Hurricane Gavel

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Gavel, ca. 1939. Massachusetts. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.2657.

High in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey, there is a grove of Cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus libani). In the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collection cared for at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, there is a gavel made from the wood of one of these trees. The story of this gavel – from seeds to storage – brings together natural science and Masonic ingenuity.

In the early 1900s, Charles Sargent (1841-1927), the first Director of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, wanted to add examples of Cedrus libani to the collection of trees and shrubs at the site. However, these trees – which are mentioned in the Bible – grew primarily in the warmer climate of Lebanon and did not seem suited for New England weather. With the help of German naturalist Walter Siehe (1859-1928), Sargent was able to locate a forest of Cedars of Lebanon in the Taurus Mountains in Turkey. These trees grew further north and at higher altitudes and the two men thought they might also grow in Massachusetts.

In early 1902, Siehe shipped a number of cedar cones to Sargent and the trees were propagated in the greenhouses at the Arboretum. They started well and were planted on the grounds. By 1930, the Turkish Cedars of Lebanon were growing well and producing their own seed cones. The experiment was a success.

Then came the Hurricane of 1938, one of the most severe storms in New England history. The storm devastated the forests of the Northeast, destroying an estimated two billion trees in New York and New England. In the Arboretum, at least five of the Turkish cedars fell victim to the storm. (Happily, in 2022, eight of the original trees still survive on site.) As for the hurricane-damaged ones, a group of local Masons “grasped the opportunity to perpetuate these trees Masonically,” as one of them later said.

William Judd (1888-1946) was a member of Eliot Lodge in Dorchester and a gardener at Arnold Arboretum. During the clean-up after the hurricane, he and Welby McCollum (1887-1952) of West Roxbury Lodge decided to use some of the cedar wood to make a gavel. Given that McCollum worked as a builder, he may have crafted the piece.

After the gavel was completed, it was given to West Roxbury Lodge’s Past Master, Alexander McKechnie (1887-1965). He wrote out the story of the gavel on two typewritten pages – kept with the item – as a draft of his planned speech for a January 1940 presentation to West Roxbury Lodge. McKechnie mentioned in a handwritten addendum that he intended to present the gavel to the lodge and thence to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts if desired. His note is addressed to Joseph Earl Perry (1884-1983), then-Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, and ends, “If you decide to put this gavel in the Museum you can pick out the important points in the above for a small card.” This small piece of material culture made of wood more than one-hundred-twenty years old still has a big story to tell.

Reference and Further Reading:

Anthony S. Aiello and Michael S. Dosmann. “The Quest for the Hardy Cedar-of-Lebanon,” Arnoldia, Volume 65, Issue 1 (2007). https://arboretum.harvard.edu/stories/the-quest-for-the-hardy-cedar-of-lebanon/


New to the Collection: Elisha J. Cleveland’s Past Master’s Jewel

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Past Master’s Jewel, 1860. Massachusetts. Gift of Virginia B. Squair, 2021.008.5a-b. Photograph by Frank E. Graham.

In December of 1859, twelve men applied to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts for permission to form a new Masonic Lodge, called Hammett Lodge, in East Boston. Members of this group selected Elisha James Cleveland (1821-1866) to be the presiding officer—or Master—of their inchoate lodge. After the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts granted Hammett Lodge a charter in 1860, Elisha Cleveland served as Master. Members and guests attended Hammett Lodge’s dedication and officer installation ceremony early in 1861. Attendees and officers marked the event with speeches and refreshments.

In choosing Elisha Cleveland as their leader, members of the new lodge looked to someone with immediate experience as Master of a lodge. Cleveland had first become a Freemason at Mount Tabor Lodge, in East Boston, in 1851 and served as Master in 1858 and 1859. Around this time, he earned his living as a blacksmith or as a shipsmith in Boston. The brethren of Mount Tabor Lodge thanked Cleveland for his service as Master with a handsome Past Master’s jewel. Cleveland soon received another gold Past Master’s jewel (at left) with an inscription noting that it was given “by his friends, E. Boston, Apr. 6, 1860.” Cleveland was elected Master of Hammett Lodge before it received its charter and held the office through at least part of 1861. Though the inscription is not specific, this jewel likely commemorated Cleveland’s leadership of Hammett Lodge from its start.

After he received this jewel, Cleveland visited a photographer’s studio a few blocks from his home in East Boston. There he had his portrait (at left) taken by a self-described “photographist,” William R. Hawkes. In dressing for his appointment at the studio, Cleveland wore his street clothes—a jacket, vest, neckcloth, and shirt—with the Past Master’s jewel he received in 1860 pinned at the center. This photograph, in a small carte-de-visite format, is an intriguing document of how Cleveland used the jewel and suggests the pride he may have felt in wearing it.

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Elisha James Cleveland, 1860-1866. William R. Hawkes, East Boston, Massachusetts. Gift of Virginia B. Squair, 2021.008.2.

Cleveland died suddenly, of a stroke, in 1866. His obituary noted that he was “much beloved by the masonic fraternity.” Many years later, his widow Mary Ann Cleveland (1824-1883) bequeathed “the Past Master jewels belonging to my late beloved husband” to her son-in-law, Charles Leeds. Both of Cleveland’s Past Master’s jewels, and other Masonic items that descended in his family, are part of a recent generous gift to Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

Reference:

“Funeral of the Late Elisha J. Cleveland,” October 5, 1866, Boston Herald, page 2.


Digital Collections Highlight: Killian H. Van Rensselaer’s 1845 Petition

KVR Petition A2019_178_0002DS1The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's Van Gorden-Williams Digital Collections website features nearly a thousand documents in twelve different collections. This week we’re highlighting a 177-year-old document from the Scottish Rite Documents collection.

"I most humbly beg leave to offer myself as a candidate for admission into your Illustrious and Puissant Council..." reads this petition addressed to the Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, and signed by Killian Henry Van Rensselaer (1800-1881), a 44-year-old Mason from New York, in 1845. This petition was the first step toward Van Rensselaer becoming an Active Member of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s Supreme Council. In less than twenty years, Van Rensselaer would become its sixth Sovereign Grand Commander, serving from 1861-67. The process by which Van Rensselaer received the 33rd degree is very different from how it works today.

Portrait of Killian Van Rensselaer for webVan Rensselaer’s petition documents the activities of the Supreme Council at the time. Viewed in a broader context, this slip of paper shows the work of John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865), the NMJ’s Sovereign Grand Commander from 1832 through 1851, and helps tell the story of the rebirth of the NMJ in the 1840s.

Gourgas, living in New York City, along with Schenectady-based Giles Fonda Yates (1798-1859), had essentially kept the Scottish Rite’s NMJ alive from 1826 through the early 1840s. During this time, a social and political movement, now known as the Anti-Masonic Movement, curtailed much Masonic activity in the Northeast of the United States and brought the Supreme Council’s official activities to a standstill. During these years, Gourgas and Yates were effectively a Supreme Council of two people, preserving the organization’s records and corresponding with one another about the plight of American Freemasonry from the late 1820s through the early 1840s. When the social climate changed and members began to rebuild Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the early 1840s, Gourgas and Yates sought to find brothers, like Van Rensselaer, who could help revive the Council, starting in 1844. Van Rensselaer’s petition is part of that story. With the exception of Van Rensselaer’s signature, the petition is entirely in the handwriting of John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865). Gourgas wrote out this petition—Van Rensselaer needed only to sign it.

Becoming a 33° Member

Today, no one petitions to become a 33° Member or to join the Supreme Council. Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret (i.e., 32° Members) are nominated, elected, and then created Sovereign Grand Inspectors General of the 33rd degree. Most 33° Scottish Rite Members are non-voting Honorary Members, a rank of 33° that the Supreme Council created in 1865. The Supreme Council itself is comprised of Active Members who serve on various committees and have voting privileges within the Council. When a seat opens on the Supreme Council, an Honorary Member is elevated to the rank of Active Member to fill it.

In 1845, the category of 33° Honorary Member did not exist, so any Sublime Prince who was crowned a 33° was automatically an Active Member of the Supreme Council. Van Rensselaer was among the seven new members who Gourgas and Yates selected to expand the Supreme Council in 1844 and 1845. These additions turned the Supreme Council into a nine-member group, as prescribed by the Constitutions. If not for Gourgas and Yates, it is unlikely that the NMJ’s Supreme Council would have survived. Not only did they keep safe the documents of the Supreme Council, NMJ, during the Council’s inactivity, but, when Freemasonry came back to life in the 1840s, they recruited enthusiastic Masons like Van Rensselaer to help rebuild the Scottish Rite fraternity in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.

If you’d like to take a closer look at Van Rensselaer’s petition, visit the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections site.

Captions:

Handwritten petition for Killian H. Van Rensselaer, 1845. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, SC 300.002.

Killian H. Van Rensselaer in Proceedings of the Supreme Council, 1883. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 17.9735 Un58 1882. Photograph by David Bohl.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of The Northern Light.


New to the Collection: Pyramid Court Daughters

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Members of Pyramid Court No. 17, 1960s. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2022.008.4.

In this photograph, new to the collection in 2022, a group of women wearing white dresses and either white fezzes or a crown poses for a photo with a man in a suit wearing a darker fez. This image features members of a women’s auxiliary group of Prince Hall Shriners, the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles Mystic Shrine of North and South America and Its Jurisdictions, Inc. in Philadelphia in the 1960s. Historically Black fraternal groups in the United States have a fascinating history and objects like this photograph help us better understand it.

Based on organization proceedings and area newspapers, this photo appears to show members of Pyramid Court No. 17, Imperial Court Auxiliary, A.E.A.O.N.M.S., Philadelphia along with one member of Pyramid Temple No. 1, A.E.A.O.N.M.S., also of Philadelphia. The A.E.A.O.N.M.S. was founded in 1893 in Chicago as a charitable, benevolent, fraternal, and social organization, dedicated to the welfare and extension of Prince Hall Freemasonry. Its women’s auxiliary was founded in 1910 in Detroit. The latter group was established at the behest of a committee headed by Hannah Brown, Esther Wilson, and Lucy Blackburn, wives of Prince Hall Shriners from Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. These women and others had already created eight “courts” (similar to Shrine Temples or Masonic lodges) for female relatives of A.E.A.O.N.M.S. members. In 1909, they requested an official “Grand Court” to oversee the activities of the local groups.

This international organization, then known as the Imperial Grand Court of the Daughters of Isis, is now called the Imperial Court. The organization boasts more than nine thousand members that meet in more than two hundred courts throughout the United States, as well as Canada, Bahamas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Korea and Western Europe. Members are known as Daughters.

Their regalia includes ceremonial collars worn with white dresses, shoes, and gloves, along with white fezzes or crowns. Decorated with embroidery and/or rhinestones, these fezzes bear the name of the owner’s court and a profile of the Egyptian goddess Isis. When a Daughter serves as Imperial Commandress, the presiding officer of a court, she wears a crown in place of a fez. In this photograph, since a woman in the center of the group wears a crown, she was likely the Imperial Commandress of Pyramid Court No. 17 when the photo was taken.

In their analysis of African American fraternal groups over a period of around one hundred fifty years, social scientists Theda Skocpol and Jennifer Lynn Oser found that “black women played an unusually strong role in African American fraternal federations.” The Imperial Court is an excellent example of Black women leading fraternal groups. It exists because women who were already organizing local courts applied for official recognition from A.E.A.O.N.M.S. The auxiliary’s schedule of meetings, fundraising events, and annual sessions is very similar to that of the brother organization.

In the past and today, the women’s and men’s groups under the umbrella of the A.E.A.O.N.M.S. gather together at an annual joint session. Daughters of the Imperial Court Auxiliary and Nobles of A.E.A.O.N.M.S. work together at all levels to accomplish the charitable, social, and Masonic goals of Prince Hall Shriners.

If you know of or have any materials related to the A.E.A.O.N.M.S. or its women’s auxiliary, please let us know by writing in the comments section below.

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References and Further Reading:


A Maine Mason at Sea

In 1852, shipbuilders in Calais, Maine, near the American border with Canada, launched a ship named the Lincoln. The following year, the Lincoln would commemorate American Independence Day many miles from Maine, in the Aegean port of Smyrna, Greece (now İzmir, Turkey). Like the Lincoln, her captain that day left his Maine home to make a living in the maritime world of the nineteenth century.

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Bark Lincoln, W.H. Polleys Master Laying at Anchor in Smyrna July 4th 1853. Raffaele Corsini, Smyrna, Greece. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 85.9.

In this watercolor, acquired by the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in 1985, the Lincoln is shown lying at anchor in the foreground, with the city, its castle, and surrounding hills in the background. The ship bears four flags: from bow to stern, the “Union Jack” or Navy Jack, a blue flag with a Masonic square and compasses, a masthead pennant, and an American flag. The Lincoln’s Union Jack, a blue flag with white stars flown on American ships, appears to have twenty-six stars and her American flag twenty-one stars. Given that the United States had thirty-one states by 1853, perhaps the ship’s owners or captain had not updated her flags or, more likely, the painter took artistic license with these details.

It is believed that ship’s captains sometimes raised a flag bearing a square and compasses to invite Masons in the area aboard their vessel. To local residents and other mariners, this signaled his fraternal affiliation and served as an invitation for conversation, informal meetings, and trade. The Lincoln was in Smyrna in July 1853 to purchase opium, a common ingredient in American patent medicines at the time.

The Lincoln’s captain and 1/16 share owner for her first five years was Woodbury H. Polleys. Polleys was born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine in 1817 and raised in Portland Lodge No. 1 in 1844. When he took command of the ship, he had been, as he later wrote in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, “at sea as Master of a Ship since June 1848, principally trading between Europe & southern ports . . .”

After the Lincoln, Polleys went on to captain other vessels, including at least three Union ships during the Civil War. These included the USS Katahdin, USS Oleander, and USS Madgie. The latter two ships were part of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron, preventing Confederate vessels from eluding the Union trade blockade. After the Madgie sank off North Carolina in 1863, Polleys traveled north to Maine for a month’s leave “to procure a new outfit and visit my family.”

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, Polleys used his knowledge of international trade to serve the new United States as Consul to Barbados and Commercial Agent to Cuba. Woodbury H. Polleys died of suicide in 1885 and is buried in Portland’s Pine Grove Cemetery. His headstone bears a Masonic square and compasses, as his ship’s flag did that day in 1853, many miles from Maine.

If you want to dive into this piece of artwork further, you can visit it and many others in our exhibition, “What’s in a Portrait?,” now on view at the Museum & Library. You can also visit the online version of the exhibition.

Further Reading:


New to the Collection: DeMolay Patrol and Band Photos

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DeMolay Patrol Group, 1920-1931. Museum Purchase, 2021.016.

Here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library we recently acquired several black and white photographs dating to the 1920s of Order of DeMolay patrol and band members. The order, a young men’s organization, was founded in 1919 by Frank S. Land (and is known today as DeMolay International). These images came into the collection with very little identifying information. They are intriguing not only because they depict DeMolay members from the some of the earliest years of the organization’s history, but also because they show a style of regalia that stands out in the context of the rest of our DeMolay-related collections. We set out to try to learn more about them.

A bit of initial detective work with our trusty magnifying glass helped us situate these images in place and time. In both images, the DeMolay emblem on the uniforms the members wear can be seen under magnification to be the one that the group’s founder, “Dad” Land, designed in 1920 and which the order used for the next 11 years. Beyond this, with the word “Oakland” emblazoned on the collar of the patrol members’ shirts (image at top), and “Hollywood” on the fez of the trumpet player (image below), it seems likely that these were members of California DeMolay’s Oakland and Hollywood Chapters.

As for the style of the costumes in these pictures, we have a number of helpful clues regarding their history. Land served for a time as Imperial Potentate of the Shrine, a group whose regalia and symbols were inspired by Middle Eastern designs; these uniforms likely reflect his involvement with this group, and the group's support of DeMolay. Further, a 1920s catalog from The C. E. Ward Co., a regalia maker in Ohio that was among a handful of manufacturers licensed to sell DeMolay supplies, shows a DeMolay fez for sale with the note that it was intended “for Patrols and Bands.”

2022_007_2DS1DeMolay Club Band Member, 1920-1931. Museum Purchase, 2022.007.2.

The phase of DeMolays in Middle Eastern-style garb appears to have been short-lived, however. In the Nebraska DeMolay 75th Anniversary booklet, a 1931 photo of the Lincoln Chapter’s marching band, some 40-odd members strong, shows members by and large in military-inspired clothing. The caption below it states, “Note the three members wearing Fezzes… that was yesterday.”

Regardless of the style of dress they wore, DeMolay bands and patrol groups remained popular within the organization for decades, providing entertainment at gatherings of all kinds and helping members build skills. These striking photos make for valuable additions to our collection of DeMolay objects documenting the group’s history.

If you have any objects or information that shed light on the regalia of DeMolay’s bands and patrol groups, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch in the comments section below!

 

Sources:

Land, Frank S. DeMolay Handbook. U.S.A.: The International Supreme Council Order of DeMolay, 1959.

Nebraska DeMolay Diamond Jubilee 1920-1995: A boy is the only thing God can use to make a man. Nebraska Masonic Youth Foundation, 1995.

“Where DeMolays Bought Jewelry and Regalia,” DeMolay International website, accessed Aug. 9, 2022. https://demolay.org/where-demolays-bought-jewelry-and-regalia/

“The Death of Frank S. Land,” DeMolay International website, accessed Aug. 15, 2022.  https://demolay.org/the-death-of-frank-s-land/

Special thanks to Christian Moore at DeMolay International for his research assistance on this post.


Recent Acquisition: Hill Family Masonic Collection, 1817-2019

Donations to the collection, along with museum purchases, have made the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library one of the premier institutions in the world for the study of American Freemasonry and fraternalism. The staff are always grateful for the museum’s generous supporters and donors who have helped to build its world-class collection over the course of its nearly fifty year history. Today, we're highlighting the contributions of Jon Gregory Adams Hill, 33°, who has donated numerous artifacts to the museum’s collection (see a selection here), and who has recently donated the Hill Family Masonic Collection, 1817-2019, to the museum’s archives.

2022_232_019DS1Royal Arch certificate issued to Stephen Baker, 1817 May 23.
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Handwritten petition of John B. Hill to Liberty Lodge, 1848 November 6.
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Letter from John E. Giddings and H. L. Foster, 1858 April 9.
 

Amongst the nearly 400 documents found in this collection is this 1817 Royal Arch certificate issued by Concord Chapter, No. 1, of Wilmington, North Carolina, to Stephen Baker; this 1848 petition of John Beckford Hill, great grandfather of Jon Gregory Adams Hill, to Liberty Lodge of Beverly, Massachusetts; and this 1858 letter from John E. Gidding and H. L. Foster to Liberty Lodge in which they pledge to “abstain from the use of spirituous and intoxicating liquors” for a period of five years on penalty of a $100 fine.

These items, which will be added to the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives’ digital collections website in the upcoming months, represent only a small fraction of the many items added to the museum’s collection, built in part by the generosity of our supporters. The museum staff is extremely grateful for the continued support of our donors in helping us ito preserve and provide access to the history of American Freemasonry and fraternalism for future generations.

Would you like to donate an item to the Museum and Library’s collection? Please click on this link for more information.

 


Captions

Royal Arch certificate issued to Stephen Baker, 1817 May 23. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 006.

Handwritten petition of John B. Hill to Liberty Lodge, 1848 November 6. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 300.043

Letter from John E. Giddings and H. L. Foster, 1858 April 9. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 300.043

 

 

 

 



An 1805 Membership Certificate for the New York Mason Society

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New York Mason Society Certificate Issued to Ezekiel Thorp, 1805. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, A2019/010/001.

In 1805 the New York Mason Society issued a certificate to Ezekiel Thorp proving his membership in the organization. This document, signed by the group’s secretary and president, is an engraving executed by artist Archibald Robertson (1765-1835) and engraver William Rollinson (1762-1842). The images on the certificate help tell the story of the Society's purpose and work.

Divided into three vignettes, each scene on this certificate speaks to one of the group’s activities. On the far right, glimpsed behind a drape, the artist created a scene of men constructing a building. On the ground, climbing a ladder, and on scaffolding, the figures are engaged in preparing and carrying mortar and laying bricks. On the left-hand side, a man in a top hat brings items to a group of three people, a man, woman, and child—the man is in bed, his weeping family members are next to him. With an open stance, the man in the hat gestures toward the group, appearing to offer them the coins in his right hand and the sack in his left. At the center of the image, columns and an arch define the space that contains the text, red wax seal, and officers' signatures. Below the text, two men shake hands. Above them is a selection of mason’s tools: a hammer, two kinds of trowels, and a mallet on either side of a large level. Though some of the tools depicted in the center panel are used as symbols in Freemasonry, the New York Mason Society was not a group for Freemasons. In spite of having the word "Mason" in its name and featuring tools on its certificate, the New York Mason Society was an organization for men who earned their livings in specific building trades.

As yet, nothing is known of the owner of the certificate, New York Mason Society member Ezekiel Thorp. The president of the group who signed Thorp's certificate, Michael Norris, was a mason listed in several New York City directories in the early 1800s. He died in 1818 at age 45. Also listed in New York City directories as a mason, is Samuel Ludlum, who signed  as secretary of the organization. In addition to working as a mason, Ludlum advertised as the co-owner of a plaster-of-Paris factory in 1811. He, like Norris, died at a young age—just 34 years—of consumption, in 1813.

In commissioning a certificate for members, the New York Mason Society worked with an artist Archibald Robertson, and engraver, William Rollinson. The pair worked on other projects together, most notably an engraved portrait of Alexander Hamilton (1755 or 1757-1804), published soon after Hamilton died suddenly from wounds sustained in a duel. Rollinson, an active Freemason, also engraved certificates for several Masonic lodges and the Grand Lodge of New York (you can see examples of some of this work in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library here).

Two years after Ezekiel Thorp received this certificate, the New York state legislature passed an act incorporating the New-York Masons’ Society. This act outlined that this group, drawing members from masons, bricklayers, and plasterers, sought to promote sociability among members, to offer charity to members  “in distress,” and to encourage members to become “more perfect in their respective callings.” These goals and activities are reflected in the images that Robertson and Rollison created for this certificate. The act also noted that the organization’s first president was Samuel Ludlum, one of the men who signed this document over two hundred years ago.

References

Laws of the State of New York, Vol. 5, (Albany, New York: Websters and Skinner), 1809, 8-10.

"For Sale," Public Advertiser (New York, NY), June 14, 1811, 1.

"Died," Mercantile Advertiser (New York, NY), March 3, 1818

 

 

 

 

 


Mysteries in Clay: Pisgah Forest Masonic Pottery

New to the museum’s collection this spring are three pieces of North Carolina pottery bearing Masonic decoration. These items – a small bowl, a vase, and a cup or pencil holder – were created by Pisgah Forest Pottery in western North Carolina in the 1940s and 1950s. They join two previously-purchased bowls in the collection that match the new bowl nearly exactly. Our now-five-piece collection of Pisgah Forest Pottery inspires some interesting questions about their purpose, use, and Masonic connection.

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Pisgah Forest Masonic vase (1959), cup (circa 1948), bowl (1942). Pisgah Forest Pottery, Arden, North Carolina. Museum purchase, 2022.023.1-3.

Pisgah Forest Pottery was founded in 1926 by Walter Benjamin Stephen (1876-1961) in rural western North Carolina, near the Blue Ridge Parkway. He was a member, trustee, and Past Master (1945) of West Asheville Lodge No. 665, which merged with another Asheville Lodge in 2002. After Stephen’s death at the age of 85 in 1961, his step-grandson Thomas Case kept Pisgah Forest Pottery going with the help of another employee, Grady Ledbetter. Case died in 2014, and is buried in the same location as his grandfather, New Salem Baptist Church Cemetery. Nichols-West Asheville Lodge No. 650 performed the funeral ritual for Case.

Pisgah Forest Pottery officially closed in 2014, following Case’s death. Its historic pottery-making tools and equipment were donated to the North Carolina Museum of History. Examples of work from this important pottery are held and exhibited at other museums, such as the Smithsonian, the Asheville Art Museum, and the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum. Popular with collectors, pieces of Pisgah Forest Pottery frequently come up for auction.

All three of the Scottish Rite Museum’s bowls are cobalt blue with a pink glaze inside. The bottom of each bowl bears the company’s mark (a potter sitting at a wheel) and the words "Pisgah Forest / 1942”. They have a raised, unglazed emblem on the exterior which bears a double-headed eagle gripping a sword in its talons with a square and compass on its breast and a "32" glazed in blue above. On the two pieces purchased in 2019, the raised text "Asheville" appears below the emblem. However, on the piece purchased in 2022, the text reads: “Asheville Scottish Rite”. Given that all three bowls bear the same year and were clearly following a set design, it is interesting that our newest acquisition also has the words “Scottish Rite” added to it. For whom were these Scottish Rite Masonic bowls made? Much of Stephen’s usual work was sold to tourists in the region. Were these items produced as custom orders for the local Scottish Rite Valley? Were they given as gifts to Masons? More research is needed in order to determine the context and purpose of these bowls.

The inscriptions on the newly-acquired vase and cup give us a little more information about who likely owned and use them. The light blue vase has the words “To my Good Friend and Brother Dr. S. S. Fay 33° / Stephen - 1959" painted neatly in white glaze, along with a white cross with two bars and a double-headed eagle bearing a “33” on the neck of the vase. Walter Stephen was semi-retired from the pottery by about 1949, but he still created new pieces on his own in a small studio he built on his property that he called “Lone Pine Studio”. The vase inscription and date seem to indicate that he made this vase as a gift for a friend who was a 33° Mason. With help from the Grand Lodge of North Carolina, we’ve identified “S. S. Fay” as Scott Stuart Fay, who was a member and Past Master of John A. Nichols Lodge No. 650, the lodge that later merged with Stephen’s West Asheville No. 665 in 2002. Fay was a West Asheville doctor who was born in 1882 and died in 1980.

The cup has a light blue glaze that matches the vase and is personalized with a white clay emblem on the exterior which bears a keystone and the words "C. C. Ricker / G. H. P. / 1947-48". The “G. H .P.” here helped identify the owner. These letters stand for “Grand High Priest” and paired with the keystone on the cup, suggests that “C. C. Ricker” was elected a Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of North Carolina in 1947. With this information, the Grand Lodge of North Carolina helped us confirm the likely recipient of the cup as Charles Carpenter Ricker. Ricker, an active Mason, served as Grand High Priest, Grand Master (1962), and Grand Commander of North Carolina.

As many members know, one of the benefits of Freemasonry is the chance to convene and form friendships with fellow Masons. We don’t know if Walter Stephen met Scott Fay and Charles Ricker through business dealings in Asheville or if they met as brethren, but these personalized pots underscore their Masonic connection.

Reference and Further Reading:

Our thanks to Eric Greene at the Grand Lodge of North Carolina for his research assistance on this post.


Now on View: Scottish Rite Reunion Programs

Valley of Grand Rapids 1936 program for webCurrently on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room through January 27, 2023, are fifteen Scottish Rite programs, dating from 1880 to 1980. These programs are from a large collection of printed Masonic programs that are part of the Museum's Library & Archives collection. These programs, created for members attending an event, help document a long tradition of Scottish Rite activities known as Reunions.

Founded in 1813 in New York City, the Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, is the governing organization for Scottish Rite Freemasonry in fifteen states in the Northeast and Midwest of the United States. These states are divided into smaller jurisdictions known as “Valleys.” Similar to a Masonic lodge, Valleys are local groups of Scottish Rite Masons, but typically draw members from a region considerably larger than a city or a town. Each Valley is composed of up to four Scottish Rite bodies, and each body confers a set of staged ritual initiation degrees. In the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, the bodies are the Lodge of Perfection, Council of Princes of Jerusalem, Chapter of Rose Croix, and Consistory.  

Valley of the Genesee 1880 program for webReunions

In Scottish Rite Freemasonry, a “Reunion” is a gathering most Valleys hold for members once or twice a year, typically in the spring or fall. At the Reunion, some of the degrees of the Lodge of Perfection, Princes of Jerusalem, Chapter of Rose Croix, or Consistory are conferred on a class of candidates. The reunion also provides the opportunity for social fellowship. A typical Scottish Rite Reunion today occurs on one or two days over a weekend. At the event, candidates and members witness eight to ten degrees. Reunions in the 1880s could last as long as five days, with all 29 Scottish Rite degrees being conferred.

A Long Tradition

The many printed programs, which are on view in the reading room July 11, 2022 - January 27, 2023, are from the collection of the Library & Archives. They were originally distributed to members attending Scottish Rite Reunions. While the text of the pamphlets help document a long tradition of Scottish Rite activity, their various covers attract the eye and often reflect the time in which they were made.

Captions:

Valley of Grand Rapids Program, Fall Reunion and Business Meetings, 1936. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Scottish Rite Programs Collection, SC 088.

Valley of the Genesee Program, Fourteenth Annual Grand Reunion, 1880. Rochester, New York. Scottish Rite Programs Collection, SC 088.