Tag Archives: Samuel McIntire

Scary Busts

I have several odd phobias including busts: I can’t stand to look at a sculpted portrait busts. They look like severed heads to me—even if they are beautiful. And many are: particularly classical ones, also Renaissance and Baroque ones, but after that I think we should have just left that genre to past masters. My distaste for these disembodied sculptures is a perennial problem because I’m a historian, so I often find myself in rare book libraries, which always feature busts. I just sit myself down as far as I can get away from them, and then get down to business. I think my dislike of busts is very consistent, so much so that when the art historian daughter of a colleague brought two busts by Salem’s iconic master woodcarver/architect Samuel McIntire, the namesake of my neighborhood, to my attention, my reaction was not: wow! but instead oh no. Here they are: busts of John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts Bay, and Voltaire, both commissioned by the Reverend William Bentley in 1798-99 and later donated to the American Antiquarian Society.

Busts collage

Maybe I could be in the presence of Voltaire (right) for a few moments, but that John Winthrop bust is simply frightening! You only have the profile above: here he is, face forward: really scary, even in a lovely watercolor of the actual bust made by Joseph Goldberg for the Index of American Art in the 1930s. We are separated by several degrees, but I’m still afraid.

Bust Winthrop Index of American Design NGA

I did not feel very good about disliking, even fearing, something made by McIntire, who is revered here in Salem of course, until I read the entry in William Bentley’s diary on the day that he received the commissioned work: MacIntire returned to me my Winthrop. I cannot say that he has expressed in the bust anything that agrees with the Governor. So he didn’t like it either! Nevertheless, he accepted it and paid McIntire his $8.00 fee. But it’s not McIntire, it’s me: even the works of the greatest sculptor of that era, Jean Antoine Houdon, are off-putting to me. Houdon’s Voltaire? Horrifying–much more so than McIntire’s. I will say that the famous Houdon bust of Washington seems less alarming to me, although this multi-perspective video creeps me out.

Voltaire collage

Even the most handsome Salemite, Nathaniel Hawthorne, as carved by the most gifted sculptor of his generation, Daniel Chester French, is scary. Granted French chose to depict Hawthorne later in life rather than in his splendid youth, but still: sad and scary. Quite conversely, a bust that was crafted to repel, Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Anima Damnata (1619), I find far less threatening: one expects a Damned Soul to be scary, but not Nathaniel Hawthorne or John Winthrop.

Bust of Hawthorne NYPL

Bernini collage


October Orchids

This past Saturday I took a brief respite from the rain to go to Historic New England’s Lyman Estate in Waltham for their annual orchid sale. After spending some time in the historic greenhouses built originally to house the camellias that nineteenth-century Yankees craved (which are still there, along with orchids, ferns, and a variety of venerable houseplant varieties), I walked around the grounds a bit before the rain starting falling again. The Vale, as the estate is sometimes called, is one of Samuel McIntire’s few non-Salem commissions, although it has gone through several architectural “transitions” (Victorian and Colonial Revival) since its construction in 1793. I actually prefer the architecture of the other HNE Waltham property, Gore Place, although I love the Vale’s greenhouses and carriage house.There are several special plant sales during the year: begonias and camellias in the winter, herbs in the late spring and early summer, and orchids in October, but you don’t have to wait for these occasions to visit the greenhouses in particular, or the estate in general.

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Orchids and other plants at the Lyman House greenhouses; the main house and carriage house.


Salem Lots: the Beautiful and the Damned

I’m always checking upcoming auctions for Salem things and over the next week there are some beautiful items coming up for sale, representing the very best of golden-age craftsmanship in Salem, as well as one crafted-but-creepy item, which I’ll leave for last (as it is definitely least). Next Tuesday evening up in Portsmouth, Northeast Auctions is holding an auction featuring five lovely Salem lots, including a Samuel McIntire chair, and a drop-leaf table from the school of Nathaniel Gould. Could this rather low estimate on the chair be correct? Perhaps if there is light turnout (then why am I posting this?) and I do without (new clothes, books, food) for a while I could get it! There are a pair of “similar” mirrors and a great silhouette of Dr. Treadwell of Salem—I presume this is the elder Doctor John Dexter Treadwell (1768-1833) rather than the younger Doctor John Goodhue Treadwell (1805-1856, after whom the Treadwell Library at Massachusetts General Hospital is named), but I could be wrong.

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At Northeast Auctions next week: a mahogany shield-back side-chair, carved by Samuel McIntire; Queen Anne mahogany single drop-leaf table, Salem, Nathaniel Gould School; One of two similar Massachusetts gilt-wood and eglomise mirrors; Full-length silhouette of Dr. Treadwell at Salem, Massachusetts.

Here in Massachusetts, An upcoming auction of books and manuscripts at Skinner Auctions includes an edition of a Salem-published book which I’ve written about before: Daniel Cady Eaton’s two-volume Ferns of North America (1877-1880). I have seen these volumes before, and the illustrations by J.H. Emerton and C.E. Faxon are truly beautiful.

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At Skinner’s Fine Books and Manuscripts Auction on October 30:  Daniel Cady Eaton’s Ferns of North America.

Okay, now for the creepy lot pertaining to the damned. I made a shocking discovery this afternoon as I was browsing around, a KKK money clip manufactured by Salem’s venerable Daniel Low & Company, the producer of the famous Salem witch spoon! And that very familiar image, is right there on the back. This…….artifact is among the lots in the Omega Auction Corporation’s Jewelry and Collectibles auction down in Florida tomorrow–there’s not much information in the auction listing and I was not inspired to do any research. I almost wasn’t going to include it among these lovely lots, but it is Salem-made, and history is not just made up of beautiful things, unfortunately.

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Omega Auctions, Hialeah, Florida:  a money clip with KKK and Salem Witch insignias SUPPOSEDLY made by Daniel Low & Co., Salem (see comments below, on the trail!)


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.

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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.

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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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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.


Bridge Street Neck

Salem is a city of extremities in terms of its physical shape: two “necks” jut out into the Atlantic Ocean from a central peninsula. You can easily see that this was a settlement oriented towards the water rather than the land. Once transportation shifted towards the latter, traffic problems emerged for Salem, and they still present a major challenge to the city. One interesting Salem neighborhood which seems to represent the shifting impact of transportation very well is Bridge Street Neck, the first area to be settled by Europeans and the main gateway to the north. Its central corridor or “spine”, Bridge Street, first led to a ferry, and by the end of the eighteenth century the first bridge to Beverly was completed. From that time the area developed in typical mixed-use fashion, with commercial structures and residences rising up on Bridge Street, smaller houses on the side streets leading down to the water on both sides, and manufacturing sites interspersed: first maritime-related uses, later lead and gas works. There are all sorts of references (though I can never find images) to horticultural uses as well, from the first fields of the early “old Planters” to nineteenth-century greenhouses and pleasure gardens to today’s parks. In a few months Salem’s newest park will open at the very end of the Neck, dedicated to the work and memory of the Abolitionist Remond family.

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Salem Map 1903 cropped The North Shore coastline from Edwin Rowe Snow’s The Romance of Boston Bay, 1970; 1903 Map of Salem and surrounding places, Henry M. Meek Publishing Co., Leventhal Map Library, Boston Public Library.

Carriages, trains, trolleys, CARS: for too long Bridge Street Neck has simply been a place to get through.It’s never been a destination, unlike Salem’s other neck, home to the Willows. But over the past decade, a series of infrastructural changes have (perhaps) transformed this Neck’s functional status: a new bridge attached to a new bypass road which skirts the neighborhood rather than running through it, and a “revitalization plan” implemented by the city to address its aesthetic and economic challenges. I think this is a Salem neighborhood that is really primed for change, but in what direction? Its diverse building inventory–ranging from late eighteenth-century Georgians to post-war Capes–is protected by the recent designation as a National Register Historic District but not the more stringent review of a local historic district. And there is much to protect: there are some great old houses interspersed among the streets of Bridge Street Neck, better appreciated if you get out of your car and walk.

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LOVE this Gothic Revival cottage and its mansard-roofed neighbors on Arbella Street, named for the ship that brought John Winthrop to Salem in 1630.

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Bridge Street Gwimm House

Bridge Street Thaddeus Gwinn House MACRIS

Bridge Street Neck Collage

Very pretty Victorian two-family; two early nineteenth-century houses: a Georgian (behind the addition) and the stunning c. 1805 Thaddeus Gwinn House, an unusual Salem two-story Federal (today and in the 1980s, courtesy MACRIS); two cute cottages on the North River side of Bridge Street.

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The old and the new on Bridge Street including the Thomas Woodbridge House on the corner of March, and across from it: the future?


White on White

We had our first major snowstorm of 2016 yesterday, which paled in comparison with those of last year. I mocked those decision-makers who declared snow emergencies and canceled classes yesterday morning when the streets were merely wet, but by mid-afternoon I had to admit that they were correct: a wet, heavy, continuous snow had developed that would have caused numerous problems if everyone was on the road. Later in the afternoon I heard a sharp crack, and one of the the heavy, long branches of a tree across the street fell into my neighbors’ driveway. There was a strange white sky all afternoon which you will see in the pictures below (some of which I doctored just a bit), so contrast was rather elusive, but our bright yellow house was a perfect background for the broken branch. At the end of the day the white sky turned a beautiful pink, a moment which I completely failed to catch but fortunately my neighbor Bill did–and it looks like blue is back this morning.

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Chestnut Street Pink Bill Raye

Chestnut Street February 2016 and below, a similar winter’s day on the street in the 1890s–when McIntire’s South Church was still there.

Chestnut Street in Winter 1890s


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