Tag Archives: Peabody Essex Museum

Go West, Young (Salem) Man

The California Gold Rush began on this day in 1848, when the foreman of workers constructing a sawmill on the American River near Coloma, California uncovered several large pieces of gold: when it was over, more than 300,000 people had gone west, including many from Salem. In the first two years after the strike, two joint-stock mining companies were organized by Salem men (of 124 from Massachusetts alone), and at least seven Salem ships departed for California, filled not only with potential prospectors but also lots of stuff to be sold there: this was an entrepreneurial opportunity in more ways than one! Here again you see Salem’s local history intersecting with a national event: the city’s trading economy had been on the decline for several decades so this would have been a very welcome opportunity as well, for both those who wanted to go west and those who were in a position to transport them there. The news of the strike spread like wildfire, and there seems to have been an immediate effort to retrofit ships as quickly as possible to carry eager passengers to San Francisco. The last of the great Salem ship captains, John Bertram, prepared his bark Eliza for the voyage,and she became the first gold-rush vessel from Massachusetts to sail for California, departing on December 2, 1848 with a cargo of “flour, pork, sugar, dried apples, bread, butter, cheese, rice, figs, raisins, pickles, boots, shoes, stoves, axes, picks, domestics, and a variety of small articles, lumber, a store, and materials for building a boat or scow, for dredging the rivers or on sand bars, together with a small steam engine, a lathe, and tools for repairs” along with passengers.

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Company certificate, California State Library; a caricature of the eastern “independent gold hunter”, 1849, American Antiquarian Society;  The Bark “Eliza” from a 1920 catalog of paintings in the Peabody Museum; model of the “LaGrange”, Peabody Essex Museum, New York and Boston “Witchcraft” clipper ships, c 1860, Library of Congress.

The Eliza reached San Francisco but never made it back; this seems to have been the fate of most of the Salem gold rush ships: they were sold, dismantled, and/or repurposed. The most dramatic example of a repurposing of a Salem ship was the LaGrange (see model from the Peabody Essex Museum above), which sailed on March 17, 1849 and ended up as a prison ship in Sacramento! We have insights into the financing of gold rush voyages from the diary of Salem forty-niner William Berry Cross, a member of the “Salem Mechanics Trading and Mining Association”, which purchased the ship Crescent for passage to California in 1850. Cross’s diary includes a complete roster of his fellow passengers, an inventory of the cargo, and the revelation that the enterprise was to be financed by the profitable sale of both the cargo and the vessel upon arrival in San Francisco.Over the next decade, celebrated clipper ships like the two Witchcrafts above would sail west and return to their eastern home ports, but these first Salem ships seem a lot more disposable.


Footcandy in Salem

And now for the shoes. While I didn’t find the latest PEM blockbuster material exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain to be particularly probing, it was definitely aesthetically pleasing, and I enjoyed the insights into the production and collection of shoes. For me, the other exhibition themes of transformation, status and seduction did not seem quite as well-developed as those of creation and obsession. The cumulative presentation focuses on the extreme rather than the mundane, and on the colorful rather than the neutral, and thus is tailor (cobbler?)-made for social media. I kept thinking that I had seen it before, and then I realized I just missed it at the Victoria & Albert Museum when I was in London last winter, but must have absorbed a lot of the publicity when planning my trip. Two minor comments: 1) I was really happy to see a high-heeled King Charles II rather than the usual Louis XIV, Sun/Shoe king (after all, Charles II was a tall man whose shoes were a choice of fashion while the much-shorter Louis XIV’s heels were partly an invention of necessity); and 2) Loved the creative use of shoe boxes, and our opportunity to “peak” into the closets of some local collectors.So what’s next?  We have seen myriad garments, hats and now shoes: perhaps purses or gloves? Since the PEM seems to follow in line with the Victoria & Albert Museum with these types of exhibitions I went to the latter’s website to look for upcoming events, and my bet is on lingerie based on their spring showUndressed: A Brief History of Underwear.

My highlights from Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, beginning with perspectives on Charles II’s coronation portrait by John Michael Wright, Sebastian Errazuriz’s “Heart Breaker” shoe and iconic heels from Christian Laboutin and Manolo Blahnik. 

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An assortment of heels, one of several Latchet shoes in the exhibition, North Shore shoes, and myriad embellishments: feathers, polka dots, pom poms, laces………………

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The last part of the exhibit, on collection/obsession, was probably the most introspective, if only because it featured the collections of some local shoe lovers–and insights into how they wear/store/display their shoes. Love the last shoe “box”, which I suppose can double as an ottoman in the dressing room.

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Cabinets on Canvas

After stuffing ourselves with Thanksgiving dinner the day before, and Thanksgiving breakfast pie yesterday morning, we walked downtown to the Peabody Essex Museum to see their latest blockbuster exhibition, Shoes: Pleasure and PainIt is a fine visual feast for sure, but not exactly thought-provoking for me (and I’m not really a shoe girl–but I did get some great pictures for another post), so I wandered next door to another current exhibition, Samuel F.B. Morses Gallery at the Louvreand the Art of InventionThis traveling exhibition focuses on Morse the artist and “copyist” rather than Morse the inventor: his 1831-33 painting of an imagined exhibition of 40 artworks at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, combined with his role as the “father of American photography” based on his early experimentation with the daguerreotype process, is the inspiration for a complementary display of over 65 photographs from the PEM’s extensive collection. I must admit I didn’t quite grasp the connection between the painting and the photographs—“the spirit of curation, storytelling, and cross-cultural affinities”—but I was happy to see both, and I spent some time trying to find my own connections, which is the very best impact any exhibition can have.

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Samuel F.B. Morse’s Gallery at the Louvre (Terra Foundation for American Art) in the PEM show, along with his copy of Titian’s portrait of François I and a crop of the artist/inventor instructing his daughter in the center of the painting from a blog post by Shoshana Resnikoff on the PEM blog Connected.

After a bit of thought and browsing around, ultimately I think I made one of the connections the curators of this exhibition wanted me to make by comparing Morse’s “gallery painting” with the original examples of this genre from the seventeenth century. The whole idea of collecting and creating a “cabinet” of curiosities, wonders, or magnificent works of art is so very early modern, and best expressed by Francis Bacon who prescribed that every Renaissance Man should have a goodly huge cabinet, wherein whatsoever the hand of man by exquisite art or engine hath made rare in stuff, form or motion; whatsoever singularity chance and the shuffle of things hath produced; whatsoever Nature hath wrought in things that want life and may be kept; shall be sorted and included. In idealized ways, these cabinets were depicted by a succession of artists, and most ardently by Flemish and Dutch Golden Age painters such as members of the multi-generational Francken dynasty and David Teniers the Younger. There are notable differences between gallery paintings of the seventeenth century and Morse’s painting (besides the fact that the earlier paintings are obviously much better): the people depicted in the former are engaged with the art on the walls and tables through collection and admiration, not replication. As (old) Europeans living in an age of confidence–they probably thought they would always be surrounded by art: the gallery of Archduke Wilhelm, in the Teniers painting below, was newly-assembled following a bout of Swedish looting during the Thirty Years’ War (and many of these same painting came from the estates of English Royalists confiscated by Oliver Cromwell!). Morse’s painting seems more about capturing and transmitting art and culture–by whatever means possible– from the Old World to the New, which seems very appropriate for the inventor of his namesake code.

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david_teniers_el_joven_-_el_archiduque_leopoldo_guillermo_en_su_galeria_de_bruselas_kunsthistorisches_museum_de_viena_1650-52-_oleo_sobre_lienzo_123_x_163_cmHieronymus Francken II, The Cabinet of an Art Collector, 1621, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels; Frans Francken II, Chamber of Art and Curiosities, 1636, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; David Teniers the Younger, The Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in His Gallery at Brussels, c. 1650, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.


Two Nights in Salem

As you might imagine, my teenage stepson is not at all sympathetic to my I don’t want to see tacky & exploitative witchcraft “attractions” attitude in October so we have ventured downtown for the last couple of nights.The weather has been warm but rainy so there weren’t that many people milling about but we did avoid the more commercial sites. I think I first took him to the Salem Witch “Museum” when he was six or seven and he thought it was ridiculous then; so he has no desire to return now, thankfully. On Thursday night we went to a few shops on the way to one of the Peabody Essex Museum’s monthly themed PEM/PM evenings, which are always great.This month’s theme was “Moon Landing”, in reference to their brand new exhibition “Lunar Attraction”, which is just the kind of multi-media, multi-genre, multi-era, and multi-perspective presentation that I always enjoy. We spent a lot of time watching the colorized version of Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902) that was playing continuously, but I found many of the exhibit items almost as captivating.

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The Peabody Essex Museum on Thursday evening past: atrium and “Lunar Attraction” exhibits, including screen shots from A Trip to the Moon; Beth Hoeckel’s “Campground” collage from her ongoing series “Point of View”; Scott Listfield’s “To the Moon”, 2004, a Japanese moon rabit, and Edward Holyoke’s ink illustration of a solar eclipse, 1713.

On our way over to the Museum we stopped in at the Salem Arts Association, where there were works both timeless and ephemeral and seasonal-macabre, some more witty than others. I liked these little coffins in the window and a “Vampire Test”mirror; my stepson liked a map of the United States divided into regions which have Waffle Houses and regions which do not.That came home with us.

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On Friday night, before the deluge we had later and the PBS documentary on the making of Hamilton, we went to the House of the Seven Gables for one of their seasonal experiences, “Legend of the Hanging Judge”, in which actors play out different roles relating to the witch trials in the rooms of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace: the author himself was in residence, consumed with guilt, as his ancestor is the title character. The one good thing about Salem’s crass commercial Halloween tourism is that it gets tourists through the doors of real museums like the Gables, although I fear out-of-town sausage sellers make more money.

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The Gables at Night. I can never get a good night shot–was trying for the contrast of garden and house and this is the best I could do!


Misplaced McIntire Pieces?

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

McIntire Embellished Stable in Salem 1912

Robinson Stable HABS 2 LC

McIntire Collage

Robinson Stable HABS 3 West Elevation LC

Robinson Stable HABS LC

Summer Street Stable Salem

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

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

McIntire Doorhead South Church

McIntire Urns South Church NYPL

South Church Details PEM

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

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A Pair of Pears

I had a pear-oriented day yesterday. I was trying to work on the syllabus for my upcoming graduate course on Elizabethan England as well as the three-semester schedule for our department’s course offerings. Both are rather tedious tasks so I was taking regular breaks and roaming (both digitally and literally) away for bouts of time. I always like to have an “inspirational image” on my syllabi, and under the pretense of looking for one I spent hours examining Elizabethan portraits. Hours. Who is this, where are they, what are they holding, why are they dressed that way? Then I would feel guilty and go back to the syllabus and the schedule. Then I would take another break and go outside and see what’s popped up in my garden, ride my bike, play with my cats, and come inside and scope out lots in upcoming auctions, between loads of laundry and stabs at my syllabus and schedule. So you see the rhythm of my day, and by the end of this day of searching for Elizabethan images and secreting away from my schedule I ended up fixated on a pair of pears (or two pairs of pears really).

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Pears by Sultan Skinner Auctions

Anonymous follow of William Larkin, Three Young Girls, c. 1620, Berger Collection, Denver Art Museum; Donald Sultan, Pears screenprint from Fruit, Flowers and a Fish, 1989-91, published by Parasol Press, Ltd., New York, Skinner Auctions.

The painting of the three girls is not even Elizabethan–it dates from a bit later. But look at these girls, so beautiful and so ready, but for what? To greet an eminent visitor? To assume command of the household upon the death of their mother? The ripe fruit held by the older two might represent their maturity (and fecundity) while the younger girl is still “playing” with dolls–is this one a representation of Queen Elizabeth? I’m quite preoccupied with this painting: apparently lots of research remains to be done on both its projection(s) and its painter. Sultan’s pears appeal to me aesthetically, though I don’t have any questions about them (such is my reaction to much modern art). In their craftsmanship and detail they do, however, remind me of a very famous Salem pear: Samuel McIntire’s carving of an exemplar pear grown in Ipswich first captured by his contemporary, artist Michele Felice Corné.

Pear Carving McIntire PEM

Pear model by Samuel McIntire, 1802-1811, after a painting by Michele Felice Corné, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem.

I don’t feel like I have to draw Salem connections to every topic I write about here, but sometimes I can’t help it! Salem actually plays a very big role in pomological history as it prospered at a time when pears were much, much, much more important than mere apples, or any other tree fruit. More generally, Salem’s horticultural history is another example of its heritage that gets completely overshadowed by the giant Witch Trials. From Governor Endecott’s pear tree, planted around 1630 and still standing in nearby Danvers (then Salem–read a very complete history here), to the nearly as old and much commented-upon orange pear tree on the Hardy Street property of Captain William Allen, to the popular colonial pear cider, or “perry” made from Salem fruit, to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s grandfather Robert Manning’s vast “Pomological Garden” in North Salem, it is very evident that pears were popular, and perceived as representative of both Salem’s productivity and longevity. In a report on the Horticultural Exhibition held at the Essex Institute in 1850, the Horticultural Review and Botantical Magazine noted that this Salem must be a wonderful place for longevity. While we are boasting of our pears that begin to bear on bushes, three or four years old, these Salemites claim nearly as many centuries for some of theirs.

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Pears Buffum 1877

1910 postcard of the Endecott Pear Tree, Danvers; a pair of Buffum pears, one of the hundreds of varieties grown at Robert Manning’s “Pomological Garden” on Dearborn Street in the mid-19th century, from D.M. Dewey’s The nurseryman’s pocket specimen book : colored from nature : fruits, flowers, ornamental trees, shrubs, roses, &c (1872).

P.S. I did finish the syllabus, but not the schedule.


A Shilling for Samuel

Today is the birthday of the man who literally made Golden Age Salem, expanding his woodcarving skills into architecture and interior decoration exemplifying the Federal style: Samuel McIntire (1757-1811). Frankly, I’m not sure Salem is McIntire-esque anymore but my corner of it is still McIntire world, and for that I am very, very grateful. My house is in the McIntire Historic District and every morning I look out my bedroom window at two McIntire structures: Hamilton Hall and the (recently sold) Captain Jonathan Hodges House at 12 Chestnut Street. Just around the corner on Cambridge Street is one of my favorite McIntire houses, the Thomas Butman House at #14. The microsite for the Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style (2007-2008) exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum is still up, so you can check out “his” Salem for yourself, but I am featuring another introduction on this day: a children’s book titled A Shilling for Samuel (1957) written and illustrated by Virginia Grilley.

McIntire Covers

Grilley seems to have been a well-known children’s book author in the 1950s and 1960s, and she also wrote and illustrated several books about the Salem of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the great “scribe” and “romancer”. She liked to conjure up historical places, in both words and pictures. A Shilling for Samuel is very much in the tradition of another example of mid-century Salem juvenile fiction, Carry on, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham, which was published just the year before. In both books, Salem boys are inspired by the bustling, cosmopolitan environment all around them as well as their innate interests and talents to develop their specialized skills and make their way in the American way. In Grilley’s story, Samuel grows up along the water (in a house on Mill Street–could it be this one? I’m just not sure) and learns about carpentry and carving from his father, but his family wants a different life for him:  go to sea, young man, that’s where fortunes are made. Nevertheless he loves to carve and look at the  “strangely-shaped roofs” of his native town and seeks to replicate everything he sees around him in wood. The first shilling he receives for a carving, combined with the pattern books he spots in Mr. Shillaber’s bookshop, propel him on his life’s path. The rest is history–outside my window.

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McIntire Bench Christies

Pages from Virginia Grilley’s A Shilling for Samuel; a mahogany McIntire window bench coming up in a Christie’s auction next week–certain to fetch many, many shillings!


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