Thursday, August 26, 2021

Conserving the Collection: Ceramic Repair Techniques

This summer we have been joined at the Alice by Adelaide Steinfeld, the first recipient of the Burke Scholarship established in honor of long-time museum board members Joseph and Joan Burke. Adie has been dividing her time between the Alice and Miner Institute, working on a variety of archival and collections-related projects. During a day spent cleaning part of the ceramics collections, she became interested in the history of ceramic repair techniques. This blog post is the result of her research!

Adie cleaning a very dusty tureen lid

Alice’s Ceramics Collection

Alice T. Miner’s antique collection began with ceramics. During her time collecting in the early 20th century Alice was able to acquire a large and varied collection of mostly English and French pottery dating from the late 18th to mid 20th centuries. Throughout her collection we can see evidence of the lives these pieces led. Several have cracks and chips, in some cases even whole pieces have broken off. There is also evidence of past conservation treatments to repair this wear and tear. We can see this in fragments that have been glued together, sections of loss that have been replaced, and what appear to be staples joining broken pieces together. 

Repairing Ceramics

As ceramics are often utilitarian objects, it is almost inevitable that throughout their lifetime they will incur damages from consistent use. Ceramics are a brittle media that is mainly susceptible to temperature changes and breaking from being dropped or mishandled. Likely for as long as people have been using ceramics, they have been repairing them. The methods that evolved for doing so were carried out both by specialized repairers, known as China-menders, as well as at the home by servants or housemaids. Repair techniques would vary depending upon the function and aesthetic value of the object. 

Mug. Tan slipware with brown spots, ca. 1810.
Detail of chip in mug, was likely never repaired as
the object would have still been fully functional. 

Pair of Vases. White with painted floral reserves, foliate
and floral motifs in relief and decorated in
blue, green, and gilt, ca. 1850.

Detail of vase. This was primarily a decorative object that has been repaired with an unknown fill. The fill appears to be dark grey and there is a large piece missing at the corner. 

Joining Broken Pieces

The most common type of repair needed for ceramics is the joining of broken pieces after a break has occurred. Methods for joining pieces of pottery have been around since we started making pottery and involve the use of either an adhesive or mechanical technique.

Prior to the early 20th century synthetic adhesives were not stable or widely accessible. As a result people mainly relied on natural adhesives such as starch pastes, natural gums, resins, protein binders, beeswax, and fats (animal glue). Because these materials would often be combined together and due to their poor aging, it is difficult to analyze the organic materials that have been used in past treatments. A few inorganic materials may have been used as adhesives as well, including Portland cement, waterglass, and sulfur. 

Due to the instability of these adhesives, mechanical methods to repair ceramics have been in use since antiquity. There are three main techniques used: tying, lacing, and riveting. Tying, much like the name implies, uses a binding (metal, reed, or twine) to tie around the two broken pieces and secure them. Lacing and riveting are very similar techniques. For lacing holes would be drilled through the ceramic and then a wire would be threaded through, joining the two pieces. Riveting, likewise drills holes into the ceramic, though not all the way through. A piece of metal would then be used to join the two halves together--giving the appearance of staples. Riveting was common in China by the 17th century and had spread to Europe by the 19th century.

Tureen. Chinese export porcelain, white orange peel
glaze with blue and gilt borders and scenic reserves
in sepia, early 19th century.

Detail of tureen showing rivets and metals
visible on the exterior.


Often when a ceramic breaks it will have some loss, either in the form of chips or a larger missing piece, that require the addition of a fill material in order to be fully repaired. If these losses were large enough they would often be filled with other ceramic fragments. Other times we see that a whole part has been replaced with a newly fired and glazed addition. In both of these cases we need an additional material to adhere either the new pottery fragment or the replacement to the original vessel. Often this comes in the form of one of the adhesives mentioned above. For example animal glue would have been used in excess along with a pigment to produce a fill that was quite strong. Wax that was pigmented and mixed with resin forms a durable fill, but ages very poorly. Clay could be used as a fill, with either shellac or animal glue acting as an additive. A low firing glaze could also serve this purpose, though this has to be done very carefully in order to avoid damaging the original ceramic. Cement can also be seen but it causes the migration of salts to the ceramic, therefore degrading the original object. 

Tureen. Blue transfer print, Beauties of America:
Boston Alms house (body)and Cambridge College (lid).
John Ridgway, English, ca. 1825.

Detail of tureen lid showing rivets and metal bars
joining the broken pieces

Detail of tureen handle that appears to be a
replacement, with a matte finish and metal pegs
that have been used to attach it.

Teapot. Blue transfer print, floral pattern, ca. 1825.

Teapot lid showing dark blue green fill material
used to repair a loss.


Depending on the ultimate purpose of the repairaesthetic or functionalthe ceramic repair might be left unfinished or painted over to match the original finish. Most common paints and coatings were shellac with pigment as they would harden and produce a glaze-like finish. 

Contemporary Repairs
In the 1930s there was somewhat of a revolution in the types of adhesives available as the development of modern chemistry allowed for the discovery of plastic, synthetic resin, and rubber glues. Common glues in ceramics conservation include acrylic copolymers, though in some cases epoxies are more suited to the repairs. These glues are more stable and longer lasting, and as a result ceramic repairs were able to become a lot more seamless in their appearance, often being hardly detectable. There are numerous objects throughout the collection that appear to have been repaired in this manner. 

Bowl. Mocha ware, brown stripes enclosing caterpillar
band in mottled blue and brown, early 19th c.
Detail of repair on bowl. Discoloration along
the seam, with some staining on the surface of the ceramic. Adhesive is unknown.

Addressing Old Repairs

The modern conservator is usually looking to make a repair that is minimally invasive, reversible, stable, and doesn’t impact the overall appearance of the object. This is often at odds with these older repair techniques which didn’t have the same aesthetic and long term goals in mind. In many cases, especially with the use of organic adhesives, they aged very poorly causing discoloration on the original object. Other fills may have caused salts to deposit on the surface of the ceramic, which can lead to fracturing and cracking down the line. 

Generally, when it is possible to safely and effectively undo one of these older techniques, conservators will do so to avoid having the object degrade further. There is some debate about undoing riveting and other mechanical techniques, as they are viewed as somewhat of an art and point to the objects’ history.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Hollywood Comes to Plattsburgh: The Filming of Janice Meredith

Cover of the "Marion Davies Edition" of Janice Meredith
“Marion Davies Edition” of Janice Meredith
On February 26, 1924, readers of the Plattsburgh Sentinel opened their morning papers to find some exciting news: the movies were coming to town! Cosmopolitan Pictures, William Randolph Hearst’s film production company, had chosen Plattsburgh as the location for the filming of Janice Meredith, with Marion Davies in the title role. Two years earlier, Davies had appeared to great acclaim in When Knighthood Was in Flower, a romantic drama set in Tudor England and based on a bestselling book by Charles Major. Janice Meredith, a romantic drama set during the Revolutionary War and based on the 1899 bestseller by Paul Leicester Ford, seemed guaranteed to enjoy box-office success and to cement Davies’s reputation as the top female film star of the day. The setting would capitalize on a growing interest in American history as the sesquicentennial approached, and would allow the filmmakers to claim that the movie had educational as well as entertainment value.

Front page of the San Francisco Examiner, February 3, 1922,
reporting on the trial of Roscoe Arbuckle and the murder of
William Desmond Taylor
This was important, because in 1924, the American movie industry was struggling to recover its reputation after a series of recent scandals. These included the mysterious death of director William Desmond Taylor, the trials of actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle for the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe, and the drug-related death of leading man Wallace Reid. Nationwide, there were calls for a boycott of Hollywood films, and there must have been many people in Plattsburgh who questioned the wisdom of inviting “motion picture people” of doubtful morals to their city. The Sentinel hoped to reassure concerned readers that Cosmopolitan Pictures was not like other film companies. It had, the paper reported on February 29, an “editorial policy of choosing historical plays to the exclusion of sex or questionable subjects....Their pictures are always received with enthusiasm by the most discriminating audiences.” The company also “maintain[s] an efficient research department whose duty it is to carefully plan and check every scene in order to picture it historically correct.” 

Less than two weeks later, carpenters were already putting the finishing touches on their version of the city of Trenton, which had been constructed near the rifle range at the Plattsburgh Barracks. A writer for the Daily Republican marveled at the realism of the set: “From a distance it is very hard for an onlooker to distinguish whether of not it is a reality.” In fact, what appeared to be buildings of brick and stone were “nothing more than heavy cardboard, molded and painted and nailed to the framework in such a way that the onlookers are led to believe that it is a reality.” Crews were also hard at work opening up the Saranac River so that it could play the role of the Delaware in a pivotal scene. The enlisted men of the 26th Infantry, stationed at the Plattsburgh Barracks, had been recruited to fill the roles of Continental, British, and Hessian soldiers, and would be joined by an additional 400 men from Fort Ethan Allen in Vermont.

Filming the Battle of Trenton at the Plattsburgh Barracks
By that time, many of the professional actors had arrived in Plattsburgh to begin filming some of the incidental scenes. Marion Davies herself arrived on March 10, along with her “secretaries, scenario editors and other staff men,” and took up residence at the Witherill Hotel. On the afternoon of March 13, Davies visited the barracks and was made Honorary Colonel of the regiment and reviewed a parade led by the regimental band. Meanwhile, cameramen were shooting scenes at the Booth estate on the Lake Shore Road. All of this activity was leading up to the day when the Battle of Trenton would be filmed, which happened on March 15. Marion Davies did not appear, but Joseph Kilgour—playing George Washington for the fourth time in his career—“took a prominent part in the battle scene and was mounted on a white charger.” Along with the soldiers, several wives of officers at the barracks took part in this scene.

By March 26, production had largely wrapped up and the Daily Press took this time to reflect upon the experience. If Cosmopolitan Pictures had hoped to change the attitudes of ordinary Americans toward the film industry, it certainly seemed to have succeeded in this case. “It is a matter of regret to everyone in Plattsburgh that the stay of these motion picture people has not been longer. It has been long enough, however, to give the residents of this city an insight to the type of men and women engaged in the industry and it may be said at once that this insight has revealed nothing that was not favorable to the artists and artisans connected with this great motion picture enterprise.” The writer of the editorial observed that people tended to think that they knew movie stars, because they read and heard so much about them, but now the people of Plattsburgh would be able to base their opinions on what they actually knew. They had seen that the cast and crew “conducted themselves as ladies and gentlemen at all times,” from the leading actors and actresses “down to the humblest workman.” They had attended “strictly to their own affairs” and done their jobs with “concentrated energy, enthusiasm and singleness of purpose.” 

Lobby Card for Janice Meredith
Normally, movies were not shown outside major cities until several months after their release. But since Plattsburgh had played such an important part in Janice Meredith, it was given the privilege of being the first place to show the film, less than two weeks after its premiere at the Cosmopolitan Theatre in New York. R.J. Henry, manager of the Clinton Theater, cancelled all other bookings for four days and put his orchestra to work rehearsing the musical score. To drum up additional interest in the film, “Mr. Henry is placing on display in his lobby and in several stores throughout the city photographic representations of many of the scenes in the picture, where they will be on view for the next week.” (He also had to quell rumors that moviegoers would be charged “New York prices” for the film, instead of the usual fifty cents.)

Ad for Janice Meredith from the Plattsburgh
Daily Republican, August 29, 1924
Janice Meredith received a rave review from the Daily Republican. Not only was it a marvelous piece of entertainment, anchored by a brilliant performance by Marion Davies, but it was filled with “the spirit of unmistakable and sincere Americanism” that produced “a frenzy of patriotism that was positively thrilling. Cheer after cheer followed each valorous deed of the Minute Men and each bold movement for freedom. One feels after seeing Janice Meredith one has seen the most enlightening picture of American history yet produced.” With responses like this, the motion picture industry must have felt it was on the right track toward repairing its reputation. Despite the acclaim her performance received, however, Marion Davies never quite reached the level of stardom she hoped for. If she’s remembered at all today, it’s probably as the aggressively untalented opera singer loosely based on her in Citizen Kane. You’ll have the opportunity to see Davies on screen and judge for yourself at our free showing of Janice Meredith this Thursday, September 19, starting at 7:00 p.m. The movie is approximately 2 and a half hours long; there will be an intermission and ample snacks will be provided!

Friday, August 31, 2018

Food Will Win the War: Recruiting an Army of Food Savers

The state and federal agencies formed to tackle the food problem during World War I approached the issue from the perspectives of both the producer and the consumer. As we saw in our last post, the New York State Food Commission developed a variety of resources to assist farmers in increasing their crop and livestock yields, including supplying improved seed, providing assistance in pest and disease management, and helping to address the farm labor shortage. These programs were largely successful, but they were only part of the solution. Americans would also have to fundamentally change the way they cooked and ate their daily meals.

U.S. Food Administration poster
urging Americans to save wheat for soldiers
Since women were responsible for purchasing and preparing almost all food consumed in the home, all food conservation programs targeted housewives. The U.S. Food Administration and the state food commissions aimed to persuade women that it was their patriotic duty to adopt wartime food-saving measures, such as wheatless and porkless days. As authorities continually emphasized, there was no shortage of food in the United States; it was a matter of substituting those foods that were not needed or suitable to send overseas with those that were. But Americans were accustomed to a diet that relied heavily upon meat and bread. Meat was easy to cook and it almost always tasted good; bread was cheap and accessible. Could people be persuaded that fish, eggs, and cheese were acceptable substitutes for pork and beef, and that bread made with corn, rye, oats, and barley just as good as that made from wheat?

A small army of women stepped forward to help the government with this difficult task. Since the late 19th century, (white, middle-class) women had been working to establish domestic science as a profession; they had been successful in starting domestic science and home economics departments at colleges and universities (including the New York State College of Agriculture in Ithaca) and sending their graduates forth into the world to work in high schools, settlement houses, and extension services. For many of them, World War I must have seemed like a godsend: finally they would have the opportunity to demonstrate to the wider world just how important their discipline was. The work that women did in the home affected their families, communities, and indeed, the nation—and it was essential that they do it right.

Cornell Home Economics Faculty, 1914.
Bertha Titsworth is standing at far right.
Home economists and experts in “scientific cookery” went to work preparing menus and recipes for wartime foods. Experimental kitchens were set up across the country to test bread recipes, hoping to find the perfect formula that would use less wheat but still be palatable and easy for the home baker to make. They figured out how to make desserts without sugar, introduced housewives to unfamiliar new ingredients like soybeans, and came up with creative ways to use leftovers. They also introduced Americans to the science of nutrition, explaining what kind of foods were necessary to good health and why. They provided assurance that the changes in diet encouraged by the Food Administration would do no harm, and in fact, eating more vegetables and less sugar would probably do everyone a lot of good. 

All of this information was distributed in cookbooks, pamphlets, magazines, and newspapers, and at schools, women’s clubs, and county fairs. The Plattsburgh newspapers regularly published lists of new material on food conservation received by local public libraries, and ran columns of “Victory Menus.” Women in Clinton County also had many opportunities to learn directly from food experts. In July 1917, the Plattsburgh Sentinel reported that “women representing different sections of the county as well as the Grange and various women’s clubs” met at the Farm Bureau office in Plattsburgh “for the purpose of organizing a woman’s branch in farm bureau work as the result of the national campaign for thrift and economy.” Bertha E. Titsworth, extension specialist and faculty member from the department of home economics at Cornell, helped the women to develop the plan. Clinton County would be divided into 15 communities, with four demonstrations held each week. Meetings would be held in “Grange halls, churches or other public buildings,” and the demonstrations of cooking and preserving were to be done by a “trained lady specialist” provided by the state.

Advertisement from the Plattsburgh
Daily Republican for a bread mixer and
food grinder
Later that summer, the Plattsburgh Daily Republican printed an article (almost certainly based closely on a press release provided by the New York State Food Commission), reporting on the success of the “campaign for the enlistment of women in food conservation.” Thirty food conservation experts had been assigned to various parts of the state, “and they are not only advising housewives, but they are demonstrating conservation methods and enrolling women in the movement, with the result that a chain has been established in which the housewife in the remotest corner of the state is as active as those in the larger centers.” The offices of the home economics experts “have become bureaus of information for all questions pertaining to food and food conservation.” 

Not surprisingly, during the summer of 1917, most of the work being done related to methods of preserving fruits and vegetables for the winter. In our next post, we’ll look more at the canning craze of 1917-18 and the related war garden movement.


“Food Conservation: Circular Letter Issued by the Conservation Department of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs,” Plattsburgh Sentinel, May 19, 1917.

“Food Saving in N.Y. State,” Plattsburgh Daily Republican, June 22, 1917.

“Women in Farm Bureau Work: County Organization Perfected at Meeting in This City,” Plattsburgh Sentinel, July 3, 1917.

“Women’s Aid in Food Campaign Now Being Sought in Every County of the State of New York,” Plattsburgh Daily Republican, August 14, 1917.

“Class in Cookery at Young Women’s League,” Plattsburgh Sentinel, October 9, 1917.

“Public Library Notes: New Books on Household Organization and Food Conservation,” Plattsburgh Sentinel, February 12, 1918.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Food Will Win the War: Women, Boys, and Tractors Wanted!

On April 14, 1917, New York State Governor Charles Whitman issued a proclamation stating that the following Tuesday, April 21, would be Agricultural Mobilization Day. Whitman called upon the state’s farmers to “assemble in their respective communities, through their organizations, to hear reports on the present situation and to make definite plans for meeting, locally, the greatest food production problems that they have ever been called upon to solve.” While all New Yorkers would play a role in the production and conservation of food, it all began with farmers. As Whitman said, “The man who tills the soil and produces the food for the soldier in the field and his family at home is rendering a patriotic service, as truly as is the man who bears the brunt of battle.”

Men, boys, and women were all called upon
to do their patriotic duty 
One of the first problems that the Production Bureau of the Food Commission aimed to assist the farmer with was the shortage of agricultural labor. The young men who were enlisting or being drafted into the armed forces were, in many cases, the same men who ordinarily would have been working on the farms of New York. Other men had left the country in favor of higher-paying jobs in war-related industries. The commission set up a central employment bureau to connect farmers seeking help with experienced farmhands looking for work, but it was also evident that new groups of workers would need to be recruited.

Teenage boys were the obvious first target. The Department of Education approved the release of boys age 14 and up from school attendance if they were performing farm labor (girls were also eligible, though it appears that many fewer of them took advantage of the program), and they were encouraged to register as members of the Boys’ Working Reserve (also known as the Farm Cadet Program). The State Bureau of Employment coordinated the placement of boys on farms, working with farm bureau agents and local school districts. The state agricultural schools provided basic training to the boys before they were sent out to work. The boys were supervised by school authorities, who also inspected the job sites and ensured that the workers had suitable living quarters. By September 1918, over 12,000 boys had been placed on farms throughout the state.

New York State also took the rather bold step of creating a program to enlist women farm workers. The Food Commission hired eight women farm labor specialists, whose job was not only to recruit women workers, but to convince farmers that they should hire women. Many farmers were skeptical about women’s abilities to handle agricultural labor, but the fact that they could pay them less than men undoubtedly won some of them over. Women workers had to be at least 18 years old and pass a physical examination, and they were not permitted to work more than 54 hours per week. Like the boys of the Working Reserve, they were carefully supervised, and their workplaces and living quarters were inspected.

“Girls of Cornell Farm Unit Women’s Working Reserve
at Work in Hay Field”
The Food Commission’s aim was to find students and women with seasonal employment who were available during the summer, and indeed, “a large proportion of the women registered were college girls, teachers, stenographers, clerical workers, saleswomen, and a few industrial workers.” Women sent out to work sites in groups, and they lived together in communal housing and pooled their resources to hire a cook and a supervisor. Official reports and media stories about “farmerettes” made clear that the women worked hard but also produced the impression that the experience was something like attending a particularly vigorous summer camp, with plenty of exercise, fresh air, and wholesome food. As for employers, according to the commission, even those who were skeptical at first “have become warm advocates...and have found what a woman may lack in strength is often made up in her interest and intelligence.”

A Tractor School at the New York State College of Agriculture
If human workers could not be found, farmers might turn to technological solutions to the labor problem. In 1917, most farmers in New York State still depended upon man- and horsepower, but it was becoming evident that tractors had the potential to revolutionize agriculture. One tractor could do the work of three men, each with a team of horses. The Food Commission acquired a fleet of 70 tractors, which it then rented out at reasonable rates to farmers who could not afford to purchase their own. The commission also ran tractor schools throughout the state to educate potential owners or renters on their use and maintenance. A tractor school for Clinton, St. Lawrence, and Franklin counties was held in Malone in March 1918, and there was sufficient interest in Clinton County for another one in Plattsburgh in December. By then the war was over, but it was clear that tractors were a permanent part of the agricultural landscape. The announcement for the tractor school also noted that it was open to both men and women, as “women have proven in so many ways that they can handle highly technical work.”

In addition to addressing farm labor shortages, the Bureau of Production also provided resources for battling pests and crop diseases, supplied seeds and inspected seed corn and potatoes, and started programs to increase the production of essential commodities, particularly wheat and pork. While most of their work was directed at those who farmed for a living, they also encouraged anyone who could possibly do so to start their own gardens. Since much of this wartime garden activity overlapped with the work of the Bureau of Conservation, we’ll discuss it in more detail in our next post.


“School Cadets Harvesting: State Defense Council Takes Steps to Provide Farmers with Help,” Plattsburgh Daily Republican, September 6, 1917.

“Tractor Use Instruction: School to Be Held in This City December 16-20,” Plattsburgh Daily Press, November 21, 1918

Report of the New York State Food Commission for Period October 18, 1917, to July 1, 1918

Pam Brown, “Farming for the War,” New York Archives v. 11, no. 1 (Summer 2011)

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Food Will Win the War: The New York State Food Commission

Last month’s Centennial Summer Fair at Miner Institute gave us the opportunity to learn more about the history of food and farming during World War I. From large enterprises like Heart’s Delight Farm to vacant-lot city gardeners, all Americans were urged to do their patriotic duty by producing and conserving food to the best of their ability. Not only were they responsible for feeding themselves, they also had to provide for the United States army overseas and assist with food relief efforts in Europe. The United States had abundant agricultural resources, but organization was required to use them effectively. This will be the first of three blog posts exploring this topic in more depth. Here we’ll present a broad overview of the federal and state agencies created to “win the war in the kitchen.”

A simple and direct message from the
U.S. Food Administration
Soon after the US declared war on Germany in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson established the United States Food Administration and appointed Herbert Hoover as its head. Since 1914, Hoover had been directing food relief efforts in occupied Belgium and France, so he was well aware of the importance of food to national security. He also believed that it was possible to tackle the food problem through voluntary effort. Rather than imposing rationing or other government strictures, Americans could be persuaded that it was their patriotic duty to comply with the new food regulations. The Food Administration would provide resources and guidance, but it should work through existing organizations rather than create new bureaucratic structures.

In practice, the Food Administration came to rely heavily upon the states to carry its message to individuals at the local level. In New York, Governor Charles Whitman called for the creation of a Food Supply Commission for Patriotic Service in April 1917, which would immediately address some of the most pressing issues, particularly farmers’ concerns about a shortage of labor and consumers’ worries about rising food costs. Later that summer, legislation was introduced which created a new Food Commission under the direction of a three-man board. William Miner was one of the names put forward as a possible commissioner, though it’s unlikely he would have accepted, given his vehement opposition to all forms of government regulation.

Material produced by the state echoed the
messages sent out at the national level
The newly-constituted New York State Food Commission began its work in October 1917, under the direction of John Mitchell, the former president of the United Mine Workers of America. Within the commission there were three main bureaus: production, transportation and distribution, and conservation, each with its own deputy director. Each division then worked with organizations at the county level to disseminate information and resources. In most places, the county farm bureaus (themselves partnerships between the state agricultural colleges and local farmers) became the vehicle for the food commission’s work. In New York City and a few other large urban centers, other organizations were found that could serve this role.

New York State presented some unique challenges when it came to setting and enacting food policies. It was primarily a rural state, with about half the population engaged in agriculture, but it was also home to the nation’s largest city, with an economically and ethnically diverse population. Policies that were good for food producers weren’t necessarily good for those who were primarily food consumers, and vice versa. There were also the needs of a vast array of other food related industries to account for—processors, shippers, wholesalers, retailers. It’s no wonder, then, that the passage of the state food control bill was a contentious process that took months to hammer out.

Workers in the federal and state food bureaus recognized that food was not merely fuel. It was deeply personal and tied up with ideas about home, family, gender, and nationality. Getting people to change the way they ate—to accept “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays”—and the way they thought about food, was no easy task. In our next posts, we’ll look at the ways Hoover and his colleagues approached the food problem from two perspectives: that of the farmer and of the housewife. If food was to win the war, both parties had embrace the cause.


Report of the New York State Food Supply Commission

Report of the New York State Food Commission for period October 18, 1917, to July 1, 1918

Annual Report of the New York State College of Agriculture at Cornell University, 1918

Saturday, July 28, 2018

“Seeing Is Not Enough”: World War I Battlefield Tourism

German Stahlhelm and postcard sent to
Louise and Bertha Trainer, 1921
After an unintentionally long hiatus, the Alice News blog is back with a story inspired by our recent exhibit of World War I artifacts at the Centennial Summer Fair. Most of the war relics in the Alice’s collection were obtained by servicemen who acquired them during their time overseas. However, one battered and rusty German helmet was given to Louise and Bertha Trainer by a friend of theirs who visited the battlefields of Belgium in 1921. Emma Kindl was one of thousands of tourists who made pilgrimages to sites in France and Belgium in the years after the Great War.

While we are accustomed to the idea of battlefield tourism today, we probably tend to associate it with the visiting of sites like Civil War battlefields—places where time has removed the most obvious evidence of their violent past. It may seem strange that people were interested in visiting trenches and ruined villages in the immediate aftermath of the war. But even before the armistice, commentators were predicting that there would be a boom in battlefield tourism. The war had been such a profound and life-altering event for so many people that it seemed inevitable that they would want to witness for themselves the places whose names had become part of their vocabulary: Ypres, Vimy, Passchendaele, Verdun.

Another factor encouraging travel was the decision not to return the bodies of the fallen to their home countries but to bury them on or near the battlefields. Bereaved family members had to travel in order to visit the graves of their loved ones. World War I also produced an extraordinarily large number of bodies that were never identified or otherwise remained unaccounted for. For the families of these missing men, a trip to a battlefield or war memorial was the closest they would come to visiting their final resting place. 

From the Michelin Guide
Ypres and the Battle of Ypres (1919)
Widows, parents, and children did not think of themselves as battlefield tourists but as pilgrims, visiting hallowed ground. Nevertheless, they frequently required guidance to locate the sites they wanted to visit, and a variety of charitable organizations were established in the post-war years to assist families and ex-servicemen. Travel agencies like Thomas Cook offered organized tours of sites associated with the war in France, Belgium, Italy, and the Middle East, and Michelin issued its first battlefield guidebooks in 1919. Volume I of this series, The First Battle of the Marne, stated quite explicitly, “The contemplated visit should be a pilgrimage; not merely a journey across the ravished land. Seeing is not enough, the visitor must understand; ruins are more impressive when coupled with a knowledge of their origin and destruction.”

From the Michelin Guide
Lille Before and During the War (1919)
The Michelin guides (31 titles in French and 15 in English) all followed a similar pattern. They began with an overview of the battles covered in the guide (“a clear comprehension of the action as a whole is absolutely necessary to a full understanding of the separate engagements”), after which itineraries were laid out. These itineraries were, in some ways, not all that different than those in ordinary guidebooks, including driving directions, histories of towns and villages, and information about churches and other landmarks. But they were also detailed accounts of battles, bombings, and wartime deprivation, often including first-hand accounts from those who had experienced them. The books were lavishly illustrated with photographs, many of them before-and-after views which highlighted the destruction wrought upon the landscape. Using the Michelin guides, the visitor could retrace the daily—almost hourly—progression of the war.

The idea that one could recreate the experiences of the past through visiting the battlefields seems to have been an important one both for families and for ex-servicemen. For the bereaved, retracing the steps of their loved ones helped them feel closer to those they had lost. The journey to the grave or battlefield was an essential part of the grieving process for many people, allowing them a venue to confront their emotions and emerge afterwards in a more hopeful and accepting frame of mind. Some ex-servicemen found revisiting battlefields therapeutic as well. By reliving their pasts and facing their memories, they could come to terms with the effects of the war.

Postcard of the battlefield at Kemmel. A note on the back states that
this field is where Mlle. Kindl picked up the helmet.
Of course, over time, the landscape of the battlefields changed, and it became harder to relive the past. In the early 1920s, the destruction of the war was still very clear. As one guidebook put it, “The ruined villages are as the shells and bombs left them. Everywhere are branchless trees and stumps, shell craters roughly filled in, trenches, barbed wire entanglements, and shelters for men and ammunition. Thousands of shells, shell casings, rifles, gun-limbers, and machine-guns lie scattered about.” Some battlefields and trenches were preserved in their wartime state, either by commercial operators or by Dominion governments (for example, the Canadian government was instrumental in preserving portions of Vimy Ridge), but for the most part, nature and agriculture reclaimed the fields. In this context, souvenirs took on great significance. Locating and bringing home a tangible reminder of the battlefield became even more important as time passed and the material effects of the war were less obvious.


This post is primarily drawn from the David W. Lloyd, Battlefield Tourism: Pilgrimage and the Commemoration of the Great War in Britain, Australia, and Canada, 1919-1939 (Berg, 1998). Other sources on battlefield tourism include Brian Murphy, “Dark Tourism and the Michelin World War I Battlefield Guides,” Journal of Franco-Irish Studies v. 4 (2015) and Caroline Winter, “Tourism, Social Memory, and the Great War,” Annals of Tourism Research v. 36 no. 4 (October 2009). An excellent source on monuments and the memory of World War I more broadly is Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge University Press, 1995).

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Spanish Colonial in San Diego—and Chazy

Chazy Central Rural School, 1919
The Chazy Central Rural School building which stood from 1916 until 1969 was unusual in many ways. Most rural schools (or urban schools, for that matter) did not have swimming pools, film projectors, or marble-topped cafeteria tables. Also unusual was the choice of architectural style: a blending of Mission and Spanish Colonial elements. Why did William H. Miner and his architect, Frederick Townsend, choose this style—associated with the American Southwest and Mexico—for a school building in the far north of New York State?

Neither Townsend nor Miner seem to have left any definitive statement on the matter, so we’ll probably never know for sure, but one influence may have been the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego. The Panama-California Exposition was one of two world’s fairs held that year to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal. The other, in San Francisco, was much larger, but San Diego found ways to differentiate its exposition from its northern neighbor.

Promotional pamphlet made by the
San Diego Board of Supervisors
At the time of the fair, San Diego had a population of about 40,000, making it the smallest city ever to host a world’s fair. But city boosters saw this as an opportunity to shape San Diego’s public image and attract future residents, investors, and tourists. The exposition’s architecture and landscape design would demonstrate that the city and region had a rich history, while the exhibits would show that it was forward-thinking in technology, industry, and agriculture. Perhaps the city’s biggest selling point was its climate: this would, it was proudly announced, be the first “All-the-year-round” exposition. As one promotional pamphlet exclaimed, “Nowhere else but in this land of favored climatic conditions could such a fair be possible. Here is perpetual Springtime. Here is a climate that couldn’t be more delightful if it were made to order.” By opening the fair on January 1, organizers made the most of the contrast between winters in Southern California and other parts of the country.

The Varied Industries building and gardens
Floods of promotional material about the San Diego fair began to appear several years before it opened, as organizers, the city’s chamber of commerce, and railroads began to drum up interest. Naturally, much of their focus was on the new buildings being constructed in Balboa Park beginning in the summer of 1912. Unlike most world’s fair structures, a number of these were always intended to be permanent additions to the site—and indeed the whole complex proved to be so beloved by the local community that others were also kept and re-used for other purposes, including another fair in 1936. Instead of the classically-inspired architecture that had become the standard at previous fairs, organizers chose the Spanish Colonial as a distinctive and versatile style. The unified design scheme, along with the strong historical and regional associations of the style, would help San Diego’s fair distinguish itself from San Francisco. For many Americans living in the northeast and midwest, this was probably their first real exposure to Spanish Colonial and Mission architecture, and the San Diego fair led to a surge in its popularity. 

Originally the Indian Arts Building,
rebuilt in 1996 and now home to the
San Diego Art Institute
The fair’s Director of Works, Frank P. Allen, Jr., wrote that the Spanish Colonial was an ideal choice for exposition architecture not just because it was regionally appropriate but because it encompassed a wide range of styles, from “the ornate and whimsical extravagance of of Churriguersque and Plateresque, down to the simple lines and plain surfaces of the California mission buildings.” While being unified in material and inspiration, the buildings would also show an interesting variety. Art critic and curator Christian Brinton, writing in The International Studio, praised the fair’s buildings as “a distinct step forward in American architecture. Architects who have visited the grounds are enthusiastic over the genuine renaissance of the glories of Spanish art and architecture which they feel will follow the San Diego Exposition.”

Visitors and critics alike agreed that the Exposition’s vision of “Old Spain” in California was a success. However, it also raised some questions about the uneasy place that the Spanish and Native Americans occupied in Anglo Americans’ conception of national history. It was generally acknowledged that the unique qualities of Spanish Colonial architecture came from the combination of Spanish design with Native American materials and labor. This was something to be proud of, something that set the buildings of the Americas apart from their European counterparts. At the same time, most writing about the fair also produced the clear impression that Spanish and native contributions were part of the past. Exhibit material stated in no uncertain terms that while there once had been great indigenous civilizations in Mesoamerica, the great days of the Maya were long past by the time the Spanish arrived. Present-day Indians were described as “living just as they have lived and their ancestors have lived for centuries.” 

Zuni women making pottery as part of the
“Painted Desert” exhibit
Similarly, while the Spanish were given credit for starting the process of Christianizing and “civilizing” the southwest, it was also made clear that Anglo-Americans were now taking on that mantle—bear in mind that since 1898, the United States had also acquired many of Spain’s former colonies. Early 20th-century racial and evolutionary theories presented this sequence of events as inevitable: just as Native Americans had been conquered by the superior Spanish, so too were the Spanish ultimately supplanted by the superior Anglo-Americans. Adopting the Spanish Colonial style (and, it was strongly implied, improving it) was a way to symbolize this transition.

CCRS under construction, 1916
For William Miner and Frederick Townsend, the Spanish Colonial may have seemed like a good choice for Chazy Central Rural School because it was both traditional and up-to-date. It would certainly have stood out as something unique among the other buildings in the village, making clear that this school was different from the old rural school in every possible way. It also could be constructed with modern building materials, such as hollow brick and cement. Although the original school building did not stand for as long as Miner probably anticipated it would, it seems safe to say that it made an impression on everyone who saw it, and it is still fondly remembered today. 

You can still visit many of the Panama-California Exposition’s original buildings in Balboa Park, as well as others that were rebuilt in the 1990s.


Panama-California Exposition Digital Archive

Frank P. Allen, Jr., “San Diego Exposition: Development of Spanish Colonial Architecture,” Fine Arts Journal 32, no. 3 (March 1915), 116-126.

Christine Edstrom O’Hara, “The Panama-California Exposition, San Diego, 1915: The Olmstead Brothers’ Ecological Park Typology,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 70, no. 1 (March 2011), 64-81.

Hal K. Rothman, “Selling the Meaning of Place: Entrepreneurship, Tourism, and Community Transformation in the Twentieth-Century American West,” Pacific Historical Review 65, no. 4 (November 1996), 525-557.

Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, “Spanish Origins of American Empire: Hispanism, History, and Commemoration, 1898-1915,” The International History Review 30, no. 1 (March 2008), 32-51.

Abigail A. Van Slyck, “Mañana, Mañana: Racial Stereotypes and the Anglo Rediscovery of the Southwest’s Vernacular Architecture, 1890-1920,” Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture 5 (1995), 95-108.