Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Marquis is at The Alice

When Alice Miner planned her Chazy museum, the initial architectural sketches revealed an environment resembling a gallery with skylights and a very open floor plan. The design she finally chose, however, was akin to the layout of a wealthy Colonial home. That decision was likely significantly influenced by the nationalistic ideas flourishing in the early 20th century. Her collecting was also a product of her era. She acquired many of the hallmark items of what is now referred to as the Colonial Revival Movement; objects and documents associated with our founding fathers and notable citizens, American-made decorative arts, engraved representations of the American Revolution and its keys players, needlework, textiles, memorabilia and more.

There were a few individuals who were particular favorites of Alice and her husband William, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses S. Grant. Along with fascinating letters and other assorted pieces associated with those luminaries, Alice gathered a collection of objects associated with Gilbert du Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette. Our second floor hallway holds portraits, miniature portraits, a bust, transfer-printed pottery, and even a pair of French polychrome bisque figures representing Lafayette and his wife Adrienne.

Lafayette Memorial Ribbon, 19th Century

It seems obvious that Lafayette was a hero to Alice and William, and books about his life are abundant in their personal collection. In all there are over 30 objects or documents in this Lafayette collection, not including books. They range from a lovely pair of ladies kid-skin gloves transfer-decorated with an image of Lafayette and the words "Welcome Lafayette", to a fragment of hand embroidered French fabric from a dress worn by a Mrs. Prescott of Boston at a ball given for the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824. In The Alice archives we have a letter that General Lafayette wrote in his later years from La Grange, his mother-in-law's estate. He wrote to a Citizen Armand, or perhaps Arnaud, in Paris, attempting to gain restitution for some property or paintings lost from his father-in-law's estate. The letter is undated but was probably written in the early 1800s.

Clews Pitcher, Landing of General Lafayette, Blue Transfer Print, Circa 1825 (front)
Framed Tinted Lithograph, Published by Villian, Early 19th Century (back)

One of my favorite Lafayette objects in the collection is small, in very worn condition, and easy to overlook. Like the letter written by him, Lafayette may even have held this object in his hands at one time. It is a very well-used silver watchcase delicately engraved on the inside and back. The object is also interesting for it's association with another hero of the American Revolution and later Secretary of War, General Henry Knox. The engraving says, "Presented to General Knox by DeLafayette 177..." with the last number obscured. There is also engraving on the inside front that is partially obscured. All that can be read is "DeLaFa... A Paris", engraved below a diamond and some numbers that may be a maker's mark.

On the second floor of The Alice, one can also find five miniature portraits of Lafayette at various stages of his life. Some show him as a young man with a powdered wig, and two are more life-like images with dark hair. One of the two is a very small and delicate engraving depicting the Marquis in his later years - as he probably looked when he visited the United States in 1824, at the age of 67.

When he returned from France in 1824 to visit the land he felt great love for, the Marquis de Lafayette strongly stirred American sentiment, finding his way into the hearts of the citizens of a fledgling United States. Many of the objects in The Alice collection would never have been created if it weren't for the sentimental journey Lafayette made through the young states. We have some beautiful blue and white transferware commemorating his visit, including a large Clews pitcher showing the "Landing of General Lafayette at Castle Garden, New York, 16 August, 1824". The handle is decorated with the fleur-de-lis, in honor of Lafayette. Another pattern is a blue transferware image of Lafayette standing before the tomb of Washington, and yet a third shows him at the tomb of Franklin, a true hero of many French citizens.

Miniature Engraved Portrait of Lafayette, 19th Century

The majority of these Lafayette pieces are on display in the second floor hall of the museum, where the letter written by the Marquis is also occasionally exhibited. In order to view this wonderful collection within a collection you will need to wait until our museum tours start again. We will be closed for tours for the months of January, February and March, with tours in April by appointment only. Keep an eye out for upcoming event announcements though, including an astronomy lecture this January 19th at 7:00pm.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Sampling of Platters

As Thanksgiving and other holidays fast approach many of us are well into planning our holiday meals - either by purchasing the myriad ingredients or by deciding which dinner invitations to accept. Whether cook or guest, our holidays often seem to be centered around the feasts we are all so fortunate to partake in. I am one who loves to cook, especially the elaborate preparation of a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings! I enjoy all aspects of the meal, from going out to purchase the ingredients, to the preparation and coordination of the meal itself, mulling over how each element will be prepared, and finally, how to serve it all in a pleasing way.

Since I prefer to let the food speak for itself, my style of hosting does not require a lot of fancy presentation, but it is really helpful to have access to the proper tools! Occasionally I look around The Alice ballroom and think how fun it might be to utilize a few of the objects exhibited there to assist in serving a fabulous meal... Now that is the sort of collecting I could sink my teeth into!

Recently I was studying a Staffordshire blue and white platter with a very clever gravy-well design. There are a few platters at the museum with this smart design - clearly created with the chef in mind. When I did a search for "platters" in our catalog I found that The Alice holds more than 20 ceramic platters! When I study the age and history of the pieces I can't help but wonder if they were ever actually used, and if so, how did they survive the meals they held over the many years before coming to reside at The Alice? Now that they're here, they are all safe from the wear and tear of use in a kitchen like mine! I'll tell you about a few of my favorites.

Most of our pieces are transferware - made by transferring an engraving onto the pottery from a printed sheet of tissue paper... one of Alice's platters, however, is a fine example of sponge ware - created, as you may have guessed, by applying the pigment design directly to the pottery with a sponge. This particular sponge ware platter was created in England circa 1840, and it also has a transferred design in the center depicting a spread eagle and colonial shield. The sponged border is blue while the transferred design is a grey pigment. The simple decoration of this platter contrasts with the rest of the pieces, which are usually covered in bucolic scenes with floral borders. These ornate designs are clearly meant to be displayed (when not covered by a sumptuous turkey or roast!)

One such fancy design was made by Enoch Wood & Sons between 1829-1846 and printed with a scene familiar to most of us. Our early catalog of the porcelain collection, written by Emma Hodge in 1917, describes the piece: "Platter. Medium size. Decoration, central medallion in blue transfer of 'Niagara Falls, on the American side'. Heavy woods to the left of the falls. Figures in the foreground viewing the landscape. Shell border around rim."

Another transferware scene is on the piece I referred to previously with its handy gravy-well shaped into the porcelain. It is a Staffordshire blue and white chamfered rectangular well and tree platter, also decorated with a bucolic view. This octagonal Stubbs piece was made circa 1825 and has a romantic landscape with ruins, cattle and sheep in blue transfer print.

Along with the sponge ware platter, another piece stands out from the many blue and white transferware objects. It is a lovely Swansea or Cambrian Pottery platter of heavy porcelain with scroll motifs and isolated transfer decorated flowers in enamel colors. Emma Hodge described it: "Swansea porcelain 5th period 1825. Platter. White porcelain. Medallions in low relief, in which are bunches of flowers in polychrome. Irregular edge finished off in gold, circa 1815."

There are hundreds of wonderful pieces of pottery in The Alice collection for you to experience. If platters per se don't exactly float your boat, we do have gravy boats! ~ along with creamers, tea cups and saucers, plates and pitchers, as well as many other forms of decorative arts collected by Alice Miner in the early 20th century. The Alice is open through the end of December - Tuesday through Saturday - with the exception of Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve. Come in for a tour and gather ideas for your holiday entertaining!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lena's Crazy Quilt

Over the 87 years The Alice has operated as a museum there have been times when interesting objects and letters came into the collection as donations or bequests. In fact, a few weeks ago we happily accepted the personal correspondence and photographs from Dr. George W. Clark's estate here in Chazy. The museum has become a repository for genealogy and local history information as well as for some objects and textiles donated by local families. It is a wonderful textile I will focus on in this article.

In 1983 the Blow family lost their matriarch, Lena. Lena M. (O'Lena) Blow was born in Chazy, NY on November 12, 1896 - the daughter of Napoleon and Eliza O'Lena. She went to school in the little red school house that William Miner attended, and lived in the area her entire life. Around 1916 (the year her wedding dress was made) she married Edward Blow and started a family. She was an accomplished seamstress and made her and her six children's clothing as well as many beautiful quilts, employing sewing and needle craft skills she learned early in life.

On November 21, 1983 Lena passed away and soon after her children donated a few of her possessions to The Alice to be kept and enjoyed by future generations of visitors. The two objects donated in 1983 are Lena's wedding dress and slip. The garments joined two other textiles previously donated to the museum, both are blankets made by Lena Blow. One of these she started making when she was just nine years old, a diamond popcorn stitch bedspread. The other is a colorful crazy quilt with voluminous embroidery stitching and writing.

The crazy quilt is signed "LO" and "Apr. 10, 1908 Sciota, NY". Like most crazy quilts it consists of a quilt top mounted directly to backing with no batting in between. The backing in this case also serves as a ruffle on three sides of the quilt and is a solid rose colored cotton. The pieces consist of a wide variety of colors, shapes, sizes and patterns - and appear to be made up of mostly silk scraps. The scraps were pieced together into nine blocks of similar size and then sewn together along with a long narrow block running the width of the blanket at the bottom. This quilt top was then backed with the rose colored cotton.

Lena's crazy quilt is a striking piece and draws the eye as soon as you walk into the Sheraton Room where it is exhibited. But it's the detail in stitching that brings you in for a closer look. Lena used a large number of different embroidery stitches joining every piece. She also wrote a few messages, including "May You Be Happy" and embroidered flowers and birds. Perhaps her mother saved pieces from various sewing projects over the years and finally handed the scraps over to Lena to create something for her bed. My grandmother made quilts consisting of pieces that I could recognize from clothing she sewed for me and my siblings over the years. It's fun to look closely and see a familiar color and pattern that reminds you of the past. I imagine Lena lying in bed and tracing her family history through these bits of fabric.

This weekend is the Champlain Valley Quilter's Guild Show with hundreds of hand made quilts and wonderful craft items to enjoy. To experience a wide range of amazing fabric art made by local people, this is the show to see... Who knows, there may even be a few crazy quilts there! It's at Bailey Avenue School in Plattsburgh this Saturday and Sunday 10am - 4pm. If you want to see the true details in Lena Blow's quilt, come to The Alice for a tour soon.

And may you be happy!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Legend in the Collection

There were many distinguished visitors who came to enjoy the tranquil setting Alice and William Miner created during the heyday of Heart's Delight Farm in Chazy. Many of these visitors signed guest books with eloquent messages. One such visitor was James Buchanan Brady. Perhaps you will know him better by his nickname, Diamond Jim.

Diamond Jim Brady was a salesman extraordinaire. He started out as a poor Irish boy in New York City working as a bellboy. Perhaps utilizing his charm and tenacity he secured a job in the railroad business, eventually selling railroad equipment, including Miner equipment. Fortune Magazine called him the "greatest capital goods salesman in American history" fifty years after his 1917 death. Clearly he was a great salesman, and a savvy investor in the stock market, relatively rapidly becoming a very wealthy man, estimated at one time to be worth at least twelve million dollars!

His penchant for jewels is what gained him the nickname Diamond Jim. One of his signature pieces of jewelry was a large ring with the image of a horse surrounded by diamonds. He also prided himself in dressing well and believed that one need look good to be successful, "If you're going to make money, you've got to look like money..." was an oft-quoted Brady axiom.

He was literally a larger-than-life figure in the Gilded Age. There are so many legends surrounding Diamond Jim that it is clear he really caught the public's imagination. He was called a gourmand for his incredible appetite. The legends about the volume of food he would eat at a sitting are truly amazing, and perhaps not totally accurate. Another story about Diamond Jim illustrates how he whole-heartedly embraced the new "safety" bicycles popular in New York City by ordering a dozen gold plated bicycles with diamond-encrusted handlebars for himself, his friends, and his longtime confidant, actress and singer Lillian Russell.

Diamond Jim loved to bet on the horses, and was a regular at Saratoga, New York raceways. Perhaps it was his trips to Saratoga that eventually brought him north to visit his friend William Miner at Heart's Delight Farm in Chazy. Legend has it that William played a little trick on Diamond Jim by hiding a canteen of orange juice (Jim's favorite drink), along with a few fancy glasses in the crook of a tree, which they "found" as Will led Jim on a hike about the farm on a very warm day. Will lured Jim into a chat about how nice it might be to have something cold to drink... when Diamond Jim concurred, Will reached around the tree and poured him a glass of orange juice!

William Miner and Diamond Jim both traveled the railroads for endless days selling railroad gear. William sold his own inventions, and Jim sold for others as well as for William. They became good friends along the way. Perhaps they crossed paths at the World's Colombian Exposition in 1893, where Diamond Jim and Lillian Russell turned heads with the sheer amount of corn they consumed! Diamond Jim was a very generous man, showering gifts on friends and donating a large sum to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, where he had once been treated. There are even a few wonderful objects in the collection at The Alice that Jim gave to his friend Will.

In the Miner Room on the third floor are displayed two matching American silver-overlay green glass decanters with stoppers. Made by the Gorham Manufacturing Company around 1895, the silver overlay is a scrolled Art Nouveau design with a monogrammed "WHM". With matching monograms, the other pieces consist of a four-piece set of men's hairbrushes made of silver. They are not the overly ornate gifts of legend, just handsome pieces suitable for a less showy person like William Miner. Wouldn't you have loved to be a fly on the wall during Diamond Jim's visit to Heart's Delight Farm? Oh, the meals they served, and the enjoyment they squeezed out of life!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Transferware in The Alice Collection

The story written by past Director/Curator Nell Sullivan suggests Alice T. Miner may not have become a collector but for the urging of her dear friend Emma B. Hodge. Nell Sullivan was the last of the Directors hand-picked by Alice to lead her museum. According to Mrs. Sullivan, Emma gave Alice a box holding a variety of china, with the intent of interesting her friend in the lovely things she could be collecting. Eventually this trick worked and Alice began collecting porcelain and glass, eventually expanding her interests well beyond what I will cover in this article. (Scroll down to previous blog posts to learn more!)

Alice Miner did not merely gather beautiful objects, she was also very interested in the history and background of the objects she acquired. Because of her voracious reading and self-education about the decorative arts, the museum's reference library relating to the collection is extensive. Many of the books the staff refers to regularly have the Miner bookplate in the front, and many have notes written in Alice's own handwriting. She also looked to her friend Emma Hodge for guidance and assistance, and in the summer of 1917, before the museum was even a drawing on paper, Emma B. Hodge came to Heart's Delight Farm to catalog Alice T. Miner's growing collection of pottery and porcelain!

Many of the pieces Emma catalogued that summer are referred to as transferware. This is a method of decorating on pottery, perfected as early as the 175os in England, in which copper plates are engraved with designs and printed on tissue paper. While the print is still wet the paper print is then transferred onto pottery which is in turn fired at low temperature to permanently affix the design. The most durable method was to transfer the design on to the pottery before glazing. Once the glaze was applied and fired it then served to further set the transferred image on the plate, cup, tea pot, etc. Before the development of this method of design, pottery had been laboriously painted by hand and thus was much more expensive to produce.

The early pieces of transferware were printed with black ink on white porcelain. It was soon found, however, that the color blue was both more attractive and less expensive to produce. Around 1835, as the popularity of blue transfer designs waned, other colors such as light blue, pink, green and purple became more prevalent.

One such blue and white transferware plate in The Alice T. Miner Museum collection is decorated in what is called the "States" design. In her 1917 inventory for Alice, Emma describes the plate - "Tea plate. This is what is known as the "States" plate design. Decoration, central medallion in blue transfer, of three story building in the distance and sheep in the foreground. To the left is the figure of "Justice" blindfolded, holding a portrait of Washington. On the right is the kneeling figure of "Independence". Festoon border containing the names of the fifteen states in the Union, with the stars above. Irregular lace border around edge. Mark "Clews warranted Staffordshire" in circle with crown impressed."

The figure Emma Hodge refers to as Justice is actually Liberty holding a staff with the liberty cap on top. The two figures stand or kneel on a short pedestal. Under Justice the pedestal says "AMERICA AND" and the pedestal on which Liberty kneels says "INDEPENDENCE", hence the confusion about what the figure represents. Included in the plate design is the Masonic symbol of the square and compass pictured on an apron worn by Justice, perhaps in honor of Washington, who was a Freemason. The plate was made circa 1820 in Staffordshire, England by Clews Brothers. James Clews was one of the best known of the Staffordshire potters here in the United States because he actually attempted to make his pottery in Indiana for a short time in 1836, but was not successful, ultimately returning to England.

In the Ballroom of the museum, Alice's collection of glass and porcelain is beautifully exhibited in cases built into the walls. The blue and white transferware pieces catch one's eye upon entering the room. Along with the "States" design one can see another popular Clews design of the Landing of Lafayette. This pattern depicts Lafayette's ship landing with great ceremony in Castle Garden, New York on his second and final visit to America, in 1824. Other makers' designs are represented, including views of Niagara Falls, unknown buildings, and various bucolic scenes. Alice Miner also collected red, black, light blue, green, purple, and brown transferware of all shapes from various manufacturers. Do come to The Alice for a tour of the museum, and examine and enjoy the Ballroom pottery!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Seville to Chazy in 400 Years

In 1918, before plans for a museum in Chazy had been drawn, Alice T. Miner purchased what would become one of the most extraordinary pieces in her collection. It is double-sided page, or leaf, from a gradual, (a liturgical book containing chants for the Christian Mass), created on vellum, framed with one side showing. This gradual leaf measures approximately 24" x 35". The book within which it was once contained was made large enough for the entire choir to read. The front of the leaf has four lines of text and line staves with musical notations. There is a wide illuminated panel border on all four sides, and the first letter of the first word is an historiated, or enlarged, initial letter "D", with a miniature of Saint Paul seated with pen and scroll. The "D" begins Psalm 69:1, "Deus in adiutorium meum intende" God, come to my aid...

Detail of Saint Paul seated with pen and scroll, The Alice gradual leaf

Alice Miner purchased the gradual leaf through her friend, Frank Gunsaulus, a 20th century collector of rare books, manuscripts, and decorative arts. The manuscript has resided at The Alice since the first years of the museum, and many visitors have marveled at its vibrant colors, showcasing the skill of the illuminator, and how the rich colors have survived all of these years. It was created in Spain between 1430-1490. Alice's gradual leaf was the work of the Master of the Cypresses, so named for the characteristic cypress trees that he created which appear in a series of more than 80 miniatures in twenty-two choir books in the Cathedral of Seville, Spain. Dr. Gunsaulus, a Presbyterian Minister and educator, donated another gradual leaf attributed to the Master of the Cypresses to the Art Institute in Chicago in 1916. Gunsaulus acted as an agent in buying two manuscripts for Alice T. Miner, the gradual leaf and a breviary. You may remember two previous blogs-posts about the breviary in The Alice collection. &

Both manuscripts in The Alice collection were created on a type of parchment - actually on the highest quality of all parchment, vellum. Vellum is made from calf, sheep or goatskin that has been laboriously prepared by stretching, scraping and alternately wetting and drying the skin while stretched. A final stage of prepping the vellum with pumice and talc was often employed. This intense preparation was done to bring the vellum to the right thickness for book pages and to prepare the skin to properly receive ink.

Our Spanish gradual leaf is a stunning piece of art. The historiated initial is 6 1/2 inches tall, exhibiting the captivating detail achieved by the illuminator. The wonderful detail of illumination, the colors used, the very precise lines - all catch the eye as soon as one enters the Spiritual Exhibit. One cannot help but be drawn into the sumptuous initial and the soft expression on Saint Paul's face, his gesturing hand, and the lush colors and folds of fabric of his garb. The illuminated border is comprised of numerous swirling and multi-colored leaf forms.

If you visit the J. Paul Getty Museum in California, The Art Institute in Chicago, Princeton University, or even the Eastman School of Music at The University of Rochester you might view manuscripts created by the Master of the Cypresses. Closer yet, visit The Alice right here in Chazy, New York and enjoy the Spiritual Exhibit where you can study our Master of the Cypresses gradual leaf, or our other spectacular 15th century manuscript, Le Breviaire d'Henri de Lorraine.

The gradual leaf in the Spiritual Exhibit at The Alice

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Civil War Medal of Honor

On May 24, 1861 Charles Moore wrote a brief note to his father, Colonel A.C. Moore (retired), in it he stated, "I received my appointment of Quartermaster Sergeant of the 16th last evening and was sworn in this morning and am now on duty. I got my appointment through General Wool and Major Palmer. I have not time to write more, but when you write to me direct to CFM Quartermaster Sergeant of the 16th Regiment NY State, Albany, New York. Your son, C.F. Moore" Charles must have been very proud and relieved to have finally secured himself a role in the Union Army after trying all means of procuring a position - first with the Navy, then the Army - until his appointment as Quartermaster Sergeant.

The Medal of Honor
To commemorate the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War there is a new exhibit in the Lincoln Library at The Alice. Included in the exhibit are a few of Charles Moore's letters home to his parents, along with those written by three of William Miner's uncles, all of whom served for the Union during the war. The Lincoln Library usually holds many objects associated with our President, such as photographs and engravings of Lincoln and artifacts that once belonged to him. Also found in the Lincoln Library is a framed document signed by Abraham Lincoln conferring upon Captain George E. Gouraud of the United States Volunteers the rank of Major, "by brevet... for Gallant conduct on the field of battle in the engagement at Honey Hill, South Carolina, 31st December, 1864." Despite what the certificate reads, the date of the battle was actually November 30, 1864.
Through research of this document I have found an exciting bit of information we were not previously aware of here at The Alice - that we hold the military rank certificate for a man who was later awarded the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government, the Medal of Honor! Captain Gouraud eventually became Colonel Gouraud, and his rise can be traced back to the Battle at Honey Hill, South Carolina. Gouraud's Medal of Honor citation reads, "While under severe fire of the enemy, which drove back command, rendered valuable assistance in rallying the men." And the men on the Union side needed all the assistance they could get that day as they were severely defeated by the Confederate troops. When the chaos finally subsided, the Union has lost 89 men, 629 were wounded, and 28 went missing. George Gouraud was born in New York, New York in 1840. Following his military service he worked as an agent for Thomas Edison in London, where he introduced the new Edison Phonograph cylinder recording technology to England in 1888.

George E. Gouraud

We often point out Col. Gouraud's certificate to our tour participants primarily, until our research shed new light on its significance, because it was an original document signed by Abraham Lincoln. Now, however, we can include a little more information about the interesting man who earned it! Should you visit The Alice in the next few months you will have a chance to see the Civil War exhibit in the Lincoln Library - including Charles Moore's letters, the certificate of rank for our Medal of Honor recipient George Gouraud, carte-de-visite photographs of soldiers, Abraham Lincoln's inkwell and foot bath, and even a few objects related to the Confederate United States!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lincoln Presidential China at The Alice T. Miner Museum

Written by Tricia Davies

When being introduced to the collection of American decorative arts at the Alice T. Miner Museum it is hard not to be impressed by the imposing piece of porcelain that looms large on one of the top shelves of the Ballroom. The stately punch bowl-like object, embellished with a purple and gilt border and the United States Coat of Arms, is striking on a purely aesthetic basis and yet it is the story of its provenance that suggests it could be a true American treasure.

Object XXXX.0907 in The Alice T. Miner Museum Collection

The porcelain piece in question was included in a 1917 inventory of Alice T. Miner's ceramics and glass. Conducting the inventory was noted scholar and collector Emma Hodge who called the piece a "Paris porcelain Wine Cistern" or "wine cooler" interchangeably, and described it as being part of President Abraham Lincoln's State dinner service. The wine cooler had been donated by Emma to her friend Alice for the Alice T. Miner Colonial Collection Museum which opened to the public in 1924.

It was with difficulty that subsequent staff at the museum sought out more information on the wine cooler. Emma Hodge may have inadvertently confused the situation by connecting the authenticity of the wine cooler to pieces from the Lincoln service reportedly in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Historical Society Rooms in Chicago. Evidence of the other pieces, which Emma suggested "have the proper documents attesting these facts" and could authenticate a link to the Lincoln White House, has not been found.

What has been found, following the publication of a catalogue of American Presidential China in The Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), are similarities between the so-called wine cooler at The Alice and a chamberstick pictured in the new book and a slop bowl pictured on the PMA website. All three pieces feature decorations which not only echo the design of the Lincoln state dinner service, but feature extra flourishes. According to the catalogue, bedroom pieces ordered by Mary Lincoln as a "toilet set" were "differentiated by quatrefoil and tassel motifs." These are the same four-lobed flower-like forms painted on the wine cooler's purple border, and the same tassels which hang delicately down from the border decoration into the whiteness of the wine cooler's porcelain body.

Chamberstick from the Lincoln White House Toilet Set

Slop Bowl from the Lincoln White House Toilet Set

In an attempt to understand if and how a wine cooler might fit into a toilet set and in hopes of authenticating the collection object as a Lincoln White House piece, Tricia Davies contacted David Barquist who is the H. Richard Dietrich, Jr. Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and who wrote the introduction for the American Presidential China catalogue. Mr. Barquist responded immediately after receiving images and a description of the wine cooler. He related that the July 1861 invoice for Mary Lincoln's toilet set included a ewer, basin, chamber pot, soap dish, brush tray, jug, foot bath, slop jar, pair of chambersticks, powder box, and sponge bowl. He also asserted his belief that "the object in your museum's collection is in fact the foot bath from this set."

We still don't know exactly how Emma Hodge came to own Mary Lincoln's foot bath. A letter at The Alice indicates that a White House usher acquired the Lincoln piece while serving the Hayes through McKinley administrations. Further research needs to be done on this White House connection and efforts are being made to secure a copy of the invoice that lists the foot bath as part of the Lincoln set. David Barquist mentioned the possibility that the other porcelain Hodge references as being in Chicago may have been some of the numerous reproductions of Lincoln China made in the nineteenth century "and thus not retained by those institutions." Indeed, our research supports this theory.

The assertion that the object in the Alice T. Miner Museum is a foot bath has the power to change the way we look at the piece and how we share it with visitors. Previously imagined on a sideboard bearing wine, now the porcelain piece can be envisioned filled with water and, well, feet. The foot bath can be taken out of the formal context of the public state rooms and placed more privately in the family quarters of the Lincoln White House. The foot bath can also be reinterpreted as one of a set of twelve bedroom pieces, rather than one of a set of 658 pieces ordered by Mary Lincoln to complete the initial dinner and dessert service. No wonder one can't help but be impressed.

To commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War this object is currently on exhibit in the Lincoln Library along with other images and objects representing or formerly belonging to Abraham Lincoln. Included in this exhibit are letters home written by local men during the Civil War. The Alice collection includes letters written by Charles Moore, and three of Will Miner's uncles who served during the war.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Rattle Connection

One of my favorite rooms here at The Alice just happens to be one of the smallest exhibit spaces. The American Indian Room on the third floor holds a widely varied collection of objects that include WWI gas masks, Babylonian tablets, small lap desks, shells & fossils, along side a lovely collection of American Indian artifacts including baskets, beadwork and stone implements. Prominently displayed on the west wall among baskets and pottery is a Northwest Coast Tsimshian or Tlinget Chief's rattle. Our records say Tlingit, but it could also have been made by Tsimshian artisans, who are said to have invented the raven rattle.

The twelve inch long polychrome wooden Chief's rattle is made in the form of a flying raven with two carved sections joined by two wooden pegs. The upper section is comprised of flattened and backswept wings, along with an upturned head. In his narrowly parted beak the raven is holding a small object said to represent either the sun or a box holding the light of day - perhaps the dawning of human consciousness? The bird's flattened wings support a reclining human figure with bent arms and legs. The human's mouth is slightly open and his long tongue is protruding into the mouth of a turtle or frog creature, which in turn is held in the beak of another bird (perhaps a kingfisher) that is formed from the raven's raised tail feathers. The bottom section forms the underbelly of the raven, and is carved with a highly stylized avian-like face with a small hooked beak. The face also depicts elements of fish, whale and bird which mirror the richness of life supported by the sea and might also suggest the regional sources of human wealth. The face itself is a hollow cavity that at one time held pebbles, which when shaken caused the rattling sound. Estimated at circa 1850-1875, the rattle is expertly carved, and is colored with touches of rich black and red pigments.

While studying the carving, one might feel the concept of the interconnectedness of nature. Each creature is connected to and somehow depends on the others. The creatures are connected by tongues, or resting on each other, a part of one another's bodies. Chiefs used these rattles in ceremonies, including rites-of-passage celebrations, often holding on in each hand. Imagine the strong message this object sent to the young initiate: your life depends on all creatures... humans do not stand alone. The sounds of the paired rattles enhanced the stories or songs of the Chiefs, and are also said to have evoked the sounds of the fins of salmon breaking the surface of the water.

Here at The Alice the rattle rests quietly, its pebbles long since lost. Over eighty years ago Alice Miner was drawn to the rattle's beauty and artistic quality. A wooden stand was made for it, and it was carefully displayed for visitors to enjoy... But the rattle was also used by someone long ago! One can see that it surely had a life before The Alice - and that it had purpose in that former life. The wood is worn, the paint scratched in places, but this object has been lovingly cared for, surviving the decades. It is waiting to speak to you should you visit and take the time to look... You might be reminded how we are all inter-connected - bird, man, frog, fish!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jefferson & the Gloucester Hickory

Ah, the treasures hidden right beneath our noses! It was announced on President's Day that 74 books once belonging to our third President, Thomas Jefferson, were discovered in the rare books collection at Washington University Library in St. Louis, MO. These books have been held by the library for over 130 years and were originally donated by Jefferson's granddaughter, Ellen Coolidge, who actually bought them at auction. Jefferson apparently marked his books in a unique way, and the provenance from his estate to Ms. Coolidge, then eventually to the library, is quite clear. The library merely searched the pages of the books from the Coolidge donation and found that 74 of them had Jefferson's mark. Some of the books even had his handwritten notes in the margins!

Not planning a trip to Missouri any time soon? Might you nevertheless wish to see Thomas Jefferson's handwriting in person? Well it just so happens that right under your noses, here at The Alice T. Miner Museum, are housed a few letters written by Jefferson that are possible for you to read!

I'll be happy to tell you about two of the letters, one written by Jefferson, and the other the reply from a Mr. Philip Tabb, Esq. The Alice holds two other letters written by Mr. Jefferson, one of which was penned in 1816, and the other in November 1801 while serving in his first year as President. The latter I have previously written about in the blog, and you can read it here,

The Jefferson letter is dated January 8, 1809, from Washington,


Being desirous of planting some of the famous large Gloucester hiccory nut, now I believe nearly extinct, I take the liberty of solliciting your friendly aid in procuring them. a dozen or two, or even a smaller number, if quilted in a wrapper of linen, or covered between two bits of paste board, will come handily in the mail, and in time to be planted this season. retiring shortly to these occupations, you may judge of my enthusiasm in them, when at the age of 65 I am proposing to plant hiccory nuts. I pray you excuse the trouble I propose to you, and to accept my salutations & assurances of esteem & respect.

Thomas Jefferson"

The reply from Philip Tabb was written January 21 from Toddsbury, his family estate. Here is an excerpt,

"I am sorry it is not in my power to send you as many of the large hickory nuts of this country as you wished to plant ~ a few trees of the best kind are now left, the small quantity obtained from those were soon consumed in the family, four only were left by accident which I now forward by post...

I beg you Sir to accept my best wishes for your health & happiness & believe me to be respectfully yours

Philip Tabb"

It appears from my research that Philip Tabb suspected his letter, as well as the hickory nuts, had been stolen while en route to Jefferson. He writes another letter to the President qouting his previous note. This letter has been digitally archived by The Papers of Thomas Jefferson - Digital Edition, The University of Virginia Press. They have the reply from Jefferson to the Tabb letter and both can be read at the bottom of this blog posting.

To read more about Philip Tabb and the Gloucester Hickory trees Thomas Jefferson coveted, check out this article, Scroll down to page 12 for the article "The Elusive and Enigmatic Gloucester Hickory" written by Wesley Greene, Garden Historian, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Our Tabb letter to Jefferson is qouted in that article. Apparently the nuts Tabb sent to Jefferson were then forwarded on to Philadelphia, and just a few years later Thomas Jefferson planted a few more Shellbark Hickory (also commonly referred to as Gloucester Hickory) trees at Monticello.

If you would like to see the Jefferson and Tabb letters in person, come visit The Alice starting in May!

Below are the texts of two related letters found on The Papers of Thomas Jefferson - Digital Edition, The University of Virginia Press:

"Sir Toddsbury 7th April 1809
Having just learnt from Captn Decatur who delivered a moleboard I did myself the pleasure to send you at Washington, that you had not received my letter post which left Gloster Ct House about the 2oth of Jany last - & which I expect was destroyed by a villainous rider who we now know was in the habit of robing the mail about that time, I trouble you with the copy, not willing that the appearance of neglect sould pertain to one who will always feel himself honored by an oppy (opportunity) of rendering you any services in his power -
I am Sir mo. Respecfy Yours
Philip Tabb"

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson - Digital Edition, ed. Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008. Original source: Retirement Series, Volume 1 (4 March 1809 to 15 November 1809)

Dear Sir Monticello June 1. 09

Your favor of Apr. 7. has been duly recieved, with the copy of that of January. on reading the first paragraph of it respecting the nuts, I was confident I had recieved it, as I had forwarded the nuts on to a friend in Philadelphia. on searching my letter bundles, I accordingly found that of January recieved on the 27th of that month. yet when Capt Decatur sent me the Mould board, the part of your letter respecting that had as entirely escaped me as if I had never seen it. indeed I had found on other occasions that for1 the immense mass of matter which I was in the way of recieving, the memory was quite an insufficient storehouse. I thank you for the mould board. it’s form promises well, & I have no doubt of it’s good performance. it resembles extremely one which I made about 20. years ago, which has been much approved by the agricultural societies of England and France, the latter of which sent me a gold medal as a premium. the form as I observed is very much that of yours, with the advantage of being made by so easy a rule, that the coarsest negro workman can do it, & cannot possibly make it a hair’s breadth different from the true form. if I can find a conveyance, I will send you a small model, with it’s block which will shew you at once how to make it. a description of it may be found in Mease’s2 edition of Reese’s domestic encyclopedia. in agriculture I am only an amateur, having only that knolege which may be got from books. in the field I am entirely ignorant, & am now too old to learn. still it amuses my hours of exercise, & tempts to the taking due exercise. I salute you with great esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson - Digital Edition, ed. Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008. Original source: Retirement Series, Volume 1 (4 March 1809 to 15 November 1809)