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Destination Tamworth

Even though I previously, and unjustly, relegated New Hampshire to the status of “drive-through” state, it doesn’t mean that I never stopped in its midst. I brake for historical markers, and I’m pretty certain that New Hampshire has more markers than all of the other New England states combined—and not just to dead white men like Mr. Webster below. All sorts of events, institutions and individuals are memorialized by green road-side Bicentennial markers: combined with the historical societies which seem to be located in nearly every New Hampshire town, they are a testament to a state that takes its history seriously. This earnest presentation is refreshing, frankly, especially when contrasted with Salem’s more cynical commercialization of just one aspect of its more varied past: history for history’s sake rather than for profit. Driving northwesterly across the state to the Lakes Region, I wanted to stop at each and every historical society, but I was pressed for time: I did stop at many markers.

NH Marker Webster

Many people are drawn to New Hampshire for its mountains and lakes, but these attractions are secondary to me: if you’ve spent any time at all on this blog you will have noticed my preference for the built landscape! So even though I had a prominent lakes/mountain destination last weekend, I became much more fixated on a town nestled between the two: Tamworth, established in 1766. Tamworth has everything: a picture-perfect town center, a pedigreed summer theater (the Barnstormers), a museum dedicated to life and work of  two country doctors (The Remick Country Doctor Museum & Farm) a presidential (Grover Cleveland) summer house, a babbling brook (the Swift River), a farm-to-table restaurant and grocer (The Lyceum), a general store (the Other Store), an amazing foundational edifice named Ordination Rock, a shiny-new distillery (Tamworth Distilling), and an inn (Highland House) built by a Salem sea captain! I’d love to have a summer house here (if I can convince my husband that it is possible to live more than a half-mile from the ocean and still be happy, a big if).

Tamworth Library

Tamworth House

Tamworth House 3

Tamworth Sign

Tamworth Barnstormers

Tamworth Poster Barnstormers

Tamworth Remick Museum

Tamworth Remick Barns

Tamworth Remick House

Tamworth Livestock

Tamworth Cow

Tamworth Brook

Tamworth Lyceum

Tamworth Poster

Tamworth Concert

Tamworth Distilling

Tamworth Brandy Sights & happenings of Tamworth: the Library, Barnstormers Theater, Remick Museum +Buildings+”Inhabitants”, Tamworth Lyceum, Sunday concert, Tamworth Distilling & Mercantile.

Given its heritage, of course Tamworth also has a historical society, recently re-christened (as you can see below) the Tamworth History Center. We found it open and bustling, with volunteers within eager to tell us about the town and the Center, which features revolving exhibits in its two ground-floor rooms: currently the early history of the Barnstormers is on, along with a very comprehensive genealogical exhibition on one of Tamworth’s prominent families. There is a dual preservation/presentation mission at present: focused continually on the town’s heritage as well as on the ongoing restoration of the Center’s c. 1830 headquarters. I enjoyed the exhibits immensely, but became a bit distracted by the untouched-for-decades attractions of the house’s central hallway! When restoration is complete, the house will not feature the traditional period rooms; instead it will serve as a forum, or center, for “the many stories that have made Tamworth unique, from 1766 onwards”. I want to hear more.

Tamworth History Center

Tamworth collage

Tamworth Exhibit

Tamworth HC

Tamworth HC2 Inside the evolving Tamworth History Center above; another visual presentation of Tamworth’s past—and present.

Tamworth PC


Give me Mrs. Miniver

My husband, myself, and my stepson can rarely find a movie we all want to see together: the latter is 16 so of course all summer movies are made for him, but I can’t stand the bombastic computer-generated imagery and violence and the predictable scripts. When Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk came out, we all wanted to see it and so went together last week: a rare occasion. We did not return home together, however, as I had to run out less than halfway through! It wasn’t that it was bad–it was actually riveting–but also just too painful for me to watch all those men on the beach, so exposed and so vulnerable. I knew the Armada was coming but I couldn’t wait for it.

Dunkirk film

Dunkirk real The film and the reality, June 1, 1940 ©Imperial War Museum, London

It’s ridiculous I know, but I think I prefer the Mrs. Miniver version of Dunkirk, in which the gentleman-architect Mr Miniver takes his pleasure craft (conveniently docked in front of his Hollywood-perfect expansive English cottage) out into the Channel and returns only slightly battered (and bearded) a few days later. During his absence, Mrs. Miniver battles a downed Nazi in their kitchen. She wins, of course, but the Director William Wyler gives him a speech intended to bolster the Allied effort (by the time the film was released in 1942, the United States had already entered the war, but during its production Wyler was concerned about American isolationism): We will bomb your cities…Rotterdam we destroy in two hours. Thirty thousand in two hours. And we will do the same here! Combined with all other “inspirational” details in the film, including the bombing of the Miniver house, the heartbreaking death of their new daughter-in-law, and the village vicar’s closing sermon, it’s no wonder that Joseph Goebbels was afraid of it.

Mrs. Miniver 2

Mrs Miniver

It was acceptable to make propaganda films in the 1940s: today things must be as real as (technically) possible and sometimes that is unrelenting, at least for me: I fear my stepson is inured due to a steady diet of video games. I would like to see the Dunkirk miracle play out so I think I’ll have to steel myself to go back and see this film again, but in the meantime I’ll occupy myself with more distant records of this epic event, in paper and a paint. The Imperial War Museum in London has many photographs (including several of the Germans moving in after the evacuation), oral histories, and paintings of Dunkirk among its collections, although after I spent some (digital) time with these memorials I realized they weren’t that distant after all.

Dunkirk collage

Dunkirk 1940 IWM jpeg

Dunkirk painting 1940

Dunkirk Drawing IVW

Dunkirk abstractJune 3 headlines from the Sydney Morning Herald and the Los Angeles Times; a small fraction of the 200,000 British Expeditionary Forces who were evacuated (+140,000 French troops), ©IWM; Charles Ernest Cundall, The Withdrawal from Dunkirk, 1940© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 305); “little ships” in Muirhead Bone’s The Return from Dunkirk; Arrival at Dover, 1940, © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 251); Rudolf A. HaywoodThe London Fire-Boat ‘Massey Shaw’ approaching Dunkirk at 11 pm on the 2nd June 1940, © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 248).


A Weekend Photographer

I discovered a digitized collection of over 2,000 photographic negatives by amateur photographer Robert L. Bracklow (1849-1919) at the New York Historical Society this past weekend and became lost in another world for several hours–hours which I probably could have used more productively, but I do not regret their “loss”. Bracklow’s photographs are primarily, though not entirely, of New York City and its vicinity in the 1890s and early twentieth century, and show a city in transition in which multi-story buildings were going up alongside wooden “garrets” and cows are still grazing by the side of the road. He captured all the monuments, and people visiting them on the weekends, like himself: his primary occupation was that of a stationer, and he went roving about on the weekends after he had closed his shop doors. Besides monuments, he loved churches, milestones, bridges, and people:  though Bracklow is often compared to Alfred Stieglitz, my own (parochial)  frame of reference is of course Salem’s Frank Cousins, who was clearly more transfixed by architecture than society. Not so Bracklow, who seems quite as determined to show the mix of people as of buildings in his time. Though Bracklow lived and shot primarily in New York, I found quite a few Massachusetts photographs in this digitized collection: lots of Great Barrington and Marblehead, several of Nantucket, Medford, and Salem. The New York Historical Society digital achive of his photographs is absolutely wonderful because you can zoom and see: a lone lady bicyclist pedaling over the Parker River Bridge in Newbury, Massachusetts, the parcels of a Marblehead housewife walking home from her shopping, crumbs on the shirt of a child at a tea party in Bensonhurst in 1898.

bracklow-balloon-harlem-river-boat-races-1900

bracklow-brunos-garrett

bracklow-greenwood-cemetery-brooklyn

bracklow-kaisers-ship-1902

bracklow-bensonhurst-1898

bracklow-nyhs

H:5 in. W:7 in.; Glass negatives; Negatives (photographic)

bracklow-door

bracklow-salem-monumentbracklow-bershires

bricklow-bridge-of-parker-river

bracklow-gregory-street-marblehead

bracklow-darling-street-marblehead

Photographs by Robert L. Bracklow from the collection of the New York Historical Society:  blowing up a balloon for the Harlem River boat race, 1900; Bruno’s Garret in Greenwich Village, entrance to Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn; a crowd greeting Kaiser Wilhelm’s yacht in New York, 1902; an afternoon tea party in Bensonhurst; milestones to New York and Boston; North Shore Massachusetts door; Leslie’s Retreat Monument in its original location on North Street in Salem, the Red Lion Inn (?), Stockbridge, Parker River Bridge, Newbury, Gregory and Darling Streets, Marblehead. All from the Robert L. Bracklow Collection at the New York Historical Society.


The Lollipop Cemetery

Such an undignified name for such a solemn place: the Shaker cemetery in Harvard, Massachusetts, one remnant of the industrious community of Shaker non-genealogical families that resided in this beautiful Massachusetts town from 1769 until the First World War. But that’s what people call it. I had a hankering to see it the other day, and so I drove to Harvard and asked for directions, because it’s a bit off the beaten path (I never use my phone for navigational purposes on a road trip; that would defeat the whole point for me–it’s either wander or inquire): oh, the Lollipop Cemetery? Just drive towards Ayer and take a right on South Shaker Road. And so I did and there it was.

Shaker Cemetery Sign

Shaker Cemetery Stone

Shaker Cemetery markers crop

Shaker Cemetery Markers

The gate was locked, and I didn’t want to trespass on this sacred ground, but I think you can comprehend the lollipop characterization of these cast iron markers, which replaced the original stones from 1879. Here is a close-up of an individual marker from a wonderful site where you can research both the cemetery and its inhabitants, as well as a rather haunting photograph from Clara Endicott Sears’ Gleanings from Old Shaker Journals (1916). The Harvard Shaker community closed down in the following year, and the cemetery was deeded to the town of Harvard in 1945.

Shaker Marker

Shaker Cemetery gleaningsfromold00sear_0375

Boston patrician (with Salem roots) Clara Endicott Sears (1863-1960) became devoted to preserving the memory and material of the Harvard Shakers as their numbers dwindled to single digits. She had already established one of America’s first outdoor museums adjacent to her summer home on Prospect Hill a few miles down the road after she realized that a farmhouse on her property had been the site of Bronson Alcott’s short-lived Transcendentalist experiment when the few remaining Shakers in Harvard began selling their buildings.Clara bought the original 1794 office building and moved it to her hilltop museum, uniting Transcendentalist and Shaker visions (and later those of Native Americans and Hudson River Valley artists). Following this path, I drove over to the Fruitlands Museum, passing a few more Shaker structures along the way.

Shaker Old Stone Barn

Shaker Building Harvard Ruins of the Old Stone Barn and the South Family Building, Harvard Shaker Village.

The interpreters at Fruitlands emphasized “community” as the theme tying Transcendentalists and Shakers together rather than any Utopian dream, which seems appropriate to me, especially as the latter were entrepreneurial workers and the former were idealistic intellectuals. The relocated Shaker office is a testament to the aesthetic and industrious pursuits of the brothers and sisters; I came away overwhelmed by the sheer drive of young seedsman Elisha Myrick, who left the Harvard community, like many of his brethren, around the time of the Civil War. I just felt sorry for the Alcott children, who had to endure a cold and hungry 6 months in the farmhouse just down the road.

Shaker Boxes

Shaker Ads

Shaker Cloak

Shaker Industry

Fruitlands Farmhouse

Fruitlands Fruit

At Fruitlands: Shaker artistry and industry, the Alcott Farmhouse, and artist-in-residence Carolyn Wirth’s 3D take on Shaker gift drawings, installed in a grape arbor.

Driving out past the town common, I was waylaid by some beautiful houses: Harvard is really gorgeous, and calm. I drove back to Salem thinking (not for the first time) that perhaps it was a little too busy (and loud!). I hope I’m not turning into my great-great-great? grandfather, who sold everything (including a beautiful Tudor house), and left his family and friends in England for America, and the Shaker community of New Lebanon, New York.

Harvard Tavern

Harvard Colonial House

Harvard Brick House

Just a few Harvard houses: this first one was once a tavern, I presume.


The Salem “Heritage” Trail needs more…..Heritage

It is pretty well-known here in Salem that the Red Line that runs though downtown, the official “Heritage Trail”, is more representative of commerce than history. It encompasses heritage sites like the House of the Seven Gables, the Corwin (“Witch”) House and the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, but also more dubious enterprises like the Salem Witch Museum, the Salem Witch History Museum, and the Salem Witch Dungeon Museum, with no discernment. There are no standards along the Heritage Trail: the Peabody Essex Museum with its vast collections, blockbuster exhibitions, and professional staff and the Witch History Museum, a storefront shop which lacks collections, curators, and content, have equal status in terms of their roles as provisioners of “heritage”.  According to the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), a museum is a nonprofit institution, which maintains, interprets, and exhibits its collections for the public good. As Salem’s witch museums are for-profit enterprises, which maintain no collections and offer their performances and “exhibits’ exclusively for their private gain, I don’t think they qualify as museums under the professional definition: I prefer to refer to them as “experiences”.

Museum Collage A Tale of Two Museums; Alvin Fisher’s View of Salem from Gallows Hill, 1818, Peabody Essex Museum, and the Gallows Hill exhibit at the Witch History Museum (Of course now we know that the victims of 1692 were hanged at Procter’s Ledge rather than Gallows Hill).

Of course, people are free to choose whatever experiences they would like, but if tourists stick to the Red Line they are going to be missing out on much of Salem’s heritage. And they do stick to the Red Line, believe me: I followed several groups of tourists the other day (on the hottest day of the year) as they walked along it with great dedication, all the way from the Salem Witch Museum to the Salem Witch Dungeon Museum, bypassing several sites which are related to the real history of the Witch Trials: St. Peter’s Church, under which the body of Philip English lays, the Howard Street Cemetery, adjacent to where Giles Corey was pressed to death, the former sites of Bridget Bishop’s house and orchard, the Salem Jail and Court House where the accused witches were held and tried. The Salem Witch Dungeon Museum removed the plaque which marked the spot of the original jail and affixed it to their building, so now they “own” that history. The imprimatur of the Red Line makes it official.

lynde-street-076

Plaque on the Witch Dungeon Museum along the Red Line; the second, smaller plaque was added a decade later than the first.

The problem with the existing Red Line/Heritage Trail is not just its presentation of an incomplete and often-shoddy history of Salem. Because it is so obviously inadequate, it has led to a form of cultural “segregation”: other organizations, chiefly the National Park Service in collaboration with local groups, developed alternative walking trails to fill the gaps: architecture tours, a maritime tour, a tour featuring sites related to Salem’s African-American history, and a Hawthorne tour (you can download all the brochures here). There are also a wide range of commercial tours, which seem to have multiplied dramatically over the past few years. Visitors to Salem can have quite a different experiences depending on their degrees of preparation, resourcefulness, and curiosity. I also think that Salem’s reputation has suffered by comparison with the other Red Line (what I have often heard called the real Red Line), Boston’s Freedom Trail, which does not include commercial sites.

Salem has been a tourist destination for a long time, over a century, and we could learn from our past projections. The map included in my favorite old guidebook, What to see in Salem (1915) projects a route that is not dissimilar from today’s Heritage Trail in terms of geography, but exhibiting very different priorities: public places rather than private enterprises, an integrated city of real museums, sites associated with Hawthorne and the Revolutionary War as well as the Witch Trials, colonial and Federal houses and gardens. The problem with the 1915 route is immediately apparent, however, especially if you compare it with the current Heritage Trail map: no one stood to make any money.

What to see in Salem map 1915

What to see in Salem text 1915

Red Line Map 2016

Map and Key from What to see in Salem (1915) and current Heritage Trail Map, available here–all the numbers refer to local businesses and the museums, real and faux, are in text. Judging by font size, the Gallows Hill Museum/Theatre looks like the place to go! (But it’s never open, except in October).


A Witch Cake for Early April

Those who are familiar with the established narrative of the Salem Witch Trials will recognize the reference to a “witch cake”, in that case concocted of the urine of the afflicted mixed with rye meal and ashes, baked in cake form and fed to a dog with the hope that the beast would somehow reveal the name of the malevolent witch. In 1692 Tituba assisted Mary Sibley in the preparation of a witch cake in order to identify the person(s) responsible for bewitching the young girls in Samuel Parris’s household, an act that would later be used to condemn her. In Salem the witch cake was clearly used as a form of counter-magical test; while in Britain it was more commonly used as a defensive amulet against the bewitchment of a person or household. There are many surviving examples of anti-witchcraft charms and amulets in British collections, everything from pierced “hag-stones” to very familiar horseshoes, but more perishable cakes are hard to find. But here is one, which doesn’t look very perishable at all!

Witch cakes in April Card

This witch cake, which dates not from the seventeenth but rather the twentieth century, is part of the large (around 1400 items) collection of charms, amulets and talismans accumulated by British folklorist Edward Lovett (1852-1933), who seems to have been more interested in the magical artifacts and beliefs of his own time than those of the past. Lovett was an amateur folklorist in a time when that pursuit was being professionalized: he worked as a bank cashier by day and walked the streets of London by night, listening to the stories and purchasing the personal charms of street hawkers, sailors, and washerwomen, or whoever came upon his path armed with “protection”. (You can follow his steps here). This research formed the basis of his fascinating book Magic in Modern London (1925), and his collection can now be found chiefly in three institutions: the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University, the Cuming Museum on South London (which has been closed due to a fire, but many of its collections have been preserved and digitized), and the Wellcome Museum. The items below, including a cow’s heart stuck with pins and nails (upper right-hand corner, used by a dairyman as a talisman against a man he believed had put a curse on his cows), and the two anti-witchcraft charms, the ram’s horn with attached key and hag-stone below, all come from the Cuming collection, along with the more familiar charms. Acorns abound, to guard against lightning, and the wishbone wrapped in blue and red ribbon is almost a work of art!

Charm Collage Lovett

Lovett Acorn Charm

Lovett Wishbone

And below are some Lovett amulets purchased from British soldiers who fought in the First World War: hand votives guard against the “evil eye”, geological charms protect the wearer from a host of evils, and black cats were actually lucky in some parts of Britain, unlike the rest of the world.

L0057378 Amulet brooch in the shape of a black cat, England, 1914-191

Back to the Witch Cake, about which I don’t have too much information. There is Lovett’s own description: around about Flamborough Head [in Yorkshire], “witch cakes are to be met with in almost every cottage. These are circular-shaped, with a hole in the middle and with spikes projecting on all sides. If you hang one up in your cottage and once a year burn it and replace it with another [presumably during Holy Week, or the first week of April], you will have good luck. But no recipe!


Off to London, Leaving Links to Salem Ladies

I’m off to London for Spring Break so will not be posting for a while, but I wanted to leave some links to some of the posts I’ve written on Salem women to fill in for me in my absence. It is Women’s History Month after all, and some of these ladies did not get the love and attention that I feel they deserved! Finding these ladies was an exercise that convinced me that I need to figure out how to develop an index for this compendium when I get back.

I know London is not the typical Spring Break destination, but it is always my favorite destination: for this particular trip (on which I will be accompanied by students!!!!) I have the Botticelli Reimagined exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum on my agenda as well as Samuel PepysPlague, Fire and Revolution at the National Maritime Museum, and I really want to visit Sutton House in Hackney, as Tudor structures are relatively rare in London. Then all (or some) of the usual places. I know London pretty well but am open to suggestions (particularly for food–I never know where to eat) so comment away: I am not bringing my laptop but will check in with my phone.

Botticelli London Vand A

Pepysp

Sutton House Hackney

A Botticelli variation, a Pepys poster, and a drawing-room in Sutton House, Hackney.

So here are some links that will lead you to Salem ladies, if you are so inclined. Despite years of blogging, I’ve hardly scratched the surface when it comes to interesting and notable Salem women, as I have sought to expose those whose stories don’t get told again and again and again. I seem to be drawn to artists, but there are lots of entrepreneurs and activists and just interesting women whom I have yet to “cover”–some men too!

Colonial women: A Daring Woman; Ann Putnam; The Pardoning of Ann Pudeator; Four Loves; Minding the Farm.

Authors:  A Scribbling Woman from Salem; The Little Locksmith; Mary Harrod Northend; Mrs. Parker and the Colonial Revival in Salem (could also go under “artists”); Tedious Details.

Artists:  Painting Abigail and Apple Blossoms; Fidelia Rising; Miss Brooks Embellishes; Salems Very Own Wallace Nutting;Paper Mansion.

Uncategorized:  The Mysterious Miss Hodges; A Salem Suffragette; The Woman who Lived in my House;  Ladies of Salem; A Salem Murder Mystery; The Hawthorne Diaries; Factory Girls and Boys; Little Folks and Black Cats; Bicycle Girls.


The Mysterious Miss Hodges

For some time, I’ve been curious about a pair of beautiful daguerreotypes by the esteemed Boston photography studio of Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes (1843-1863) featuring a lovely young woman identified only as “Miss Hodges of Salem”. All of the Southworth and Hawes photographic portraits are riveting, but these are particularly so: they are large, whole-plate images, they were insured by the partner photographers, and both were retained by members of the Hawes family long after the dissolution of the partnership. The description for the daguerreotype in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum reads: The Boston partnership of Southworth and Hawes produced the finest portrait daguerreotypes in America for a clientele that included leading political, intellectual, and artistic figures. Nothing is known today about Miss Hodges, but Southworth and Hawes made two costly whole-plate portraits of her for their studio collection, suggesting that she was sufficiently well-known – or sufficiently photogenic – to warrant displaying her likeness in the front-room public gallery.

Miss Hodges MFA

Miss Hodges MET

Miss Hodges of Salem, c. 1850: (1) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (gift of Edward Southworth Hawes in memory of his father Josiah Johnson Hawes); (2) Metropolitan Museum of Art (gift of I. N. Phelps Stokes, Edward S. Hawes, Alice Mary Hawes, and Marion Augusta Hawes, 1937).

So which was it: well-known or photogenic? Well I’m not entirely sure, because Miss Hodges is somewhat mysterious, but I think it is the latter. I think “Miss Hodges of Salem” was Sarah Ellen Hodges, born in 1823 to Joseph Hodges and his wife Elizabeth Shipman Hodges, both of old Salem families. There are a couple of other candidates, but Sarah is my best bet. If she is indeed our Miss Hodges, she never married, and lived with family members and then alone in a boarding house on Bridge Street in Salem from 1883 until her death in 1895. The extended Hodges family was old and prosperous, with a succession of Salem sea captains dating back to the seventeenth century, but Joseph Hodges seems to have been a bit of a black sheep and I think money might have been a problem. His family of seven, including Sarah and her four siblings, moved around every few years according to the Salem city directories: from one old family home to another on lower Essex Street. And then there is this very curious entry in the Genealogical Record of the Hodges Family of New England, Ending December 31, 1894 by Almon D. Hodges (1896):

Joseph Hodges is said to have been so small at birth that he was put into a silver tankard and the cover shut; but he grew to be a very large man, like most of his race. When Gen. Washington visited Salem, Oct. 29, 1789, the babe Joseph (then 13 days old) was held up at the window to see him. Joseph Hodges was a shipmaster in his younger days, but retired early from active business. He met his death through an accident. He was walking on the railroad bridge at the northern end of the tunnel when a train of cars came on the bridge behind him. He was large and heavy and unable to escape by running, so he crouched at the side of the track, but was knocked to the flats below and died a few minutes after he was taken up.

Early retirement? Hit by a train? By sheer coincidence (?) his wife died by accident on the railroad, near the northern end of the tunnel twenty years later, according to Sidney Perley’s History of Salem (Volume III). Have these two railroad deaths–both at the northern end of the tunnel– been confused? I hope so! In any case, there are other hints that the Hodges were at most a tragic family, or at least one that did not adjust very well to Salem’s nineteenth-century transition from commerce to industry. Sarah was the only one who didn’t marry or get out of Salem, and I have no insights into what she might have done with her life. She and her siblings inherited a mere half of a house among them after their mother’s death in 1883, which they quickly sold, and then she appears to have lived alone until her death. The daguerreotypes might have been one of the highlights of her life, if indeed they depict her.

Millard Fillmore Southworth and Hawes

A Daguerreotype of President Millard Fillmore taken at just about the same time as those of Miss Hodges. It is about half the size of hers, and sold for over $10,000 at a 2005 Skinner auction.


Theo and Leo

Last night, the “Strandbeests” were released here in Salem, the kinetic, evolving, mechanical-yet-ethereal “beach animals” of Theo Jansen, a Dutch engineering artist and Renaissance Man. There was a not-so-sneak preview of these PVC-pipe creations a few weeks ago up on Crane’s Beach in Ipswich, but yesterday the big beests were on view for the special opening of Strandbeest: the Dream Machines of Theo Jansen at the Peabody Essex Museum. The exhibit is interactive but also a bit static–it’s striking to see these “animals” move and with the exception of one of the smaller beests, that really can’t happen in the confines of a gallery. But Mr. Jansen’s own evolutionary process is revealed, and the photographs of the beests on the beach (by Russian-born photographer Lena Herzog, who happens to be the wife of my very favorite filmmaker, Werner Herzog) are absolutely haunting. In the midst of the exhibition, with these big skeletal structures all around me, I became absolutely fixated on reproductions of Jansen’s preparatory sketches–they reminded me of Leonardo’s notebook drawings almost instantly. I spent the summer looking through (reproductions of) these notebooks as I was teaching a course on Renaissance art and science so they were fresh in my mind, but the association is rather obvious: Lawrence Weschler, who wrote the introductory essay to the companion volume to the exhibition, calls Theo Jansen a cross between da Vinci and Don Quixote. Leonardo, of course, was as preoccupied with engineering as much as he was with art (probably more so) and he had his own animalistic creations, including a “mechanical lion” made for a pageant celebrating the newly-crowned King of France, Francois I. But it is Leonardo’s sketches of wings in his passionate pursuit of flight that remind me of Jansen’s drawings, or vice-versa. Dream machines are eternal, it seems. Strandbeests PEM Strandbeests 067 Strandbeests 046 Strandbeests 034 Strandbeests 023 Strandbeests 026 Strandbeests 019 Strandbeests 055 Strandbeests 016 leonardo-da-vinci-bird-wing-with-mechanical-connections-1 Leonardo Wings Sketch Scenes from the exhibition preview of Strandbeest: the Dream Machines of Theo Jansen at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem; Notebook sketches from Leonardo’s  Codex Atlanticus, Veneranda Biblioteca and Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan.


Old Masters Outside

I love the aesthetics and idea of the ambitious public art project, or “global participation project”, initiated by French artist and filmmaker Julien de Casabianca even if it is somewhat at odds with my respect for private property. The Outings project encourages people around the world to go to their local museum, snap a photograph of an overlooked old (or not-so-old) painting, make a print and affix it to a neglected building or wall in their city, and then take a picture of the image in its new locale. There are galleries of these pictures from all over the world on the Outings website, and exhibitions to come. There is definitely a spirit of subtle outlawry here: the “process” section reads: No photography allowed in a museum ? If you do it fast and discrete you will be able to take photos before they ask you to stop. You can try your “mistake” again in another room ; generally they don’t follow you and they don’t share the information about you. (But what am I complaining about? I do this all the time!). As for the tagging, participants are urged to use only abandoned or neglected walls, and if the wall has been recently repainted, try to respect the energy that people put into that, respect their freedom to have nothing on it. When taking a picture of the new juxtaposition, de Casabianca urges his participants to include passersby, as the “heart” of the project is an encounter, as anonymous people from paintings meeting anonymous people from the street. The Renaissance historian in me, and the educator, wants the captured paintings to NOT be anonymous in terms of both subject and artist, but at the same time, I realize that there is a lot to admire in this project, particularly the mix of local and global: residents of a city are “liberating” little-seen treasures in their museums, and bringing them into the streets, and the world. I’m wondering if I should walk over to the Peabody Essex Museum and pick out my prey……

Outings NY 1

Outings NY 21

Outings London 1

Outings Paris 1

Outings NO 1

Outings Dallas 1

Outings Warsaw 1

Outings Installations in New York City (Metropolitan Museum of Art), London (National Gallery), Paris (the Louvre), New Orleans (The New Orleans Museum of Art), Dallas (The Dallas Museum of Art), and Warsaw (Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie):  more cities at the Outings Project.


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