Tag Archives: Shopping

When the Frame is in the Picture

Starting 2023 off with some color and creativity; I need some brightness. There is a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I which I have long admired: it’s from relatively early in her reign, and the artist is anonymous. It’s a serious portrait of a young woman of faith: holding a book (for prayer, presumably) and with a poetic inscription about transubstantiation below: it’s certainly not an official portrait as she would never be so open about her personal religious beliefs in her quest to be Queen of the English people rather than just Queen of the English Protestants. The other notable aspect of the portrait is the frame: there really isn’t one, it’s a faux gilt “frame” which is painted on the same board as the portrait. Later on, much later on, this will become a more common trompel’œil technique, but I think it was pretty novel in 1565!

@Christie’s Images Ltd. The caption reads: Twas God the Word that spake it: And what that Word did make it, That I believe and take it.

When I was looking for a nice image to post for Elizabeth’s birthday this past fall, I came across one of the “Runneth Over” adaptations by DVM/Maloos: and that of another Renaissance Woman! More Rainbow portrait and Mona Lisa, you can’t beat that.

Then I was off and running, discovering lots of cool images. I like to use a relatively narrow focus to discover things, but as I moved forward in time I realized that “frame as part of the picture” is not a discreet search term for modern art. There are indeed quite a few such playful paintings, so I’m just including a few of my discoveries below: I really like the work of Jorge Alberto, whose encased queen card is just one of his faux frame paintings, and I also like this shadowy lemon. As their titles suggest, Sarah Gilman’s Trompe l’oeil after Gijsbrechts paintings reproduce the framed “memo-board” paintings of seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish artists rather deliberately.

As the Runneth Over works demonstrate, not all “integrated frame” paintings need to be illusory: my last featured artist is Carolyn Misterek, whose “Everyday Occurences” paintings feature an assemblage of botanicals, flat color, and frames. They seem unassuming yet striking at first glance, but the frame adds something besides dimension: formality, finish, fancifulness?

Three “Everyday Occurences” paintings by Carolyn Misterek.


Christmas Shopping in Salem: the Macabre and the Merry

I try to shop local whenever possible: compared to decades past, it’s not difficult as Salem seems to have become as much of a shopping destination as a dining one. But you’ve got to pick a side: goth or gleeful? dark or bright? macabre or merry? Krampus or Santa Claus? Because of the ever-increasing exploitation of the tragedy of 1692 and its contrived connection to Halloween, “witchy” shops, an aesthetic very broadly defined in Salem, have proliferated over the past few years, reaching the level of self-sustaining demand. This article asserts that Salem has become an “alt fashion hotspot” for those seeking gothic garb, and explains the supply and the demand far better than I can! Maybe you can have it both ways—there are certainly some Salem shops that manage to merge the macabre and the merry quite creatively—but with a list consisting of babies and mostly middle-aged people, I’m squarely in the Merry Christmas camp.

It’s difficult to take photographs of shop windows in the daytime, but Witch City Consignment’s windows represent Salem Christmas shopping well: all is bright but there are looming monsters!

So let’s take a walk down Essex Street from the Witch House to the Hawthorne Hotel and I’ll point out some of my favorite shops along the way and on the side streets. Remember my “merry” bias: this is not an all-inclusive tour! I’m so down on witch-kitschiness that I’ve sworn not to patronize businesses that even have “Witch City” in the name, but I have to make occasional exceptions. I can’t resist Witch City Consignment: there’s so much to see and buy there, though generally I end up buying more things for myself rather than friends or family. I can’t resist the Salem stuff and right now I’m into “apothecariana” or whatever you call it: I love these turn-of-century gold-lablel pharmacy bottles and they are on sale! Witch City Wicks across the way has great candles: I’ve been buying them from the pre-brick-and-mortar days. This section of Essex Street is pretty gothy with the looming Vampfangs and the new Blackcraft, a southern California company which transformed a Colonial Revival bank building into an all-black emporium with a red witch descending from the center ceiling medallion. I skipped the former and went into the latter, for a very brief spell. There’s a lot of black in the store, but very little craft: strictly made in China as far as I could tell. On to Town House Square past the Christmas Tree in Lappin Park.

Witch City Consignment wares; nice to see the cheery windows of the Gulu-Gulu Cafe after I left Blackcraft.

I craved more craft and more merry after Blackcraft, so I headed right for a trio of shops on the corner of Washington and Front Streets owned by a very creative and entrepreneurial couple: the brand new Spruce Home, Oak+Moss, and Roost & Company. Much shopping ensued: these shops have something for everyone, and their wares are unique yet usable, tactile and textural, both decorative and utilitarian. I scooped up napkin rings and onesies, managed to resist all manner of cocktail culture, but had to have my very own merry & bright banner!

Spruce Home and Oak+Moss.

There is great shopping on Front Street (particularly at J.Mode for women’s clothing) which runs paralell to Essex on either side of Derby Square, but I did so well at the Spruce/Oak/Roost triumvirate that I headed straight for Emporium 32 on Central, before getting back on Essex. Here we have the curation of yet another creative couple, who have packed their tin-ceilinged shop with more whimsical wares, including nostalgic Christmas decorations, jewelry, prints, very visual books, barware and outerware. It’s a great accessory shop, and also a wonderful place to shop for men with hats, gloves, and shaving stuff galore. Plus it’s just a merry place, which always cheers you up, no matter the season (and they always have the best windows, in every season). At this point, I have to admit that I had my husband with me and we had nearly reached his shopping capacity, so it was time to break for lunch at the tavern at the Hawthorne Hotel (and drinks, of course: I had this delicious blood orange & bourbon cocktail, below). 1925, the latest venture from the Emporium entrepreneurs, will be opening in the corner shop of the Hotel in the new year.

Shopping at Emporium 32 and drinks (+ food and a pointsettia Christmas tree) at the Hawthorne Hotel.

With sustenance, my husband declared he could do two more shops and no more, so we set off for the Peabody Essex Museum shop and DiehlMarcus & Company, a lovely store located in a Bulfinch building almost across from Emporium 32 on Central Street. Even when I was furious with the PEM for removing the Phillips Library to Rowley (five years ago!) I still shopped in its lovely shop: its buyers have always found the best things. This particular year, the PEM shop seems to have embraced all things Salem, commissioning little wooden replicas of all of its buildings from The Cat’s Meow. I want them all and I couldn’t possibly choose, so I “settled” for some Ropes Mansion placemats, among other items. There’s no question that more damage would have been done if my husband wasn’t with me, and I will have to return to do some actual shopping for others. It does seem a bit odd to me to be featuring all these buildings that are not presently open to the public, particularly the empty Plummer Hall, long home to the Phillips Library, and its adjoining and also-dark Daland House: maybe these little houses are a sign of future openings?

All the PEM houses! The Museum even installed a ye olde Salem Christmas neighborhood in the windows of one of its empty storefronts on Essex Street.

After DiehlMarcus, my husband dropped out and I was on my own in the shops of Church Street and at Pickering Wharf: the former is a sparkling street of signs while the latter is looking a bit shopworn, I must admit (no fault of the shopowners but rather of their landlord, of course). But I always like to buy a few things at the Marble Faun at the Wharf, a book and gift shop for anglophiles and Hawthorne-philes (more books at the PEM shop and Wicked Good Books on Essex Street), and I knew that Joe’s Fish Prints had some cute coffee cups which would work for everyone on my list except the babies.

Candles (+ great tea and soap and lots of other things) at Diehl-Marcus, fish impressions at Pickering Wharf, very pretty hand-crafted jewelry at Jenni Stuart Fine Jewelry and more apothecary bottles at Hive and Forge/Red Antler Pharmacy. This combined and eclectic shop also features a lot of taxidermy, so be forewarned if that’s not your thing, but also the crafts of 30+ makers.

I realize that my shopping guide is a bit late and long, but I’d like to mention a few online local makers and sellers as well: please add more in the comments!

Kamillascrochet for cute hats, made very speedily.

JandJGraphicsLLC for merry and bright calendars with local scenes.

EVArtandDesign for merry and bright “windows of Salem” digital illustrations.

Chloesgoodstuff for cat drawings.

WidowsWeedsAntiques for interesting ephemera.

 


Selling Seeds

A rather fluffy post on seed packets for this week: it’s grading time! This combination of gardening + paper, two of my favorite things, is irresistable to me at all times, but I have also noticed a trend over the last decade or so. I was thinking about my 2007 wedding the other day, as our anniversary coming up at the end of the month. The reception was held outside under a fairytale tent at the House of the Seven Gables, and so there was not much decoration, just some beautiful simple arrangements to complement the colonial revival garden. With that theme in mind, I made my own seed packets with custom labels for favors, as it was next to impossible to find decorative packets at the time. Now there are many sources for packets with striking graphics, with or without seeds! I seldom sow seeds, but whenever I have, I’ve always purchased the most decorative packets I could find: Renee’s Garden Seeds and Monticello were my go-to purveyors, and the Hudson Valley Seed Company, which has always had the most creative packets. These are still great sources, but there seem to be many more now; this particular post was inspired by some gorgeous packets designed for the Italian seed company Piccolo by the London-based studio Here Design. These packets look like little Penguin books, another obsession of mine! Once I saw them, I knew I was not up to date in the dynamic development of seed packets, so I dug in and looked for more.

Hudson Valley Seed Co. and Monticello seed packets; Piccolo packets by Here Design, London; Floret’s Flower Farm Seeds by illustrator Nina Sajeske, with design by Nicole A. Yang; Row 7 vegetable seeds; Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds; Lesley Goren’s packets for Artemesia Nursery in California; Anellabees Pollinator Seed Blends at Terrain; Kew Gardens seed packets, which are beautiful but unfortunately not available in the US.

Going back a bit: because of course I’ve got to delve into the history of the seed packet, which seems to be an eighteenth-century innovation here in the United States. It is tied to, and illustrative of, the emergence and development of a commercial retail market for gardening supplies. Usually the D. Landreth Seed Company, founded in 1784 in Philadelphia by brothers David and Cuthbert Landreth and still very much in business, is given credit for the first seed packets, but a few years ago some packets were found in the eaves of the eighteenth-century Woodlands Mansion just up the river from the famous Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia (clearly a horticultural nexus): whether they were for storage or sale is unclear. There were several seed shops in Salem in the mid and later 18th century, like Mr. Bartlett’s below, but I have no idea how they sold their seeds: perhaps people just came in and grabbed a handful? In any case, moving forward into the nineteenth century, there is no doubt that the entrepreneurial Shaker colonies were pioneers in the mail-order seed trade, to which many plain “papers,” or packets testify.

Essex Gazette 27 April 1773; Shaker, Landreth & Woodlands seed packets.

 


Candy Land

In my sweetest dreams Salem is Candy Land rather than Witch City, and it certainly has the heritage to claim that title (although Candy Land was a Milton Bradley game rather than a Parker Brothers production.) There are of course the famous Gibralters and Black Jacks, still sold at the Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company on Derby Street, America’s oldest candy company. Mrs. Spencer sold her hard candy from a horse-driven carriage, and her primary competition seems to have been the stationary confectioner John Simon, whose shop was stocked with a variety of syrups and sweets, everything from anise drops to peppermint. He was always announcing his “removal” to Boston but somehow never made the move. Before the later nineteenth century, however, most confectionary item were not sold by single confectioners, but rather by grocers and apothecaries, and their lists of available sweets became longer and longer with every decade. Nourse’s Fruit Store on Washington Street sold “calves foot jelly candy, strawberry jelly candy, sherbet candy, gum jelly drops, and “East India Red Rock Candy” and all sorts of candies made with the New England’s favorite ingredient, molasses. Confections got a bit softer in the later nineteenth century, when cream candies became popular, and then comes Chocolate!

The Theodore Metcalf Company, one of Boston’s most successful apothecaries, published a beautiful pamphlet on gibralters and black jacks but these were SALEM candies; Nourse’s advertisement, Salem Observer 4 November 1865; Trade cards illustrate the softer trend in confectionary consumption.

The decline of hard candy and the rise of chocolate seems to be a major trend, but candy customers still loved variety. The most successful, and very long-running, confectionary business in twentieth-century Salem was the “Palace of Sweets” on Essex Street, from which the Moustakis Brothers sold their “mastermade” (a patented term) confections. This business was in operation from 1905 until 1968, and after the Taft Summer White House in Beverly placed a series of larger orders it received—and marketed—the presidential seal of approval.

Moustakis Brothers’ Menu from the digital archives of the Culinary Institute of Technology.

Salem is still candy central, in fact two confectionary shops opened up just this past year: Curly Girl Candy Shop on Washington Street and the Chocolate Pantry on Derby, not far from Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company further down the street. And then there is the venerable and amazing Harbor Sweets, the manufacturers of my very favorite candy, Sweet Sloops. I don’t even really have a sweet tooth, and if I am going to indulge I prefer jelly beans to chocolates, but bring a box of Sweet Sloops into the house and I will not rest until they are gone!

The House of the Seven Gables and Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company sponsored the ice sculpture of Mrs. Spencer’s horse and carriage for the Salem’s So Sweet festival this past weekend: its position made it difficult to photograph but it’s much bigger than it appears in this photo! My beloved Sweet Sloops, available at Harbor Sweets on Leavitt Street in Salem as well as lots of other retailers.


Hudson River Valley Highlights

I’m just back from almost two weeks staying at my brother’s house in Rhinebeck, New York, right in the middle of the Hudson River Valley. I’ve seen a lot, and have many beautiful photographs to upload here, but I’m not quite sure how to curate them: no theme is emerging other than wow, there’s so much here. I’ve been to this region quite a bit over the past few decades, and I thought I knew it, but this longer stay has convinced me that I do not, really. You know I’m not really interested in nature (apart from its harnessing) so it’s not about the River for me, it’s about the houses and the towns, the built environment. Do I organize my hundreds of photos of structures and streetscapes by family (the Livingstons are everywhere), by chronology, by origin (Dutch vs. English), by size (the two cities of Kingston and Hudson on the west and eastern sides, surrounded by smaller towns and “hamlets” and the larger cities of Poughkeepsie and Tarrytown to the south), or by style? Mansions or private residences? Shops, or more particularly, shop windows (which seem to be curated here to a level we haven’t seen in Salem since the 1950s)? One theme which might work is that of stewardship, which I always think about when I’m in the midst of a region as architecturally and institutionally rich as this valley, but that will take some work and as I have officially entered the last week before classes that means I have SYLLABI looming: better stick to highlights!

Mansions and Cottages:

The stunning Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, designed by Alexander Jackson Davis for the Paulding and Merritt families over several decades beginning in 1838 and later acquired by Jay Gould, whose daughter left it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation; neighboring Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving; Wilderstein in Rhinebeck and a detail from its stables; Montgomery Place and its stables, now the property of Bard College.

 

A Decayed Mansion with much potential: The Point, or Hoyt House, at the Mills Mansion/Staatsburg State Historic Site, Hyde Park.

There are several impressive structures on the vast riverfront acreage of the Staatsburg State Historic Site, including the Classically columned Mills Mansion, but I only had eyes for the Hoyt House on my hike. Designed by Calvert Vaux before his Central Park partnership with Olmsted, it just looks perfect, despite its decay (or maybe because of it?) The Calvert Vaux Preservation Alliance, of which my brother-in-law Brian is a director, is raising funds for the Hoyt House’s restoration and potential repurposing as a center of traditional craftsmanship training—talk about stewardship! I’m wondering if this cottage on the main road outside of the park is tied to the estate, as well as this adjacent entrance?

 

Alexander Jackson Davis’s furniture: almost everything is arched.

Chairs, beds, mirrors, even tables, so there is no “head” of the table: all at Lyndhurst.

 

Private residences: both vernacular and very high style—-all sorts of styles.

A Foxhollow Farm cottage, more contemporary board and batten, and two houses in Claverack to the north (I spent a lovely hour or so inside the white brick Hillstead, at the gracious invitation of Bruch Shostok and Craig Fitt); all sorts of restorations going on in Hudson; the lighthouse at the entrance to Kingston’s harbor.

 

And shopping! Mostly at Hudson, a bit at Kingston (Grounded) lured in by creative shop windows (which we need more of in Salem). History was in the windows too.


Christmas Suffragist Style

A great friend gave me the lovely gift of a Suffragist ornament the other day: I prominently placed it on my tree and went out to look for more. We were going to have no ornaments this year, just lights (actually, I didn’t even want a tree, or lights, but my husband did), and there is no way I was not going to put that lady on my tree and she needed company. It seems appropriate to go out of this year the same way I went in, in the company of Suffragists. I’m sorry that the ladies did not get their due in this challenging year, but I certainly learned a lot about the Suffragists in general and Salem women in particular on all these #SalemSuffrageSaturdays: two more to go! One thing I learned about the Suffrage movement in general, in both the United States and Britain, is how sophisticated it was in terms of visual messaging: the colors, the images, the products. Everything they produced or inspired still looks good.

Suffragist Christmas Ornaments (+ Joan of Arc, a very important Suffragist symbol herself) fron the Peabody Essex Museum Shop and RosieCentral .

 

Christmas cards from the Museum of London and the Ann Lewis Suffrage Collection (a great resource!)

 

Tea Towels from the Radical Tea Towel Co.

 


The Fabric of Friendship

Back to my Salem singlewomen shopkeepers and businesswomen: they continue to be my favorite subjects among these #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts. Socialites, authors and artists: too easy! I came across one of the most stunning nineteenth-century photographs I have ever seen: of Miss Eliza P. Punchard, dressed formally in black bombazine, in front of Ann. R. Bray’s dry goods store at 76 Federal Street circa 1875. The picture was taken by the very accomplished Salem photographer Edwin Peabody, and it is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, although you will never find it on the PEM’s impenetrable and unhelpful website: I make most of my PEM discoveries through old publications of either of its founding institutions, the Peabody Museum and the Essex Institute. In this case, the photograph was published in Museum Collections of the Essex Institute, published in 1978. It may seem like an old-fashioned way to access a museum’s collections in 2020, but believe me, such publications are your best bet for now.

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This photograph is so compelling, so sharp, so curious! Miss Punchard is not posing formally, yet she looks very formal! Her cheekbones! A literal window into a shop full of fabrics! I want to see more of the sign! So what’s the story?

Miss Eliza P. Punchard and Miss Ann R. Bray worked together in the dry goods business but they were not business partners: the former was always listed as clerk in the census and directory records while the latter was clearly the shopowner. They were, however, friends and perhaps life partners: after leaving bequests to a score of nieces and nephews in her native Gloucester, Miss Bray left the bulk of her estate, and her shop, to Miss Punchard in her 1875 will: I can only assume that this photograph marks Miss Punchard’s succession to the well-established Bray business: and is she wearing mourning? Miss Bray’s will implies that they were very close but I can’t presume anything more than that—although again, they lived together and alone (except for a succession of servant girls, several from Maine and several from Ireland) for more than three decades: every time they needed a new servant Miss Bray advertised for help in “a household of two”. Following Miss Bray’s death in 1875, Miss Punchard ran the shop until her retirement in 1886; she died three years later. And that was the end of a seemingly-successful woman-owned business in Salem, one of many: I am sure I am just scratching the surface with these posts. The Bray business had a long run, from around 1821 at least, when Miss Bray began advertising her services as a tailoress in Salem: not a seamstress mind you, but a tailoress. The “trimmings”took over and she moved into dry goods dealing from a variety of Federal Street locales: ending up at #76.

Bray Salem Gazette 1821 (2) Best

Bray 1833

Bray Goods SR June 24 1848 (2)

Bray black and whiteAdvertisements in the Salem Gazette and Register, 1821-1853: Cambric and Bombazine dresses from MoMu: Fashion Museum Antwerp and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Miss Bray was an enthusiastic advertiser in the Salem Gazette, Register and Observer and even the Wizard of South Danvers (now Peabody) and her stock got larger and more exotic as her business expanded: she offered gingham from the beginning to the end (and you can see it in the photograph of Miss Punchard) but added many other fabrics and frills from the 1840s on. I’m familiar with lots of things (merino, tartan, worsted, muslin and linen), but clueless about others: what in the world are “Russian Diapers” and “Circassian Bombazettes”? From some fashion historian crowdsourcing, I did learn that “Quaker Skirts” were a lightweight hoop, and Miss Bray offered other hoops as well, including the “Watch Spring” and “Bon Ton” varieties, and all manner of petticoats, including the popular Balmoral Skirt inspired by Queen Victoria. BUT there is definitely a patriotic shift during the Civil War: towards simpler fabrics, manufactured domestically. Mourning wear, unfortunately, was always in demand.After the war Miss Bray returned to her vast array of fabrics and accessories, and even included pianofortes in her stock! Just brief glimpses into two women’s lives in Salem: their public roles are somewhat revealed while their private world remains just so.

Bray Collage

Bray Goods July 24 1862 (3)

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Bray EndSalem Register, January & July 1862; South Peabody Wizard, January 1869; Newburyport Daily Herald, November 1886.


Not so Ephemeral

I was a casual collector of ephemera for years, so I’ve always been impressed with the more serious seekers and crafters of entire collections, most prominently Eric C. Caren, founder of the Caren Archive of paper Americana. With its tagline “History Unfolds on Paper”, the collection extends to about a million items I believe: Mr. Caren has culled it down with a series of auctions over the last decade or so–at Bonhams, Christie’s, and Swann’s among other houses–but I suspect that he continues to buy with feverish enthusiasm. The eighth Caren collection auction is now ongoing online at Sotheby’s, and I have really enjoyed perusing the lots: ephemera can really take you into an era, by offering intimate, “everyday” or administrative perspectives on the events of the day: often it’s surprising how weighty these little strips of paper can be. A serious collection of ephemera makes such items less ephemeral and more evidential, and with digitization, the ephemeral is also transformed into a lasting testimony. My browsing was edifying as well: who knew, for example, that the famous Gerrymander, spawned right here in Essex County in 1812, died in the following year? Certainly not me! This skeletal monster is just one of several intriguing items in the auction: here are my picks.

Dead Gerrymander

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Gerrymander cartoon in the Columbian Centinal via the Salem Gazette, 1813; Horatio Gates’ Recruiting Instructions, 1775; Benjamin Harrison, Governor of Virginia, grants land to Daniel Cumbo, and African-American soldier, in return for his service in the Revolutionary War (quite a contrast to the Gates document, which prohibits the recruitment of “any Stroller, Negro or Vagabond”; John Paul Jones mezzotint, 1779; Alfred Swaine Taylor, early “photogenic drawing” photograph of a fern, 1839; Brochure for “Bloomer Girls”, a touring baseball team, from the Young Ladies’ Athletic Journal, 1889; Stop Lynching, Shame of America poster, 1937; US House of Representatives Calendar No. 61: Impeachment of Donald John Trump.


Salem in the Time of Corona

I imagine Salem must be like your town or city at this time: quiet and closed. As it is a compact and walkable city full of architectural treasures (still), the quiet more than compensates for the closure, but you are all too aware of the hardship that both are causing. It’s not a singular holiday that is allowing you to walk or bike freely with few cars in your path but rather a prolonged period of anxiety through stoppage for the freelancers and entrepreneurs among us, many in a city like Salem. I’m grateful for my security: there’s no stoppage for me, either of work or of income. I find that remote teaching takes more time than classes which actually meet in person: and while the latter invigorates you (or me) the former drains, so out in the streets of Salem I go to try to get some energy back. But again, I’m grateful for my security and have no complaints.

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This week’s weather is so much better than that of last week, when the sun failed to appear for days. I am determined to: 1) put on real pants, with zippers; 2) observe proper meal times; 3) drink more tea; 4) turn off the computer for one full day; 5) avoid the daily presidential briefings; and 6) try to play board games with my husband (I am a terrible game-player but he loves them). This is not a very challenging list, obviously. In addition to all these tasks and working, I take my daily walks, noting new architectural details but also new orders of business around town: restaurants which are still open for take-out, or have transformed themselves into makeshift grocery stores which deliver, shops whose owners will meet you at the curb with your online purchases. The signs for canceled events are the other conspicuous markers of Corona time, like those for Salem Restaurant Weeks (March 15-26) and the annual Salem Film Fest (March 20-29) in the reflective windows of the Chamber of Commerce.

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But there are other signs too: of support for health-care workers and grocery clerks, teddy bears and other animals for children’s scavenger hunts. And signs of Spring, of course.

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The Fair’s the Thing

Like everyone else, I’m thinking about healthcare workers these days, so I wanted to focus on Salem women who were physicians or nurses for this week’s #SalemSuffrageSaturday post: I’ve found THREE practicing women physicians in Salem before 1900 and lots of wartime nurses. But I don’t have their stories straight yet: I need more context, more details, more narrative. They are not ready, or more accurately, I am not ready for THEM. So I thought I would focus on philanthropic ladies’ fairs in general, and one fair in particular, as these events were a major expression of the civic engagement of Salem women in the mid-nineteenth century. Starting in the 1830s and extending through and beyond the Civil War, Salem ladies held fairs for a host of benevolent societies and causes: seamen’s aid, widows and orphans of seamen, anti-slavery, the Sanitary Commission and other efforts to support the Union army, temperance, suffrage. These fairs were months in the planning, raised significant funds, and got a lot of press. They were not only a major form of civic engagement for women, but also of civic action and association. It seems impossible to underestimate them, although I’m sure I’m only dealing with the veneer of Salem society that had the time and the resources to dedicate to such endeavors. But still, you’ve got to follow your sources, and many of mine lead me to fairs.

Ladies Fair Boston 1858 (2)Ladies Fair for the Poor in Boston, 1858. Boston Public Library

I believe that the first fair in Salem was in 1831, but the first fair that made a big splash and set the standard for all of the fairs to follow was held two years later at Hamilton Hall as a benefit for the newly-established New England Asylum for the Education of the Blind (later the Perkins School for the Blind), the first institution of its kind in the country. Its founding director, Samuel Gridley Howe, has developed a reputation as the authoritarian husband of abolitionist and suffragist Julia Ward Howe of Battle Hynm of the Republic fame, but in the 1830s he was a handsome and dashing doctor (and also a passionate abolitionist) who had served six years in that most romantic of conflicts, the Greek Revolution, and wrote about it. It’s easy to understand how and why he inspired devotion among the ladies of both Salem and Boston: there were competing fairs for his school in 1833, which drew a lot of attention to both. There were quite a few articles on the rival fairs in a variety of newspapers, and we also have the Fair program, as well as the substantive research of Megan Marshall, who identifies Elizabeth Palmer Peabody as one of the prime movers behind the Salem event in her Pulitzer-prize-winning book The Peabody Sisters. Three Women who Ignited American Romanticism. 

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Peabody Sisters (3)Samuel Gridley Howe in the 1850s; Megan Marshall’s great book, although I also like the earlier text on the Peabody sisters: Louise Hall Tharp’s Peabody Sisters of Salem, which I read over and over again as a teenager—I think it’s one of the reasons I ended up in Salem! A really good example of collective biography.

Elizabeth was the eldest of the famous three Peabody sisters of Salem (who deserve their own post; I can’t believe I haven’t written about them yet!), all of whom became intertwined in a Boston world of romanticism and reform. Middle sister Mary would marry educator Horace Mann, and youngest sister Sophia would eventually marry Nathaniel Hawthorne, but in the 1830s they were all struggling in somewhat-genteel poverty. Elizabeth had made the acquaintance of Howe (through Mann) in Boston, and believed in him and his cause, but she also saw the fair as a way to promote the artistic talents of Sophia and possibly raise the family’s dwindling fortunes. This explains why Sophia’s name—(along with that of Hawthorne cousin Ann Savage)—are the only names in the entire program for the Ladies Fair.

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Screenshot_20200320-064501_DriveCatalogue of Articles to be Offered for Sale at the Ladies’ Fair at Hamilton Hall in Chestnut Street, Salem, on Wednesday, April 10, 1833 for the Benefit of the New England Asylum for the Blind, National Library of Medicine @National Institute of Health.

It is so great to have the entire catalog for this fair, evidence of the creative craftsmanship—and scavenging I suspect—of Salem ladies! Lots of dolls and figures (I would love to see the “large” Queen Elizabeth): so much needlework, so many pincushions, and the two “splendid” paintings by Miss Sophia Peabody, of a place she had never seen—but would much later, after she married Mr. Nathaniel Hawthorne. It was a huge success in terms of proceeds, a fact acknowledged even by the Boston papers, and inspired many repeat performances.

Ladies Fair Boston Post April 12 1833

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20200321_091844$3000! in proceeds reported in the Boston Post; Hamilton Hall this morning: still the site of much civic engagement, but unfortunately not today, or for a while……..