Museum of Newport History

While in Newport, I visited the Museum of Newport History in the Brick Marketplace. It was my first time visiting this little museum and I was quite impressed. Like most tourists, I usually visit the mansions and know quite a lot about Gilded Age history. Colonial Newport is new to me.

Newport was founded by seekers of religious toleration. From 1639 when the Newport charter was signed, Newport was home to Anabaptists, Antinomians, Quakers, Jews, and others could worship without fear of persecution.

Great Friends Meetinghouse (Quaker)

Great Friends Meetinghouse (Quaker) is the oldest surviving house of worship in Rhode Island, dating to 1699. This building was the largest and most recognizable building in town during the colonial period. It was expanded in 1705 and 1729.

Touro Synagogue, the oldest Jewish congregation in Rhode Island and one of the oldest in the U.S.A. It was dedicated in 1763.

Touro Synagogue, the oldest Jewish congregation in Rhode Island and one of the oldest in the U.S.A. It was dedicated in 1763.

By the beginning of the 18th century, Newport was a thriving seaport : one of five leading ports in America. Newport flourished as a center of business and cultural activity. Enslaved Africans contributed to this success and the museum does not shy away from discussing this difficult topic.

Newport was not only a thriving seaport, it was home to many types of businesses, including the newspaper business.

18th century Newport businesses

18th century Newport businesses

The Newport Mercury newspaper was founded by Benjamin Franklin’s brother James and continued by James’ wife Ann, after his death. The museum features an exhibit set up to look like an early printing office. This 17th century printing press was instrumental in passing along news to colonial Newporters and was also a source of income. This press was owned by James Franklin and was targeted by the British during the Revolutionary War and they used to print official documents and newspapers. It has survived for 4 centuries standing as a testament to the power of the written word.

A Colonial era printing press

Late 1600s printing press owned by James Franklin

Colonial newspaper (reproduction)

Colonial newspaper (reproduction)

Printed by Ann Franklin, the Copy of Some Queries was printed in 1739.

Printed by Ann Franklin, the Copy of Some Queries was printed in 1739.

By the middle of the 18th century, a new middle class had emerged in Newport. In the 1750s, the parlor symbolized a new concern with refinement and gentility. It was often remade in the latest style. This room is where guests were received and the family’s finest objects were displayed. This middle class parlor shows off a family’s locally made furniture. The c. 1750 table features drop-leaves to expand for use and put down for storage. The museum believes this piece was made in either the Townsend or the Goddard furniture shops. The provenance is traced back to Henry Marchant  (April 9, 1741 – August 30, 1796), a lawyer, judge, delegate to the  Continental Congress from 1777 to 1779, and signer of the Articles of Confederation for Rhode Island. Henry Marchant may have placed this table in his law office.

A middle-class room

A middle-class room

The chest-on-chest may have been made by John Townsend (1732–1809) for Peleg Clarke, a merchant in the tea trade working in Newport and Boston. The Townsends were the most well-known cabinet makers in Newport. They made cabinets, chairs, and other furniture. Job Townsend (1699–1765) and his brother Christopher (1701–1787) started the family furniture business.  John Townsend (1732–1809), the son of Christopher Townsend and Patience (Easton) Townsend is belived to have made this chest-on-chest. Chest-on-chests were often showcased in a family’s parlor serving as repositories for linens, papers, and other important items.

The lovely portraits on the walls are Captain Isaac Stelle (1714-1763) and Penelope Godson Stelle, his wife. Captain Stelle was a merchant, chandler, Warden of Trinity Church, and Captain of the Newport County Regiment. Captain Stelle was an active participant in the Triangle Trade. The portraits were done by Robert Feke (c.1705 or 1707 – c.1752), one of the best known portrait makers in colonial America. He lived in Newport for a short time before his death in 1742 and painted only nine paintings.

There was also a section on the French in Newport. This French map shows the defenses in Narragansett Bay where the allied forces were in January 1781. The red line shows where the French took advantage of the natural geography of Newport harbor to fire on the British.

In 1778, the French sent an expeditionary fleet under the command of Comte D’Estaing to aid the Americans, arriving in Newport on July 29, 1778.The plan of action included simultaneous naval and land engagements. The plan failed, due to the arrival of British reinforcements and a freak storm that damaged D’Estaing’s ships. Aquidneck remained in the hands of the British until 1779.

French map showing the defenses in Narragansett Bay.

French map showing the defenses in Narragansett Bay.

Charles-Henri Hector d’Estaing (1729-1794)

Charles-Henri Hector d’Estaing (1729-1794)

Charles-Henri Hector D’Estaing was from a noble French family who had ties to the Crown. Following the recognizance of American independence, the Crown appointed d’Estaing as first commander of the fleet sent to aid American forces in New York and New England. Arriving in Narragansett Bay on July 29, 1778, d’Estaing decided to engage the British fleet offshore. This was a costly error. He should have added to the land forces prior to the Battle of Rhode Island. D’Estaing’s made one strategic blunder after another and was recalled back to France in 1780.

Diorama depicting the arrival of the French in Newport.

The arrival of Rochambeau and his troops. Diorama by Mme. Fernande Metayer, Paris, 1976.

The French returned victorious on July 11,1780 under the command of Comte Rochambeau.  They found a city destroyed after three years of British occupation.  Newport in 1780 was no longer a prosperous port. Newporters were weary of the long British occupation and welcomed the French with parades, proclamations and parties. Until June 1781, French officers were quartered in the homes of Newporters, living beside the people of Newport and becoming integral to the social tapestry in the city.

Newport's Liberty Square

Newport’s Liberty Square

Near the Brick Marketplace is Liberty Square. Dating back to the colonial period, this park was donated to the Newport Magistrates in the mid-18th century. Members of the Newport Artillery donated the square for the purpose of establishing a “Mustering Place,” where free men would assemble and speak freely .The square belonged to the people of the city; free from ownership by any corporation or individual. It remains a small reminder of how Rhode Island and Newport were at the forefront of establishing the freedoms we take for granted today.

Concord Museum

Concord Museum signOn Saturday last, I had the pleasure of visiting the Concord Museum. The museum collections date to the mid-nineteenth century when America was celebrating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Concord had a long history of celebrating the past and also of rebelling against the status quo beginning with the Puritans of the seventeenth century. This museum tells the story of this rebellious town.

Puritans arrive in Concord

Puritans arrive in Concord

The Puritans arrived in this swampy wilderness seeing freedom from religious tyranny but found a community of Algonkian Indians who called the place “Musketaquid” (“grassy plain).

Algonkian Concord

Algonkian Concord

The Puritans saw the Indians as Satan’s instruments and sought to Christianize them and make them “civilized.”

Algonkian rituals

Algonkian rituals

Concord Indians

Map of “praying Indian” town and pamphlet exclaiming the success of the missionaries

A special gallery specifically on the Battle of Lexington and Concord brings together artifacts from many different locations in one spot. The exhibition concludes on 21 September. It’s a must-see if you can. It’s very awe-inspiring to see objects that old as so important to the history of the United States. Artifacts include numerous artifacts from the Battle of Lexington and Concord, including Paul Revere’s lantern made famous by Longfellow; flints; muskets; powder horns, engravings and more

Battle of Lexington and Concord Photoengraving

Battle of Lexington and Concord Photoengraving 1903, after Dootlittle

These engravings are particularly interesting, having a copyright date in the early 20th century.

copyright on the photoengraving

copyright on the photoengraving

publisher's mark

publisher’s mark

These photoengravings were sold by Charles E. Goodspeed, a Boston bookseller. This is one of a series of four done after Amos Doolittle (Connecticut, 1754-1832). Read more about them at the Concord Library‘s website.

Another special exhibition features photos of the Revolutionary generation, people who survived into their 80s and beyond and sat for a photograph, a brand new invention at the time. It’s amazing to see the faces of the men and women who lived through that period in history. I felt very connected to the past seeing those photos.

Photos of the Revolutionary generation

Photos of the Revolutionary generation

Not only is the museum decorated with interior decorations salvaged or reproduced from area homes, they also have a series of period room scenes.

leaded glass window

Seventeenth-century leaded glass window saved from an area home

Reproduction early nineteenth-century wallpaper

Reproduction early nineteenth-century wallpaper

I especially enjoyed the  period rooms.  I love seeing how people lived in different times in history. Currently the museums has set up an early eighteenth century room; a mid-eighteenth century room; a late eighteenth/early nineteenth century lying-in chamber and an early nineteenth-century dining parlor. I learned quite a bit about how wealthy merchants in Concord lived at those times.

early 18th century room

An early eighteenth-century parlor/bedroom with original period furniture.

 mid-18th century room

Mid-eighteenth century bedroom/parlor with original period furnishings

 lying-in chamber

A late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century lying-in chamber for mother, baby and visitors

I really loved the attention to detail in each and every room. They copied the wallpaper and textiles from actual period furnishings.

Concord was also home to a number of furniture designers and manufacturers in the eighteenth century. The museum retains original period pieces made by local craftsmen.

Concord-made furniture

Concord-made furniture

 inlay clock

An inlay clock made by a local firm in the eighteenth century

There’s so much more to experience in this museum. I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area. I’ve been to Concord more times than I can count but had never been inside the museum until Saturday.

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