Tag Archives: Interior design

Au Courant Classrooms

For my annual back-to-school post, I want to focus on two very distinct phases of school reform, both of which focused on the aesthetics of the classroom. This will not be the case everywhere, obviously, but when I look around Salem and its environs, I see a lot of school buildings built in the later 19th century–World War I era, and an equal number built after World War II. Rather than thinking about demographics, my mind immediately wanders to the design elements of these structures. The exteriors are pretty obvious (solid civic Classical Revival for the former era, International-style boxes for the latter), but what about the interiors? It happens that the celebrated Salem artist Ross Turner was very active and influential in a movement dedicated to embellishing classrooms in the 1890s and after, a movement dedicated to “vitalizing the dormant sense of the artistic” among Americans, “which by false and ugly environment, has been so repressed as to be of little actual value to the community”.  Arts education and the decoration of the classroom went hand in hand for Turner, and he believed that students should be exposed to both as early as possible, in the (relatively-new)) kindergartens and primary schools. He had an effective partner in the Prang Educational Company, which published his works and produced artistic products for the classroom.

Stylish Schools Art for the Eye

Prang Educational Company AAS Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society.

Here are Turner’s design recommendations for classrooms: they should be quiet, harmonious in color and arrangement [with] the color of the walls selected according to the light…the use of dull colors–brown or slate colors–should be usually avoided. The color effect should be responsive and light, never dull, heavy or cold. Remember we have under present conditions to struggle against a hideous dulled surface known as the blackboard, too large and ugly…A comprehensive group or series of art subjects…beginning with primitive work, Egyptian and Assyrian, early Greek and Etruscan, and proceeding up through the Renaissance [not after] is essential, in plaster or pictorial forms. He recommends that statues and “solar prints’ be spread liberally around the classroom, as well as architectural fragments, and decorative designs in plaster. And one last thing: every schoolroom should have a bust or portrait of some eminent American citizen or patriot placed immediately above the desk of the teacher; above and around this the colors of our common country. Here should be the shrine of American patriotism. We should display the flag above patriotic busts, or portraits, inside as well as outside the schoolroom. Art for the Eye was first published in 1895: let’s look at some Salem classrooms from about a decade later to see if it had any impact. These photographs are all from the very accessible digital collections of Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

Stylish Schools SSU Horace Man

Stylish Classroom SSU Horace Mann3

Stylish Schools SSU HOrace Man 2

The photographs are from a series taken by Salem photographer E.G. Merrill of the Salem Normal School’s Training School, later known as Horace Mann, for the School’s 50th anniversary in 1904. It looks like the hideous chalkboard is still in the classroom (though utilized for artistic purposes via the elaborate blackboard sketching that was a speciality at Salem Normal School), but there are certainly a lot of other Turner-approved embellishments! It’s so perfect, I envision this wallpaper frieze from 1910, named after the inventor of kindergarten, in all Turner-approved classrooms!

Stylish Schools WallpaperWallpaper “Froebel” frieze, 1905, E.J. Walenta for Wm. Campbell Wall Paper Company, Machine-printed on paper, Hackensack, New Jersey, USA, Cooper-Hewitt Museum, gift of Paul F. Franco, 1938-50-15.

The second wave of educational aesthetic reform followed World War II, and seems largely focused on clearing out all of the elements that Turner advocated for, as well as letting in, or creating, even more light vis-à-vis the new fluorescent lighting. A model classroom was installed at Salem’s Bowditch School (then on Flint Street) by the Salem-based Sylvania factory, and promoted nationally by a serialized newspaper article in alliance with the National Education Association. I can’t get the photographs any clearer, but the description is helpful: blackboards replaced by tackboards (that won’t last), wooden floors replaced by tile, and “posture-improving desks” installed. In the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art there is a prototype desk designed for the Bowditch School by the architectural/engineering firm Markus & Nocka in 1946–ostensibly for this remodeling–but I can’t tell if these are the desks in the photograph (if they are, I wonder where they all went when the Bowditch was converted into condominiums!)  More likely something more conventional was chosen, like the colorful Brunswick desks in the advertisement below. These are what I grew up with, and I think there’s still more than a few in the old SSU Sullivan Building where I teach today.

Stylish Schools 1946

Stylish Schools MOMA

Stylish schoolchairs BrunswickBrunswick chairs c. 1958 from the VS Schulmuseum site. 

♣ Heads up: exhibition of Ross Turner’s works at the Kensington-Stobart Gallery at the Hawthorne Hotel opens this Friday September 8!


Flame-Stitch

For antiques aficionados, August is all about Americana auctions (couldn’t resist all the alliteration!) and there are always Salem pieces to discover. Among the lots of Skinner’s upcoming Americana auction, a late eighteenth-century pole fire screen captured my attention immediately, not just because it was made in Salem, but also because of its flame-stitch embroidery. Flame-stitch is one of my favorite perennial patterns, characterized by its durability and adaptability: it spans the ages (from at least the Renaissance) and can be easily adapted by time and place. It’s somewhat obscure origins–according to the curators at the Victoria & Albert Museum, it is a technique also sometimes known as Irish stitch, Hungarian stitch, Florentine stitch and bargello stitch, the variety of names indicating the uncertainty of its origins–perhaps explains its mutability. It is one of those patterns that can appear both “antique” and “modern”: flame-stitch cushions, in particular, seem timeless.

Flame-stitch Pole Screen Skinner

flamestitch collage

Flamestitch garden pillow

Mahogany pole screen, late 18th century, Skinner Auctions/ Flame-stitch pincushion, late 17th century, Victoria and Albert Museum/ Flame-stitch “Jasper” pillow, Jayson Home/ 18th century flame-stitched pillow, 1stdibs/ a faux flame-stitch pillow in my backyard.

In its modern incarnations, flame-stitch doesn’t necessarily need to be a stitch: the zig-zag, chevron pattern seems to be sufficient for the more general identification. No needle required, pattern without technique. The vibrant contrasting colors of flame-stitch fabrics past have also given way to more tone-on-tone variations of the present. I’ve always wanted to upholstery one of my couches in a flame-stitch fabric, and I must admit that both the Federal-era embroidered version (on the left) and the more contemporary variation (on the right) both appeal to me (although I really love the 18th-century embroidery fabric from a Newport-made slip seat–which might have originated as a pocketbook–AND the early 19th-century French and Lee Jofa chartreuse fabrics below).

flamestitch collage2

Flame-stitch Winterthur

a-woven-flamestitch-panel

Flamestitch Lee Jofa

American Country Federal Sofa, Northeast Auctions/ Southwood Mahogany Flame-Stitch Sofa, Chairish/ 18th-century slip seat upholstery, Winterthur Museum Collections/ Woven early 19th century French flame-stitch panel, 1stdibs/ Lee Jofa watersedge fabric.

Two historic flame-stitch items that often pop up at auctions are men’s pocketbooks or “wallets” and stools. An extraordinary example of the former is included in the upcoming Skinner auction: a later eighteenth-century Massachusetts wallet featuring African-American servants, or slaves, well-dressed but definitely in service. This was featured on Antiques Roadshow a while ago, and so I was not surprised to see it come up for auction (with an estimate of $10,000-$15,000). There are so many (somewhat less singular) examples in museum collections and auction archives that I imagine every late eighteenth-century man walking around with a flame-stitch wallet! For women, there were flame-stitch embroidered shoes, from earlier in the century. Obviously there are endless variations of both the historic technique and the modern pattern, but I think the form that captures the cherished quality of flame-stitch best are bible and book covers, which were also produced in great quantity in the eighteenth century.

Flamestitch wallet collage

Flame-stitch pocketbook bonhams

Flame-stitch purse CH

28.102.17a-b 0002

FS stool collage

Flamestitch Book Cover PMA

Rare flame-stitch Massachusetts wallet featuring African-American figures, Skinner Auctions/ American silver-mounted pocketbook inscribed “Thomas Stubbs”, 1798, Bonhams Auctions/ Flame-stitch pocketbook, late 18th century, Cooper Hewitt Museum, Gift of Mrs. Rollin Stickle/ Flame-stitch Latchet Shoes, c. 1700-1729, Metropolitan Museum of Art/ Early 18th century French fruitwood stool, Bonhams Auctions/ Folk art painted stool with flame-stitch seat, Northeast Auctions/ Pair of mid-century modern flame-stitch benches, 1stdibs/ Bible cover, 18th century, Philadelphia Museum of Art.


A Tudor House in Salem

How did I miss it? Here I am, a sixteenth-century English historian living in Salem, and I never knew about a reproduction sixteenth-century house built right here in 1927 by a mason named James H. Boulger. I’ve posted on “English” houses in Salem before, and often lamented the lack of Tudors in town, all the while blind to the existence of this interesting little house in South Salem. While I was researching the “Electrical Home” in this same neighborhood (with streets named for U.S. Presidents), I came across a story entitled “Salem Home and Garage Built in 16th Century English Style” in the November 21, 1927 edition of the Boston Globe. Yesterday I walked down from my office at Salem State to see this very house, hoping that it was still standing and bore some semblance of its sixteenth-century self and had not been turned into a ranch, or even worse, a “Colonial”. But as I walked down Cleveland Road and saw its pitched roof approaching, I got more excited, and there it was: an adorable, obviously well-maintained and well-loved, Tudor cottage.

Tudor second.jpg

Tudor third

Tudor fourth

Tudor Sixth

My only basis of comparison is the grainy newspaper photograph, but it looks like the major alteration to Boulger’s original house is the integration of the originally-freestanding garage. I’m not sure my photographs capture the scale of the house and the interesting pitch of its roof: to me, (and again, for the thousandth time, I’m just an architecture buff) the house looks more Tudor than Tudor Revival. According to the article, all plans were by Mr. Boulger, who is a native of Manchester Eng, and a mason by trade. In designing the building, he was aided by a picture printed in a magazine showing a farmhouse in England during the 16th century. Like many English architects of centuries back, the designer has secured the typical English charm that marked the early, simple, unpretentious homes in England. 

Tudor in Salem

I made a limited search for the precise photograph that might have been Mr. Boulger’s inspiration, but contemporary periodicals in America are full of Tudor Revivals and those in Britain tend to feature either “great” Tudor structures or townhouses, like the famous Seven Stars pub in Mr. Boulger’s native Manchester, now sadly long gone. He seems to have invested as much effort into the interior as the exterior, as the Globe article goes into considerable detail about the “outstanding features” of the new/old house: an ‘English box seat’ window, a combination dining room and parlor, natural finished woods, low, wide arches leading to the various rooms, low situated windows and the ‘cold box’, so-called, where vegetables and wines were kept by the English farmer….. Mr. Boulger plans to install old-fashioned furniture in keeping with the exterior of the building. And no doubt he did.

Seven Stars Manchester

Tudor 1

I’m sure that the Seven Stars, widely heralded as one of England’s oldest pubs in its day, was not Mr. Boulger’s inspiration, but wanted to inject a bit of old Manchester here!


Salem Interiors, 1896

I came across a book I had never seen before the other day at the wonderful Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture (beware, serious rabbit-hole potential here) at the University of Wisconsin, Madison: Newton Elwell’s Colonial Furniture and Interiors, published in 1896. I was doing something rather tedious so of course I put that aside and dug in. The book is not great in terms of information, and there were some pretty serious flaws that even an mere buff such as myself could spot immediately (such as referring to Samuel McIntire as James) but it is a treasure trove of plates, including many photographs of Salem interiors I had never seen before. These photographs are fascinating to me because many of them feature rooms decorated in a mishmash style that preceded the pure period room. Look at the east parlor of the Peirce-Nichols house below, for example: looking quite cluttered and Victorian rather than serenely Federal, with the exception of that beautiful fireside chair. Elwell wants to focus on the period furniture, but his photographs can’t always hide all the contemporary details of its setting.

salem-interiors-1896-east-parlor-pn

salem-interiors-1896-west-parlor-pn

salem-interiors-1896-sideboard-and-chair

salem-interiors-1896-furniture

salem-interiors-furniture-17thc

The sheer (and quite casual) display of Salem furniture from the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is a little overwhelming: some of the pictures seem to be taking us into attics (or the storage area of the Essex Institute) where tables and sideboards are lined up in a random fashion. The chair that is featured in the second photograph above, of the mantel of the west parlor of the Peirce-Nichols house, is one from a set of eight crafted by McIntire, one of which sold at a Christie’s auction last week for $15,000 (which seems like a bargain to me, no?) But the 1890s was a key decade in the development of a Colonial Revival consciousness that was both very national and very local: a key decade for the identification of  “Olde Salem”. Consequently along with the eclectic vignettes which mix periods and styles, there are also some “typical colonial” Salem rooms in Elwell’s book, forerunners of the period rooms of the next decades.

salem-interiors-1896-colonial-corner

salem-interiors-1896-typical-colonial-chamber

Plates from Newton Elwell’s Colonial Furniture and Interiors, 1896.


Christmas Covers

I really like the visual aesthetic of early twentieth-century Christmases, as represented by shelter magazines from that era: cozy, warm and stylish–not so commercial. Colorful, but not glittery. People (or their servants) are making Christmas rather than buying it. House & Garden is probably the most stylish, but it was an evolution, as you will see below. I looked through 10+ years of Christmas covers from 1912 through the 1920s and saw the transformation of the Christmas home from somewhat-realistic refuge to a more idealistic showplace, a transition that seems to coincide with the coming of the First World War and is exemplified in the illustrations of Ethel Franklin Betts. The post-war Christmas spirit is a little bit more romantic and curatorial: the house is presented to us through a series of vignettes. It’s all a bit less accessible, except through all those beautifully-draped windows that allow us to peep inside, drawn by the light.

housegarden22greeuoft_0359-1912

housegarden24greeuoft_0363-1913

housegarden26greeuoft_0353-1914

housegarden28greeuoft_0321-1915

housegarden30greeuoft_0299-1916

housegarden33greeuoft_0351-1917

housegarden34greeuoft_0279-1918

housegarden36greeuoft_0369-1919

housegarden38greeuoft_0373-1920

housegarden39greeuoft_0729-1921-november

housegarden42greeuoft_0453-1922

House & Garden Christmas covers from 1912-1922 (except the canopy bed, which is a November 1921 issue–I just loved it) accessed via the Online Books page at the University of Pennsylvania. Below is my very favorite cover, from 1925, and the inspiration for this post–a special “storybook” house in Salem, all lit up for Christmas.

christmas-1925

christmas-house-salem


Christmas in Salem 2016

stellar Christmas in Salem tour around Salem Common this past weekend, featuring all the things that I love about Salem houses and Salem people. The combination of generous and creative homeowners, perfect clear and crisp December weather, and myriad magical details made for a very special experience. Here’s just a short list of attractions (I really could go on and on): a McIntire spiral staircase, beautiful views of the Common (as seen through very clean windows–the first thing I noticed when I got home was how dirty mine are), an artist’s atelier/bedroom, an alpine-decorated deck, kitchens extraordinaire, an architectural dollhouse, exceptional artwork and collections. To be honest, I barely noticed the Christmas decorations as I was so focused on the architecture and interior design. I was a bit pressed for time, so I skipped the three institutional stops on the tour–the PEM’s Andrew Safford House, the Bertram House, and St. Peter’s Church–and went right for the private homes, all along the Common and a few adjacent side streets. It seemed to me that the tour was curated for contrast: of scale (larger institutional or single-family homes contrasted with smaller structures and condominiums), of architectural style (everything was built in the nineteenth century but what a difference between the Federal, Greek Revival, Victorian and Colonial Revival!), of design (very modern and more traditional), of embellishment (very decorated and more minimalistic), and above all, of expression: the homeowners expressed themselves in various ways: through their own art or design, or through their collections, or both!

I was fortunate to obtain a press pass so I could take photographs of the houses, but 1) I am not a professional photographer and 2) I got completely overwhelmed by all I had to see/ “capture”, so please go on over to Creative Salem  or to Historic Salem for more polished and comprehensive portfolios: it was really all too much for me, in the best possible way!

Let’s start with a sampling of beautiful rooms, and then I’ll try to present some of the details that caught my eye–just some, because there was so much to see.

christmas-in-salem-tree

christmas-in-salem-room-2

christmas-in-salem-room

christmas-in-salem-tree-3s

christmas-in-salem-kitchens

christmas-in-salem-detail-8

Let there be light! This  was a very enlightened tour, in more ways than one:

christmas-in-salem-window-2

christmas-in-salem-window-3

christmas-in-salem-foyer1

christmas-in-salem-staircase

Myriad Mantles……..

christmas-in-salem-mantle-2

christmas-in-salem-mantle-4

christmas-in-salem-mantle-5

christmas-in-salem-mantle

Dazzling Details…….of collections, an amazing restoration, and all sorts of embellishment, including an historic Salem gallery wall, an exterior Christmas tablescape (set up by the homeowner of a beautiful condo, who felt that she need to offer a “bit more”), and the ultimate dollhouse.

cis-details-collage

cis-details-collage-restoration

cis-collage

christmas-in-salem-detail-5

christmas-in-salem-deck1s

christmas-in-salem-dollhouses

It was impossible for me to capture the complete creativity of Salem artist Thomas Darsney’s stunning home/gallery: his canvases were luminous but the entire home was in fact a canvas, with no surface or detail unconsidered. 

christmas-in-salem-detail-6

christmas-in-salem-detail-7

christmas-in-salem-detail-10

christmas-in-salem-detail-11

Just a few exterior shots because again, the light was so beautiful on Sunday……

christmas-in-salem-exterior-3

christmas-in-salem-exterior-2

christmas-in-salem-exteriors

Why not tie everything up with a big red bow?

cis-bow


Seasonal Spider (webs)

Well, Halloween is less than a week away so I suppose I should post on something seasonal: my October avoidance of downtown Salem has actually made me less aware of this holiday, although yesterday it dawned on me that I was not prepared for trick-or-treating and should start accumulating all of the candy I will need. It seems as if I always run out, no matter how much I buy. In my neighborhood there is a range of Halloween/Fall decorations:  some completely over the top, others more subtle. My favorite seasonal decoration preferences run more to the natural than the macabre: I’ve always thought that bats are wonderful, and I have developed a healthy appreciation for spiders over the last few years. There are quite a few spiders, with webs and without, around Salem these days, but today’s post is really more inspired by interior decoration than exterior embellishment, and specifically by a New York Times article from a few weeks ago about the restoration/redecoration of two historic “literary shrines”: the Connecticut houses of Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe. In the parlor of Twain’s house, workers are installing a reproduction 1880s wallpaper with spiderwebs designed by Candace Wheeler, an absolutely amazing artist who, along with her design colleagues in her firm Associated Artists, was primarily responsible for the original decoration of the house. Just one look at the wallpaper started me down both a Candace Wheeler path and a spider/web path–so here’s the latter, beginning with the Mark Twain’s parlor paper and proceeding back and forth through the ages and back to Salem.

spiderweb-wallpaper-candace-wheeler

spiderweb-wallpaper-collage

spider-textile-meiji-mfa

spiderweb-textile-mfa-2004

1985-52-31200b-pdp

spiderweb-medieval-bl-illuminated-ms

spider-in-salem

Candace Wheeler wallpaper, Metropolitan Museum of Art: Contemporary spiderweb wallpaper in two tones, Walls Republic; Japanese silk embroidered spiderweb textile, early Meijii era, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; English “Spider Print” Textile Length, 2004, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the best “natural” Halloween vignette ever: Bat and a Spider Web, 1782, Philadelphia Museum of Art; my favorite medieval spider, British Library MS Sloane 4016; a Salem spider.


%d bloggers like this: