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Saturday, 01 October 2011 03:14
Recent research about the work of New Hampshire schoolmaster-artist George Melvill, known primarily for the family record art he produced from the mid 1780s to 1800, has revealed an important drawing of a late-eighteenth-century, non-commissioned New Hampshire militia soldier. The drawing (Fig. 1), inscribed A View of a Private in the first Regt. of N.H. Light-Horse on Duty/Done by the request of Serjent Henry Moore of said Regt., is a rare, early, and visually appealing military item. Based on stylistic similarities to signed family records (Figs. 2, 3), it is firmly attributed to Melvill, yet unique within the artist’s known productions.
Saturday, 01 October 2011 02:56
Reconstructing an artist’s oeuvre is always a challenge. Although the miniatures of Rufus Porter (1792–1884) are greatly admired, many questions remain as to how his distinctive style evolved. Fortunately, inscriptions found on backing boards and attached to frames, often referred to as “granny notes” since they were frequently added by elderly relatives, have helped identify more than a dozen individuals who sat for Porter. This information has helped clarify the hallmarks of Porter’s style and proved instrumental for establishing where he traveled and how his approach to miniatures developed over two decades from 1815 until 1835 (Figs. 1 & 2).

Born in West Boxford, Massachusetts, at the age of twelve, Rufus Porter spent six months in studies at the Fryeburg Academy, Fryeburg, Maine. Despite his lack of additional formal education, he would spend his life pushing boundaries—physically, intellectually, and artistically. Beginning in 1807, he was apprenticed as a shoemaker in West Boxford. When that failed to capture his interest, he then played the fife and fiddle in Portland, Maine, before commencing employment as a house and sign painter in the community. With the outbreak of the War of 1812, he then enlisted in the West Boxford militia company stationed in Portland and painted gunboats and served as a musician. In 1814, he did a brief stint as a teacher before his attention was diverted to the designing and building of gristmills.
Saturday, 01 October 2011 02:53
The Massachusetts Historical Society is primarily a manuscript repository holding the papers of individuals and families that document the entire course of American history. The Society’s 1791 founding date means that in many instances it collected materials for the study of epochal events as they occurred. When the crews of the ships Columbia-Rediviva and Lady Washington set sail for Canton in September 1787 to open the Boston-China trade, they took with them medals struck to commemorate their “adventure” and—practical Yankees that they were—to exchange for goods along the way. Soon after the Columbia’s return to Boston in August 1790, the sponsors of the voyage sent a specimen of the medal to the newly-formed Historical Society in Boston, where it became one of the Society’s earliest numismatic acquisitions.

At the close of the Revolution, no longer subject to the monopoly of the British East India Company, New England merchants were eager to trade with the East Indies and with Canton in particular. The problem they faced was to secure desirable trade goods for sale in China. The ship Columbia and its consort, the sloop Lady Washington, sailed by way of Cape Horn to the Northwest Coast (giving the Columbia River its name on a later voyage) where they traded for sea otter furs, highly prized in China, and then on to the Hawaiian islands for sandalwood, and on to Canton. The Lady Washington stayed in the Pacific and made an unsuccessful attempt to open contact with Japan, but the Columbia returned triumphantly to Boston by sailing across the Indian Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope, the first circumnavigation by an American-flagged ship. This first venture in the Boston-China trade was a commercial failure, but it did not stymie the enthusiasm of the ship’s financial backers, and in September 1790, only six weeks later, the Columbia was off again, on another multi-year voyage to Canton.
Saturday, 01 October 2011 02:49
Slant-lid desk made by Elijah (1751–1825) and Jacob Sanderson (1757–1810), Salem, Mass., 1794. Primary woods: mahogany with figured mahogany veneers. Secondary woods: white pine and birch. H. 43-3/4, W. 40, D. 21-3/4 in. Private collection.

A rare opportunity for furniture enthusiasts presented itself in the fall of 2009 when a remarkable desk was offered by a small auction house in upstate New York.1 The simple but beautiful slant-lid desk had many of the elements that entice scholars and collectors of American furniture. Not only had the original owner inscribed on both document drawers his name, the purchase date, and the cabinetmaking shop where he bought the desk, he also added a folksy calligraphic profile of a man’s face.2 The desk, which was leaving the original owner’s extended family for the first time when it was sold at auction, was also inscribed with its history of ownership, naming all the family members to whom it descended.3 It retains a very early, if not original, finish, and the façade of the desk is veneered with highly figured curly mahogany, all carefully matched from the same flitch of veneers.
Saturday, 01 October 2011 02:42
Newell Convers (N. C.) Wyeth (1882–1945), the father of iconic American artist Andrew Wyeth, did his groundbreaking work during the golden age of illustration in the early twentieth century. Wyeth is perhaps best known for his illustrations that appeared in the novels of Robert Lewis Stevenson and James Fenimore Cooper and in popular magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, Scribner’s, and McClure’s.

Shortly after completing work for the 1919 reprint of Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, Wyeth began to move away from illustration to focus on landscape, portraits, and still life paintings. He would occasionally reuse his old canvases, turning them upside down and painting over them, not to save money, but to be inspired by the colors and abstract shapes of the inverted composition while he painted.1 As a result, many of these illustrations, buried beneath later compositions, are known today only in their black and white reproductions in magazines and books.
Saturday, 01 October 2011 02:37
The Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, has on view through November 28, 2010, eight superb American paintings from the collection of a Dartmouth parent. Installed alongside highlights from the museum’s American art collections, these loans illuminate dramatic artistic and cultural changes that took place in America between the mid-1830s through World War I, tracing, for example, evolving attitudes toward nature, nation, and the growth of the city. Such rich cultural associations make these works ideal for interdisciplinary study by the Dartmouth community and the museum’s broader audiences.

Hudson River School Landscapes
Although the Hood boasts impressive holdings of portraits honoring Dartmouth luminaries and landscapes depicting New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the museum has no major works by the most prominent painters associated with the Hudson River School. Four of the loans are celebrated paintings by Thomas Cole (1801–1848), John Frederick Kensett (1816–1872), Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823–1880), and Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902)—artists who span the chronological and stylistic range of this romantic landscape tradition.1
Friday, 30 September 2011 23:32
Three generations of inspired Louisiana collectors have contributed in profound ways to the preservation and study of some of the most important furniture crafted in or imported into the Deep South. A much-needed study devoted to the region, Furnishing Louisiana: Creole and Acadian Furniture, 1735–1845, to be published by The Historic New Orleans Collection this winter, will include many pieces in both public and private collections that reflect collectors’ wise choices, informed tastes, and an abiding passion for local history. Guardians of culture, they have assembled Louisiana-made canopied tall-post beds, elegant Creole cabriole-leg armoires, Fournier clocks, and rustic Acadian cypress pieces (Fig. 1), not only for personal enjoyment, but for donations to such house museums throughout the state as the Pitot House and Magnolia Mound plantation homes.1 Such gifts have helped to secure an important facet of Louisiana’s cultural patrimony for generations to come (Figs. 2–4).
Tuesday, 06 September 2011 23:55
Weathervanes have been part of America's architectural landscape for hundreds of years. Used to indicate wind direction and as architectural ornaments in both secular and sacred contexts, they have their origins in ninth-century Europe.1 The desirability of weathervanes to folk art collectors is driven by form, history, surface, and rarity. As collectors evaluate possible purchases, they consider many factors; the overriding one of which is generally visual appeal.

The aesthetic impact of a weathervane is often related to the weathered surface, which takes on various appearances, whether verdigris, gold leaf, yellow gilder’s size,2 or—most appealing—a combination of all three (see sidebar). An historic surface does not necessarily mean that which was applied at manufacture. It also relates to what occurred during the natural life of the vane. As vanes were often damaged, repaired, resurfaced, and returned atop buildings, the resulting multiple layers of paint and gilding denote a rich history. In addition, the blending of the surface with the elements resulted in a mellowed, worn appearance. It is to be expected, then, that outer layers of material will be chemically different from those applied earlier, and by analyzing these layers we can attach an approximate age to the different surfaces.
Tuesday, 06 September 2011 23:48
The Misses Martin’s School for Young Ladies in Portland, Maine, was an important source for some of Federal America’s finest schoolgirl art. A distinctive group of objects, including embroidered silk pictures and paint-decorated tables, can be documented to some students, and attributed to others, attending what was one of New England’s foremost academies.

William Martin (1733–1814), a member of an aristocratic British family, founded the school in 1803. Earlier in life when his father died young, Martin was left “very ill provided for.” Instead of following his father’s footsteps at Cambridge University, he became a London merchant. Though initially finding prosperity, Martin met financial misfortune and, like many of his countrymen adversely affected by shortages and poor economic conditions resulting from the Revolutionary War, he decided to relocate to America.1 In 1783, Martin, his wife, Elizabeth Galpine (1739–1829), and six children settled in Boston, Massachusetts, where Martin imported and sold “a choice parcel of Books, and late Magazines and Reviews,” along with an extensive assortment of textiles, filling pent-up demand for British goods.2
Friday, 02 September 2011 03:35
Rose Valley, a community established in 1901 just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, exists as a rare and highly significant American Arts and Crafts movement experiment in utopian living. Architect William Lightfoot Price (1861–1916) was the primary founder and driving force in the development of the community; thus many of his designs for buildings, furniture, and leaded glass have been placed within the framework of the movement, which many scholars believe started in America at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.1 The stained-glass windows attributed to Will Price now displayed in museum galleries—where they are isolated from the grand, elaborate mansions in which they were originally installed—are surrounded by objects produced during the era when the Arts and Crafts movement had its greatest impact on America (Figs. 1a–b). This context makes the windows appear to be an expression of modernist aspects of the movement. In fact these windows should not be burdened with an Arts and Crafts context nor should their design be attributed to Price.
Friday, 02 September 2011 03:28
Over the last quarter of the twentieth century, collectors Joseph G. and Jean E. Sawtelle built a major collection of maritime art and artifacts related to the port town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Their ultimate goal was to create a maritime museum in Portsmouth, but the museum vision withered with the unexpected passing of Joe Sawtelle in 2001. This summer, the Portsmouth Historical Society and Portsmouth Athenaeum are exhibiting the entire Sawtelle collection, including earlier gifts to both institutions.

One hundred and ninety paintings, prints, and artifacts are on exhibit at the Portsmouth Historical Society’s Discover Portsmouth Center, through August 30, while artifacts and paintings related to the USS Kearsarge form the core of the exhibition at the Portsmouth Athenaeum, through September 17, 2011. The collection is documented in Richard M. Candee, editor, Maritime Portsmouth, The Sawtelle Collection (Portsmouth Marine Society). For more information visit
Thursday, 01 September 2011 06:59

The Museum of the City of New York recently made available on its website some 62,000 historic images of New York City. The images, in the main, date from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1950s and were taken by such luminaries as Berenice Abbott, Samuel H. Gottscho, Andreas Feininger, Jacob Riis, and the Wurts Brothers. They document buildings and interiors, streetscapes and skylines, as well as fashion and events.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011 02:32
According to author Alice Van Leer Carrick, who wrote about portraitist Edwin Plummer (1802–1880) nearly ninety years ago, he was an artist who worked in Essex County, Massachusetts, in the 1820s, and painted tight little figures sitting on rigid mahogany sofas.1 In today’s world of American folk art, Plummer is among the more recognizable portraitists of the genre. Until now, however, very little was known about his career as a portrait artist. Recent investigation reveals there was a good reason for this: Plummer was a true Renaissance man — a writer, lecturer, and astute business man who was never wholly dependent on portrait painting for his livelihood. Instead, this was a talent he mostly employed for his friends or his own personal gratification. Other than the occasional newspaper notice offering his portrait likenesses for perusal and a single entry in an 1837 exhibition held at the Boston Athenaeum, his portraits were seldom on public display.
Tuesday, 30 August 2011 22:49
Well before the term "historic preservation" came into vogue, New Englanders were saving old houses. The first documented preservation effort in America was launched at Deerfield, Massachusetts, in 1847, where residents joined forces to save the Old Indian House, survivor of an infamous 1704 attack on the village. Although the house was torn down, consciousness had been raised and a number of subsequent campaigns, like those for Mount Vernon and Independence Hall, were successful. In New England, preservation victories were tempered by major losses; most notably the 1863 demolition of Boston's venerable 1737 John Hancock House (Fig. 1). Throughout the nineteenth century, individuals like Henry David Thoreau championed saving old houses for their aesthetic value. Antiquarians like Deerfield's George Sheldon and Cummings Davis in Concord, regularly accessed neighbors" attics and cellars to "rescue" early artifacts and documents. Often viewed as eccentrics, these avocational preservationists were building a compelling case for the need to protect the material culture of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century New England.
Tuesday, 30 August 2011 22:37
For some eight decades, Will Barnet has made outstanding contributions to American art as a painter, printmaker, and teacher. In the course of a long, virtually unparalleled career, he has always taken a vigorously individual route, advancing to the pulse of his own aesthetic and philosophical concerns.1 He has traveled that road so rarely traveled, moving fluidly between abstraction and representation. Barnet has followed the passions of his own beliefs, even when this has not only meant going against the grain of prevailing movements in American art, but even contrary to the directions by which he established his own reputation.
Tuesday, 02 August 2011 22:29
The Greek allegorical figure of Fame, trumpeting a triumph and bestowing a laurel wreath, was a rare subject for commercial weathervane manufacturers of the late nineteenth century. The delicate figure was undoubtedly difficult to execute and had only a limited number of appropriate architectural settings. This weathervane is said to have been found on a building in the Boston area that was possibly used as a Catholic preparatory school for girls. It is one of only five known weathervanes featuring Fame, and the only one depicted in a flying pose. Its maker is unknown, although it was probably the product of either E. G. Washburne & Co., J. L. Mott Iron Works, or J. W. Fiske, all major shops in New York. Attribution of these weathervanes is made difficult by the standard practice of borrowing designs or buying and reusing parts.
Tuesday, 02 August 2011 22:24
Seguin Island sits at the mouth of the Kennebec River midway along the coast of Maine. The lighthouse on Seguin casts its beacon across two narrow reaches of land to either side of the river as it runs south from Bath and empties into the Atlantic Ocean—a distance of some fourteen miles. Along the way, the Kennebec passes the picturesque villages of the Phippsburg peninsula on the west side and Georgetown Island to the east. From colonial times, the inhabitants of the region had made a modest living farming, fishing, and shipbuilding. By the early 1900s, the region had witnessed the birth of steel shipbuilding in Bath, the arrival of the railroad from Portland and points south, and the construction of small hotels and cottages along the coast for summer visitors and rusticators "from away." While the local population decreased dramatically between 1900 and 1930, an increasing number of summer residents began to flood the area. At the turn of the twentieth century, real estate developers who sought their business called the southernmost part of Georgetown facing Sheepscot Bay "Seguinland."

One indicator of the changes taking place in and around Seguinland was the arrival of modern artists to the weathered landscape of granite rocks, primeval forests, and marshes that bound an ever-changing sea. Between 1900 and 1940, the driving force in this shift was Alfred Stieglitz, a renowned photographer, art critic, and fine arts dealer. Though he never came to Maine, he urged and even financially supported the artists he represented to seek out the restorative and inspiring landscape of Maine. Several of the more important artists in his circle found their way to Seguinland, as did other New York artists who were aware of his influence. They opened a small summer art school, built or bought summer homes there, and formed close-knit friendships.
Friday, 01 July 2011 06:40

The coast of Maine is a magical place with rocky shorelines edged in evergreens. Sailboats and kayaks maneuver through the waters and the air is heavy with the sweet smell of sea grass and salt. The welcome signs to the state say it all: “Maine, the way life should be.”
Wanting to relocate so that she could be closer to one of her children, when the owner of this property first saw the house in 2006, she was hesitant about moving in. Built in 1966, the grounds were overgrown and the house was in disrepair and “practically uninhabitable, both structurally and aesthetically,” says Anne Genter of Friday & Genter Interior Design in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, with whom the owner has worked for twenty years. With Genter’s moral and professional support, the owner tackled the project, the third and most challenging house on which the duo has worked.

Thursday, 16 June 2011 23:54
The complex and nuanced lifestyle of the elite in Paris during the fifty-year reign of King Louis XV (reigned 1723-1774) is re-imagined through art and material culture in Paris: Life & Luxury, organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Paintings, sculpture, applied arts, drawings, metalwork, furniture, architectural fittings, lighting and hearth fixtures, scientific and musical instruments, clocks and watches, textiles and dress, books, and maps embody the visual aesthetics of the era while also revealing the social values of the enormously influential sector of society responsible for making Paris the fashion and cultural epicenter of Europe.

A group of allegorical paintings, The Four Times of Day, by Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743), lays out the organizing principle of the exhibition, in which objects are grouped together according to a sequence of daily activities. The subjects of Lancret's scenes are rising and dressing in Morning (Fig. 1), setting pocket watches in Midday, playing a game of trictrac in Afternoon, and bathing in Evening. The images provide a plethora of details about the everyday elite life in mid-eighteenth-century France, a lifestyle now difficult to grasp because the extant objects are dispersed physically, across museum collections, and intellectually, across academic disciplines.
Thursday, 16 June 2011 23:48
Busks were first used in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries in Europe, England, and America as accompaniments to undergarments worn with fashionable attire for both men and women. Commonly associated with women's attire in early America, by the end of the seventeenth through to the early nineteenth century, busks were used in tandem with "stays" because the bodice of women's dresses lacked support and required a separate, stiff undergarment to create the desired form of the body. Stays created a straight line from the chest to the waist, while busks could be added to the front to further smooth the stomach and accentuate the stiffness of the torso.1

Changes in the form of dress and an increasing fashion by the mid-nineteenth century for a curved, womanly figure, resulted in the adoption of the corset. Corsets differed from stays in that they accentuated the curves created by the bust, waist, and hips. While some early nineteenth-century corsets incorporated busks, by the 1850s, the term referred to a metal strip with clasps used to close a corset.2 While these "busks" performed a stiffening function somewhat like earlier examples, they took a very different form.