Skip to main content

tv   [untitled]    February 12, 2012 6:00pm-6:30pm EST

6:00 pm
king, but also your scholarly work in other areas. thank you very much. we also thank morehouse college for being able to make this happen and we look forward to moving into the next year as we look at the impact of dr. king and his mentors on not only us here in atlanta and morehouse, but on the world. thank you very much. [ applause ]
6:01 pm
in the 19th century, middle class american families began displaying wealth and status in their homes by purchasing globes and furniture and portraits made by local craftsmen. david jaffee looks at the decorations and how they helped develop in early american material culture. this is about an hour.
6:02 pm
[ applause ] >> it's really a pleasure to be here. i wanted to start with winthrop chandler who in many ways begins my project in chronological terms as well as how i thought about it. i've spent a lot of time with the antiquarian society and also in worcester county, and as i was doing that work, i really was struck by the number of portrait makers and clockmakers and chairmakers, thinking about gardner and sterling and other communities. so when i moved to this new project, which i confess was quite some time ago, but is, finally the fruits of it are done, it is a pleasure to be here where much of that project started. i really have been involved in a long-term education and really
6:03 pm
re-education since my original training as an americanist and not really thinking with things, so this has been a more recent development. i wanted to share with you some of my thoughts about how we really do history with objects. that's why i thought about calling this learning to look at early american material culture. let me start with an extended anecdote. so this is also robert peckham. who is going to be part of this. so this really brackets both peckham and others at the end of this century-long study that i completed. when i was visiting the benington museum a few summers ago, i made the acquaintance of james wilson, the first american commercial globemaker, but i really discovered the unique power of objects to tell a story that is not available to us from the textural record.
6:04 pm
to be honest, i had come to the mouz eamuseum to look at objects, but i come to look at the curatorial files. look at texts. i was more comfortable with. it was an exhibit on vermont furniture in the early republic. as i juaner doed through the sunlit valley in benington museum where the early history was displayed, i saw things that helped me understand how artisans and consumers, and those were really the two groups, imagined their world. first, my eye was struck by a large neoclassical sideboard that you see here with the graceful bow front and sleek lines. looking for all the world like a sophisticated boston product. but tofs made in windsor, vermont. when you see the inlay, you can see three of the inlays are
6:05 pm
going in one direction and the fourth in the other. my assumption is this is a cabinetmaker who didn't make lots of sideboards. the fact he was making this one meant he was less familiar than his metropolitan colleague, and that accounts for some variances in construction. at the other end of the museum, i noticed a marvelous musical tall clock, built by a rutland vermont partnership. the timepiece boasted a calendar wheel and a moon dial and it played seven tunes, one for each day of the week, with ale isment for sunday. then i noticed a large, really not just a large, a massive desk and encyclopedia-filled bookcase that you see before you, really dominating a whole side of the room, a whole corner of the room where the museum had reconstructed the interior of an early 19th century vermont home. as i grew closer, the desk, i
6:06 pm
learned belonged to james wilson of bradford, vermont, a town north along the connecticut river. inching closer, because i wasn't familiar, the label stated that wilson was the united states' first globemaker. and one of wilson's early globes sat there in a case in a plexicase display. it seems strange that the out of the way place is bradford in the early 19th century that globe making, the first american globes were being made, and i really left the museum that day really enthralled with the thought of learning more about james wilson. how could a globemaker have worked in the upper connecticut valley in the early 1790s? how did he learn about globe making? what were the sources of his information? for that matter, not just his information, but inspiration? what gave him the project of
6:07 pm
being a globemaker at the time? as i learned, others -- and you can see here -- go back. as i learned, others in the hinterlands had tried to make globes. new hampshire shoe quln maker and surveyor and farmer, association, sam lane made this ideocrattic formation of a terrestrial globe in the 1970s. the idea is a misnomer the more you start to look at things. the layers peel back further. however, lane's was not a commercial globe. he made this for his own purposes. he turned a seven inch oak sphere on his lathe. he cut the degrees and the continental boundaries on the surface and then pinned it in a pine table in the form of a milking stool so it could revolve. so again it's the local materials that he utilized for this, and really, the larger goal here of clocks
6:08 pm
and globes offering consumers visual control over time and space. satisfied the quest for knowledge while fulfilling a refined person's desire to exhibit symbols of gentility. so what i mean here is that this is obviously a source of information and knowledge, but it's also an object for decorative display. it serves both purposes. the story of james wilson offers a compelling look at the object in knowledge and the curious ways of achieving that goal in the early republic, because there is something special about this time and place about the village enlightenment was critical to his decision and his ability. of course, you can want to make globes, but whether you can make them or get the resources and then whether you can sell them
6:09 pm
is quite another question. james wilson, farmer and blacksmith, created the first globes in north america from his provincial station from bradford, vermont. there is really a remarkable saga of a vision of a backwoods craftsman, navigating among the arts and sciences to produce new commercial commodities in the new nation. and i think those newnesses there of not just new commodities, but the fact this is a few years after the war of independence, it is also a story of american and cultural independence, because of course, all globes before wilson's were imported, mostly from london makers, also eddin brough and other english globes. illustrated here is one of his early creations. it was produced in 1810. 13 inches in diameter. wilson was born in londonderry. new hampshire, 1763, received
6:10 pm
relatively little former education. he worked in his father's farm and learned blacksmithing from his uncle. but in 1795 he set off to really search for a new farm, more land of his own. he set off for brat ford, vermont, crossing the connecticut river to visit relatives and then intending to proceed north. however, and this is a family story which i would take with a grain of salt. it's suprahypochyphal, but it serves my purposes wonderful. i, of course, will use it. according to the family accounts, he saw a pair of globes. globes at this point in time usually were in pairs. probably these were the first globes he ever saw. he saw them, according to the story, at dartmouth where he peered at them through a keyhole of a locked laboratory room. so how much better could it be
6:11 pm
in terms of knowledge hidden from him and objects that are unavailable to someone from his midland station. this fired his imagination that he was going to make his own globes which he was then going to sell to a wider populous. this furthered his resolve to manufacture his globes. he later then moved to bradford. he and his cousin manufactured axes to acquire his land. the next year he made his first globe. it was a large, solid wooden ball covered with paper with the continents and countries drawn in pen and ink. if you know anything about globemaking, commercial globes are not solid spheres of wood, but paper mache. the first problem he faced was his limited knowledge of geography and cartography.
6:12 pm
he made $100 that winter which allowed him to purchase the 18 volumes of the encyclopedia. brittanica, published in edinborough, which was a vast commend yum about the arts and sciences related to globemaking, and there are extensive entries in that encyclopedia on globes, cartography, and various other geographic information, so he is really able to obtain this at a general store relatively close to where he is living. and so my argument here is that encyclopedias are really the archetypal promise of all the recognized knowledge in one place, in one area. and in making that information
6:13 pm
available through print, even in northern new england. wilson then, with his woodworking skills, constructed this imposing desk and bookcase to house his prized possession. the next hurdle was engraving on copper. he walked to new haven to meet amos dolittle. it was the first geography text published in the united states in 1784. so, he's really able to get through the proliferation of print in the late 18th century to obtain all of this information without really at this point in time until he's met morse, any contact with someone who is a carto grapher or a globemaker. the physical construction of the globe came after that. he used his original globe as a model, covering it with paper,
6:14 pm
gluing several layers together, tracing the continental outlines, cutting the paper into spheres, and here you can see actually the encyclopedia entry on globemaking, and then, this is actually from a recent reconstruction of the bradford, vermont, globe. you can see here quite clearly the different -- this is the globe before its restoration. you can see the paper ma shea with the skim coating of plaster over it that keeps it together and the different gores. these are really 12 gores that have the geographic information that he has engraved and glues onto it. so i this i this gives you a much better sense of how the globe was actually made, by seeing this project. surmounting all of these
6:15 pm
obstacles, he spent nearly a year to make his first copper plate, only to discover the problem was the proportion of a projection onto a spherical surface. in other words, how do you take a flat thing and wrap it around a spherical object? he looked to boston for information. there visiting morris himself for additional training, and then had to begin all over again taking his copper plate and burnishing it and starting all over again. wilson worked on all aspects of globemaking over the next decade, and he made everything himself. he built his own tools, his lathes and presses. he mixed his own ink. shaped the spheres and designed and printed all of his own maps, and by 1810, he produced his own, his first globes of paper, these terrestrial and celestial ones on, as i mentioned, a paper core suspended in a birched frame with turned legs.
6:16 pm
only after the decade-long struggle to realize this vision was he able to turn to commercial globemaking and begin to manufacture and market these prized items that you see here and really make a living out of this. when i was relaying this story a few years ago at the winter museum, a few years ago, the student at the wonderful collection of early american things said, "oh, but we actually have these embroidered globes made in the early 19th century by school girls" in the 18th century. i had never heard of the west town school. i said i would love to see one of those. we marched up to the collection. again it's really the power of objects to make you think in new directions. it is the presence of the objects which really contributes to making connections. so here you see sarah sheppard's who is a student in the west town friend's school, who made this globe sampler, of plain
6:17 pm
woven silk, covering a stuffed sphere. these are about the size of a grapefruit. they are filled and then this is a mixture of both embroidery and pen and ink drawing on the surface. you really have multimedia within this one sphere object. although this is in 1844 example, they were made as early as 1811. they are really concurrent. it tells you about the narrative of the globemaking construct. it is not just wilson, but the west town school where the globes are made. one is printed. one is embroidered. one is textiles and the other is paper and metal, and these fabricated forms make the manifest the new nation through various educational and cultural activities. my purpose in writing the new nation of goods was to tell really the story of these
6:18 pm
objects and the story of industrialization which i'll focus on in a minute. these all changed in the next century and a different tale of industrialization. more out of windsor chairs, more out of globes or other furniture and textile forms is really quite different than the lower paradigm. i also very much intended to tell a story about the role of material culture and thinking with things. historical studies are a series of case studies of artisans and consumers and objects. each chapter begins with an object. i try to use that object like the wilson globe as a way of unpacking larger issues of enlightenment of industrialization. and so on. i would argue while scholars
6:19 pm
of material culture have embraced the study of artifact in recent studies, social historical scholarship has spent relatively little attention to the role of materiality. material ul can tour it far less culture in what i and others have called the visual turn. we had studies of vernacular architecture, domestic textiles, topics like city life and war and safety in 18th century north america. we have books by dale upton. and laurel thatcher ulrich, but generally, historians have used objects more to illustrate their studies of prior derived narratives from text which they are more comfortable in reading and analyzing than they are the more shifty and untrustworthy ar artifact. i really question and john styles, a british historian has a wonderful quote. "objects enable the social world to happen, and we need to pay
6:20 pm
attention to what objects do and how they work," and i think that is a really telling remark. because materials matter, it really is important to think about how -- i'm going to jump a little bit forward. it really matters how we understand how an object might appeal to users and viewers as an item of display as well as an item of knowledge. how can we best understand why a chest of drawers looks the way it is? we can scan pattern books, other contemporary furniture for clues. we need to think about tools and the tactile experience of making that chest on a cabinetmaker's work bench. what are the decisions made not in an intellectual form, but a tactile experience one.
6:21 pm
objects don't exist just as markers of social stat stus, which is often how they are used. this symbolizes someone is refined or gentile. that is thinking of an object like a black box. it doesn't matter how they work, it just matters that you own one. they have material presences. that is why we have to learn to look. the construction of a windsor chair provides insights about the changing division of labor as well as stylistic shifts taking place within the workshop. it really matters that this chair is centered in the chair seat and everything is sort of bolted into that. this provides a sturdy platform, but also the fact these different piece ises, these spindles as well as the legs are all turned on the lathe, meaning many of the relatively simplified forms could not be necessarily made in a chairmaker's shop but hacked out in a lumberyard but sort of a saw mill dozens of miles away. this allows for a decentralized
6:22 pm
mode of manufacture throughout new england. this is the means of making thousands of spindles which are assembled later. that is what i mean by looking beyond a textile model of manufacturing to see the things which are not necessarily hand made in the way. i wanted to retell the story of industrialization. while we fetishize and collect wonderfully folky portraits of brightly clad children and colorfully stenciled rocking chairs, we really value them often because we think they are so remote from the emerging industrial colossus. it's the fact that they're folky and handmade that gives them the value, especially in the market. my argument here is the chair is very much part of an emerging industrial mode of manufacture. so i was really interested in how this world of small things
6:23 pm
and imported luxuries. i really begin with ebeneezer devotion. that's really how the book begins. a certain figure, sitting for his portrait in his woodstock, connecticut study that his wife, martha, had commissioned in 1770. this was commissioned from the deck rahhive artist and portraitist winthrop chandler, whose portrait i showed at the very beginning. ebeneezer sternly sits on a fashionable but restrained chippendale chair. in fact, chandler is so much the decorative artist, so much the realist that he depicts every one of the tacks in chandler's chair, including the ones that are, the empty spaces where they're missing, so again it is the focus on versamilitude that he is giving equal light to the face as well as the chair, which i think is one of the characteristics of much of this. he is sitting there with his
6:24 pm
well thumbed book collection. i thumbed through the books in the brookline public library. they are called from geneva, from london. they really are an atlantic world library. this is a world where most of of goods in the 1760s and 1770s are imported. ebeneezer owns a london tall clock at a time when tall clocks are rare. what is interesting to me after the war for independence, a newly decentralized world of goods and consumers refashions luxury goods like tall clocks and weighty and imported literary tones. you get a whole range of chairs like this philadelphia chair here with the incredible carving by a scottish immigrant thomas affleck and a whole host of london chairmakers, and this really rich carving, which really drapes off of this, but
6:25 pm
at the same time, you get something made by chappin in windsor, connecticut. chainin goes to philadelphia and learns about chairmaking at a time. when he goes back to connecticut, he makes something plainer. there are a lot of different vocabularies based on what their customers desire in their homes. it is not they could not make something fancier, it is that they are targeting their mode of manufacture to appeal to the pocketbook as well as the design vocabulary of their customers. so, in my talking about refashioning instead of the very expensive john marshall life of washington, you get someone like mason weems. the peddler and author who really refashions biography into the whole series of popular biographies such as the life of george washington, which starts
6:26 pm
out as a pamphlet and then gets expanded. or you also start to get portrait painters like ralph earl. ralph earl who trains, first starts out in massachusetts, then moves to great britain during the revolution. he's a loyalist. 183, he looks around, decides this is a time to come back to the now united states. again, although he is trained in the british style, he is able to paint in a brushy mode like sir joshua reynolds. make maybe not quite like sir joshua reynolds. connecticut, to paint elijah boredman, the owner of a store and prominent merchant, he paints in an older, liny flat mode. he also paints boardman, as you can see this is a huge seven-foot portrait. it almost looks like boardman is
6:27 pm
about to step off of the canvas and join us in the room, or you can also get something like james wilson, who moves to not just making the 13 inch globes but he also downsizes so to speak, and this is a three inch globe. this is much cheaper and less information on the globe, but ranged now in a place and at a cost that many more people could afford. so again, you are getting a wider range and hierarchy of different types of products, many that were once imported only, now that are made domestically. even to take you through the whole process with chairmaking, you start out with brass clocks. which have a brass mechanism. brass is imported in the 1780s and 1790s. just like daniel burnap makes. far more expensive these tall clocks. you get eli terry. these connecticut clockmakers start now to make their clocks, but they don't use brass.
6:28 pm
they use a local material, wood, which is available. it doesn't work as well in a humid new england summer. the wheels will swell up and that will mean you lose time. again, it is one-fifth the price or one-third the price of a brass clock, but it is still a tall clock, which is relatively costly. but the 18-teens, what eli terry does is he shrinks the whole clock into a shelf clock. instead of a seven-foot tall clock, you have a clock that sits on the mantle piece. not only do you have that, you have the case included. instead of buying a case instead of buying a case separately from the cabinetmaker to fit your clock in, you get this with the numerals painted on the glass door. by the 1820s this now begins to look like much of the fans area furniture at the time with these finials here, with a painting on
6:29 pm
glass dial, and sort of much richer item that really looks like a piece of furniture as opposed to just a clock. to just a clock. i could walk you through the same process here in the 1820s and 1830s with what i call the tale of two cities, with gardner and sterling. they both started out making chairs like the production of joel pratt. it's a sterling chairmaker, a set of six. now they are not necessarily singular products, but they are made in sets because people have now many more products and commodities in their households. so, what is interesting here is pratt makes these chairs in a decentralized mode. he doesn't make everything within his shop. he has people in different shops and saw mills and extending into southern new hampshire who are making parts for him. in many cases, he is just as


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on