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

 

 

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“Please return to R S Nichols”

In the 20th century, postcards had a fascinating role in the culture of travel, correspondence and personal record keeping. In the 2012 MFA publication, The Postcard Age, collector, Leonard A. Lauder writes, “Postcards did not just record or represent this dynamic era–they also participated actively in it.” [1] Postcards were simultaneously a popular means of communication, as well as an inexpensive and accessible type of image collecting. Before the invention of cellphones with cameras and the ease of communication and research created by the internet, postcards were a way of keeping visual records of things that you had seen in your travels and either sending them to your friends and family, or developing a collection of small, mass-produced artworks. The practice of collecting and sending postcards became very popular at the turn of the 20th century. In 1895 an estimated 314 million postcards were mailed, compared to the 880 million postcards sent in 1914. [2] 

Along with her house and furnishings, Rose Nichols left her collection of over 1,200 postcards to the Nichols House Museum. Some of the postcards were sent by friends and relatives, some were mailed home by Rose to keep in her own collection, and most of the cards acquired by Rose never saw a mail-box at all. The collection includes images of natural landscapes, architecture, interior design, and artworks including paintings, sculptures, mosaics, and tapestries. The variety of subjects offers some perspective into Rose’s interests and travel experience, ranging from Egypt to the American Southwest.

Left: Postcard, “The 2nd Pyramid of Cheefren, Cairo.”
Right: Postcard, “CAMEL BACK MOUNTAIN AND DESERT.”

These four-by-six inch images, some in color, some in black and white, gave Rose a way to keep a record of things she saw in museums, or gardens that would inspire her own work in the landscape architecture field.

Left: Postcard, “Hampton Court Garden Tudor Palace”
Right: Postcard showing a garden designed by Rose Standish Nichols, “E.L. Ryerson, Lake Forest, ILL.”

Her postcards even kept a record of some of her political activism. One example shows six members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom at the 1919 Peace Conference in Zurich, Switzerland. While Rose is not among the six photographed here, she was in attendance at the conference and was a long-time member of the WILPF.

PC150Above: Postcard, “Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Second Conference, Zurich, 1919”

While many of the postcards show elements of Rose’s life outside her house, they also give some insight into what is inside her residence at 55 Mount Vernon Street. Rose’s postcards that illustrate examples of objects create a fascinating parallel with her own collection of furniture and fine art. Some of the images show objects that are similar in style or almost identical to many or Rose’s belongings. Whether she collected them as a wish-list, as a way to remember home when she was far away, or as a record that her own home was furnished with objects of considerable status, there are dozens of examples on display at the Nichols House Museum that bring Rose’s postcard collection to life.

Left: Postcard, “MUSÉE DES ARTS DÉCORATIFS -Bergere, Tapsserie au point, fin du XVII siecle-ND”
Right: Hepplewhite armchair with modern upholstery in rose-colored silk damask,[probably New England, United States of America], 1790-1805

Left: Postcard, “NAPOLI – Museo Nazionale DIONISIO (Narciso)- Pompei”
Right: Cast bronze figure of Narcissus, [European], 19th century

Left: Postcard: “GARRISON HOUSE, Exeter, N.H. ‘Daniel Webster’ Desk”
Right: Queen Anne style maple corner chair, [probably New England, United States of America], ca. 1740

Left: Postcard, “American embroidery, 18th century”
Right: Framed needlepoint fragment, likely English, late 17th-18th century

Left: Postcard, “TALL CLOCK, SIGNED BY BARTHOLOMEW BARWELL, WORKING IN NEW YORK ABOUT 1760. MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK”
Right: Mahogany tall case clock, made by Elnathan Taber, Roxbury, Massachusetts, United States of America and Birmingham, England, ca. 1790

Left: Postcard,”BED-CURTIN Cotton, embroidered with coloured wools, English; second half of the 17th century, VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM. Produced by W.F. Sedgwick, Limited”
Right: Crewelwork bed hangings made by Rose Standish Nichols,  ca. 1890

Left: Postcard: “ARM-CHAIR Walnut; said to have belonged to Neil Gwynn. English; Period of Charles II. H. 4ft. 3 in.; W. 2ft. Given by Sir George Donaldson. VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM.
Right: Reproduction Jacobean style armchairs with carved decoration by Rose Standish Nichols, made by Irving & Casson-A. H. Davenport Co. Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America, 1910-1940

Left: Postcard: “Ivory Figure of a Gazelle Egyptian, About 1375 B.C. (XVIII Dynasty) The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Collotype by Maz Jaffé, Vienna Austria.
Right: Standing animal figure, possibly an ibex, signed by artist Giorgio Sommer; Naples, Italy, late 19th to early 20th century

[1]Klich, Lynda, Leonard A. Lauder, and Benjamin Weiss. The Postcard Age: Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection. Boston, MA: MFA Publications, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2012. Print.

[2]Elliott, Brent. “A Brief Guide to the Use of Picture Postcards in Garden History”. Garden History 31.2 (2003): 218–224. Web.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist

Tall Case Clock by Elnathan Taber (1768-1854)

Made: c. 1790 in Roxbury, Massachusetts; Birmingham, England

Materials: Mahogany, eastern white pine, brass, metals, paint

To see this object in the Nichols House Museum online collection, search for 1961.371a-d at http://www.nicholshousemuseum.org/collection.php

Currently On Display at the Nichols House Museum

Before watches or cellphones, a long case (or tall case)[i] clock was a functioning piece of home technology signifying status and wealth. Not only were clocks expensive (costing upwards of a few thousand dollars today), but in the agrarian past when time was based on the sun and the seasons, a clock signaled that its town-dwelling owner valued punctuality in an increasingly regimented world.[ii] But such a device had to be cared for. A clock had to be wound every so many hours or days (depending on the model) so it would continue to keep time. Its chimes could be heard throughout the house, interrupting household activities.  This clock, made by Elnathan Taber about 1790 in the Nichols House Museum collection, is an eight-day model, a top-of-the-line piece with the newest technology of the eighteenth century. The brass gears inside the wooden case did not need to be rewound for eight whole days…. failure to do so would silence the clock. [iii]

How a clock moves

Within a mechanical clock, the pull of gravity moves the weight down with each pendulum swing, which also moves the hands around the clock’s face. [iv] In a grandfather clock, the weight slowly (in this model, over the course of eight days) dropped the length of the clock’s trunk, and combined with the precise and (ideally) frictionless swing of the pendulum, the clock kept more accurate time than smaller clocks of the period. Numerous factors could slow a clock down, from dust in the gears to seasonal changes of humidity, all which minutely affected a clock’s meticulously created movement. Making sure the clock functioned properly was part of the art of clock making. Not only did the piece have to look nice, its gears had to function well, too. In the collection of Old Sturbridge Village, one of their Elnathan Taber clocks has hand-written instructions inside describing how to wind and care for the clock.[v]

The men behind the clock

This clock was made by Elnathan Taber (1768-1854), a clockmaker based in Roxbury, Massachusetts who was said to be the best apprentice in the shop to renowned clockmaker Simon Willard (1753-1848).[vi] These two men lived and breathed clocks. Although many artisans made pieces for clocks including mechanics, artists, forgers, and cabinetmakers, it was the clockmaker who had the knowledge to coordinate the ordering and assemble the pieces. For example, Elnathan probably ordered clock cases from a local cabinet maker, while the gears came from a factory in Birmingham, England. Elnathan apprenticed under Simon Willard after Simon made a name for himself in the Boston area for his fine clocks.[vii] Simon made household clocks and also installed large clocks in public buildings, including Old South Meeting House and the US Senate.  Elnathan worked with Simon for years and later bought the business and, in a marketing strategy, also acquired the right to label his clocks “Simon Willard.” Simon was well known for producing quality clocks, so his name carried the public’s trust in its quality. The clock in the museum collection, however, bears Elnathan’s name but dates from a period when he would have been working alongside Simon at his shop. The clock features a patriotic eagle over the hood, and an allegorical image painted in the lunette, the arched top part of the dial. Tall clocks were investments in the eighteenth century, a sign of the growing social importance of accurate time-keeping.

By Ashley Jahrling, Assistant to the Director

[i] Grandfather clocks were known as long case or tall case clocks before an 1876 song “Grandfather’s Clock” by Henry Clay Work popularized the new term http://www.songwritershalloffame.org/index.php/exhibits/bio/C198. Listen here: https://archive.org/details/MyGrandfathersClock.

[ii] Philip Zea, “Timekeeping: The Lifestyle of Accuracy- An Interpretive Essay for the J. Cheney Wells Collection of New England Clocks at Old Sturbridge Village.” 1986.

[iii] Jessica Chappell, “The Long Case Clock: Engineering Behind a Grandfather Clock.” Illumin, Vol. 1 Iss. IV. University of Southern California, 2001. https://illumin.usc.edu/184/the-long-case-clock-engineering-behind-a-grandfather-clock/

[v] Old Sturbridge Village, Tall Clock by Elnathan Taber. 57.1.2. http://resources.osv.org/explore_learn/collection_viewer.php?N=57.1.2

[vi] Walter A. Dyer, “The Willards and Their Clocks.” Country Life in America, June 1915, pg 47.

[vii] For more information about the Willard family of clockmakers, see: Joseph Downs, “Three American Clocks,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. Vol. 32, No. 5, May 1937. 129-137; The Willard House and Clock Museum at http://www.willardhouse.org/.