I just love the idea and the historic reality of the “Farewell Tour” taken by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824: the exuberant reception, and the deep appreciation expressed by both Americans and Lafayette again and again and again, everywhere he went. I also like all the thingsthat were produced for this occasion: prints, plates, paintings, ribbons, all manner of print and material commemorative culture. In honor of its namesake, Lafayette College has amassed a large collection of Lafayette memorabilia but it is by no means the only repository of such items. Like every American town and city where Lafayette alighted, Salem greeted him with great enthusiasm, on this very day nearly 200 years ago, and Lafayette left his mark: the main southern thoroughfare to Marblehead was named after him, as well as one of my favorite rooms (the room with the bar!) in Hamilton Hall. The Hall was the site of the elaborate dinner (including 65 separate dishes) for the General/Marquis prepared by its increasingly-renown African-American caterer John Remond and his wife Nancy, with the ladies of Salem providing the decorations: the Salem Gazette reported that the “whole effect was beyond our powers of description” on the next day.
Even more so than the Hall, it’s these ladies that I am interested in, as I bet they were all decked out. I love the Lafayette ladies’ accessories from this era: the ribbons, hats, gloves, and fans which were worn at the parades in his honor and then tucked away in some keepsake box, perhaps brought out at the time of his death in 1834, and then packed away again. They’re not difficult to find, as Lafayette’s tour was so extensive, and women who could afford to displayed their patriotism in a very exuberant and festive fashion: we have to remember that Lafayette was not only a valiant foreigner who answered America’s call at a crucial time, he was also the last living Revolutionary General in 1824. He was more than “the Nation’s Guest”, but he was also French, so deserving of a display.
Gloves with Lafayette’s image from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; a silk bag from the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Museum, and a ribbon from the collection at Lafayette College.
Fans are the most elaborate of Lafayette mementos, in my humble opinion, and several Salem ladies had fans for the farewell tour–whether they were domestically produced or French imports I do not know. There’s a lovely Lafayette fan featured in the Museum Collections of the Essex Institute which I assume is still in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, but I can’t find it, of course, because PEM. The Museum of Fine Arts has two fans which likely belonged to Elizabeth and Sarah Derby, if the initials are any indication. If they did in fact belong to the Derby girls, I don’t know if they had them in hand on that day, this day, in 1824: all of the newspaper accounts reported heavy rain in Salem. And after that he was gone, but the adoration continued: in a piece that was reprinted up and down the east coast the Salem Gazette observed that “Everything is Lafayette, whether it be on our heads or under our feet…..” in October.
Fans in the collections of the Essex Institute (Peabody Essex Museum?) and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Salem Gazette, October 12, 1824.
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.
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.
Advertisements 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 Observerand 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’slives in Salem: their public roles are somewhat revealed while their private world remains just so.
Salem Register, January & July 1862; South Peabody Wizard, January 1869; Newburyport Daily Herald, November 1886.
Today’s #SalemSuffrageSaturday post is really more of a list than a composition, and a working list at that: I want to take a stab at identifying as many female Salem artists as I can, although I know it’s an impossible task. It’s impossible because there were so many, and I’m pretty certain I haven’t tracked them all down, but it’s also a difficult task because of the historical impact of gender. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, women were taught artistic and creative skills as part of their informal and formal education: some excelled and were clearly artists, even though they—or anyone else—did not identify themselves as such. I think this especially applies to women who worked in the textile arts but to other women as well. In the nineteenth century we see the emergence of (a few) women who can make their living through their artistic talent and skill; this is rarely possible before.
Fidelia Bridges (1834-1923) by Oliver Ingraham Lay, 1872, Smithsonian: Bridges is probably the first and most successful Salem woman artist, though she traveled widely and lived in Connecticut for most of her professional life.
Daughters of old Salem families, Fidelia Bridges, who worked in several mediums and as both an artist and an illustrator, the Williams sisters, Abigail and Mary, who were both artists as well as art dealers, and sculptress Louise Lander, all found themselves in Rome in the mid-19th century for varying periods of time, drawing inspiration and establishing connections. The Misses Williams returned to the family home on Lafayette Street where they created a studio and loaned their works out to several prominent institutions, including the Essex Institute, which featured its very first art exhibition in 1875 featuring many Williams works. Louise Lander (1826-1923) also returned, reluctantly and eventually, to Salem and the family home at 5 Summer Street when she was shunned by the Anglo-American (and quite Salem-dominant) circle in Rome upon charges of some sort of scandalous behavior which she never deigned to answer. She exhibited her “national statue” of Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in the New World, to raise money for war relief and moved to Washington, D.C. upon the death of her last Salem sister in 1893.
Mary E. Williams, illustrations from The Hours of Raphael in Outline – Together with the Ceiling of the Hall Where They Were Originally Painted (Little, Brown, 1891); Just some of Mary and Abigail Williams’ works shown in the 1875 Essex Institute Exhibition; Virginia Dare in the Elizabethan Gardens & notice in the Boston Post, January 24, 1865.
To these nineteenth-century artists who seem to be awarded “professional” status I would add Mary Jane Derby (Peabody, 1807-1892) and Mary Mason Brooks (1860-1915) from the generation before and after the “Roman” circle. I’ve written about Derby many times before (see here and here) because I am the fortunate recipient of a journal she composed for her grandchildren, and Brooks more briefly here. Before her marriage, Mary Jane (a cousin of Louisa Lander) was definitely pursuing an artistic career, and she created several lithographs for the Boston firm Pendleton’s Lithography in the 1820s, including a view of her childhood home on Washington Street. Brooks, who worked exclusively in watercolors I believe, was one of the Salem artists who worked out of the famous “studio” at 2 Chestnut Street briefly, and her works were exhibited in Boston and New York. Among Mary Jane’s generation (almost) were two lesser-known artists, Sarah Lockhart Allen (1793-1877), who produced portraits in miniature and pastel, and HannahCrowninshield( 1789-1834), both of whom were recognized as working artists by their contemporaries. Sophia Peabody Hawthorne (1809-71) is representative of the score of score of female artists who exhibited and sold their works at charitable fairs and bazaars in mid nineteenth-century Salem: always as “misses”.
View of the Nahant House by “MJD” (Mary Jane Derby), Boston Rare Maps; Mary Mason Brooks, The Lumber Schooner, Grogan & Company Auctions. Just a few of the “Fine Arts” exhibitors from Reports of the First Exhibition of the Salem Charitable Mechanic Association : at the Mechanic Hall, in the city of Salem, September, 1849
And then there were all those Salem needlewomen! In her definitive work Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers and Pictorial Needlework, 1650-1850 (1993), collector and scholar Betty Ring devotes an entire chapter to Salem, focusing on the influential school of Sarah Fiske Stivours (1742-1819) and showcasing the work of Antiss Crowninshield (1726-1768), Love Rawlins Pickman (Frye, 1732-1809), Susannah Saunders (Hopkins, 1754-1838), Betsey Gill (Brooks, 1770-1814), and Mary Richardson (Townsend, 1772-1824) among others. This was a very important Salem art form that was revived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century by Jenny Brooks, Mary Saltonstall Parker (1856-1920) and other entrepreneurial artists.
Betty Ring’s two-volume Girlhood Embroidery; Salem samplers by Susannah Saunders (Sothebys) and Elizabeth Crowinshield (Doyles); Jenny Brooks Co. advertisements from 1913, and Mary Saltonstall Parker’s cover embroidery for House Beautiful, October 1916.
So that brings me to the most entrepreneurial of Salem women artists, or maybe all Salem artists: Sarah Symonds, an artist-craftswoman descended from a long line of Salem craftsmen. I’ve written about Symonds (1870-1965) very recently, so I’m not going to go and on here, but she operated a very successful business selling her cast plaques of historic Salem symbols and structures in the first half of the twentieth century. Following her death in 1965 the Essex Institute, which operated as Salem’s historical society until its amalgamation into the Peabody Essex Museum in 1992, started collecting her works, as they “have enriched our local picture of the past”.
Sarah Symonds in her studio, Phillips MSS 0.202, Papers of Sarah Symonds, 1912-21.
How the past informs the present, and how the present acknowledges, interprets, and builds upon the past are central preoccupations of mine, and artistic perspectives on these processes can be just as illuminating as texts. I’d like to conclude this (again, working) list of women artists from Salem with a contemporary artist whose work is a great example of this illumination: book artist JulieShawLutts. Julie’s a great friend of mine and I’ve featured her work before here, but she has just completed a very timely project which I love, so I wanted to showcase her talents again. TheVote is a mixed media artist’s book which commemorates the achievement of women’s suffrage in ways that are both personal and memorial, material and textual, and touching: all the best ways.
Looking through classified advertisements in eighteenth-century Salem newspapers is one of my favorite pastimes: I can’t think of a better way to gain insights into the public lives of people at that time, though their private lives are, of course, another story. The other day I was wandering around in 1769 and a particularly enticing notice caught my attention: with its large letters and array of goods it could not fail to do so. Priscilla Manning, in big bold letters, listed her worldly goods, encompassing all manner and colors of cloth, caps, hose, shoes and tea, of course, all available at “her shop in Salem, a little above Capt. West’s Corner, at the lowest prices for Cash.” First I had to figure out what all of these eighteenth-century fabrics were: taffeta, satin, lawn, cambric, and linen were familiar to me, but somehow I have made it to this advanced age without knowing what “calamanco” was. I assumed it was an alternative spelling for calico, but no—a very different, thicker, embossed woolen cloth, which has its own (tortoiseshell) cat association in some parts of this world. Not only was I ignorant about calamanco: I had no idea that our neighboring city to the South, Lynn, was a major producer of calamanco shoes in the eighteenth century, well before it became known as an industrial Shoe City. But there’s the reference right in Priscilla’s inventory: best Lynn-made calamanco and silk shoes. My friend and former colleague Kimberly Alexander, author of Treasures Afoot: Shoe Stories of the Georgian Era, set me straight: calamanco shoes were the “everyday footwear of American life” and Lynn-made shoes had such a good reputation in the Boston area that merchants such as Priscilla “proudly trumpeted their origin”. Yes, that’s right: Priscilla Manning was a merchant; why is that occupational term reserved only for men?
My calico cat Trinity and some anonymous tortoiseshell I stole from the web, as apparently some parts of the word call torties “calamanco cats”; calamanco wedding shoes from c. 1765, collection of Historic Deerfield (object #HD 2004.26, photo by Penny Leveritt).
Priscilla continued to carry on her business until 1772 when she married a widower from Andover named George Abbot: he brought his two young girls to Salem, and if advertisements are any indication, took over her shop. Suddenly it is George Abbot who is offering all of theses splendid goods, from the same shop, with only a few slight changes, including cash given for empty snuff bottles. Priscilla disappears! Certainly the commercial contacts necessary to conduct such a cosmopolitan provisioning business were hers, and I bet she continued to work them, but she is no longer the public face of her business. Actually the newspapers give us few insights into the Abbots during the Revolution: George appears in a 1774 letter addressed to General Gage protesting the closing of the port of Boston, and then we don’t see another advertisement until 1783, when the shop has moved to “Main Street”. In the following year, he died at age 37, leaving Priscilla as the guardian of her two stepdaughters and their daughter, also named Priscilla.
So what does Priscilla do? She re-opened her shop, “just above the town pump”, and built a big new house—both in her name. I do wonder if she had more freedom of operation as a widow than a miss, but that conspicuous advertisement from 1769 indicates she was under no commercial constraints before her marriage. The papers carry notices of the marriages of her stepdaughters and, sadly, the death of her own daughter at the tender age of 16, but they can offer no other insights into the life of Priscilla Manning Abbot, until her own death in 1804. What she left behind, to be disposed of by her executrix Elizabeth Cogswell: her mansion house and barn, one-half of wall pew #6 in the “Rev. Dr. Barnard’s meeting-house” and of course, her stock in trade.
I think this plaque should read Priscilla Manning Abbot, Merchant.
Appendix: Priscilla Manning’s ad caught the attention of an expert in the field as well as wandering me: check out Carl Robert Keyes’ analysis at the Adverts 250 Project.
I’ve been meaning to do a post on embroidery for a while. Needlecraft hardly seems new, or current, but I have students knitting in class, I follow a great twitter account (#womensart & also a great blog) which features amazing textile artists regularly, and the instagram hashtags #slowstitching and #needlepainting yield an abundance of extraordinary examples of embroidery art nearly every day. I think we’re in the midst of another “golden age” of embroidery—although I also think I’m late to this party, as usual (as this 2016 My Modern Met post will confirm). Certainly embroidery is not as central a part of society, or women’s lives, as it was during the early modern era when the Water Poet John Taylor published The Needles Excellency or the Federal era when Salem girls crafted samplers at Sarah Stivour’s famous school, but it is clearly a popular practice and a vibrant art form which often mixes traditional artistry with contemporary themes, in creations that are quite literally bursting out of the hoop.
Embroidery by the book and bursting outside of the book—and the frame— by Peruvian artist Ana TeresaBarboza.
ABOVE:More traditional pieces from Chloe Giordano: a pine marten and a fox. The Swedish textile artist Britta Margareta–Labba explores Sámi culture–and wildlife–in her creations; Moscow artist Roza Andreeva’s pieces are a bit more domesticated but no less intricate, and Lithuanian embroiderer AušraMerkelytė (@velvetmeadow) works with the hoop…and tulle, and dandelions, and Queen Anne’s Lace.
BELOW: just two of Paulina Bartnik’s embroidered birds at embirdery.com: she has also created a beautiful world on Instagram (@paulina.bart). And let’s go up in the air for the “aerial embroidery” of British artist Victoria Richards, depicting her Devon countryside in thread (I could teach the history of enclosure with these works!)
And finally, a few pieces by the popular and prolific New York artist Richard Saja, who takes his inspiration from traditional toile and then embellishes through embroidery to create completely new scenes: check out his blog Historically Inaccurate for much, much more. Always current: Love is Blind and George Washington.
I’ve been working my way through all of the artists who were born or lived in Salem since I began this blog so many years ago, but one very notable and successful artist whom I have yet to cover is the sculptor John Rogers (1829-1904), chiefly because I don’t really care for his work. They have not aged well, but the “Rogers Groups” were important expressions of American material culture in the later nineteenth century: often Rogers is referred to as the Normal Rockwell of sculptors, and plaster castings of his best-selling works, depicting sentimental scenes of a young couple about to proclaim their marriage vows before a country parson and a convivial games of checkers “up at the farm,” sold thousands of copies for $15.00 each from 1860 to 1890. Even though Rogers studied in Paris like so many aspiring American artists, he firmly rejected the neoclassical sculptural style of his teachers—-and his time—in favor of a more accessible “vernacular” approach. He wanted to be a successful, popular artist more than an artist: he told his mother so, many times, in letters we can read at the New York Historical Society. The mother of John Rogers was Sarah Ellen Derby Rogers (1805-1877), and she is really my interest and my focus; but I can only get to her through him. And my interest in her started with a dress, the beautiful, ethereal, dress seemingly spun from air and mica (but really Indian muslin and silver) which she wore to her wedding reception in 1827.
Indian Muslin and silver wedding reception dress of Sarah Ellen Derby Rogers, 1827, Peabody Essex Museum (Gift of Miss Jeannie Dupee, 1979).
This dress is in the stunning new Asian Export gallery of the Peabody Essex Museum. Since its opening about six weeks ago, I have snuck into see it (and several other things) about three or four times: I’m obsessed with it (and several other things)! The dress is beautiful, but I feel a connection to Sarah largely through her younger sister, Mary Jane Derby (Peabody), who was an artist and the author of a hand-written and -bound journal composed for her grandchildren which a lovely lady from Maine bought at a yard sale and sent to me: I know that I should turn this little book over to her family, or an archive, but I’ve held on to it simply because I cherish it. In the journal, Mary Jane writes about her wonderful childhood in the large mansion on Washington Street that she depicts in one her most alluring paintings. This is the mansion to which Sarah Ellen Derby Rogers would return after her marriage to John Rogers of Boston, and the birthplace of her son John Rogers (Jr.) in 1829.
Mary Ellen Derby, the Pickman-Derby Mansion at 70 Washington Street, c. 1825; Detroit Institute of Arts; a Moulton-Erickson Photograph from the 1880s, Cornell University Library—the house was demolished in 1914 for the present Masonic building; The Margaret,co-owned by Mary Jane’s and Sarah Ellen’s father John Derby, was one of the first American ships to reach Japan, in 1801, Old-time Ships of Salem, Essex Institute, 1917; The Rogers wedding announcement in the Salem Literary and Commercial Observer, June 9, 1827.
Mary Jane and Sarah Ellen Derby seem to have had a perfect Salem childhood growing up in this mansion during Salem’s most prosperous period, the granddaughters of Salem’s most prosperous merchant, Elias Hasket Derby, and the daughters of John Derby, Esq, part-owner of The Margaret, one of the first American ships (and THE first Salem ship) to dock in Japan. I’m so dazzled by her childhood (and her dress) that I make the cardinal historical mistake when I look at the post-marriage life of Sarah Ellen: I judge this life by my own standards and perspectives, rather than hers. By all accounts Sarah and her husband had a happy marriage (they had eight children, after all, of whom John Jr. was the second-eldest) but their lives together don’t seem to have been as comfortable as her Salem life. Despite his Harvard degree and Boston Brahmin pedigree, John Sr. was not a very good businessman: shortly after John Jr.’s birth in 1829 the young family was off to Cincinnati where Mr. Rogers attempted to establish a sawmill (and where Mary Jane met her husband, the Reverend Ephraim Peabody, while visiting her older sister) after this failed it was back to (western) Massachusetts for a silkworm enterprise, which also failed after a few years. There was a brief stint in New Hampshire, and then the (now much larger) Rogers family settled in Roxbury, with John Sr. taking up a post (a political appointment?) at the Boston Custom House which he held for the rest of his life. There was no Harvard for John Jr.: he was briefly established in a Boston apprenticeship before he ran off in pursuit of an artistic career. Perhaps this background explains his entrepreneurial attitude towards that career. All of this makes me feel sorry for Sarah: all those moves,, all those children! Did she have any help? Did she look back at her wedding reception dress and think: how did I get here? But I’m just projecting my own feelings on to her: she had a large and by all accounts happy family and a successful son who addressed all of his letters to that family to her, at its center, or heart (and it looks like despite all of those children, she still might have been able to fit into that dress).
Sarah Ellen Derby Rogers and her family, New York Historical Society Rogers Collection and the archived online exhibit John Rogers: American Stories where you can see more photographs, get more context, and read letters from John to Sarah; Checkers at the Farm—the second most popular work of Rogers—Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Rogers and Son; photograph of “Checkers”, Smithsonian via Essex Institute Lantern slide: E24240; Advertisement for “Checkers”, Harper’s Weekly 3 (March 18, 1876): 235.
I found myself in the western Massachusetts city of North Adams on this past Saturday morning, having driven across the state to sit on a panel for an honors thesis defense at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts the day before. I love the Berkshires, but I must admit that if I’m driving out on Route 2 I generally drive right through North Adams to reach more pastoral destinations except for a few visits to MassMoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, splendidly housed in an old textile/electrical factory in the city center. But as I woke up in North Adams (in a beautiful bedroom at Porches, quite literally in the shadow of Mass MoCA), I was determined to stay there and explore for a bit. So I set off on foot, armed only with my phone, which was loaded with a walking-tour app provided by HistoricNorthAdams, a collaboration between MCLA’s History Department, the North Adams Public Library, and the North Adams Historical Society. After I got the downtown down, I headed up one of the city’s several hills to discover its houses.
Judging from the simple house plaques that adorn many of North Adams’ eclectic Victorians, North Adams became a boomtown in the last three decades of the nineteenth century, with the Arnold Print Works (1862-1942) turning out textiles for a global market from its complex of mill buildings along the Hoosac River—later the home of Sprague Electric, and now Mass MoCa. The Hoosac Tunnel was completed in 1875 (at great cost of treasure and lives—its workers named it the “Bloody Pit”) making North Adams a railway gateway to the west. Walking the streets of the city, you can feel and see the expansion of that era through the architecture: every single structure seems to date from the 1870s and 1880s with nary a Colonial in sight. The sound of hammers must have been constant in this period, along with the smell of smoke. There were several larger Victorians in divided and dilapidated states, but it was also clear that preservation was at work in North Adams, and as our entire region was plunged into a prolonged period of gloomy rain last week, it was nice to be among more colorful houses. This is just a small sampling: I’ll need to go back!
Some of the larger Victorians on Church Street (just above) need some help, but just up the hill is a lovely neighborhood of mostly-restored structures. Below: the Arnold Print Works produced a full line of textiles over their long history, but one of their popular products in the 1890s were these stuffed animal templates (examples below from the collections of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum & Cooper Hewitt): the finished products are very collectible and you can buy reproductions too (here are some Etsy examples).
Because of his entrepreneurial engravings, his silverwork, portraits of him and by him, his storied ride, and his boundless brand, Paul Revere as always been the most material of our Founding Fathers: he didn’t just act, he produced, and after his legendary life was over he continued to be a focus and force of production. As we head into (a rather early) Patriots Day weekend, I am thinking about Revere, mostly in reference to Grant Wood’s 1931 painting The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, which supposedly aims to highlight the mythology overwhelming the event from the publication of Longfellow’s 1863 poem. The painting is so very accessible, however, that I fear that it simply reinforces Revere’s singular ride, or it has just become an aesthetic object: Wood himself transformed the image into a textile design (in which the rider gets lost in the landscape) for the Association of American Artists, and now you can even buy laminated placemats of it on Etsy! Revere the Midnight Rider was featured in a design by Anton Refregier in another “Pioneer Pathways” design, issued in several colorways by Riverdale Fabrics in 1952. A few decades earlier, Walter Mitschke also included Paul Revere’s ride in drawings for his “Early America” series of textile designs produced by R. Mallinson and Company.
Grant Wood, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Textile designs by Grant Wood and Anton Refregier for the Association of American Artists, produced by Riverdale Fabrics as part of the “Pioneer Pathways” series, 1952, Cooper Hewitt Museum; Walter Mitschke’s drawings for the Mallinson Company, 1927, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Obviously Paul Revere’s Ride is larger than the man himself in terms of its myriad representations in text, image, and fabric, but I think the most effective displays are those that were created close to home: Robert Reid’s 1904 mural in the State House, the iconic statue of Cyrus Dallin, the Paul Revere pottery produced by the Saturday Evening Girls Club, all those calendars issued by another institution with a founding- father-affiliation, the John Hancock Life Insurance Company. For a more updated presentation of the route rather than the ride, there is an exhibition of drawings by artist and illustrator Fred Lynch on view now at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in Lexington (which used to be called the National Heritage Museum) titled “Paul Revere’s Ride Revisited”.
Robert Reid mural in the Massachusetts State House, 1904, Caproni Brothers plaster bas-relief sculpture, Skinner Auctions, Tile by Paul Revere Pottery of the Saturday Evening Girls Club, 1917 (decorated by Sara Galner), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; 1889 & 1903 calendars by the John Hancock Life Insurance Company, Historic New England.
Historical imagery often contains symbols and emblems that we don’t understand: we must learn to read them; whereas a contemporary audience could simply see them and understand the message within. I enjoy teasing out the meanings behind images from the past both hereand in class–though here I’ve got a bit more creative freedom, and can chart the evolution of images all the way up to the present, when they have often lost their associations and exist simply as images. A great case in point (literally) is the simple and straightforward arrow: once I’ve swept away my seasonal decorations at home I’m often left with a bunch of arrows here and there as they are seasonless, timeless, and largely meaningless: I simply like their form. This is an Americana week for several auction houses, and yesterday as I was perusing the digital catalog for an important auction of folk art at Sotheby’s (The History of Now: The Important American Folk Art Collection of David Teiger|Sold to Benefit Teiger Foundation for the Support of Contemporary Art) all I could see was arrows, which for the most part had assumed their modern directional meaning on myriad weathervanes.
Prancing Horse, Diana the Huntress, Soaring Bird, and the Goddess of Liberty weathervanes from the Teiger collection, Sotheby’s.
Another lot in this same auction is an incredible later nineteenth-century Chinese wall plaque representing the Great Seal of the United States, with the emblazoned bald eagle clutching a cluster of arrows in his left talon—thirteen to be exact, representing the thirteen colonies, but also strength through unity. There is an explicit sense of martial strength on display as well, projected through the contrast with the olive branch in the eagle’s right talon. The Great Seal’s designer, Charles Thompson, was influenced in his use of arrows by other confederations such as the Iroquois (with their five nations) and the Dutch Republic (with its seven provinces) as well as by early modern emblem books such as Joachim Camerarius’s Symbola et Emblemata (1590-1604), merely substituting them for the more classical lightening bolts.
The Chinese Great Seal and Charles Thompson’s original sketch, US National Archives; Joachim Camerarius, Symbola et Emblemata.
Emblem books are one of the rabbit holes of early modern literature, as you will see if you go here: but you can also find many arrows, representing not only military force, but also time and inevitable mortality, flight, children (Psalm 127), punishment, and of course love, when in one of the countless cupids’ bows. Medieval arrows are never ambiguous: they represent force and violent death in general, and martyrdom in particular. Saint Sebastian (died 288) and King Edmund the Martyr (d. 869) were both attacked by hordes of pagan/heathen archers, and so often depicted as shot so full of arrows they resemble porcupines; arrows remained their essential attributes as their cults developed over the medieval era. In the later medieval era, Sebastian re-emerged as the most popular plague saint, as the arrow came to symbolize the plague itself: the most dramatic expression of this motif is a fourteenth-century fresco on the wall of the former Benedictine Abbey of Saint-André-de-Lavauadieu in France, depicting a faceless woman armed with the arrows of plague and her pierced victims all around her.
Some early modern arrow emblems: “Ich fliehe sehr schnell”– Fly far and fast; “Vis nescia vinci”–force cannot be overcome with force; “Supplicio laus tuta semel”—he that was worthy of praise was one free from punishment; Cupid holds up the world: “Sublato Amore Omnia Ruunt“–When Love is Removed, All things tumble down; the Lavaudieu fresco, and a street sign in Bury St. Edmunds, bearing the three arrow-crossed crowns that have come to symbolize the Anglo-Saxon king Edmund the Martyr.
Back to the future: I guess arrows are just arrows, or mundane symbols telling us where to go, BUT who knew there was a hidden arrow in the FedEx logo? Not me.
Mid-century textile design by Tommi Parzinger, Cooper-Hewitt Museum.
I always commemorate Presidents Day by remembering all (or many) of our presidents rather than just Washington and Lincoln: different themes each year have yielded interesting perspectives on both the institution and the individuals. This year, for instance, as I looked through several archives of textiles associated with presidential campaigns and commemoration, I was surprised to ascertain a certain focus on William Henry Harrison, not really one of our more notable presidents as he died only a month after swearing his oath. Not being an American historian, I was not aware of the coordinated tactics of the 1840 “Log Cabin Campaign” of Whig candidates Harrison and John Tyler, involving popular symbols (the log cabin and whiskey barrel), slogans (“Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”) and silk banners, which dislodged incumbent Martin van Buren. The bulk of Presidential textiles are banners, ribbons, handkerchiefs and bandanas (along with flags, of course), but I also sought out bolts of fabric which could encourage campaign creativity on the part of the constituency, and which likely ended up in quilts in the nineteenth century and on all sorts of creations in the twentieth–when first Teddy Roosevelt and then Dwight Eisenhower dominated textile tactics. In the 1950s, I believe that you could dress yourself exclusively in “I like Ike” garments: I found hats, socks, dresses, underwear, and all manner of accessories for men, women and children so embellished.
All fabrics (Jackson, Harrison in three colorways, Grant, Cleveland fabric and bandana, TR bandana, and Eisenhower items) from Cornell University’s Collection of Political Memorabilia, except the TR pillow cover (from 1906–commemorating the signing of the Treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War, from the George Washington University/Textile Museum exhibition entitled Your Next President . .. ! The Campaign Art of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman) and the Millard Fillmore and Calvin Coolidge “swatches”, which I created myself via Spoonflower.