the mastery of nature.  With espalier, you are literally bending nature to your will, and it is also a perfect combination of aesthetics and practicality.  In the Renaissance and after, fruit trees were the primary objects of the technique, but today you see all sorts of trained shrubs, including yews.

Below is an illustration of espalier from a late seventeenth-century Dutch gardening manual in the collection of the New York Public Library, and two photographs of George Washington’s garden at Mt. Vernon; apparently our first president had a preference for “live fences”, and trained trees for walls and borders.  Finally, Charlotte Moss‘s “Espalier” china pattern for Pickard.

George Washington Dined Here

Of all the Georgian houses in Salem, the house that reminds me the most of the Lady Pepperell House up in Kittery is the Assembly House, formally known as the Cotting-Smith Assembly House, which has been in the possession of the Peabody Essex Museum since 1965.  It’s probably just the pediment and pilasters, because these are two very different houses in two very different settings.  The Assembly House was built in 1782 by an unknown architect commissioned by Salem’s Federalist-leaning merchants and shipowners, who financed its construction by selling shares.  In the 1790s it was substantially redesigned by Samuel McIntire for its transition to a private residence.  And just before that, President George Washington stopped by for a reception in his honor in October of 1789.

President Washington was on a grand tour of New England in the Fall of 1789, and he came to Salem after four days in Boston and a day trip up the North Shore.  His general impressions of  everywhere he went and everyone he met are all recorded in his diaries, which are easily accessible at the Library of  Congress.  It is so obvious that Washington was a farmer first and a President second from these diaries:  his longest observations are reserved for the landscape and the potential fertility of the soil.  He arrives in Salem after a short stop in Marblehead, where he observed that the houses are old—the streets dirty—and the common people not very clean.  Salem, by contrast, is deemed a neat Town, said to contain 8 or 9000 Inhabitants.  Its exports are chiefly Fish, Lumber & Provisions.  They have in the East Indies Trade at this time 13 sale of Vessels.  At the Assembly House reception on the evening of October 29, the President observed the attendance of at least an hundred handsome and well dressed ladies.

Nearly ten years after Washington’s visit, McIntire was commissioned to transform the rather plain building into a fashionable residence, and the house was expanded and redesigned and considerable surface detail was added, though the elaborate entrance was added several decades later.  I’m not sure when the carriage house out back was added, but it certainly lacks any McIntire-ish detail.

There are some great photographs of the Assembly House from the turn of the last century, as well as some taken by Walker Evans in the 1930s which I showcased in an earlier post.  Certainly the popularity of Frank Cousins’ works and those of other national photograph publishers raised the stature of the “Old Assembly House”, as did the whole “Washington Slept Here” movement.  As you can see  below, the house and its story even served as copy for a 1915 advertisement for (lead) house paint, though the history is wrong:  the Marquis de Lafayette dined at the Assembly House 5 years prior to General Washington’s visit, not with him in 1789.

Photographic Sources:  Andrew Dickson White Collection  of Architectural Photographs at Cornell University Library, The New York Public Library Digital Gallery, the Library of Congress.

Washington through British Eyes

This weekend I searched through various databases of eighteenth-century British periodicals for critical and comical images of George Washington and didn’t come up with many:  he is clearly not the American nemesis.  The British popular press blamed their own leaders for the humiliating failure of the “American War” (as well as the rest of Europe, allied with the Colonies against Britain) rather than focusing on American strengths.  For cartoon and cariacature representations, the press clung to older images of America, chiefly a young (very scantily dressed) woman and/or a native (always with feathers) American, although as the war progressed the American rattlesnake was increasingly visible.  Here are several very popular cartoons from the beginning, middle, and end of the Revolution from the British cartoon collection at the Library of Congress, with Washington nowhere in attendance:

 The Able Doctor, or American Swallowing the Bitter Draught, 1774:  British Prime Minister Lord North  forces the Intolerable Acts down a bare-breasted America’s throat while the lecherous Lord Sandwich looks up her skirt.

News from America, or the Patriots in the Dumps, 1776:  Lord North again, and a dejected (and again bare-breasted) America.

 The British Lion engaging Four Powers, 1779:  Britain facing the coalition force of a Spanish spaniel, and French cock hen, an American rattlesnake, and a Dutch pug dog.

 The Horse America throwing its Master, 1779:  King George III unseated.

 The Reconciliation between Britannia and her daughter America, 1782.

George Washington appears in only two cartoons that I could find, and only one represents him as a figure of mockery, wearing a dress and referred to as MRS George Washington while lashing  Britain (now herself a submissive woman!).  The  more common depiction of  Washington during the American War is as the dignified Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.  Prints published from 1776 on, and especially from 1780, indicate that Washington had earned the respect of both the British public as well as that of their American “cousins”.

 The Curious Zebra. alive from America! Walk in Gem’men and ladies, walk in, 1778:  Washington holding the tail of the curious zebra, whose stripes represent the 13 colonies.

 Mrs. George Washington.  Bestowing thirteen stripes on Brittania, 1783.





The images below are not strictly British; the first is a profile portrait that was painted by James Sharples in 1796 and copied by his wife Ellen in the following year and the second is the 1908 stamp based on this profile.  The Sharples were English painters who emigrated to America in 1794 and began a family business in which James would paint the initial portrait and Ellen would take and fulfill orders for copies.  This image, copies of which are in the collections of the National Portrait Galleries of both London and Washington, seems to have been quite popular a century ago, but we seldom see it now. Profiles are no longer popular.


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