The Original Yellow Drawing Pencil

One of the most asked about objects in the Nichols House Museum’s collection is a small blue box filled with yellow pencils. While it sounds like a simple set of objects, these pencils have been puzzling visitors and guides alike for years. It is the size of these small pencils that make them so unique. At one and a half inches each, these pencils would simply be too small to comfortably hold and write with. Each wooden pencil has a brass screw fitting on the back, making it clear that these small pencils were designed to attach into a larger drawing tool. The box originally held twelve pencils (or as the box reads “1 douz.”) but only nine remain.

The brand on the pencil box is L&C Hardtmuth Koh-I-Noor. L&C Hardtmuth is a pencil manufacturer that was founded at the turn of the nineteenth century in Vienna. At the end of the century the company adopted the name Koh-I-Noor [1] after a famous diamond discovered in India that is now part of the crown jewels of the United Kingdom [2]. Koh-I-Noor is credited with designing the “original yellow drawing pencil” and appealed to artists with a range of seventeen grades of graphite. [3]

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Queen Elizabeth at her coronation, 1953. The Koh-I-Noor diamond is at the base of her crown. National Media Museum, United Kingdom

To find out more about these tiny pencils we reached out to Caroline Weaver, a self-described “lifelong pencil lover” and founder of CW Pencil Enterprise. She informed us that these pencils were a refill for pencil holders that were fashionable in the early 1900s. Usually made of sterling silver or brass, these pencil holders would often have a small ring attached to them so that they could be carried on a chain.

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Brass pencil holder, L&C Hardtmuth, late 19th century, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Knowing where these pencils were from and what they were designed for, the question is which member of the Nichols family may have carried the fashionable little accessory that held them. With no such pencil holder in the collection, we are relying on photos and letters in the archives to tell the rest of the story.

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Elizabeth Nichols possibly wearing a chatelaine

A photo in the Nichols family’s collection shows Elizabeth Nichols standing in the garden in their New Hampshire summer home, wearing a rope belt around her waist that appears to have a silver object hanging from a chain. Chatelaines, decorative chains that were attached to a woman’s belt and held objects such as sewing scissors, button hooks, smelling salts and pencils, were a women’s accessory in the mid to late nineteenth century [4].

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Cut steel chatelaine, English, nineteenth century, Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Chatelaines became popular as a result of the lack of pockets in Victorian fashion [5]. While they had largely fallen out of fashion by the time the Koh-I-Noor pencils were manufactured, the photo of Elizabeth wearing a chain from her belt most likely dates from the early 20th century, after these pencils were available.

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Postcards from Rose Nichols’ collection showing women wearing chatelaines

There are also a few references to pencils in the family letters.

“Having spent about all the time I have to write to you in looking for a pen I am afraid you will have to content yourself with pencil.”–March 14, 1898, Margaret to Rose

“Papa is fixing the soles of my feet and that is why I have to write in pencil.” –February 2, 1902, Margaret to Marian

“I left my pencil watch key in the upper, left hand waistcoat pocket, the same garment in which you found the bank-notes. Please bring it to me, and you may possibly find also a lead pencil.” –November 30, 1902, Arthur to Elizabeth

While Margaret’s letters suggest that pencils are not her favorite writing instrument (even if her reasoning is a bit strange), Arthur seems to prefer using a pencil. His “pencil watch key” was most likely a small pencil holder attached to the chain of his pocket watch, that is seen in an image of Arthur from the photo collection.

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Arthur Nichols wearing a chain that most likely held his “pencil watch key”

His interest in pencils is also documented by on another object in the collection. A little red pencil sharpened on both ends is labeled with a tag in Arthur’s handwriting that reads,“Bought at the manufactory / Nürnberg / Anno, 1868. / Used 1885-1891. / A. H. N.”

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1961.819

Arthur visited the Faber manufacturer in 1868, while he was studying medicine in Vienna. His detailed record of this little red pencil that was in his possession for over fifty years, along with his use of a “pencil watch key” suggests that he was the “lifelong pencil lover” of the family and the likely owner of our small box of yellow Koh-I-Noor pencils.

 

[1]“History.” Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2016.

[2] Tarshis, Dena K. “THE KOH-I-NOOR DIAMOND AND ITS GLASS REPLICA AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE EXHIBITION.” Journal of Glass Studies 42 (2000): 133-43. Web.

[3]”Back Matter.” Art Education 6.5 (1953): 40. Web.

[4] “Chatelaine.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 20 Aug. 2016.

[5] Matthews, Christopher Todd. “Form and Deformity: The Trouble with Victorian Pockets.” Victorian Studies 52.4 (2010): 572-3. Web.

By Emma Welty, Head of Collections and Administration.

“Unfinished”

Tucked safely away in the Nichols House Museum’s archives are roughly three hundred photographs that make up the “Nichols Family Photograph Collection.” The collection is divided into five categories: individual portraits, group portraits, gardens and landscapes, buildings, artwork and decorative arts. The bulk of the photography collection is portraiture, followed closely by images of gardens and landscapes, unsurprisingly based on the Rose Nichols’ career as a landscape architect. Photos grouped in the “artwork and decorative arts” series make up only twenty-seven of the collection’s photos. While many of the photos in the artwork and decorative arts series appear to be photographs of collection objects taken and distributed by established museums, a very small number of photos stand out as something slightly different–student work. Three photos in the collection show figurative sculptures that appear to be made of plaster, each with a handwritten inscription on the back: “Walker Hancock – American Academy in Rome.”

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Inscription.


Walker Hancock was an American sculptor who lived from 1901 to 1998. He is most well known for his monumental works, including the Pennsylvania Railroad Memorial, and his
role as one of the Monuments Men, recovering artworks that had been looted by the Nazis during World War II [1].

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Portrait of Walker K. Hancock, 1928, by Frank P. Fairbanks, Fellows’ Work Collection, 1910-1960, American Academy in Rome.

Hancock studied sculpture at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art before being awarded the Prix de Rome fellowship which allowed him to study at the American Academy in Rome from 1925 to 1929 [2]. It was during his time at the American Academy of Rome that he designed the three sculptures that appear in the Nichols Family Photograph Collection.

 

Two of the sculptures appearing in these photos, Bagpipe Player and Boy with Squirrel were eventually cast in bronze and are found in several museums across the country but the third sculpture of two mermaids in a loose embrace, does not appear to have been completed. A very telling inscription handwritten in blue ink across the front reads “unfinished.” While the two completed models are photographed on slightly more formal pedestals, the two mermaids are seen on top of a rough looking table draped with a wrinkled piece of white fabric. Some scratchy pencil lines drawn on the photo from the base of the sculpture moving up through the two figures suggests Hancock’s design was intended as a fountain. Two copies of this photograph also exist in the photography archives of the American Academy in Rome. The records of these photos also indicate that the work was never resolved as the copies are archived under two different names,  Marine Sculpture and Fountain Group [3].

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Fountain Group, Fellow’s Work Collection, 1910-1960, American Academy in Rome.

While this work seems to have been left “unfinished” it appears to have been a precursor for Hancock’s work, Triton, a piece that Hancock designed as a fountain for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City [4].

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Large Triton Fountain, courtesy Brock & Co.

The Nichols Family’s connection to Walker Hancock does not seem to be documented outside of Rose Nichols’ possession of these three photographs. It is not surprising that Rose had an interest in Hancock’s sculptures based on her use of fountains and statuary in the gardens that she designed. While Rose may not have worked with Hancock directly or utilized any of his statuary in her designs, she did own a pair of small statues made by Hancock’s friend and contemporary, Paul Manship, depicting Adam and Eve.

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Pair of bronze statues, Paul Manship, 1961.344.1-2.

Hancock and Manship both studied at the American Academy in Rome, and were both associated with the sculptural style of “modernized classicism” [5]. Manship and Hancock were educated in sculpture in the early twentieth century, prior to the Great Depression. Unfortunately for these two sculptors as well as many of their contemporaries, bronze casting was often out of the question during the Depression due to financial constraints. Many trained sculptors during this period worked in carved wood and plaster instead of bronze. A renewed interest in modernized classicism in the 1980s allowed for many of these models to finally be cast in bronze, including one of Hancock’s most well received works, The DiverWhile many of Hancock’s statues were given new life throughout the 1980s, this fountain seen in Rose Nichols’ photo collection has remained “unfinished.”

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Inscription

[1]”Society of Fellows News.” American Academy in Rome. American Academy in Rome, Feb. 2015. Web. 3 Aug. 2016.

[2]”The Monuments Men.” Hancock, Capt. Walker K. Monuments Men Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[3] “Fellows’ Work Collection, 1910-1960.” Digital Humanities Center. American Academy in Rome, n.d. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[4] Howlett, D. Roger. “Thirties Sculpture in the Manship Tradition Reborn in the Eighties.” The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 16 (1990): 28. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 20 July 2016.

[5] Ibid. 24.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist.

A Crane, a Goat, a Lizard

The Nichols family’s love of travel is well documented through letters, diaries, postcards, and photographs. Rose Nichols visited Europe more than thirty times to visit friends, see museum collections, attend conferences, and study gardens for her many articles and books about European landscape architecture. Evidence of the family’s many tours through Europe is found throughout the house in the form of paintings, furniture, textiles, and other souvenirs. 

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Postcard from Rose Standish Nichols’ collection.

One piece in particular stands out as a fascinating example of the renewed interest in ancient Roman furnishing styles during the 19th century. This bronze oil lamp features a crane that is perched on a budding oak tree surrounded by a wreath of acanthus leaves. The tree emerges from a stand held up by three animal legs with cloven hooves and a small lizard meandering along the base.  The crane holds a wire form in its beak that holds two small vessels on chains along with a pair of tweezers. These small vessels would have provided the lamp’s light. They would have been filled with olive oil, which was used as the lamp’s fuel source. Wicks would be inserted into the vessels using the lamp’s tweezers [1]. As this lamp was manufactured in Italy in the late 19th century, it was most likely never used in the traditional fashion as a light source.

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Oil lamp, 1961.128

 

In During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, archaeological discoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum caused a renewed interest in ancient Roman art throughout Europe and the United States, and reproductions of ancient artifacts became common [2]. Rose Nichols was aware of this trend in her home decor, as well as her garden scholarship and design. In her 1928 book Italian Pleasure Gardens she writes:

“For centuries Herculaneum and Pompeii lay smothered under masses of lava and ashes. Finally in 1748, skillful archaeologists began to remove this heavy mantle and discovered a wealth of artistic treasures buried in the buildings and gardens. These works are now scattered in various museums all over the world, but many of the finest objects have been claimed by the National Museum at Naples. Here we can study a superb collection of bronze and marble statuary, wall paintings, mosaics, furniture and household utensils. Even the humblest articles often show the hand of a skilled designer.” [3]

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The oil lamp in its current location on the second floor landing in the 1920s.

 

Etruria, an ancient civilization that spanned the geography north of the city of Rome from roughly 500-700 BC, was also a source of inspiration for eighteenth and nineteenth century designers [4]. This piece employs the characteristics of an ancient Etruscan lantern, including the traditional round hanging lamps and its tripod base, but this object’s strong relationship to ancient Roman and Etruscan history is also found in its symbolic representation of animals.

The main figure featured in this lamp is the crane.  The crane is rich with symbolism in the ancient world. The crane represented seasonal change, as the migration patterns were well observed by early Greeks and Romans [5]. The crane’s circular style of movement or “dance” was associated by the ancients with the seasonal movement of the sun [6]. The relationship to the changing of the seasons and the cycle of the sun’s movement have a clear connection to light, making the crane an appropriate figure to be holding up the oil vessels that provided the lamp’s glow.

 

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Bronze lampstand from the Etruscan period, British Museum.

The base is supported by three animal legs with cloven hooves. Three-legged lamp stands with hooves seemed to be common in Etruria, as examples of these footed lamps are found in museum collections in the British Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The three hooves seen on this lamp appear to be representative of the feet of goats: ancient Greek and Roman mythology included the god Pan, who represented the power of nature and was fabled to be able to control the weather by playing his flute [8].  As images of Pan often showed a man with the horns and legs of  a goat, the isolated goat legs of this lamp could be a reference to Pan and his connection to the natural world.

 

 

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Statue of Pan, Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Greece.

 

The lizard crawling across the lamp’s base is a very small feature that is difficult to notice on first glance. But its symbolism throughout Etruscan and Roman history is fascinating in reference to the function of this object. The ancient Romans saw lizards as a symbol of death and rebirth, due to a belief that the animals hibernated in the winter months and reappeared in the spring. In Etruscan tradition, people also believed that lizards went blind as they aged but could regain their sight by bathing in bright sunlight [9]. This belief caused lizards to become symbolic of light and heat, making them a perfect image to adorn an oil lamp.

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Detail of oil lamp base

This small bronze oil lamp is representative of ancient Roman and Etruscan civilization and the resurgence of their decorative tradition in the 19th century. The three animal seen on this small oil lamp – the crane, goat, and lizard – suggest the ancient understanding of light. Through referencing daily cycles of the sun, the shifting of the seasons, or by the changing of the weather, the animals that decorate this bronze lamp all give meaning to the lamp’s traditional function: to illuminate dark spaces.

 

[1]Haines, T. L. Museum of Antiquity; a Description of Ancient Life. By L. W. Yaggy. Chicago: Western House, 1884. 287-95.

[2]Wilton-Ely, John. “Pompeian and Etruscan Tastes in the Neo-Classical Country-House Interior.” Studies in the History of Art 25 (1989): 51.

[3]Nichols, Rose Standish. “Pompeian Peristyles.” Italian Pleasure Gardens. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1931. 5.

[4]Wilton-Ely, John. “Pompeian and Etruscan Tastes in the Neo-Classical Country-House Interior.” Studies in the History of Art 25 (1989): 51.

[5]Johnsgard, Paul A., “Cranes of the World: 8. Cranes in Myth and Legent” (1983). Cranes of the World, by Paul Johnsgard. Paper 11. 70.

[6]Ibid. 73.

[7]Fox, William Sherwood. The Mythology of All Races: Greek and Roman. Vol. 1. Boston: Marshall Jones, 1916. 268.

[8]Leland, Charles Godfrey. Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition. London: T. F. Unwin, 1892. 267-68.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist

“3 black Windsor chairs, $45”

“Solid wooden Windsor furniture was also in great demand. Shapely, strong, and comfortable, it have been popular since the middle of the eighteenth century.”

Rose Standish Nichols,“Some Good Specimens of Old-Fashioned Painted Furniture,” House Beautiful, 1909.

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Image published in “Some Good Specimens of Old-Fashioned Painted Furniture”

The American Windsor chair has had a presence in homes and public buildings since the eighteenth century. These handcrafted chairs, often the work of the wheelwright rather than the carpenter, are characterized by spindle backs, turned legs, and steam-bent “hoops” that were socketed together without hardware. The solid wood seats were often carved or “saddled” to be more comfortable, and the turned spindles and steam-bent features were often a different type of wood than the carved seats, making painted Windsor chairs very common [1].

While Windsor chairs received their name from a leading market village in seventeenth century England, the style quickly spread to America and became iconic in the northeast. Nicknamed the “Philadelphia chair,” after the chair’s major manufacturing city in America, the Windsor chair claimed a prominent place in the political history of the United States when Thomas Jefferson sat in his Windsor writing chair and penned the Declaration of Independence[2][3].

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Windsor writing chair [4]
As the style moved throughout the Northeast, several different styles emerged, from smaller children’s chairs, to settees, to early rocking chairs.[5] The chairs, in their many styles and forms, became common for for use private homes as well as public spaces including the Pennsylvania State House [6], and the Boston Public Library [7].

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Marian Nichols’ bedroom showing a Windsor rocking chair, ca. 1920
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Postcard from Rose Nichols’ collection showing Windsor arm chairs at the Boston Athenaeum

Rose Nichols’ interest in the Windsor style is well documented in her 1909 House Beautiful article, “Some Good Specimens of Old-Fashioned Painted Furniture.” While she suggests in her article that they may not be “fancy” enough for a formal parlor, she writes that they are “appropriate for the library.” She also notes that “for furnishing a piazza nothing surpasses Windsor chairs and settees.”[8] Several postcards from Rose’s collection also boast Windsor chairs in interior images, including scenes of libraries, bedrooms, entry halls, and even kitchens.

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A postcard from Rose Nichols’s collection showing a Windsor chair in a study
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A postcard from Rose Nichols’ collection showing three Windsor chairs in a kitchen

Rose’s collection includes four, black “bow-back” Windsor armchairs, a style that was common at the turn of the nineteenth century.

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One of Rose’s four Windsor chairs

Despite her appreciation for Windsor chairs, it is unclear where Rose’s set of four chairs belonged. Throughout the years, the chairs were documented in three different places. In a photo from the early twentieth century, the four chairs were placed on the piazza at the Nichols family’s summer home in Cornish, New Hampshire. In Rose’s 1935 inventory of the furnishings at her 55 Mount Vernon Street home, “3 black Windsor chairs” are listed in the library. However, the oral histories from her caretaker, Mary King, from the late 1950s suggest that they were used in the kitchen. Although it is unknown where Rose would have permanently housed these four chairs, all three of the documented locations do align with her published advice regarding the use of painted furniture.

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Rose Nichols’ 1935 inventory of her furnishings including “3 black Windsor Chairs $45”

 

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Elizabeth Nichols (left) and friends, seated on the four chairs on the piazza of the family’s summer home in Cornish, New Hampshire.

These four “shapely, strong, and comfortable” chairs may have had a somewhat nomadic life with the Nichols family, however they represent Rose’s interest in interior design and furniture as well as American history. Though the Windsor chair was originally designed in England, its evolution through early America and associations with Philadelphia at the time of America’s founding, makes it an iconic example of American furniture. Rose Nichols understood this rich history and shared it, both through her written work and the preservation of her collection.

 

[1]Ormsbee, Thomas H. Field Guide to Early American Furniture. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951. 91-95. Print.

[2]Butler, Joseph T., Kathleen Eagen. Johnson, and Ray Skibinski. Field Guide to American Antique Furniture. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1985. 44-45. Print.

[3]Nichols, Rose Standish. “Some Good Specimens of Old-Fashioned Painted Furniture.” House Beautiful. February, 1909. 54-56. Print.

[4]Ormsbee, Thomas H. Field Guide to Early American Furniture. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951. 101. Print.

[5] Ibid. 91

[6]Osborne, Harold. The Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975. 830. Print.

[7]Nichols, Rose Standish. “Some Good Specimens of Old-Fashioned Painted Furniture.” House Beautiful. February, 1909. 54-56. Print.

[8]Ibid. 56.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist

A Partridge and a Palm Tree

“Please have the door to Margaret’s room kept closed and the curtain down; as there are so many things on the bed there the sun should not shine on them and fade them.”–Elizabeth Nichols writing to her daughter, Rose, May 30, 1896 [1].

Elizabeth Nichols understood the effect of bright, sunny windows on textiles. Dyed and printed cloth are incredibly vulnerable to light damage, which is why many of the window dressings in the Nichols’ home have been taken down and archived in order to preserve their colors and patterns. One set of curtains in the museum’s collection, that previously furnished Rose Nichols’ guest bedroom windows, have now been in storage for over almost two decades. Research into this colorful pattern revealed that it is an iconic pattern in British and American furnishings of the 19th and 20th centuries.

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The curtains on display in the guest bedroom, 1971.
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Detail of the pattern on the curtains from Rose Nichols’ collection.

This printed cloth was designed and produced by Bannister Hall Printworks, a company that was active in Preston, Lancashire, England in the early 19th century [2]. The colorful pattern, featuring palm trees, game birds, and flowers, arranged in dense columns, is known as “Partridge,” although the birds featured are more often described as pheasants. The design is attributed to printer, Charles Swainson, who first produced it in 1815 [3]. Bannister Hall Printworks specialized in fabrics for interior decor and quilting and many of the fabrics manufactured there were chintzes, glazed cotton textiles usually printed with images of fruit, flowers, or birds. [4]

In the 1890s, Bannister Hall Printworks was acquired by their competitor Stead-McAlpin, who took ownership of their machinery, printing blocks and original designs [5]. Stead-McAlpin, still in business to this day, reprinted this pattern in 1907 and 1908 with the original block printing technique. In 1926 and 1937 they reproduced the pattern by copper roller, a much more efficient method of production [6]. Rose Nichols, who lived in her home from 1885-1960, most likely purchased a version of the pattern that had been printed during the early 20th century.

 

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Two versions of the 1815 pattern. Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, New York.

Over the years, this patterned cloth became popular in England and the United States and was printed in many colors and used for interior furnishing purposes, including curtains and bedding. This pattern, among other prints from Bannister Hall Printworks, was frequently used in the 19th century for for quilting. The makers would either use the complete pattern to make “wholecloth” quilts, or delicately cut apart elements of the pattern for appliqué on a neutral background cloth [7].  Rose used this printed textile  for both curtains and bedding in her home. A coverlet in her collection boasts the same “Partridge” pattern but in a different color palette than the curtains.

 

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Quilt, 1825-35, including the bird and palm tree from the pattern, seen in the bottom corners of the composition. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania.
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Detail of the pattern on a coverlet from Rose Nichols’ collection.

These vibrant patterns align perfectly with Rose’s ideas about furnishing a room with curtains. In her 1910 House Beautiful article “Individuality in Interior Decoration” Rose advocates for this style of fabric when she writes,

“Curtains seem almost to form part of the walls, and their choice does much to make or mar a room. … Reproductions of old chintzes are valuable for giving a room distinctive curtains, and will harmonize with almost any color scheme.”[8]

A current project of the museum is the conservation and possible reproduction of these curtains to be installed in the guest bedroom.

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The curtains on display in the guest bedroom, 1971.

 

 

[1]Nichols and Shurtleff Family Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

[2]Blum, Dilys, and Jack L. Lindsey. “Nineteenth-Century Applique Quilts.”Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 85.363/364 (1989): 12. Web.

[3]”Textile, Printed.” Winterthur Museum Collection. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

[4]Blum, Dilys, and Jack L. Lindsey. “Nineteenth-Century Applique Quilts.”Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 85.363/364 (1989): 12. Web.

[5]”Our History.” Stead McAlpin. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

[6]From East to West: Textiles from G.P. & J. Baker ; Victoria & Albert Museum, 9 May – 14 October 1984. Victoria & Albert Museum, 1984. 345. Print.

[7]Blum, Dilys, and Jack L. Lindsey. “Nineteenth-Century Applique Quilts.”Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 85.363/364 (1989): 12-14. Web.

[8]Nichols, Rose Standish, “Individuality in Interior Decoration.” House Beautiful. June, 1910. 9-10.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist

“Unvegetative Ornaments”

 

In the late seventeenth century, garden statues, obelisks, dials, and other ‘unvegetative’ ornaments seemed to take the place of flowers. [1]

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Illustrations from Rose Standish Nichols’ first book “English Pleasure Gardens”

Rose Standish Nichols was a landscape architect by trade. She designed dozens of gardens on large plots of land, including her parents’ estate in Cornish, New Hampshire, but she never had much of a garden at her home at 55 Mount Vernon Street.

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The Nichols family garden in Cornish, New Hampshire

In her article, How to Make a Small Garden she classifies a “small” garden as one that “covers from about 1200 to 2500 square feet of ground.”[2] Since her Beacon Hill garden is little more than a stretch of grass that frames her brick walkway, she needed to be creative when bringing her passion for gardens home.  Her house is richly furnished with floral and horticultural imagery, from tapestries, to prints, to small needlework pictures. However, it is an object in the entrance of her home that references the style and scale of gardens she loved to visit and design.


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A nearly life-size sandstone statue of a young woman adorned with an empire revival dress and a brimmed hat stands in the portico between the house’s two front doors. The statue is English and dates to the 19th century but Rose understood the history of outdoor sculpture dating back much further. In her first book, English Pleasure Gardens, published in 1902, she explores garden design dating back to the classic tradition of ancient Italy and Greece to modern English gardens (at this point “modern gardens” refers to late 19th century). Rose suggests that some of the most successful gardens are those that blend a range of styles.

In some of the best modern English gardens there is a combination of classic statuary, Renaissance fountains, French perspectives, Dutch topiary work and flowers from all over the world. But in such a garden, when there is breadth given to the masses of colour and a proper regard to scale and proportion, the effect is not always incongruous.[3]

While Rose was not displaying “classic statuary,” she placed her statue in the portico, which not only referenced the outdoors, but also connected it to classic architecture, as the entry hall is the only part of the Federal townhouse that was designed in the Greek Revival style.

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The statue in the portico

Throughout her garden design and scholarship Rose suggested that outdoor sculpture was at its best in the Baroque period in Italy. She even utilized Baroque Italian figurative statues in one of her Illinois garden commissions.

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Garden designed by Rose Nichols in Lake Forest, Illinois

In her 1925 article, Rhythm and Punctuation in Design, she argued that when the original foliage of Baroque gardens has faded, there is still beauty in the skeleton of the garden’s architecture and ornamentation,

Badly kept up as are many of these 17th and 18th century gardens they might have appealed to us less in their palmy days than in their present decadence. Still, however, walls, balustrades, fountains, and statuary of stone, mellowed by age, pattern an ancient pleasuance. And even if the former flowers have disappeared, clipped laurels, oleanders and potted orange trees accent the parapets and the parterre. Here poets will again and again find inspiration and garden-lovers delight. [4]

This sentiment suggests that even without a full, lush garden behind them, the sculptures that are associated with pleasure grounds can still inspire a “garden-lover” like Rose.

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The walkway at 55 Mount Vernon Street in 1959, with the statue showing through the portico window

 

[1] Nichols, Rose Standish. “Gardens of the Stuarts.” English Pleasure Gardens. Boston: David R. Godine, 2003. 163.

[2] Nichols, Rose Standish. “How to Make a Small Garden.” House Beautiful 1912: 88.

[3] Nichols, Rose Standish. “Modern Gardens.” English Pleasure Gardens. Boston: David R. Godine, 2003. 252.

[4]Nichols, Rose Standish. “Rhythm and Punctuation in Design.” Horticulture Feb. 1925: 49.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist

Steeped in History

At first glance, this small object appears to be a fairly simple silver teapot. On closer inspection, however, this little teapot reveals its place in a craft history that spans over a thousand years: lusterware pottery. This teapot is not shaped from sterling silver as it appears, but is instead a molded ceramic vessel that has been coated with a “lustre” glaze made from metal oxides to create a shiny silver finish. [1] The object was created in Staffordshire, England by the pottery company, Fieldings Crown Devon, in the early 20th century although the tradition of lustre glazing dates back much further.

The earliest known examples of lustre appear on ancient Egyptian glassware. The invention of lustre decoration offered an inexpensive alternative to gilded ornamentation [2]. While these early glass pieces date back to the third and fourth centuries, lustre fired earthenware did not make an appearance until the eleventh century in Egypt [3]. Early Egyptian lustreware was very opulent, with a range of colors and motifs including animals and scenes of daily life including fishing in the Nile and working in the fields [4].

The popularity of lustreware ceramics in Mesopotamia in the 13th century caused many to believe that the technique of lustre firing ceramics originated in Persia. Many of the pieces that survive today have designs and inscriptions that suggest Persian makers, even those objects that were discovered in Egypt [5]. Despite the presence of these apparently Persian ceramics, a traveler’s diary from the 11th century led ceramic scholars to the conclusion that the home of the ornate glazing technique was, in fact, Cairo. Nâsir-i-Khusrau was a well-known Persian traveler and writer visited Old Cairo (then known as Fustât) in 1047 A.D and described his first experience seeing lustre decoration on ceramics. He compared the appearance ornate decoration to a type of Egyptian silk fabric called bukalimun, or “chameleon fabric” which is called that because it “changes every hour of the day” [6]. The fact that a well-traveled Persian writer had never seen lustreware suggests that this technique was not yet practiced by Persian artisans. This account, combined with the presence of a ceramics school in Cairo led scholars to believe that Persian students later traveled the school in Cairo to learn the trade [7].

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Small cup, terracotta, lustre decoration, opacified glaze, overglaze painted. Fatimid Egypt, 11-12th century. Louvre Museum. Paris, France

From Egypt and Persia, lustreware moved to Spain where it was adopted by the Moors, and Italy, where the technique was further developed by sixteenth century artisan, Maestro Giorgio Andreoli at Gubbio [8]. Giorgio mastered a technique called maiolica, also known as tin-glazed pottery, where he used an extra layer of glaze in order to enrich the colors of a detailed painted scene with red or gold metallic lustre [9].

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Maiolica plate with Jupiter, Juno, and Io transformed into a cow, lustered in workshop of Maestro Giorgio Andreoli, Gubbio, or Vincenzo Andreoli, Urbino, c.1535-1540, National Gallery of Art, Washington

All of the potters that had utilized the technique up to this point had used it for ornamentation and not to glaze an object in its entirety. This changed somewhat when lustreware became popular in England during the late 18th century. While the tradition of using lustre techniques to embellish and combine multiple colors and patterns still existed, the British artisans also used it to create faux-silver pieces. Ceramic artisans began using traditional silversmith molds to create objects, specifically teapots and sugar bowls that could be lustre-fired completely to look like silver [10]. The teapot in the Nichols House Museum’s collection falls into that category, having been designed to look like a Georgian period silver teapot.

 

[1]Campbell, Gordon. “Lustre.” Grove Art OnlineOxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 4 Mar. 2016.

[2]Martin, F. R. “The Origin of Lustre Ware.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 53.305 (1928): 91-92. JSTOR. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

[3]Butler, A. J. “The Origin of Lustre Ware.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 16.79 (1909): n. pag. JSTOR. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

[4]Martin, F. R. “Lustred Pottery in Egypt.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 17.85 (1910): n. pag. JSTOR. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

[5]Butler, A. J. “The Origin of Lustre Ware.”

[6]Butler, A. J. “Egypt and the Ceramic Art of the Nearer East.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 11.52 (1907): 221-26. JSTOR. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

[7]Butler, A. J. “The Origin of Lustre Ware.

[8]”The Buckingham Collection of Old English Lustre.” Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago (1907-1951) 16.1 (1922): 2-5. JSTOR. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

[9]”National Gallery of Art.” Andreoli of Gubbio, Giorgio, Maestro. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

[10]”The Buckingham Collection of Old English Lustre.”

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist