I love September: the cooler days and nights, the colors of late-summer flowers, the light, which can be both hazy and very, very clear. And then there’s that back-to-school feeling which I have experienced every year of my life with the exception of a few years ago, when I took a fall sabbatical. It’s a bit different this year, of course, with all of my classes online, but I still got that anxious/excited feeling on the first day of classes this week. Online teaching cannot compete with face-to-face instruction in my opinion, but it can “personal”, in the sense that you are staring right into the close faces (and homes) of your students; pre-packaged presentations can be more thematic and thoughtful than those which are delivered in person, especially with my conversational style. I put a lot of effort into structuring my online courses this summer to compensate for the slapdash efforts of last semester when we had to make rather quick transitions, so I think that my students will be getting a good mix of lecture, discussion, and writing. Still, with all of that said, I miss going back to school in person. But our home is a lot calmer now with the big kitchen renovation completed (big reveal next week: it’s still a bit of a mess), and it’s a good place to teach and write: I am very fortunate. I worked pretty steadily all summer, so I treated myself to a FOUR-day Labor Day Weekend, and the weather was GLORIOUS, as you can really see (I think) in these photos of New Hampshire, Maine, and Salem.
My long Labor Day Weekend: at the Wentworth Coolidge Mansion in Portsmouth on Saturday; York’s McIntire Garrison (+my Dad) and Jefferds Tavern and some Cape Neddick and Ogunquit Houses on Sunday, on the When and If, the 1939 yacht of General Patton, on Tuesday night: it sails out of Salem in the summer and Key West in the winter.
We drove up to Portsmouth to have lunch with my parents and afterwards took a long walk around the old town, as the restaurant I chose was definitely in the new! Portsmouth is experiencing a building boom like Salem, but better. We walked past Market Square in the center of downtown Portsmouth (where there was one lone sign holder—-everyone else was in Iowa, I presume) past the skaters in Strawbery Banke to the South End, and then back again in a big circle. Everything seemed gray-brown in the chilly damp air, except for the old houses, or should I say some of the old houses, painted in shades of gold and pumpkin, green and red. There seems to be a custom of leaving clapboards unpainted in Portsmouth, however, so some of these weathered houses faded right into the streetscape, like camouflage. Lots of contrast on the streets of Portsmouth—and texture.
We caught the owner of this amazing 1766 house coming out, and he told us all about his restoration process—he replaced all those clapboards himself.
Since I was in the neighborhood, I really wanted to check out my favorite house in Portsmouth, the Tobias Lear House, named for George Washington’s secretary. I have adored this house since my teens, and it is likely the source of my admiration for all historic houses, or at least Georgian ones. The last time I checked in, it was in rough shape, so I was a bit nervous when we turned the corner on Hunking Street, but yay: preservation in action!
Then we walked by the famous Wentworth-Gardner House (once owned by Wallace Nutting!) and turned a corner and then: the ultimate unpainted house: so stark and stately, with pops of green potted plants in every window. I don’t remember ever noticing this house before, even though I grew up right over the bridge from Portsmouth. Wow!
Circling back by the skaters in Strawbery Banke, and the lone sign holder in Market Square (it was the weekend before Iowa—this weekend will be very different!), with brief stops at shops (there really can never be enough plaid for Portsmouth), and along the Harbor, where a big ship was delivering sand for this so-far snowless winter.
This passing year has been one of little ailments; I actually feel grateful they were not BIG ailments. I strained my right hamstring early last week and have been laid out ever since, meaning that I missed one of my very favorite Salem events: the Christmas in Salem house tour of this past weekend, the major fundraising event for Historic Salem, Incorporated. I was just too shaky and sore to go for it; I’m still a little shaky and sore. It was beautiful bright weather and several of the houses on the tour I had not seen before, so this was a real missed opportunity and I was downcast all weekend. I sent out my husband, and friends sent pictures, so I really have enough for a post but they’re not my pictures so they don’t feel like my story. Nevertheless, they are really spectacular, so I think I’ll feature them in a bit–along with my own decorations when I can get to them–but for right now I just don’t feel that merry and bright so I’m going to feature some stark winter white. As my world was confined to my laptop for several days, I discovered some new and new-to-me artists who conjured up images of winter house which more suited my mood. I was inspired by one of my favorite houses up in my hometown of York, Maine: it always looks a little lonely, and that’s how I felt this past weekend.
The winter houses of artist, illustrator, and photographer Deb Garlick immediately captured my mood this past weekend: the first two are acrylics, but you can order the last as a print, along with other images, on her website. I find her work both elegant and accessible: she has some adorable “mini-portraits”, and, as befitting her name, also works in food photography and illustration!
The Old Farmhouse; The Edge of the Lake; This Old House.
Then I went for a touch more color in the watercolor washes of Kate Evans: her red barn was about as much red as I could handle this past weekend! She has beautiful forests and structures, highlighted in stark relief against all that negative space/snow.
Red Barn and Woodcutter’s Cabin.
Winter landscapes can be very romantic, of course, but those views were not what I was looking for this past weekend: no horse-drawn sleighs, skating rinks, or cozy cottages. I didn’t want snow that looked even slightly fluffy. This eliminated artwork from much of the nineteenth century in my curation quest but things got bleaker in the twentieth, of course. I really enjoyed discovering the work of the Belgian landscape artist Valerius de Saedeleer (1867-1942) whose works looks inspired by both the Northern Renaissance and twentieth-century realism at the same time. The “gloaming” of de Saedeleer’s second painting below is also evident in one of Edward Munch’s winter landscapes at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Whenever I indulge in Munch, I get a bit depressed, and I was already pretty dour, so I turned tail and looked at some slightly sunnier views of winter houses among the works of Swiss artist Cuno Amiet (1868-1961)—-got to get some yellow in here and I aspire to sled!
View of Tiegem in Winter, c. 1935, Christie’s; Winter Landscape, c. 1920, Mutual Art; Edward Munch, Winter Landscape, c. 1898, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Cuno Amiet, Winter House.
I prefer the “transitional” seasons of fall and spring when change is apparent nearly every day. Of course all the seasons represent transition but when you think of them in terms of colors winter is white and summer is green whereas fall presents an array of colors and spring can too–though brown mud does prevail here in New England of course. There’s still quite a bit of color here in early November in Salem, though not for long: that late fall “starkness” is starting to set in. The welcome post-Halloween quiet is definitely here too, so I’ve been walking the streets and looking at houses again. For many years, one particular house on lower Essex Street has…….I guess the word would be drawn me. It’s not the most beautiful or well-maintained house, but there’s something about it that is very interesting to me. Stark, like this season. The juxtaposition of the windowless center gable with the rest of the house is curious. Anyway, I was walking by it the other day–a rather gloomy day–and it looked particularly striking, especially as contrasted with the residual bright foliage in other parts of town. It’s an old Crowninshield house, built in the 1750s and turned into a “tenement” in 1849 by a private housing trust named the Salem Charitable Building Association, and I think it’s been a rooming house since that time. I’m assuming that the center entrance gable (???? I’m really not sure what to call it) is an addition and would love to hear some expert opinions on this house!
I had high hopes for this particular September, one of the very few Septembers that I didn’t have to go back to school as a student or teacher in my entire life as I am on sabbatical. I’ve always thought that September was one of the most beautiful months of the year, and looked forward to long golden walks after I put in several hours of reading and writing. We’re halfway through the month, and so far it hasn’t turned out that way: the weather was unbearably muggy and hot in the first week of September, and last week I had pneumonia! But I’m on the mend now, so those walks will happen, and in the meantime I have been extraordinarily productive, so I have adopted a pre-modern mentality and come to the conclusion that it was God’s will that I stay inside and write. With both my lungs and the weather clearing up, however, I’m planning on a more (physically) active second half of the month.
I’m working with early modern prescriptive literature: texts on how to better “order” your health and household and garden, and feeling deficient in my own “government” of all of the above. September was a busy month for my seventeenth-century authors, who prescribe many activities for their readers: harvesting, preserving, cleaning, potting-up, sowing and sewing, among other monthly tasks. In his Kalendarium Hortense, which was published in fourteen editions from 1664, the famous diarist John Evelyn is a taskmaster for two gardens, or really three: the orchard (he was a big forestry proponent, for both timber and fruit), the “olitory garden” (a word he apparently made up) which produced plants for culinary and medicinal uses, and the “parterre” or flower garden. As you can read below, much is in prime during September so there is much to do in all three gardens.
I’m reading these texts for specific information about life and learning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but it occurred to me that gardening and husbandry texts, in particular, are great sources for understanding climate change as the authors take careful note of the existing weather conditions. September was as much a transitional month for them as it is for us. Michaelmas is really the turning point: before that it can be either hot or cold. After our very humid early September, I was kind of relieved to read the observations of Thomas Tryon, a wealthy merchant, popular author, and energetic advocate of vegetarianism who seemed to exist on nothing but gruel in the month of September as the Air (which is the Life of the Spirit in all Cities and great Towns) is thick and sulpherous , full of gross Humidity (YES!) which has its source from many uncleanesses…..I guess they had to suffer through humidity as well, even in the midst of the “Little Ice Age”.
The more elaborate horticultural texts are sources for garden design, machinery, experimental crops–even adjoining houses. One of my favorites is John Worlidge’s SystemaAgriculturae, theMysteryofHusbandryDiscovered (1669) , which also included a “Kalendarium Rusticum” of monthly tasks for the larger estate as well as other reference materials. This is a pretty substantive text describing the workings of a pretty substantive estate: thank goodness there is an epitome! For the steward of such an estate, as opposed to the mere gardener or farmer, September is all about getting ready for the plough, mending your fences, making cider (which Worlidge calls the “wine” of Britain) and perry, drying your hops, sowing a host of vegetables and planting your bulbs, gathering your saffron, “retiring” your tender plants into the conservatory, and tending to your bees. In these early days of an emerging agricultural revolution, it’s good to see some machines to help with all of this work: Worlidge’s work–and his calendar–are aimed at more of a collective or national audience than that of the individual householder as his reference to a “System” implies.
The 1681 edition of Worlidge’s Systema Agriculturae; a more ornamental continental garden from the Nassau-Idstein Florilegium by Johann Walter the Elder, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.
Two notable architectural photographers of the twentieth century turned their lenses on Salem again and again: Frank Cousins (1851-1925) and Samuel Chamberlain (1895-1975). These men represent a continuum for me: Chamberlain picked up where Cousins left off: with a gap of about ten or fifteen years while the former was more focused on the Old World than the New, and on etching rather than photography. It’s a very interesting exercise to consider their views of the same structure side by side: this is one way that I’ve been teaching myself about photography. Chamberlain has much more of a trained eye–having studied both architecture at MIT and etching in France–but both seem as concerned with documentation as illustration to me. I’m impressed with the range of activities and entrepreneurship of both men–although clearly Chamberlain was more worldly, by choice and circumstance. Born in Iowa and raised in Washington State, Chamberlain’s time at MIT was interrupted by World War I and service as an ambulance driver in France, where he became entranced with the buildings around him and “decided he would prefer to record the picturesque rather than design it” according to 1975 obituary in The New York Times. He recorded picturesque architecture in France, England and America with his etchings, prints and photographs in over 40 published books and countless magazine pieces, as well as the first-ever engagement calendars featuring New England scenes.
Two perspectives on the Peirce-Nichols House: Cousins and Chamberlain.
I grew up with Samuel Chamberlain books and when I moved to Salem I bought more: his vista included all of New England (and beyond) but as he lived in nearby Marblehead, he had ample opportunity to photograph Salem over a 30+ year period from the 1930s through the 1960s. Like Cousins before him, Chamberlain resolutely avoided all the “dull” parts of the city (anything industrial or utilitarian, Victorian or 20th century), and stuck to the historic districts for the most part, where he photographed both interiors and exteriors. I can’t get enough of the first of his three Salem-specific titles, Historic Salem in Four Seasons: A Camera Impression (1938), Salem Interiors: Two Centuries of New England Taste and Decoration (1950), and A Stroll through Historic Salem (1969) because of its rich rotogravure reproductions, which render pre-war Salem in very rich hues. I’m going to offer up some seasonal highlights of Samuel Chamberlain’s Salem this year, starting with winter, which he believed was the time of “Salem’s most beautiful moments…when few visitors see it”.
Essex Street, Church Street, the rear of the Andrew Safford House, the Retire Becket House, the Derby House, Federal and Chestnut Streets from Samuel Chamberlain’s Historic Salem in Four Seasons (1938). Both Chamberlain and Cousins deposited materials in the Phillips Library, which has been removed from Salem by the Peabody Essex Museum.
Last weekend I drove out to the Pioneer Valley and spent some time at Historic Deerfield, an outdoor museum of eighteenth-century houses located (and assembled) all along one street in the midst of fertile farmland. The museum was founded in 1952, and I’ve been there several times but never by myself, so it was nice to have the time and freedom to focus on whatever I wanted to–and what I wanted to focus on was doors. All I could see was doorways, and it seemed like I couldn’t look at each and every one for long enough. This is certainly not an original preoccupation: I saw the requisite “Doors of Deerfield” posters and postcards in the Museum Shop, where I also picked up a copy of Amelia F. Miller’s Connecticut River Valley Doorways. An Eighteenth-Century Flowering (1983), one of the “Occasional Publications” of the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, to take home with me. I expect that I may need to drive out west again very soon—and head south along the river—so that I can see all of these special Connecticut River Valley doorways. Living here in Salem, I’m used to historic doorways, but they are for the most part quite restrained in that Federal way, so these “western” doors provide quite the contrast in terms of detail. Miller agrees (or rather I agree with Miller): Connecticut River Valley doorways bear little resemblance….to doorways of the same period found one hundred miles to the east in coastal Massachusetts and Rhode Island towns.
So here are my favorite Deerfield doors, following Miller’s categorization of scroll pedimented doorways, triangular pedimented doorways, segmental pedimented doorways (apparently there are none in Deerfield?) and flat-top doorways.Plus a few more that defy categorization (at least for me): one of the nice things about Historic Deerfield is the interspersing of private homes among the museum buildings, and the former have great doors too.
Scroll Pedimented Doorways:
The Ashley House (1734) and Dwight House, built in the 1750s and moved to Deerfield from Springfield, Massachusetts. Miller includes a c. 1920 photograph of the Dwight house in situ in Springfield (above) and informs us that Mr. Henry Francis Du Pont purchased the door in 1924, and subsequently installed it first in his Long Island home and later at Winterthur. The Dwight House was moved to Deerfield in 1951, and a reproduction door was produced. I’m always aware of Salem houses being picked apart but really no Massachusetts house was safe!
Triangular Pedimented Doorways:
The Sheldon House (1755), today and in a 1910 photograph in Miller’s text, and a private home across the street.
Flat-top Doorways: not sure these all fit the exact designation, but they have flat tops!
The Allen House (1734), home of Henry and Helen Flynt, the founders of Historic Deerfield; the Barnard Tavern (1795), with reproduction flat-top door on right and reproduction triangular-pedimented door on left; the beautiful BLUE Wells-Thorne House (1734) and two private homes in between. Not sure how to categorize this last doorway……….
The Federal houses of Deerfield, with their fanlights and transoms and rounded doorways, don’t look so unfamiliar to me: obviously the region was increasingly open to trans-Atlantic and national aesthetic influences in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As is the case with every outdoor or living-history museum that I’ve visited, you do get that still, out-of-time feeling, although the Deerfield experience is enhanced by the proximity of private homes and Deerfield Academy. Still, it was nice to return home to historic Salem, even though it’s a bit too lively for me at this time of year.
The Stebbins (1799), Williams (remodelled 1817) and Wright (1824) houses of Historic Deerfield; two adjacent private homes; the Wilson Printing Office (1816).
And of course we must have flagrant pumpkin displays for this time of year:
The weather actually did change very perceptibly here, at about 9:30 or 10:00 yesterday morning, from muggy late summer into breezy crisp fall. In about a half hour: I felt it, and everyone I ran into yesterday felt it too. But I still have weather history on the brain, so my title is referring to a volume by the amazing antiquarian of a century ago, Sidney Perley: Historic storms of New England : its gales, hurricanes, tornadoes, showers with thunder and lightning, great snow storms, rains, freshets, floods, droughts, cold winters, hot summers, avalanches, earthquakes, dark days, comets, aurora-borealis, phenomena in the heavens, wrecks along the coast, with incidents and anecdotes, amusing and pathetic (1891). What a title! And it does not disappoint.
I have written about Sidney Perley many, many times here before as his works are the starting place for anyone interested in Salem history and culture—and often the culmination of inquiries as well: that’s how good he was. Perley (1858-1928) was lawyer by profession but an historian by passion—I’ve met many people like this over my career but Perley managed to somehow excel at both pursuits simultaneously, publishing a steady stream of books (History of Boxford, 1880, Poets of Essex County, 1889, History of Salem, 1924, and all those invaluable articles in his Essex Antiquarian along with many texts on probate law) over the course of his career. Quite logically he was an expert in utilizing the will and the deed as a historical source, but he clearly mined any and every source he could find for essential “anecdotes”. When I begin to delve into the history of a Salem house I always start with Perley, a practice that began long ago when I first moved here and started researching house histories for Historic Salem, Incorporated. He remains an essential guide to the history of Salem for me, and I thought about him a lot last summer, when Proctor’s Ledge was formally recognized and memorialized as the execution site of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials—culminating a process that began in the 1920s with his advocacy for this site. With the inaccessibility and closure of the Phillips Library it is apparent to me that his works are probably our best connection to Salem’s early history. The other day I found an old copy of his Historic Storms on my bookshelf, opened it up, and just like that, several hours went by in what seemed like a minute. It’s one of those books that is quite easily read intermittently but I had lots of other less interesting stuff to avoid so I just settled in and read about the weather.
Because the book is focused on weather events, you come away with a perception of very dramatic weather, and maybe it is just because the crisp coming-of-October breeze was coming through the windows of my study while I was reading, but it seemed to me, anecdotally, that October had the most changeable weather of all: severe drought and rain, snow, thunder, lightning, shipwrecks, earthquakes, Indian Summers, and above all, excessive winds. The first of the famous “Dark Days” (of 1716 and 1780, now attributed to forest fires in the north, then very mysterious and perhaps the wrath of God), occurred in October, the second in May, another very changeable month. During the “great” Dark Day of 1780 in Salem, the Reverend Nathaniel Whittaker’s congregation heard that the gloom was divine judgement of their cumulative sin, while out in the streets, [drunken?] sailors paraded about, “crying out to ladies who passed them by, ‘now you may off your rolls and high caps'”. A bit over a century later, Perley serves as his own source in his account of the less famous “Yellow Day” of September 6, 1881: On the morning of “the yellow day” there was no apparent gathering of clouds, such as occurred on the dark day 0f 1780 but early in the morning the sun and sky appeared red, and towards noon every part of the sky assumed a yellow cast, which tinged everything, buildings, ground, foliage and verdure, with its peculiar novel shade. All things were beautiful, strange and weird, and it seemed as if nature was passing into an enchanted state. It was at first intensely interesting, but as the hours dragged on, and but slight change occurred the sight became oppressive. The wonderful spectacle will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. Love that line, all things were beautiful, strange and weird. Perley was also, it should be acknowledged, a very good writer.
Scenes from the first crisp Autumn day of 2017 in Salem cast in darker, yellowish hues—as preparations for our annual neighborhood party were ongoing across the street in the Chestnut Street park + James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Nocturne: BlackandGold– TheFireWheel (1875, Tate Museum), just because.
You can have your showy, ant-filled peonies: at this time of year it is all about roses for me. This is rose week in Salem–everywhere you go (except perhaps for the Ropes Mansion Garden, which peaks in late summer), there are beautiful roses in bloom. I’ve got some relatively new bushes in my garden as last year there was a roofer-induced massacre. When I first put in roses, I chose only hard-to-find old garden varieties of the rosa gallica type: I was a purist who prioritized history over flowering (similar to the pink and white varieties below in the Derby House garden, which look much better than mine ever did—I also had an herb garden full of straggly herbs used as medieval plague cures). These heirloom roses were a bit too shrubby for me, and so I replaced them one by one with more modern varieties, mostly from David Austin. And after the decimation last year, I went all David Austin: pale pinks and yellow, almost-orange, no red. They all popped yesterday (see collage), and I went for a walk to see some more: so here you have it, my rose-tour of downtown Salem.
My roses, a cascade on Cambridge Street, in front of the John Ward house, off Orange Street, the Brookhouse Home side garden, and Derby House garden.
I’m sorry that my posts are short and spare these days, with more space between them: this is the busiest time of the year for me. The spring semester is technically “over”, but it dies a lingering death: with reports to write, two commencements and many meetings to attend. I want to spend as much time in my garden, which is overrun with violets, but can only snatch an hour or two each day. The weather has been very erratic here: rainy and raw last weekend, followed by lots of sun and very hot days, then a big cool-down. It ranged from 90-something degrees to 60 degrees at the end of the week: on Thursday night I sweated through our graduate commencement wearing my polyester and velvet academic regalia in an un-air-conditioned gymnasium, but yesterday I was pretty comfortable, even a bit chilly. Fortunately, it’s a beautiful time of year, so even though I don’t have much to say to you at the moment I have lots to show you: some shots of the most beautiful May flowers in my garden and around my neighborhood. We have shifted from the pink period of spring into a mostly-white-with-purple-accents phase, with many more colors to come.
Trillium, lungworts, anemones and lillies of the valley in my garden above; viburnam, wisteria and irises at the Ropes Garden below, along with the best viburnam hedge in Salem along Federal Court and Solomon’s Seal in the Peirce-Nichols garden.
P.S. I did see some real mayflowers in the Salem Woods a few weeks ago but unfortunately did not take a picture!