Starting on Saturday, November 22, 2014, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library will open a new exhibition, “’Every Variety of Painting for Lodges’: Decorated Furniture, Paintings and Ritual Objects from the Collection.” This exhibition draws on one of the strengths of the collection, Masonic decorative arts and regalia created in the 1800s.
Featuring over fifty different paintings, watercolor sketches and illustrated archival material--as well as painted Masonic aprons and decorated furniture--this exhibition explores the ways Freemasons have expressed their involvement with the fraternity. The first section of the exhibition looks at some of the kinds of paintings and decorated furniture craftsman produced for Masonic lodges in the 1800s and will feature ritual objects, painted furniture and tracing boards, including a tracing board made for Trinity Lodge in Clinton, Massachusetts, in 1863 (at left). Brothers there used this tracing board to instruct new members about different Masonic symbols’ meaning and uses. Lodge records show that in 1863 members decided to procure a new tracing board and appointed a committee to undertake the task. Committee member Levi Green (dates unknown) commissioned this tracing board and presented it to the lodge. Like many of the artists who created tracing boards and aprons for Masonic clients, the artist who painted the board for Green may have employed a printed Masonic chart as a model for his work.
Another portion of the exhibition looks at the many ornamental painters—both amateur and professional—who drew on their talents to create colorful aprons, illustrations and designs for Masonic clientele. Among the striking examples that will be on view is a decorated bowl by Hugo Possner (1859-1937) of Waterbury, Connecticut (at right). As a boy, Possner moved from Germany to Connecticut with his family. A versatile artist, over his career he decorated cars, designed murals and painted portraits and still lifes. The bowl was presented to Frank Conley (1840-1910) of Torrington, Connecticut. Along the rim of the bowl, Possner depicted badges, banners and insignia associated with different Masonic organizations and meetings—doubtless all related to Conley’s Masonic career. Below, Possner painted different symbols, scenes and coats of arms, most modeled on illustrations in Masonic handbooks.
Over the years, many Masons have sought to express the pride they felt from their association with Freemasonry, many by commissioning portraits that identified their membership in the fraternity. In 1804 Benjamin Greenleaf (1769-1821) painted Aaron Bird (1756-1822) (at left). A charter member of Cumberland Lodge No. 12 in New Gloucester, Maine, Bird became a Mason before 1803, when members of the new lodge first met. For his portrait Bird chose to wear, as his only ornament, a gold pin bearing easily recognized symbols of Freemasonry, a square and compasses, underscoring the importance Freemasonry held for him. Bird’s portraits, and the many other objects on view in "'Every Variety of Painting for Lodges'" will give visitors a glimpse into the decorated world of the 1800s and the many ways ordinary people—as artists and as patrons—used art to articulate their connection to Freemasonry.
Tracing Board, 1863. Massachusetts. Gift of Trinity Lodge, A.F. & A.M., Clinton, Massachusetts, 97.007.1. Photograph by David Bohl.
Bowl, 1906. Hugo A. Possner (1859-1937), Waterbury, Connecticut. Gift of Clark Commandery No. 7, Knights Templar, Waterbury, Connecticut, 92.034a-b. Photograph by David Bohl.
Captain Aaron Bird, 1804. Benjamin Greenleaf (1769-1821), Maine or Massachusetts. Museum Purchase, 98.064.1. Photograph by David Bohl.