Tag Archives: Winter

Ice Melt

Yesterday was one of those wonderful winter days when it wasn’t too cold, all of the old dirty snow was coated with a fresh dusting of new, and the sun occasionally peeked out of the light gray sky to transform the trees into glistening statues. Against the light-gray and white backdrop, contrasts were everywhere: I love the contrast of warm brick and cool snow/ice especially, and that can be found anywhere and everywhere in Salem. That dark, gothic, “colonial brown/black” and white looks pretty cool too. The light was so changeable: a bright vignette one moment could be a stark one in the next.

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In the middle of the afternoon, you could see and hear ice melting everywhere, including the ice sculptures assembled for the annual “Salem’s So Sweet ” chocolate and ice sculpture festival last weekend–a record 25 this year. Winnie the Pooh looked so woeful, melted and forlorn in front of the Museum Place Mall, that I couldn’t even take his photograph (you can see a portfolio of all the ice sculptures, in the day and night, here). Some of the hardier statues were still holding their shape, but alas, not poor Pooh.

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A February Day in Salem, 2017.


Winter Dress

Another distraction; it happens to me every time I venture into a digital archive. This time I was looking for Lutheran “cartoons” from the early sixteenth century, and somehow I ended up fixated on a critical caricature of women’s winter dress from a century later: Wie sich ein All’ modo Monsieur im Winter kleiden solle (1629). I’m not sure of the exact translation—how the German gentleman should dress in the winter? (help!)—but I can tell it is a comical critique, as the three women on the right are portrayed as dressing a bit too mannishly (the one in the middle is even wearing pants under her skirt!) and badly-behaving animals are never a good sign. Even though the men look like dashing cavaliers, there is something “off” about them too; I’ve got to dig in and try to translate the accompanying text. Clearly something is rotten in the state of Germany, and it’s not just the Thirty Years’ War. Women are an easy target in early modern print culture because of their dress, in all seasons really, but winter is even easier: one of the more effective satires of flimsy Regency dress is titled Parisian Ladies in their Winter Dress for 1800, reprinted countless times over the next decade.

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winter-dress-1800 Wie sich ein All’ modo Monsieur im Winter kleiden solle (1629), and Parisian Ladies in their Winter Dress for 1800, collection of the British Museum.

The fashion plate dates from the eighteenth century and really thrives in the nineteenth; in these idealistic advertisements there is no judgemental “tone” even though some of the clothing appears almost as impractical as the garb above: light coats or little “mantlets” worn over the dresses of the day. Muffs can never be too big in the eighteenth century, or bustles in the later nineteenth.

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Fashion Plates from 1799 & 1888 in the collection of Claremont Colleges Digital Library.

The dashing, sporty but at the same time elegant “Winter Girl” emerges in the very last decade of the nineteenth century and first decades of the twentieth: cover girls on an array of contemporary magazines and cards. Just as idealistic as fashion plates, really, but more artistic.Two sides of this coin are below: a sporty girl from around 1906 and a very elegant Puck cover from 1911, along with “a slip of girl” cigarette card from 1901, because mockery is always in season.

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Cover and cards, 1901-1911, New York Public Library Digital Collections.


Trudging Along

Yesterday was a beautiful winter day with everyone out and about cleaning up after the Saturday snowstorm, which was not as bad north of Boston as it was to the south.The streets of Salem were clear by mid-morning, if not before (I was sleeping in), and people were engaged in their regular Sunday activities. There were Sunday street-hockey players out my front windows, and hungry birds out back.

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I suddenly became curious about snow removal in the past–mostly because I didn’t want to go out and engage in my own snow removal in the present. I have–and have seen–quite a few historic photographs of winter scenes in Salem in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but none of them feature snow carts, snow plows, or snow removal. Salem has always been quite urban, and people needed to get around, how did they manage? What was the system then that so preoccupies us now? Both the New York Public Library and the Boston Public Library have quite a few photographs of various methods of snow removal in their collections, from simple shovel brigades to “snow rollers”–I’ve never seen anything like that for Salem: anyone out there have anything?

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Chestnut and Lafayette Streets in the 1870s in stereoviews by Charles G. Fogg. Carriages on the snow—not even sleighs! But it’s not too deep here.

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Chestnut Street in the 1890s, deeper snow, no signs of plowing–but these carriages do look like they are on blades. I’ve shown these before; they are from a family archive in the Schlesinger Library at Harvard.

My problem is that I don’t have any winter scenes of Washington or Essex Streets with tracks that needed to be cleared: Chestnut was and remains strictly residential. I still think people trudged around a lot more than we do now, however. Look at these two wonderful photographs of students from the Horace Mann “Training School” associated with the Salem State Normal School (now Salem State University, where I teach) and their teacher, visiting historic sites downtown in the snow.Look at her skirt: she’s not troubled by a little snow.

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E.G. Merrill photographs of Horace Mann students, 1904, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections

Like everything else, our toleration for snow in the streets changed with the automobile: we won’t settle for anything less than black the day after a snowstorm now. The wonderful book by Marblehead artist, photographer, and author Samuel ChamberlainSalem in Four Seasons (1938) shows winter streets cleared for cars and pedestrians. And he agrees with me: some of Salem’s most beautiful moments are in winter, when few visitors see it (though a lot more now, fortunately).

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Plowing Chestnut Street in the 1930s, from Samuel Chamberlain’s Salem in Four Seasons (1938).


Snowy Salem Saturday

A welcome snow day today, imposing calm on everyone–or at least me! I’ve always enjoyed winter, but the SuperWinter of two years ago, in which something like 11 feet of snow was dumped on us in February, tempered my appreciation for this particular season considerably. The snow was all around the house, the snow was in the house, and I plodded to work every day in tunnels of yellow snow. I felt a little vulnerable, especially when I woke up in the morning to see the latest damage inflicted on my plaster ceilings by ice dams. But all of that is fixed now, and we spent last year, with its relatively light winter, rebuilding our chimneys, sealing our windows, and putting on a new roof. Now I feel impenetrable, at least for this first snow storm. I’m sure hardly anyone agrees with me, but I think winter is Salem’s best season actually–I like to see the city return to a car-less state: it’s as close as you can come to seeing it in its glorious past. There’s a timeless quality to a snowy day, and the contrast of nature and structure is never more apparent. Here’s a few photographs I took as I walked around a very calm city this afternoon.

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Chestnut Street, Essex Street, and the Common.

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Two notable Salem houses in varying stages of restoration.

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Gambrel roofs embellished by snow.

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Some contrast; Trinity does not really care for snow.


Skiing through the Depression

Certain eras have a visual signature that is much more assertive than others, and when it comes to the last century, I’ve always thought that the 1930s was a very strong decade in terms of graphic design, in sharp contrast to the weakness of the economy. Is there an inverse relationship between art and anxiety? I think so. The bold WPA posters with their fat fonts seem like compensation for the bleakness and leanness of the times, and so too do commercial posters from that era. You see just one, and immediately you know when and why it was made: Cheer Up! An upcoming auction of vintage posters at Swann’s Auction Galleries is dominated by skiing posters from the 1930s, several of them designed by American artist Sascha Maurer (1897-1961) who seems to have specialized in this very specific genre. Whether they were sponsored by the railroad, or the ski manufacturer, or the resort, they all show shiny happy people on the slopes, and a bright world not too far from home for some, but still probably quite inaccessible. Go Skiing!

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Vintage Ski Posters by Sascha Maurer , c. 1935-37, Swann Auction Galleries auctions past and upcoming.


Ice Sculptures 2016

This weekend is the annual Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate and Ice Sculpture Festival, sponsored by Salem Main Streets, The Salem Chamber of Commerce, and Destination Salem, as well as all of the downtown businesses which underwrote the installation of ice sculptures on the sidewalks of Salem. It’s such a lovely idea, especially for a city that (in my opinion) has put too many eggs in the one basket of witchcraft tourism. As I walked by kitschy witchy businesses displaying signs on their front doors indicating that they were “closed for the season” (of course they meant the off-season, which is most of the year), it was a pleasure to see enthusiastic picture-takers clustered around ice sculptures of Gustave Klimt’s The Kiss, various sea creatures, and the Mad Hatter, and even imbibing in Rockefella’s amazing ice bar, which must take the prize this year. It was a beautiful day–not too cold–and sunny, so lots of people were out and about and the restaurants looked busy. Last year’s snowmaggedon must have chilled this event a bit (though it was still definitely on) but this year’s weather was perfect–and several of the statues were illuminated at night for the first time.

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Just a few of the ice sculptures downtown this weekend: you can download the map of the rest here.


White on White

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

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

Chestnut Street in Winter 1890s


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