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Historic NEW ENGLAND

PRESENTED BY THE SOCIETY FOR T H E P R E S E RVAT I O N O F NEW ENGLAND ANTIQUITIES WINTER/SPRING 2007

A VISIT WITH BERT AND NINA LITTLE


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FROM THE CHAIR

Historic NEW ENGLAND Winter/Spring 2007 Vol. 7, No.3

A Visit with Bert and Nina Little 2

EzraStoller@Esto

A key initiative supporting Historic New England’s mission to preserve the built environment is the new Historic Homeowner membership category. During my years on the Stewardship Committee, I was struck by the Property Care Team’s extensive expertise in maintaining historic structures, acquired as a result of preserving our own museum properties over many decades. The purpose of the Historic Homeowner membership is to share this expertise with a broad group of property owners by offering access to our special knowledge at a reasonable cost. Launched just six months ago, the program has a growing list of members who have benefited from advice as varied as choosing a historically appropriate color scheme or adding a wing without compromising a home’s period character. Most New Englanders live in twentiethcentury housing, which, we may be surprised to discover, is becoming increasingly “historic.” Maintaining these houses in a sensitive manner poses problems not faced by owners of homes built before the industrial era, because many machine-made products are no longer available. The Historic Homeowner program is supremely well equipped to deal with maintenance questions of any older home, regardless of its date. I urge you to consider joining for yourselves and to recommend the membership to your friends.

Modern Houses on the Cusp of History 18

S P OT L I G H T

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America’s Kitchens 8

P R E S E RVAT I O N

Caring for your Silver M A K I N G F U N O F H I S TO RY

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Sleighs and Sleds

—Harold Carroll

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MUSEUM SHOP

Sharing the Wealth COLLECTIONS

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A Legacy of Craftsmanship Historic New England 141 Cambridge Street Boston MA 02114-2702 (617) 227-3956 HISTORIC NEW ENGLAND magazine is a benefit of membership. To join Historic New England, please visit our website, HistoricNew England.org or call (617) 227-3957, ext.273. Comments? Please call Nancy Curtis, editor at (617) 227-3957, ext.235. Historic New England is funded in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Executive Editor Diane Viera

Editor Nancy Curtis

LANDSCAPE

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Landscapes of Remembrance N E W S : N E W E N G L A N D & B E YO N D AC Q U I S I T I O N S

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The Old Hearth

Design DeFrancis Carbone Except where noted, all historic photographs and ephemera are from Historic New England’s Library and Archives.

COVER Cogswell’s Grant, Essex, Massachusetts.

Photograph by David Carmack. V I S I T U S O N L I N E AT

w w w. H i s t o r i c N ew E n g l a n d . o r g


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Museum Design Associates

S P O T L I G H T

America’s Kitchens

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hat does the term “American kitchen” mean to you? This is one of many questions that Historic New England staff have been asking since starting two years ago to develop a traveling exhibition on the history of the kitchen in America from the seventeenth century to the present. To determine potential interest in a kitchen show, a consultant queried focus groups on Historic New England’s behalf. Overwhelmingly, the groups responded that they would enjoy an exhibition that included both personal stories and interactive, handson experiences. This information is directing the exhibition planning team’s thinking towards human stories, with kitchen technology and architecture in secondary roles. As Curator Nancy Carlisle writes, “More than any other rooms in the home, kitchens are about relationships—connecting people with other

people, as well as with food, space, technology, and work. These relationships change over time, and across class, gender, and region. Through this exhibition, we aim to engage visitors in a deeper understanding of these relationships in their own lives.” Historic New England’s team also meets periodically with a group of distinguished historians and museum professionals, who serve in an advisory capacity, and with staff from Museum Design Associates of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who are in the final phase of concept development. The exhibition will feature a series of vignettes, including a New England kitchen (based on Historic New England’s Coffin House in Newbury, Massachusetts), as well as an entire original 1950s kitchen from Levittown, Pennsylvania, all richly furnished with objects and enriched with sounds, media, and even smell. Thematic clusters will examine such topics as children and cooking, food

preservation, and present-day kitchens. Visitors will be invited to share their own kitchen stories, and there will be plenty of family-friendly activities. We are currently seeking photographs of kitchens taken after the year 2000. Visit www.AmericasKitchens.org to learn how you can submit a photograph of your kitchen for possible inclusion in a media slide show within the exhibition. The exhibition will open in the spring of 2008 at the Indianapolis Historical Society, Indiana, and then travels to the Oregon Historical Society, Portland; the National Building Museum, Washington, D.C; the National Heritage Museum, Lexington, Massachusetts; and the Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis. —Ken Turino Exhibitions Manager

Winter/Spring 2007 Historic New England

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A Visit with

Bert and Nina Little


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“It’s just like stepping back

into the eighteenth century”

T

hose were the words of one visitor to Cogswell’s Grant, the summer home of Betram K. and

Nina Fletcher Little, when it first opened to the public in 1998. Responding to the overall atmosphere of the place, the visitor obviously did not notice the television set in the sitting room or stop to think that no room in a colonial house would ever contain so many objects, let alone have decoys marching across book shelves or peering out from beneath a settle beside a fireplace. Those details speak not to the eighteenth century but clearly to the Littles’ life in the house in the twentieth century, as well as to their personal collecting interests, accumulated knowledge, and wonderful sense of humor. In a larger sense, the whole house reflects the interest in antiques and the American past and how it developed and changed over the Littles’ lifetimes.

When Bert and Nina Little purchased the c.1730 farmhouse in Essex, Massachusetts, in August 1937, they had already become very interested in old houses, “the old house business,” as Nina once referred to it. Three years earlier, she had set forth her forward-looking ideas on restoration, preservation, and furnishing old houses in an article titled “Restoring the Personality of an Old House.” So when the couple went looking for a summer house for themselves and their family, one of their goals was to find one that indeed could be restored following this approach. The architectural features of the somewhat run-down and vacant-looking farmhouse appealed to them immediately Grained woodwork, a contemporary-looking decoy, carved ship’s billetheads, and a painting of a ship launching by John S. Blunt, c. 1815, invite visitors into the front hall. ABOVE LEFT In the green sitting room, a portrait by John Durand hangs above one of the Littles’ favorite pieces, a c.1750 dressing table updated in the 1830s with rosewood graining. ABOVE RIGHT The Littles, shown here in 1973, enjoyed fifty summers at Cogswell’s Grant. FACING PAGE

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The downstairs guest room is a microcosm of the Littles’ varied interests—early furniture, hand-made textiles, landscape paintings, and carved birds. BELOW The same room as it ABOVE LEFT

and were perhaps even more intriguing because all the woodwork had been painted white and every fireplace had been blocked up. Nina later recalled, “Personally, I couldn’t wait to get at the restoration of the house!” What the Littles did to each room and the reasons for their decisions are detailed in extensive notes, several articles, and in two oral histories I was privileged to record in 1976. Investigating, documenting, and restoring the house was a memorable experience for them both—so much so that they included tales of their discoveries during the restoration in the tours they gave for years thereafter. Besides opening up the large fireplaces in two first-floor rooms, the Littles made the exciting discovery of decorative painting on the woodwork of some of the rooms. Just about a month after they passed papers, they invited Clarence and Esther Stevens Brazer to look over the house with them. The Brazers were fellow old house and antiques enthusiasts, and Esther Stevens Brazer was already known for her pioneering studies of decorative painting on both furniture and walls. Mrs. Brazer scraped the paint in all the rooms to determine 4

Historic New England Winter/Spring 2007

looked when it was first furnished in 1940. ABOVE RIGHT A typewriter, catalogue cards, and notebooks are testament to Nina Little’s voluminous research and correspondence, much of it done in this

the original colors and took particular care when scraping the large fielded panels over the fireplaces in the sitting room and bedroom above it in case they contained pictorial scenes. Although they did not, she did uncover distinctive color schemes in those rooms and in the stair hall. The Littles hired her to come back for two weeks in June of 1939 to replicate the decorative painting that she found. Bert Little always delighted in pointing to a change in color on the fireplace wall of the green sitting room and recounting the story that when Mrs. Brazer ran out of green paint he went to several local paint stores, and not finding what she needed, went to Boston “even though,” he noted, “it was a Saturday.” The green paint he brought back was a bluer shade than what she had been using, but the job had to be finished. The Littles lived with the discrepancy and enjoyed telling the tale. Early in their marriage, Bert and Nina Little became interested in antiques in addition to old houses. Nina credited Edna Greenwood, the wife of one of Bert’s cousins, for her love of country antiques and appreciation of original finishes. “All


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small office off the green sitting room. ABOVE LEFT The dresser in the dining room, one of the Littles’ first purchases, is full to overflowing with a collection of utilitarian pieces of New England redware. In contrast, hearty meals of farm fare were served on English

the early things that I learned about antiques were learned from Edna Greenwood. She took me around to country auctions—when auctions really were country auctions— and she told me that I could pick up old things, simple old things, for less than I could reproductions.” Edna Greenwood had a definite aesthetic, and according to Nina, “never refinished anything.” After the Littles moved into Cogswell’s Grant, they decided that they too “would buy things, if possible with the old finish, the old paint, and not do any restoration or refinishing that was not completely necessary.” This pioneering approach to earlier finishes was one that always distinguished the Littles’ collection and came to have a profound influence on later generations of collectors and museum curators. The atmosphere created by Edna Greenwood at her c.1705 house, Time Stone Farm in Marlborough, Massachusetts, also had an enormous effect on the Littles, and Nina said more than once that she thought that her visits there were as close as she would ever get to the eighteenth century. “We liked that farm very much; we admired it, we felt comfortable there.” Not surprisingly, they sought to recreate some of the effects of Time Stone Farm at Cogswell’s Grant. There it is most apparent in the downstairs guest room, with its exposed beam ceiling and its eclectic array of objects.

transfer-printed blue Staffordshire. ABOVE RIGHT In a humorous juxtaposition, the Littles hung a nineteenth-century temperance painting and this redware plate in the pantry, where evening drinks were mixed.

While the Littles preferred eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century material, Nina remarked that “we’ve never been tied down to period collecting.” They bought objects of any age that they felt were good of their type and that appealed to them. They also bought objects that piqued their curiosity, ones, as Bert said, that opened up “new avenues of interest… new things that you can look up and try to learn more about.” In the early years of their collecting, they looked for opportunities to buy things directly from families, either at private house sales or at auction. Many of the objects at Cogswell’s Grant were acquired in this manner and thus share family histories. Nina felt strongly that collectors shouldn’t just enjoy owning such objects but also had a responsibility to preserve their family histories and connections. While serious about documentation, the Littles also had fun collecting and often mentioned a minor but definite element in their pursuit was finding objects that had personality. This is particularly apparent in the expressions on the array of decoys and other animal forms placed about the house. Nina Little’s research is legendary. In the course of her life she authored over one hundred and fifty articles, books, and book reviews, nearly fifty of them for The Magazine Antiques. She delved right into the records related to Winter/Spring 2007 Historic New England

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Nina Little did pioneering research on many littleknown American artists. Portraits by George Gassner, Ammi Phillips, and Benjamin Greenleaf hang in the second floor rooms. ABOVE LEFT

Cogswell’s Grant, the name they gave to the property, to learn as much as she could, and in 1940, published two quite different articles on the place. She set forth her documentary research in deeds and inventories in the Essex Institute Historical Collections and the newly restored, sparsely furnished rooms were illustrated in Antiques. Even though the couple were students of the past and were aware of a 1752 probate inventory that itemized what Jonathan Cogswell had in each room, they never felt compelled to create period room settings. Cogswell’s Grant was always called “the farm” by the Little family and Nina’s very definite ideas of what she considered “suitable” for a rural farmhouse guided what was placed in its rooms. “Simple,” “informal,” and “country” were the words she most frequently used to describe the furnishings of the house. If an object had associations with Essex County, so much the better. And in addition to antiques for the main rooms of the house, the Littles were equally happy to find a rain barrel for one of the barns or an interesting object in the attic of a house that they could transfer to their own attic. 6

Historic New England Winter/Spring 2007

The stack of Shaker boxes has become an icon of the American country look. ABOVE RIGHT A wooden train placed in front of a painted train on a tavern sign is typical of how the Littles BELOW

The rooms at Cogswell’s Grant were never static. The collections grew with the couple’s expanding interests as well as with their involvement with other museums’ collections. While Bert was fulfilling his obligations as director of the Society for the Preservation of New England, now Historic New England, Nina was able to able to take on projects like teaching courses at the Seminars in Early American Culture at the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown, New York, writing the first catalogue for the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection in Williamsburg, Virginia, and developing the furnishing scheme for the Salem Towne House at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Each of these experiences honed her research skills and sharpened her eye. The sparsely furnished rooms of the 1940s increasingly gave way to a rich tapestry of painted furniture, redware, carved weather vanes, hooked rugs, and paintings of the New England landscape and some of its quite stern inhabitants—all arranged with a keen eye for form and color. In addition to being the backdrop to this growing collection, Cogswell’s Grant was a place for the Littles to enjoy their


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arranged related objects. ABOVE Bert and Nina Little shared the joys of collecting and researching. Here they are at work in the

family and to entertain friends. The family photograph albums, called “The Farm Books,” record not only the arrival of livestock for the barn and antiques for the house but also family weddings and the first visits of grandchildren. Celebrating Bert’s birthday in July was always a major summer event. The guest book chronicles the visits by the Littles’ closest museum colleagues and dealer friends. Alice Winchester, long-time editor of Antiques magazine, visited most summers for forty years. In 1994 she vividly recalled a typical visit— upon arrival, “Nina would promptly sit me down and give me time to look at their recent acquisitions. We would examine each one closely, noting its distinctive characteristics, and Nina would tell me what she had learned of its history and significance, and of its relation to something else in the collection.” Others, no doubt, had similar experiences. In the days before publications like Maine Antiques Digest and Antiques and The Arts Weekly, lively conversations revolved around news in the antiques world—upcoming sales, recent discoveries, and what was going on in museums. Cogswell’s Grant was very much a retreat for Bert and Nina Little, but they generously shared it with historical societies, collectors, and students of all ages—as well as with the many members of the Cogswell family who made pilgrim-

Cogswell’s Grant parlor, preparing the index for Nina’s first book, American Decorative Wall Painting, published in 1952.

ages to see the ancestral homestead. The Walpole Society, a group of collectors from across the country of which Bert was a member, visited the collection and was entertained at dinner several times; members of the Rushlight Club, one of the collectors’ clubs formed in Boston in the 1930s, was invited to study the collection of early lighting devices. And Nina always graciously shared her knowledge of specific objects with graduate students and young curators. One could not help being inspired by the Littles or influenced by their collection in some way. A couple from Ohio summed up the experience of many who visited the Littles at Cogswell’s Grant when they wrote in the guest book, “Must return— what treasures, just like the couple who have put it here for many to learn and enjoy.” —Richard C. Nylander Senior Curator

Visit Cogswell’s Grant from June 1 through October 15, Wednesday through Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm, free to members of Historic New England.

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P R E S E R V A T I O N

D av id

Carm

Caring for your Silver

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ilver has long been prized for its lustrous beauty, but unlike gold, silver soon discolors and tarnishes with exposure to sulfurous gases and pollutants in the environment. Proper handling and storage of silver will limit the amount of corrosion and discoloration from tarnish. Always handle your silver with gloves and store it, wrapped in acidfree tissue, inside protective bags embedded with sulfur scavenging materials (such as Pacific Silver Cloth or Corrosion Intercept bags) when not on display. When you want your silver to shine, it is important to be careful in handling and cleaning it so as not to cause long-term damage. Commercial products—pre-mixed polishes, polishing cloths and waddings, liquids and foams, and chemical dips—are not rec-

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ommended for use on antique silver or museum pieces because they can leave residues or be too abrasive. Chemical dips can pit the silver surface with prolonged contact and even be harmful to the user. Polishing cloths, which have fewer abrasives than other products, are the gentlest commercial products available, but they too can cause damage if used too aggressively and so are recommended only for removing light surface discoloration and buffing. The safest method to polish silver is to use a very fine polishing paste you can easily make yourself from precipitated calcium carbonate mixed with distilled water and ethanol (denatured alcohol). The materials can be ordered (see information on facing page), and once you have them on

hand, the process of polishing is actually easier than using a commercial product. Before you start working on your object, it is important to understand it. Is it sterling silver or silver plate? Does it have non-metal parts such as wooden handles or finials or other decorative details made out of ivory, bone, shell, or some other organic material? Is the foot or bottom of the piece covered with felt or fabric? Is the base or other hollow area filled or weighted? Plated objects, such as Sheffield plate, have only a thin layer of silver applied over a copper substrate. This thin layer of silver is very easily abraded and removed with excessive polishing (see figure to left); plated objects should be polished infrequently. Non-metal decorative elements should not come in contact with

ack


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the polish or water during the cleaning process. It is essential that you protect these materials before you begin. To begin, prepare a work area with good ventilation, cover your work surface with a clean soft towel, and wear cotton, polypropylene, or nitrile gloves (not latex or rubber) so that oils and salts from your skin do not come in contact with the metal. Next, gently remove all loose dust from the surface of the piece with a soft natural-bristle brush or electrostatic dusting cloth. This will ensure that abrasive dust particles will not scratch the metal surface during polishing. Protect all non-metal parts and decorative elements by wrapping them with Teflon® tape (a thin white waterproof tape used in plumbing) to protect them from contact with water and the calcium carbonate paste. Teflon® tape is safe to use on your object as it contains no adhesives but will stick to itself when tightly wrapped. Wrap the tape around the handle or finial several times to ensure full coverage of the element. Once all areas have been protected, gently wipe the object with a soft cotton cloth dampened with distilled water. Do not submerge it, as water can easily be trapped inside hollow handles and areas in the vessel that are difficult to dry or clean. Dry it thoroughly with a soft, clean cotton cloth and allow it to stand for a while in warm air. Prepare a polish paste of precipitated calcium carbonate powder, distilled water, and ethanol. Place a small

1

2

mound of the powder into the center of a shallow dish, slowly mix in water until it forms a paste with the consistency of cream, and to this slurry add a few drops of ethanol. Use the corner of a soft cotton cloth or a hand-wrapped cotton swab to apply the polish to the object’s surface (figure 1). To make a swab, pull a small amount of cotton from a cotton ball and twist it onto the pointed tip of a bamboo skewer by holding the cotton and skewer between your thumb and index finger and rolling the skewer to the left. Rolling your own swabs is important, as you can make both large soft bulbous swabs for applying polish and small tight ones to use around applied handles and spouts and in raised decoration. Commercially produced swabs are not recommended, as they are too tightly wound and may scratch the soft silver surface. Apply the polish with an even, circular motion. Do not use too much pressure, as silver scratches easily. You don’t need to use a lot of paste to be effective; too much will become thick and clumpy and will not effectively remove the tarnish build-up. Discard the cotton swab—or rotate the soft cotton cloth—as soon as either one becomes soiled, so that corrosive particles from the tarnish that have transferred to the swab or cloth will not abrade the metal surface. Work on a small area at a time, and gently brush off the polish with a soft natural bristle brush or cloth as soon as it dries (figure 2). As you move around the object, check the areas you have cleaned to make sure

that you are not scratching the surface by pressing too hard with your swab or cloth. When you have finished polishing, remove any residual chalk by wiping off the object with a clean soft cloth dampened with distilled water. Carefully examine any recessed areas of decoration and around lips and handles to be sure that you have removed any embedded polish, as residue will attract and hold moisture to the surface of the metal and, over time, will corrode and pit the surface. Use the softened tip of a bamboo skewer, a small hand-rolled swab, or a small soft natural-bristle paint brush to release trapped polish residue (figure 3). After cleaning, be sure to dry the piece thoroughly so that no water is trapped in small recesses and crevices. You can keep your polished silver looking bright by regularly dampwiping the surface (using distilled water and a soft cotton cloth) to keep tarnish build-up to a minimum. Properly storing your silver when not on display or in use will also help ensure that it is protected. —Julie Solz Team Leader, Collection Services Clockwise: Porringer, 1780–1800, Stephen Emery, Boston; Teapot, 1805– 06, Ann, Peter and William Bateman, London; Nut Basket, 1870–1880, Bigelow Kennard, Co., Boston; Pitcher, 1917, Shreve, Crump & Low, Co., Boston; Cream Pot, c. 1750, Daniel Parker, Boston; Sugar Tongs, 1820–30, M.P. Stickney, Newburyport, Massachusetts.

FACING PAGE

3 Buy a silver polishing kit for $12.95 at Historic New England’s online shop at www.HistoricNewEngland.org or by calling (617) 227-3956 ext. 237. Supplies may be purchased separately from conservation supply catalogues such as Talas (212) 219-0770 (www.talas-online.com).

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M A K I N G

F U N

O F

H I S T O R Y

When deep snow made wheeled carriages impractical, early New Englanders hitched their horses to sleighs. The sleighs’ metal runners glided easily over snow and ice, and horses were shod with special winter horseshoes that gave them good traction. Although we no longer use sleighs to get around in the winter, children still find it thrilling to fly down a hill covered with freshly fallen snow on their sleds.

Sleighs and Sleds By 1700

1776

1790

1887

1924

The word sleigh (from Dutch slee) is common in New England.

Cannons from Fort Ticonderoga, N.Y., were dragged to Boston on “sledges.”

First iceboat in North America is a box with runners on four corners.

Flexible Flyer sled with “super steering” is patented.

Bobsled competition is included in the first winter Olympics.





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do you know 

Can you guess what this is?

This is a foot warmer. Imagine that you are riding in a sleigh on a beautiful, crisp winter day—and think how cold your feet might get after a little while. But you’d be comfortable if you had a foot warmer like this one. There would be hot coals inside the drawer, and you could control the heat by adjusting the vents on each end. More air would make the coals burn hot; less air would turn the heat “down.” The foot warmer’s carpet covering would make a toasty place to rest your feet, and to top it all off, you would be covered up with a fur lap robe that would hold in the heat.


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dashing through the snow With its characteristic curve at the front, which keeps things from falling off and allows easy passage over obstacles, the toboggan is one of the most recognizable types of sleds. You may think of the toboggan as a sporting sled, but the first ones were made by American Indians, who used them to transport game and supplies over the snow. Toboggans can attain great speeds and have therefore long been the favorite sled of thrill seekers.

bout your favorite sledding exp erience. Tell me a Write m e at CaseyTheClock@HistoricNewEngland.org used a grandfather clock as and I’ll tell you a story about some kids who 1925 A team of sled dogs raced 650 miles to Nome, Alaska, to bring medicine during the diphtheria epidemic.

oute they took is now The rmorated every ye comme ar t i a d r I o d e race. by th

a sled!

1937

1950s

Joseph Armand Bombardier introduces the snowmobile.

Kalamazoo Sled Company manufactures the first round, plastic “Flying Disk.”

a snow stroller? Many types of everyday items were adapted for winter use. This “stroller” sleigh was used by the Pierce family of Dorchester, Massachusetts, in the 1800s. Before there were cars, New Englanders used a variety of means of transportation that are not familiar to us today.

Find these details from the pictures in this magazine.

!

Challenge

Answers can be found on page 21. Winter/Spring 2007 Historic New England

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M A K I N G

F U N

O F

H I S T O R Y

Jingle Bells Although the words of the 1859 song “Jingle Bells” may make you think that the bells’ main function was to add an extra level of merriment to a sleigh ride, the bells actually served an important practical purpose. Sleighs glide almost silently, and snow muffles the sound made by the horses. To ward off accidents and alert other travelers and pedestrians, especially at night, people attached strings of bells to the horses’ harnesses. If the jingling added to the delight of riding in a sleigh, so much the better. —Gail White Education Program Coordinator

Make a set of sleigh bells for your bedroom door. Doorknob sleigh bells 3 or 4 bells (from a craft store) 3 eighteen-inch colorful pipe cleaners 3 or 4 nine-inch pieces of ribbon scissors 1. Twist the pipe cleaners tightly and neatly together at one end and then braid them, leaving one inch unbraided at the end. 2. Bend the braid into a circle and secure by tightly wrapping two of the unbraided pipe cleaners together. 3. Tie a bell to the end of each piece of ribbon and trim the ends. 4. Tie the other ends of the ribbons to the pipe cleaner circle at the joint. 5. Wrap the third end of pipe cleaner around the tied ribbon ends to secure. 12

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Hang the bells on your bedroom doorknob. When the weather warms up, hang them on the handlebars of your bike.


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M U S E U M

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S H O P

Sharing the Wealth ince I came to Historic New England in 2003, I have looked for ways to increase public access to our incredibly rich historic resources. Because publication is one of the most effective ways of doing this, we have embarked on a project to produce a series of beautifully printed, affordable books focusing on an aspect of our collections. The Camera’s Coast, Historic Images of Ship and Shore in New England, is the inaugural volume, with text by maritime historian Bill Bunting and an introduction by Harvard professor John R. Stilgoe. It is an absolutely splendid book—beautifully printed, with witty and informative captions—that will enchant you from the moment you first glance into it. I am confident that you will find it impossible to put down. The book grew out of Historic New England’s traveling exhibition of historic maritime photographs, for which Bill Bunting served as guest

S

curator. Supplementing the black-and-white images is a diverse array of colorful ephemera from the Library and Archives—old postcards, advertisements, posters, steamer tickets—that provides context for or offers sly comment upon the subjects depicted in the photographs. It takes some study to see how the ephemera relates to the main photo, which contributes to the engaging nature of this innovative book. Bunting’s lively text provides the stories behind the images— sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic, but always captivating. The book will appeal to the specialist and the general reader alike; indeed, it will delight anyone who ever whiled away the hours gazing at the sea.

The Camera’s Coast: Historic Images of Ship and Shore in New England. 144 pages, with 252 black-and-white photographs and color illustrations. Soft cover. $29.95; member price $26.95 (plus shipping and tax). To order, call (617) 227-3957, ext. 237 or order online at www.HistoricNew England.org.

—Carl R. Nold President and CEO

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C O L L E C T I O N S

Legacy of Craftsmanship A

uring the course of its 130-year history, the Perry Paint Company was responsible for painting and decorating some of America’s most famous buildings. When the company was sold in the late 1980s, Samuel D. Perry, the fourth generation to have worked in the family firm, recognized along with other family members the importance of preserving the company’s archives and donated them to Historic New England. In a recent conversation with Lorna Condon, curator of Library and Archives, Perry reflected upon his family’s business. Their discussion appears on the following pages.

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Photograph, c. 1906, of the company headquarters at 44 Winchester Street, Boston; a sampling of fabrics, wallpaper, paint finishes, and decorative moldings reflecting the variety of services offered by the firm; and a plaster relief depicting the Three Graces modeled by John Singer Sargent.

THIS PAGE

Chinese wallpaper hung in the Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia. FACING PAGE, ABOVE Company sign, with elegant lettering on painted wood. FACING PAGE, RIGHT Samuel D. Perry examines a book from the company’s reference library. FACING PAGE, LEFT


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Craven, leaving my grandfather, Edward K. Perry, and his brother John to reorganize as Lewis F. Perry and Sons, a company they operated together until the 1920s. In 1927, the two brothers divided this company, owing to philosophical differences about its future. My grandfather reincorporated his half as the Edward K. Perry Company, which continued in operation until the late 1980s.

LC. Sam, please talk about the company’s founding and its

early history. SP. My great-grandfather, the first Lewis F. Perry, founded the company in South Dedham, Massachusetts (now Norwood), in 1858. Surviving account books from that time record that he began by working for family and friends in the area. By the mid-1860s, he had moved the company to Boston and rented space in the garret of the Old Corner Book Store. The fledgling company’s big break came in 1876 –77, when my greatgrandfather assisted John LaFarge with the decoration of Trinity Church in Boston. By the 1890s, the company’s reputation was sufficiently established so that it was only natural for Cornelius Vanderbilt and his architect, Richard Morris Hunt, to engage the company to paint The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island. We know from the company’s original survey sheets that the work cost approximately $285,000, which was a pretty large sum then and in today’s dollars would be in the tens of millions. Around the turn of the twentieth century, a cousin, Benjamin Whitney, joined the firm. At that time the business expanded from just painting to the full scope of interior decorating—carpets, upholstery, curtains, furnishings, and even stained glass. At one point, the company employed over 165 craftsmen working three shifts per day. Following a disastrous office fire in 1908, Ben Whitney left the company to start what ultimately became Roach and 16

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LC. Please list some of the company’s greatest achievements. SP. I have already mentioned Trinity Church and The Breakers. In addition, the company worked with John Singer Sargent on the decoration of the Boston Public Library, the Rotunda of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Memorial Room at Harvard’s Widener Library. Sargent even maintained a temporary studio at the company. In 1899, my great-grandfather painted the interior of Boston’s Symphony Hall. That paint job, with its acoustic properties, remained untouched for sixty-eight years, until my father, the second Lewis F. Perry, oversaw its restoration in 1967. Other important commissions included the Brigham Annex of the Massachusetts State House, period rooms at the Metropolitan Museum and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Winterthur, Radio City Music Hall, Colonial Williamsburg, Historic Deerfield, and Old Sturbridge Village. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater was also one of the firm’s commissions. My grandfather often boasted that in traveling up and down the East Coast, one could visit numerous important buildings that had been painted by the company. LC. What made the company’s work so special and highly

sought after? SP. The level of craftsmanship and the finishes. My grandfather developed a number of special decorative techniques. For example, his ammonia stains burn “color” directly into the wood to highlight the grain in a way that an oil-based stain, which sits directly on the surface of the wood, cannot. The company also created the technique of encaustic water glazing, which involves floating several layers of differing “colors” over a casein or craftex base. Because protein-based paints are remarkably stable and long-lasting, we called this


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Page from an early twentieth-century calendar listing the firm's services around the border. BELOW The Sample Room at the company’s offices at 322 Newbury Street, Boston, in 1986. BOTTOM Pages from one of the books, many of them rare, included in the firm's large reference library, and a sample detail of the ironwork by Samuel Yellin, installed to form teller enclosures at the former State Street Trust Company’s main office at 53 State Street, Boston. LEFT

technique our “one-hundred-year finish.” My grandfather would tell me, “You paint once and then spend the next fifty or sixty years cleaning and washing— that is all that is necessary.” Perfection was the goal of the firm. It was not uncommon for the company’s painters to apply more than eleven coats in order to achieve a desired effect. LC. Please describe your family’s gift to Historic New England. SP. When the company was sold in 1986, Mother and I felt that it was of the utmost importance to preserve the records of the firm, especially the contents of the Sample Room. The Sample Room contained examples of the firm’s work dating back to the 1890s. There are many thousands of cards and boards which illustrate decorative finishes and paint colors employed by the firm. The firm’s extensive reference library was also part of the gift. These volumes were sources of inspiration for my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father. In addition, hundreds of stencils, some designed and cut by John Singer Sargent, came with the donation. Other objects included architectural fragments and samples of wallpaper, marble, fabric, architectural drawings, and photographs. By giving the collection to Historic New England, we knew that it would not only be preserved but would be readily accessible to researchers.

The Perry Paint Company collection is a unique document of American taste and practice in the decorative arts and a significant resource for anyone researching the history of interior design. It is valuable from a variety of standpoints: as a record of nineteenth- and twentieth-century paint technology and technique; as an archive of the original colors and wall treatments for hundreds of historic buildings and private homes; and as a record of the history of a long-lived family business. Historic New England gratefully acknowledges the Perry family for their gift of the company archive and Sam Perry for his ongoing support of and interest in the collection.

Design for trompe l’oeil ceiling at the First Congregational Church on Nantucket. FACING PAGE, BOTTOM Stencil, one of a number in the collection, cut by John Singer Sargent. FACING PAGE, TOP

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Phokion Karas

Modern Houses on the Cusp of History

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even years into the twenty-first century, we can begin to look back on the 1900s with a historian’s eye. In terms of New England architecture, many of our twentieth-century design icons are designated National Historic Landmarks, among them Historic New England’s Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. Beyond these masterworks, though, interest and appreciation for the region’s Modernist houses often lag behind other parts of the country, and even works by some of the century’s most noted architects face demolition or loss. Individual high-style modern houses dotting New England’s coastline and ski slopes and whole suburban subdivisions built on Modernist planning and design principles go largely unrecognized, while examples on the West Coast are celebrated by devotees of 1950s and ’60s design. Justly recognized as a modern masterpiece, the 1938 Gropius House epitomizes the aesthetic principles of the International Style (volume as opposed to solidity, regularity as opposed to symmetry, and intrinsic as opposed to applied

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Historic New England Winter/Spring 2007

ornament). However, the Gropius House is not simply a highly personal and significant expression of Bauhaus principles, but also part of a unique neighborhood on Woods End Road, where, between 1937 and 1939, on twenty acres provided by Helen Osborne Storrow from her South Lincoln estate, Gropius and his Harvard Graduate School of Design colleagues, architects Marcel Breuer and Walter Bogner, built the earliest enclave of International Style houses in the country. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, Woods End Road represents a significant social experiment in which the residents organized themselves to cooperate on common concerns related to their lives together as neighbors. In 1947, a group of young architects at The Architects’ Collaborative (TAC), the firm they founded with Gropius in 1945, decided to replicate the Woods End Road experiment and purchased twenty acres of their own in Lexington, Massachusetts, where they constructed homes for themselves as part of a formal cooperative that provided for shared governance and communal amenities, including a pool and


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FACING PAGE The living room of the 1964 Huygens House in Wayland, Massachusetts, designed by architect Rem Huygens, illustrates the International Style’s principles of volume, regularity, and intrinsic ornament. THIS PAGE One of a number of Modernist houses in Lincoln, Massachusetts, the 1937 Hoover House, architect Henry B. Hoover’s residence, predates the Gropius House by one year. Its windows date to a 1955 renovation by Mr. Hoover.

Winter/Spring 2007 Historic New England

David Carmack

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Ezra Stoller EstoLibrary Courtesy, Waltham©Public

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The Breuer-Robeck House, built in 1947, is the first house architect Breuer designed for himself in New Canaan, Connecticut; the projecting balcony originally was supported by tension

ABOVE LEFT

recreation space. Named Six Moon Hill, the community’s founders promoted the progressive goals of what architect Norman Fletcher, quoted in a recent article, called a “good community…an open community, with no prejudices.” In several subdivisions around Boston, the Woods End Road and Six Moon Hill concepts were put into broader practice in the 1940s and ’50s. In Concord, Massachusetts, in 1951, for example, a collaboration of Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics and architecture professors, W. Rupert McLaurin and Carl Koch, produced the Conantum development, with more than one hundred homes on 190 acres, of which sixty acres were set aside communally for ball fields, tennis courts, and playgrounds. Conantum homes, sold to young couples for an affordable $10,000 to $16,000, incorporated aspects of modular and pre-fabricated construction to reduce costs and enhance flexibility for growing families. Certain interior walls, for example, were movable and could be rearranged to suit changing needs while modular floor plans were designed with expansion in mind. Far from Boston’s professorial suburbs, a group of Gropius-trained architects began another Modernist experiment in New Canaan in the late 1940s. The so-called “Harvard Five,” all architects then practicing in New York 20

Historic New England Winter/Spring 2007

cables alone. ABOVE RIGHT Architect Walter Bogner’s 1939 Woods End Road house was a model for his studies in the standardization of pre-fabricated houses, an important focus of his career.

City, and among whom was Marcel Breuer, Gropius’ former colleague and Woods End Road neighbor, began buying land and building houses for themselves that departed utterly from the fine old houses of the small bedroom community. By the spring of 1949, New Canaan had held its first “modern house tour” attracting thousands and establishing itself as one of the country’s foremost Modernist suburbs. But despite Modernism’s triumph in the intellectual realm of twentieth-century American architectural training, Modernist houses and neighborhoods were often architectural oddities, largely ignored and now frequently threatened. Never common or popular, these houses face new tests, from their (by today’s standards) small size and the relative inefficiencies of their abundant glazing and open floor plans. Despite these perceived challenges, however, Modernist houses can be upgraded, enlarged, and made more energy efficient through thoughtful planning and compatible new materials. Magazines like Atomic Ranch, catering to owners of Modernist houses, a newly-published study of A-frame houses, and listings of post-World War II subdivisions on the National Register of Historic Places all point to an emerging preservation network for this overlooked resource.


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The 1935 Bowers House, the first Modernist house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a rare example of pre-fabricated construction by General Houses, Inc. of Chicago, was demolished in 2006 despite vigorous efforts to find a buyer to relocate it.

ABOVE LEFT

Particularly active in the effort to document and preserve the architecture of the Modern Movement is DOCOMOMO, whose web site, www.docomomo-us.org, maintains a list of endangered Modernist structures. In Gropius’ own town of Lincoln, neighbors dedicated to preserving their Modernist houses have founded FOMA, Friends of Modern Architecture, and the Five Fields neighborhood in Lexington recently published a history of its first 50 years. As we move ahead into the twenty-first century, Historic New England will be working for the preservation of twentiethcentury resources and supporting owners who respect and appreciate their own Modernist houses. So, be on the lookout in your community and begin training your “historian’s eye” to spot these overlooked properties; they’re an important part of New England’s architectural story.

David Carmack

John Nanian. Courtesy Cambridge Historical Commission

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Two Lexington, Massachusetts, subdivisions,The Glen at Countryside/Shaker Glen (1960), top, and Five Fields (1951), below, reflect the popularization of Modernist designs for living.

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Historic New England’s Historic Homeowner membership program, which provides specialized technical advice and consultation to owners of old houses, is an important source of help for owners of Modernist houses and other twentieth-century house types. Window repair, for example, poses particular challenges, as window types proliferated through the century, moving well beyond the standard double-hung wood sash to include steel casements, gliding and sliding windows, picture windows, and the first insulated windows. Historic Homeowner members receive an annual online paint color consultation or design evaluation, online or phone access for additional technical assistance requests, e-newsletters on historic house maintenance and resource issues, and invitations for two members-only workshop events, in addition to household member benefits. The program serves anyone with an older home, from First Period to mid-twentieth century. Visit www.HistoricHomeowner.org for more information.

—Sally Zimmerman Preservation Specialist

Answers to challenge puzzle on page 11. Top row: 2, 18, 14. Middle row: 4, 6, 13. Bottom row: 22, 25, 1.

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L A N D S C A P E

Landscapes of Remembrance emeteries are unique combinations of landscape, art, and cultural ritual. Like historic homes and collections, historic burial grounds tell the stories of families and changing tastes over time. Several family graveyards entrusted to Historic New England’s care reveal the evolution of American burial sites through the variations of the markers, their placement in relation to one another, and in the layout of the surrounding landscape. The Frost graveyard in New Castle, New Hampshire, is an example of an eighteenth- to mid-nineteenth-century burial ground situated within the confines of a small island town. Its gravestones are set close together, more or less arranged in rows, but not quite on a grid. This tendency toward order— yet without a strict emphasis on symmetry—is not unlike the layout of

C

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streets and houses in early Colonial settlements. In addition to the many Frosts buried here, other family names appear on the stones. The main grouping of stones, with dates of 1732 to 1836, follows no perceivable arrangement by year or family relationship, nor does its layout demonstrate much consideration for pathways or plantings. This configuration conforms to some early descriptions and drawings of burial grounds that depict stones closely set and little greenery. By contrast, the Peabody family burial ground in Middleton, Massachusetts, enjoys a spacious site and a more organized arrangement of graves. This can be attributed primarily to its location and to two periods of influence. Most of the markers there date from the nineteenth century, with one stone dating to the 1700s. Most likely, the Peabodys designated part of their

TOP Separate rows of stones indicate family groupings at the Peabody burial ground. ABOVE The epitaph on the high-style marker of Mrs. Abigail Frost includes the words faith, pillar, anchor, olive, peaceful, coronet, and crown, which are each depicted in the detailed carving.


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farmland for family burials and soon thereafter began to share the burial ground with neighbors. While the Frost burial ground is constrained by its location within a small village, the Peabody cemetery demonstrates the greater latitude permitted by a country setting. Its site on a long section of farmland gave families the freedom to space out family plots. Without reading the names on the markers, one can sense the family groupings by the separate massing of stones in the landscape. An allĂŠe of trees articulates the entrance to the Peabody burial ground, providing an arched space through which light gently filters, as in a cathe-

dral. The space is contemplative and calming, but it is far more modern than the nineteenth-century gravestones beyond. These lovely trees were planted in 1933, when the family deeded the burial ground to SPNEA, now Historic New England. At the same time, they commissioned and erected a large commemorative plaque beside the gate. The concept of planting formal rows of trees in a burial ground began at cemeteries such as the New Burying Ground in New Haven, Connecticut, established in 1796. Throughout the nineteenth century, the rural cemetery movement, as exemplified by Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, furthered the concepts of

The popular early gravestone motifs of a cherub and a winged skull appear side by side at the Frost cemetery. BELOW The lawn and stately allĂŠe are twentieth-century additions to the Peabody cemetery. ABOVE

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LEFT The graveyard at Casey Farm, Saunderstown, Rhode Island, c. 1880. The photographer was probably Harry Weir Casey, who drowned in Narragansett Bay at age nineteen and was buried in the family plot soon after this photograph was taken. BELOW The sun sets on the Goodwin family stones at Hamilton House, South Berwick, Maine.

cemetery landscape design. The establishment of the allée of trees in Peabody in the 1930s demonstrates the lasting influence of rural cemetery ideals. At Casey Farm in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, where handsome stone walls are the landscape’s defining feature, a well-laid stone wall with a picket gate neatly encloses the family cemetery. While the Frost and Peabody burying grounds were shared by multiple families over approximately one century, the Casey cemetery shows the use by one family over two centuries. Within the stone wall, the gravestones of generations of Caseys and their ancestors, dating from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth, demonstrate a range of carving from the simple to the elaborate. Historic images of the cemetery show that plantings have come and gone through the years. Looking towards the cemetery from the back of the farmhouse, the grander monuments of the late 1800s can be seen rising above the height of the stone wall, which con24

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ceals the smaller headstones from earlier eras. The fine monuments commissioned for this small plot demonstrate the site’s importance to later generations of Caseys as their ancestral burial ground. The cemetery at Hamilton House in South Berwick, Maine, tells a very different story of a family’s relationship to a grand house and property. The people most identified with Hamilton House—Colonel Jonathan Hamilton, the original builder, and the Tysons, who restored it—were buried elsewhere. It is the less storied Goodwin family who laid their dead to rest on the property. The fourteen markers in the Goodwin cemetery, dating from 1847 to 1918, outline the lives of the family who lived at Hamilton when it was a working farm. The Goodwins’ cemetery is surrounded by a simple railing, and the markers face the sloping fields of the farm the family tended. These markers are rather uniformly arranged in two rows. They are similar in appearance, without any imagery,

except for the stone of Calvin Goodwin, which bears a sheath of wheat, symbol of divine harvest above his name. Together these five cemeteries portray a pattern of over three hundred years of burial in New England. They sketch the stories of each family’s loves and losses, and the words and images they chose for remembrance allow us to glimpse the public and private landscapes of mourning of the past. —Laura Ewen Blokker Preservation Manager


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News

New England & Beyond Authentic reproduction wallpapers for your home Two wallpapers from Historic New England’s vast, internationally recognized collection of historic papers have recently been reproduced by Brewster Wallcovering Company and are now widely available. Carefully copied from the originals to accurately capture their period character, the papers come in a full range of colorways, are pre-pasted for ease in hanging, and are affordably priced. “Floral Urn,” a damask pattern, is based on a French block-printed original dating from 1880 to 1910 that was carried by the noted Boston decorating firm, A. H. Davenport/Irving and Casson. Damask patterns imitating the intricate designs of woven silks have been popular throughout the history of wallpaper. “Flora and Fauna,” a charming paper with deer, rabbits, and birds amid flowers and leaves, is based on another block-printed paper, this one from Holland and dating from 1900 to 1915. The original was found at Historic New England’s Lyman Estate in Waltham, Massachusetts. For information about these handsome papers or any other Historic New England licensed reproductions, please call (617) 227-3957, ext. 237. A database of Historic New England’s collection of historic wallpapers is accessible at www.WallpaperHistory.org.

Color me historic Ten years ago, Historic New England collaborated with licensee Color Guild International (CGI) to develop an array of historically accurate period paint colors. Working with California Paints, a CGI member based in Andover, Massachusetts, the team produced a chart of 149 colors, the Historic Colors of America, which is recognized by industry experts as the most accurate representation of period colors available today. The Historic Colors of America paint chart, arranged by hue to fully showcase the colors’ richness and beauty, along with an enhanced guide that groups colors by architectural period, may be ordered online at www.HistoricNewEngland.org or by calling (617) 227-3957,ext. 237. The expertise of Historic New England’s in-house color expert, Sally Zimmerman, is available to those with Historic Homeowner membership. Visit www.HistoricHomeowner.org for more information.

Tiffany fellow The Tiffany & Co. Foundation has funded a year-long fellowship for Sarah Brierley, graduate of New York’s Bard Graduate Center, to research and catalogue Historic New England’s extensive jewelry collection. Her work will provide a foundation for future lectures, workshops, and an online exhibition.

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A C Q U I S I T I O N S

The Old Hearth his painting by Frank Shapleigh of the interior of a coastal shack, perhaps a fishing shack or a summer cottage, in an unidentified building in Kennebunkport, Maine, helps document nineteenth-century American attitudes about kitchens. The painting shows a sun drenched old room. Looming prominently along the right side of the image is an exposed brick fireplace and chimney stack. Ranged around the hearth are a Windsor and a ladderback chair, over it are a few iron cooking pots. A hat hangs on the wall nearby. Through the open door there is a view of a neighboring house with the ocean beyond it. Painted at a time when cooking hearths like this one had largely been replaced by wood and coal burning cookstoves, the painting suggests a nostalgia for the past that centered on the old kitchen hearth. Many nineteenth-century cultural critics saw the introduction of the cookstove as a threat to family stability and looked back longingly to the days before these

T

cast iron behemoths sullied their kitchens. In his short story, “Fire Worship,” written in 1843, Nathaniel Hawthorne lamented the introduction of the cookstove to the kitchen, worrying that with the demise of the kitchen hearth, “there will be nothing to attract children to one center. Domestic life…will seek its separate corners.” Frank Henry Shapleigh (1842– 1906), an important White Mountain artist, trained in Paris and over the course of his career had studios in Boston and St. Augustine, Florida, as well as in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. Best known for his landscape paintings, Shapleigh painted a number of kitchen views from buildings in Jackson and Bartlett, New Hampshire; St Augustine; Scituate, Massachusetts; and this one from Kennebunkport. Each of these kitchen

141 Cambridge Street Boston MA 02114-2702 Presented by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities

images featured an old brick cooking hearth, suggesting that Shapleigh, like many of his contemporaries, looked back nostalgically to days when the kitchen—the heart of the home—was warmed both literally and figuratively by a roaring fire in an open hearth. —Nancy Carlisle Curator

ABOVE Frank Henry Shapleigh, Old kitchen in Kennebunkport, Maine. 1890

Non-Profit Organization U.S. Postage PAID Boston, Massachusetts Permit No. 58621

Historic New England Winter-Spring 2007  
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