Looking out the window on the last day of winter 2017, a grey snow-threatening day, it seemed as if the seasons were in battle, with Winter struggling to muster up the energy for one last blast before Spring inevitably prevailed. By the end of the day the sun came out, and I interpreted this as the triumph of Spring! The seasons have been personified from the classical Horae and their Renaissance revival on, but my wistful weather musings were influenced more by materialism than any intellectual curiosity or poetic sensibility on my part: I was engaging in a favorite Sunday pastime of browsing upcoming auction lots, and came across Louis Rhead’s watercolor Lady Spring banishing Father Winter, circa 1890, in an upcoming Swann auction of illustration art.
Louis Rhead, Lady Spring banishing Father Winter, c. 1890
Of all the seasonal personifications, only Winter is portrayed as masculine, but not exclusively: perhaps this is because Winter wasn’t really recognized as a season in the classical era so he/she is more gender-flexible. Rhead portrays “Father” or “Old Man” Winter in the European folklore tradition, but other artists of his era preferred the all-feminine “four seasons”. Walter Crane’s Masque of the Four Seasons (c. 1903) seems to mirror Botticelli’s Primavera (c. 1482) except for the feminization of the brooding, blue Winter, which the latter depicted as Zephyrus, who effects the transformation of Flora into Spring, with her ever-present basket of flowers.
Walter Crane, Masque of the Four Seasons & Sandro Botticelli, Allegory of Spring, or Primavera (c. 1482), Uffizi Gallery Museum
Winter and spring are feminine companions/opponents in Alphonse Mucha’s seasonal series from 1896, women are in season in Henri Meunier’s Four Seasons series from 1900, and sullen Winter looks on the more cheerful and cherubic seasons in Henry Wallis’s drawing from the same year. The seasons become more strident in the twentieth century: charging rather than prancing about the garden in William Walsh’s series of covers for Women’s Home Companion, 1931. Riding in on her unicorn, Spring definitely looks triumphant.
Alphonse Mucha, Winter and Spring from The Seasons series (1896); Henri Meunier, Winter and Spring from the Four Seasons series (1900); Henry Wallis, The Four Seasons (1900); William P. Walsh, May (Spring) and February (Winter) 1931 covers of Women’s Home Companion.
I was fortunate to be at the House of the Seven Gables on this past Thursday, which really felt the first day of Spring in Salem: sunny, breezy, glorious. The Gables garden is always lovely, but on this day it looked stunning, and Mrs. Emmerton’s favorite lilacs and the wisteria arbor hadn’t even popped yet! The setting helps–the stark buildings of the Gables campus and Salem Harbor make perfect backdrops–but I think the structure makes this garden: I’m a sucker for raised beds and diagonal paths. This was the essential design that architect Joseph Everett Chandler laid out during the Gables’ restoration/recreation at the beginning of the twentieth century, although this structure seems overwhelmed by vibrant plantings in the many “garden view” postcards of the House published in the first half of the twentieth century. In any case, the garden is much more the creation of noted landscape architect and Salem native (and lifelong resident) Daniel J. Foley, a 1935 graduate of the University of Massachusetts who went on to become the editor of Horticulture magazine, the author of scores of books and articles on various aspect of gardening, a broadcaster, and long-time steward of the Gables garden, which is a living memorial to his life and work. From the 1960s, Foley enhanced the structure of the garden with mature boxwoods, and reinforced its colonial ambiance with period plants. In several of his writings, Foley reveals the inspiration that “old Salem gardens” had on his craft and his career: when I first began to explore the plant realm, I remember a visit I made one warm afternoon in June was to an old Salem garden where sweet William and foxgloves, delphiniums and Canterbury bells, ferns and sweet rocket and a host of other plants flourished in a series of meandering borders (1933). This is exactly the sense of time and place that pervades the Gables garden today.
The Gables Garden c. 1900, before Chandler’s raised beds, and in the 1950s, before Mr. Foley’s stewardship; Mr. Foley in a 1955 photograph and the first of his bestselling garden books–this one seems to have been constantly in print for over 20 years!
And the garden on this past Thursday: tulips just going out, lilacs just coming in, wisteria arbor, amazing Solomon’s Seal which the camera can’t quite capture……
The house and the view of the garden from the house, resident cat, on the way out…
May seems especially sweet this year after our cruel winter, and last week was particularly beautiful–with the wisteria and the dogwoods in full flower along with many of my favorite plants: bleeding hearts, Solomon seals, Alexanders, and lilies of the valley. It was also one of the busiest weeks of the academic year, with grading, senior events, and graduation, so I rushed around from place to place while still managing to stop and smell the lilacs. Warm days, cool nights: perfect hair and cotton sweater weather. Gorgeous, golden light in the late afternoon and early evening spilling into my north-facing front parlor. The only off-key event of these lyrical days was the Mad Men finale which was just not worthy, in my opinion: I don’t want to see Don Draper chanting om! Sorry for the digression–I just had to get that out there. Back to the real world, which I would like to always be May-like, but then, of course, May would not be May, but just everyday.
Pictures of May in Salem starting with a colonial musician walking down Chestnut Street, then the view from my bedroom, the view from my office, and lots and lots of flowers.
Yesterday was the first truly warm day of 2015 in Salem so I took a long, long walk in order to escape department drama and find some color: successful on both counts! Everyone had the same idea, and so young and old, firm and infirm, and fully-dressed and half-dressed were out and about. This is the time to see flowering shrubs and trees: the dogwoods are not quite out, but the magnolias certainly are, and I’ve got three notable examples below: one particularly lush shrub that everyone drives by without due appreciation on busy North Street, an older, sparer tree in the garden of the Gardner Pingree House, and a perfect tree on the Common (which I think I feature every year at about this time–along with various spring bulbs). There was just one single flower on the old Wisteria that climbs up the Andrew Safford House, so I gave it a spotlight.
Two days of sun has resulted in nearly (but not absolutely) all of the snow disappearing from the streets of Salem, so finally I am able to show you colors other than white. It is an early New England spring, so the predominant color out there is brown, and there remain several hills of dirt-covered snow out at the Willows–a striking reminder of just how much of the white stuff we received in February. It will be interesting to see when those hills actually melt: I’m thinking June! But I’ve decided not to show you those: they are impressive, but so dirt-covered they look like actual hills emerging from a muddy parking lot–not pretty. This was a pretty weekend, so I want to capture it by showing pretty (and very random) pictures of things I saw around town as I was simply walking around in the sun, like everyone else, noticing things I had not seen for months. First–one last image of predominate white: it was definitely a cats-seeking-sun kind of weekend.
A Federal Street cat and rope wreath; the First Muster commemoration on Salem Common, colorful houses off the Common and Bridge Street; the view from a Salem Willows house.
Frankly I find fools a little scary (especially after they evolve from faithless to court jesters) and I’m not clever enough to pull off a tricky April Fool’s Day post, so I will just offer up some French fish for the day. For whatever reason—new calendar or perennial fish-hatching season–French-speaking parts of Europe (and Italy) have recognized the first of April as Le Poisson d’Avril for several centuries, and postcards past serve as cheerful evidence of this interesting cultural tradition. The recipient of an April Fool’s Day prank gets a paper fish pinned to his back, or a colorful card in the mail. And in the words of this first card, from 1906, if you receive it with a good heart, it will bring you luck. I’m craving luck, lightheartedness, and color after March 2014, surely the longest and coldest month in the history of the world!
April First Poisson cards from the first decade of the twentieth century and the Bridgeman Art Library; Fabric panel from Etsy seller Confectionique.