Concord, Massachusetts

On Saturday last I had the pleasure of visiting Concord, Massachusetts. Concord is the birthplace of the American Revolution (Battle of Lexington and Concord, 19 April 1775) and also the birthplace of American Transcendentalism. Transcendentalism was a literary, religious and philosophical movement that had it’s grounds in the Unitarian church. This group of like-minded individuals struggled to make sense of a changing world. They wanted to incorporate modern ideas with traditional spirituality and sought a new kind of freedom. They believed  people are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent. “It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed.” [1]

Emerson quote self-reliance

Emerson quote on self-reliance

Most of the Transcendentalists were involved in social reform movements, especially anti-slavery and women’s rights. They believed that “at the level of the human soul, all people had access to divine inspiration and sought and loved freedom and knowledge and truth.” [2] They urged a return to nature and the pondering of philosophical truths.

The major figures in the movement in Concord were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller and Amos Bronson Alcott.

Concord reformers

Susanna, my research assistant and traveling companion, poses with images of the Concord reformers

 

Continue reading

Marble House

Marble House exterior

I recently visited Marble House, one of the famous Newport mansions, built between 1888-1892 for Alva Vanderbilt as a 39th birthday present from her husband, William K. Vanderbilt. William originally gave Alva full control over the design of the house but she only agreed as long as he gave her the house outright. Alva was interested in issues of women’s rights and she saw her home as a reflection of herself and her role as a woman in a patriarchal society. Her home was essentially her branding; her way to make a mark on society the way businessmen and others great men became known.

Alva declared Marble House her “temple to the arts.” The house, designed by famed architect Richard Morris Hunt in the Beaux Arts style, is a showcase of the Vanderbilt wealth. According to the Newport Preservation Society, Hunt drew his inspiration from “two famous historic buildings dedicated to women: the Parthenon (5th century B.C.E., Athens, Greece), temple to Athena the goddess of wisdom and war, and the Petit Trianon (1760-1764, Versailles, France) built by Louis XV for his mistress Madame de Pompadour, a powerful figure in shaping 18th century European art and culture.” It was the first of the grand summer “cottages” that transformed Newport into the social center of the summer season.
Marble House classical frieze

The front of the house features a temple-front portico with Corinthian-style columns inspired by the east façade of the Louvre and faced in white Westchester marble.
Marble House frontMarble House column

A semi-circular fountain with grotesque masks spouting water spans the entire western facade. Around the exterior walls are various friezes inspired by classical mythology.
Marble House fountainMarble House frieze
Guests enter the house through French Baroque-style bronze doors featuring monogram “WV” set into an oval medallion. The doors were made at the John Williams Bronze Foundry in New York and on display before the house opened. The public was eager to get a glimpse of the elegant mansion but plans were kept secret and only the most sneaky of reporters could gleam details through underhanded methods.
Marble House gateMarble House monogram

The inside of the house is the very definition of opulence. Designed after le Petit Trianon by Jules Allard and Sons of Paris, the ground floor walls are made of the finest creamy Siena marble (with matching painted faux marble upstairs). The matching staircase features a wrought iron and gilt bronze staircase railing based on models at Versailles.

Alva Vanderbilt collected classical interiors from Europe. The stair hall features an 18th-century Venetian ceiling painting featuring gods and goddesses on the ceiling. The classical theme continues throughout the house, even into Alva’s lilac silk wallpapered bedroom, where the ceiling features a circular painting of Athena.

See some sample photos of the interior (not my personal photos) at My Pinterest Site

The back of the house features a marble portico with classic arched windows. More classical friezes adorn the exterior walls. The theme of women and children is prominent throughout.
Marble House backMarble House classical frieze
The grounds slope down to the Cliff Walk and the ocean below.
Marble House ocean viewWhen Alva Vanderbilt divorced William in 1895 and married his best friend, Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont in 1896, she closed Marble House (except for the laundry) and relocated to Belcourt Castle. After Belmont’s death in 1908, Alva reopened Marble House and added the Chinese Tea House and hosted rallies for women’s suffrage. These women’s suffrage rallies were a place where working women could sit shoulder to shoulder with socialites and well-known figures such as Julia Ward Howe. For $5 they could tour the house.
Chinese Tea HouseIn 1914 Alva Belmont erected a Chinese tea house designed after ancient Chinese temples and guarded by stone lions. The tea house was used to host special events and features Chinese antiques.
Chinese Tea House interiorAlva Belmont closed Marble House permanently in 1919, and later sold the house to Frederick H. Prince. In 1963, her son Harold provided funding for the Preservation Society of Newport County to buy the house from the Prince Trust. The Trust donated the furniture for the house directly to the Preservation Society.

The architectural details are stunning. Every little thing is exquisitely designed.
Marble House lamp
To see more of my photos please visit my Flickr album Marble House

Artist, Rebel, Dandy: Men of Fashion

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Rhode Island School of Design’s exhibit Artist, Rebel, Dandy: Men of Fashion (http://risdmuseum.org/notes/artist_rebel_dandy_men_of_fashion). This exhibit celebrates men (and some women) who love clothes, love to dress well and have forged their own path to create new, avant garde styles; from the notorious Bea Brummell of Georgian England to late Twentieth Century men and women, this exhibit has it all.

Being a lover of the Regency era, I especially enjoyed seeing the Prince Regent’s banyan from his younger days and Beau Brummell’s great coat made by Weston, tailor to the aristocrats. There were also cutaway coats and silk knee breeches belonging to prominent Rhode Islanders of the period. I’ve seen photographs, movies, reenactor costumes and women’s clothes but for some reason, the museums I’ve been to lacked men’s clothes. It was amazing to put an actual 3D image in my mind of the clothes I’ve only read about. 

I’m vastly impressed with how much Georgette Heyer got right in her novels. She was the best at setting the scene and creating memorable characters. Many of her admirers have used her settings and introduced real people into the plot. A scroll featuring the noted dandies of the day helped put faces to the names I’ve read about. I only wish Mr. Darcy and Henry Tilney had been featured.

Also from the Regency era, the exhibit features many Cruikshank cartoons. For those who may not know, Robert and George Cruikshank were printmakers in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century London. Their colorful, witty cartoons lampooned the excesses of society. These cartoons were similar to today’s political cartoons and celebrity gossip blogs. I’ve seen a few cartoons online and some at the Morgan Library’s Jane Austen exhibit. The RISD exhibit had many on loan from the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University.

There was:

Young Gentlemen: Dress of the Year 1798

http://images.library.yale.edu/walpoleweb/fullzoom.asp?imageid=lwlpr09143

Lacing in Style

http://images.library.yale.edu/walpoleweb/fullzoom.asp?imageid=lwlpr14675

A Dandy Fainting

A Dandy Fainting

George Cruikshank
A Dandy Fainting or An Exquisite in Fits
Showing the effects of dandyism

The Commercial Dandy and his Sleeping Partners

http://images.library.yale.edu/walpoleweb/fullzoom.asp?imageid=lwlpr12349

A New Irish Jaunting Car (lampooning the dandy fad for riding early bicycles)

http://images.library.yale.edu/walpoleweb/fullzoom.asp?imageid=lwlpr12011

And my personal favorites

A Hen Pecked Dandy

A Hen Pecked Dandy

Dandies were known for their tightly laced corsets, just as women had been. Here, the woman in the cartoon declares that she will be be adopting a more masculine style since the gentleman has co-opted a feminine style of dressing.

Many of the cartoons displayed a fear of reversal of sex roles with effeminate young men wearing corsets and fainting just as women were expected to do.

D___d Angelic

A dandy (the Beau himself perhaps?) looking through his quizzing glass at a beautiful woman.

See more and read about dandies at BookTryst

http://www.booktryst.com/2010/06/robert-cruikshank-devastates-dandies.html

At first dandies were a figure of fun until Oscar Wilde and his set made dandyism a a way of life and a culture of it’s own.

For Downton Abbey fans, there were several early 1900s shirts laid out with collars just as Lord Grantham’s valet would have done. There was also a Brooks Brothers coat c. 1917 that I can see Matthew Crawley buying on a trip to New York to visit Mary’s family.

These great men have influenced styles of dress into present day. The exhibit featured movie costumes as well: Fred Astaire’s suit from the movie Top Hat

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Photo copyright: SNAP / Rex Features

Diane Keaton’s suit from Annie Hall

Diane Keaton Annie Hall

Diane Keaton in Annie Hall

There was so much to see in this exhibit that I didn’t have time to look at everything in detail.

You can read about it in the Boston Globe (http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/style/2013/05/15/men-fashion-finally-gets-some-respect-risd-dandy-show/iUDQ2znJWXeNJn5pDLX5rI/story.html)

Read more about Dandyism at Dandyism.net

 

Welcome

Image

Welcome!

Welcome to my new blog about some interesting things I have found in libraries, archives and museums. I’m a recent library school graduate and historian so I spend a lot of time in the above mentioned places! I’m mostly an early American historian or 18th, 19th and early 20th century history buff. I live in New England where there are a lot of great museums and libraries and I love visiting museums when I travel.