« December 2008 | Main | February 2009 »

January 2009

A Presentation Pitcher

2007_013_tpitcher The National Heritage Museum recently acquired this stunning silver presentation pitcher, which is currently on view in the exhibition, “The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts: Celebrating 275 Years of Brotherhood.”  Made by Boston silversmith Benjamin C. Frobisher (1792-1862), the pitcher has a footed base and scroll handle with acanthus, flowering vine and thistle decoration.

Engraving on the front reads “To Benja. Smith Esq. From the Members of St. Andrews Lodge Jany. 1832.”  Research in the records of the Lodge of St. Andrew, and in the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, turned up enough details to fill in the story of the pitcher.  Boston’s Lodge of St. Andrew was established in 1756 when a group of artisans, who had been denied membership in the city’s St. John’s Lodge, petitioned the Grand Lodge of Scotland for a charter.  The pitcher’s recipient, Benjamin Smith, was raised a Master Mason in the Lodge of St. Andrew in the early 1790s, and later served as Senior Warden from 1813 to 1815.  However, the timing of the pitcher's presentation - in the midst of the Anti-Masonic period - seemed remarkable.

Throughout Freemasonry’s history, some non-members have regarded it with suspicion. This distrust escalated in 1826 with the Morgan Affair. After William Morgan (1774-1826?) of Batavia, New York, announced his intention to publish a book exposing Freemasonry’s “secrets,” he was kidnapped and never seen again. Courts tried local Masons for abducting Morgan. Although found guilty, the men received lenient sentences. Morgan’s true fate remains a mystery.  The Morgan Affair sparked anti-Masonic proponents to organize a national political party. They published newspapers around the country promoting their views that Freemasonry was dangerous and overly influential in American society. Popular opinion swung against Freemasonry. Lodges around the country felt the ill effects. Many local lodges, and even some Grand Lodges, faced with declining membership and threats, were forced to disband.

Gl20040167t1_cropped Despite these difficulties, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts continued to meet throughout the Anti-Masonic period, and in 1832, built its first Masonic Temple in Boston, seen in the engraving here.  Benjamin Smith served on several committees to oversee the Grand Lodge’s meeting places up to this time.  When he was presented with this pitcher on January 31, 1832, it was to honor “long and valuable services,” including the role he may have played in finding the Grand Lodge’s new home.  Smith passed away two years later, on September 11, 1834.  His pitcher remains a symbol of Freemasonry's resiliency.

For more on the Anti-Masonic movement, see these previous posts on our blog:  The Anti-Masonic Party's First National Convention and The Frenzy of Anti-Masonry in Vermont.

Pitcher, 1832, Benjamin C. Frobisher (1792-1862), Boston, Massachusetts, National Heritage Museum, Museum Purchase with the assistance of the Kane Lodge Foundation, 2007.013, photograph by David Bohl.

Masonic Temple, Boston, ca. 1832, Benjamin F. Nutting (ca. 1803-1887), Boston, Massachusetts, Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.0167.  Photograph by David Bohl.


The Brief, Sanctioned Life of the Modern Woodmen's Trick Chair

The Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) is a fraternal benefit society that was founded in 1883. They are still around today, existing as an insurance company - one of the many that started as a fraternal benefit society, complete with initiation ceremonies and rituals, but which eventually focused primarly on providing insurance. They are part of a larger groups of fraternal insurance companies, and by way of recognizing their fraternal roots, they still emphasize both fraternity and community.

MWCatalog1911_web But set your minds back nearly a hundred years ago, when the Modern Woodmen's drill team, the Foresters, would deftly spin, toss, and wield axes in unison as they marched in parades, and when joining a fraternal benefit society meant learning secret ritual work and promising to uphold certain moral values. All of this ritual work required props and costumes, and during the heyday of fraternalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, companies that supplied fraternal regalia and supplies did a booming business. Sometimes the fraternities themselves were the suppliers of all the material culture needs of a local fraternal group (the MWA calls these "camps" - which are synonmous with lodges in Freemasonry and other fraternal groups). Pictured here is the cover to the official 1911 supply catalog of Modern Woodmen of America.

The inside cover of this catalog has a few interesting notes, one entitled "Trick Chair Eliminated."

In 1894, in a revision to their ritual, the Modern Woodmen of America introduced the "Fraternal Degree," a degree which involved a series of mock-somber ceremonies all involving various trick or gag props designed to make the candidate look foolish (or humiliated, depending on your point of view) while making the other members laugh. Although it was, at the beginning of the 20th century, a sanctioned gag within an officially recognized degree of the Modern Woodmen of America, by 1909 the Trick Chair was deemed to have violated one of the organization's by-laws which prohibited the use of "hazardous appliances." And so the MWA committe in charge of degree work wrote the Trick Chair out of the official ritual in 1910, officially - although not necessarily in practice - banning its use. Pictured below is a page from the "Premium Book," a supplemental supply catalog that was published by the Modern Woodmen of America for its members. Although undated, because this catalog states that "the new Ritual permits the use of the following articles," we know that this particular supply catalog was published before the 1909 revisions to the ritual, which eliminated the Trick Chair.

A97_057_2_web A history of the Modern Woodmen of America, written and published by the group in 1935, put it more succinctly in their comment on the 1910 revision of the ritual: "a number of the hazardous and undignified parts of the fraternal degree were dropped." In addition to the elimination of the Trick Chair, the 1911 supply catalog also notes that the Lung Tester, Judgement Stand, and Boxing Outfit had also been discontinued. These discontinuations appear to have been the direct result of a number of lawsuits that some injured candidates had brought against the Modern Woodmen of America in the first decade of the 20th century.

Gags, tricks, and other hazing-related elements of fraternal groups reveal much about the so-called golden age of fraternalism in the US - the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although usually not sanctioned by the fraternal groups, the equipment for performing these gags on new initiates were readily available from the same companies that supplied regalia, lodge furniture and other supplies to various fraternal organizations. Probably the most well known of these gags involves pushing a hoodwinked (blindfolded) candidate around a lodge room on a wobbly-wheeled fake mechanical goat. Indeed, "riding the goat" was central to the MWA's Fraternal Degree. William D. Moore, in an article called "Riding the Goat: Secrecy, Masculinity, and Fraternal High Jinks in the United States, 1845–1930," (abstract is available here) makes a compelling case that the goat's popularity - and, I would add, the popularity of other related "high jinks" - took hold at a time when ideas of American masculinity were reshaping themselves. Moore concludes that, in part, "riding the goat" (and, by extension, related gags and tricks) can be seen as "experiment[s] with evading the strictures of Victorian deportment."

Of course, many people were concerned about this kind of hazing even as it was happening. The existence of such gags and hazing - whether sanctioned or not - is in stark contrast to most fraternal degree rituals, which tend to focus on the betterment of the candidate, and often use allegory and metaphor in a dramatic presentation to illustrate these ideas and to emphasize moral and ethical behavior. Because fraternal rituals are generally fairly serious and self-reflective, the existence of gags and tricks was often a source of contention among those who thought the high jinks were a welcome levity and those who thought that they were undignified and counter-productive. In most cases, the leaders of fraternal groups did not sanction these so-called "side degrees," although they existed and persisted during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as unsanctioned activities that took place in many fraternal lodge rooms. The case of the Modern Woodmen of America is an interesting illustration of how one fraternity - at least briefly - officially sanctioned the use of such gags (and even noted that their membership grew because of it) before eventually deciding to put such goats and trick chairs out to pasture.

Both images above come from our collection of fraternal regalia catalogs (FR002):

Modern Woodman of America Supply Department Catalog. Modern Woodman Press, 1911.

Modern Woodmen of America Premium Book. Rock Island, IL: Modern Woodman Press, ca. 1900.


Why Do Freemasons Wear Aprons?

94_041di1 Aprons may be the best-known symbol of Freemasons.  When the fraternity was established in the 1700s in England and America, its founders looked to the traditions and tools of actual stonemasons to develop their rituals and philosophy.  Masonic aprons evolved from the protective work aprons that stonemasons wore during the 1600s and 1700s.  When he joins the lodge, each Freemason receives a white lambskin apron, to symbolize innocence.  James Russell wore the one shown here during the 1810s.  As the candidate moves through the degrees of Freemasonry, he wears aprons with different symbols and colors to signify rank and responsibilities.

Initially, working men's aprons were made from animal skin, so early Freemasons shaped their symbolic aprons the same way.  Over time, Masonic and fraternal aprons developed standard shapes: square or rounded bodies with triangular or rounded flaps.  The decorated apron seen here was made around 1791 and worn by John Rowe (d. 1812).  Rowe joined Gloucester, Massachusetts' Tyrian Lodge in 1789.  His apron retains the animal shape, but employs a colorful painted design.  The motto that appears, “Time Deum et Patriam Amor,” translates to “Fear God and Love Your Country.”  The apron also shows a Masonic date, “5791,” suggesting that it was made in 1791.  Known as "Anno Lucis" (or A.L.), which is Latin for "In the Year of Light," this date expresses a year that is 4,000 beyond "Anno Domini," and is assumed to be the date for the creation of the world.Gl2004_0137s1  Embraced by Freemasons as the beginning of Light, Anno Lucis dates are often seen on Masonic documents and objects. 

Above: Masonic apron, 1810-1820, Massachusetts, National Heritage Museum, gift of Russell Lodge, 94.041.

Right: Masonic apron, ca. 1791, Massachusetts, Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.0137, photograph by David Bohl.


Now you see it, now you don't: fore-edge painting

If you happened on Truths Illustrated by Great Authors: A Dictionary of Nearly Four Thousand Aids to Reflection...in our library you might notice the handsome binding and gilt fore-edge or outer edge of the book:

Fore_1  

However, if you fanned through the book, glancing at some of the interesting quotations from Shakespeare and other authors, you would see the gilt edge above transform into a picture (thought to be from Stratford-upon-Avon) if you held it just right:

Fore_3


Fore-edge painting is the process of decorating the longer outer edge of a book then, usually, when dry, concealing it with gilt.  It's a hidden treasure in a book and while some describe it as a lost art, others consider it 'pretty but petty.'  The earliest examples date back to the 16th century but it wasn't until the mid-18th century that it gained more prominence.  London bookseller and binder James Edwards (1756-1816) indicated he had a "method of binding books in vellum with drawings which will not rub out" in a 1785 patent application and even though he hadn't invented the process he became one of its greatest practitioners. The technique quickly moved from England to the rest of Europe (though several earlier examples may be found on the continent) and then onto North America in the 19th century.  Fore-edge painting enjoyed a brisk revival in the 20th century.

Most of what is now known about the history and practice of fore-edge painting is thanks to a former Colby College Professor of English and Rare Book Librarian, Carl J. Weber (1894-1966).  He received a donation of books with fore-edged paintings and began his research after finding very little general or scholarly work on the subject.  Weber published A Thousand and One Fore-edge Paintings: with Notes on the Artists, Bookbinders, Publishers, and Other Men and Women Connected with the History of a Curious Art in 1949 and included a detailed list of fore-edge paintings in some 56 American libraries and private collections.  He revised the work as Fore-edge Painting: A Historical Survey of a Curious Art in Book Decoration in 1966.  Fore-edge painting became a family interest after that: a new book, The Fore-edge Paintings of John T. Beer is the latest by his grandson, Jeff Weber.

Which books did and didn't get decorated edges?  There's no particular rhyme or reason to it, though if you look at the 1001 listings in Carl Weber's 1949 book, you do see multiple entries for the bible, Book of Common Prayer, books of poetry, and various classics.  Where can you find examples of fore-edge painting?  Again, Weber notes that while most libraries have no examples of fore-edge painting, there are many important collections around the world.  The larger American collections may be found at the College of William and Mary, the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City and the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA.  Boston Public Library also has a significant number of rare books with fore-edge paintings and has made them easily accessible on their website and on Flickr, the photo management and sharing program.  In fact the wonderful thing about BPL's Art of the Book collection on Flickr is that you can see, at a glance, that the painting and the subject of the book are sometimes, but not always, in concert.  For example,  A view of Hampton Court Palace adorns this copy of the Iliad by Homer:

Fep_02


 

 


while other works by Homer have castles in Wales, scenes from Bath, England, and the Eton College Chapel.  On the other hand, the Memoirs of the life and travels of John Ledyard contains this very appropriate scene (as Ledyard was a member of Captain Cook's expedition):

Fep_01


 



I was interested to find only one Masonic title on Weber's 1949 list, William Preston's Illustrations of Masonry, published in 1792.  The copy listed, held in a private collection, had 2 fore-edge scenes painted, St. Paul's Churchyard and the Goose and Gridiron Ale House, noteworthy as the place the Grand Lodge of London began in 1717.  Alas, our own copy of the same edition doesn't have any fore-edge paintings.  I would be interested to hear from anyone who knows of other Masonic titles with this type of decoration.  Given the amount of material published in the 18th and 19th centuries, the propensity toward decoration, and the interest in secrecy, fore-edge painting and Freemasonry would seem ideally suited!

Meanwhile, next time you pick up a book, particularly if it is old and has a beautiful binding, try fanning the pages.  You may just get a nice surprise.

Sources consulted and mentioned above:

Carter, John.  ABC for Book Collectors.  8th ed.  New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2006.

Weber, Carl J.  A Thousand and One Fore-edge Paintings: with Notes on the Artists, Bookbinders, Publishers, and other Men and Women connected with the History of a Curious Art.  Waterville, ME: Colby College Press, 1949. Online copy here

Weber, Carl J.  Fore-edge Painting: a Historical Survey of a Curious Art in Book Decoration.  Irvington-on-Hudson: Harvey House, 1966.

Weber, Jeff.  The Fore-edge Paintings of John T. Beer. Los Angeles: Jeff Weber Rare Books. Limited to 210 copies printed by the Castle Press, Pasadena, 2006.

White, William M.  Truths Illustrated by Great Authors.  London:  W. White, 1852.  Call number:  RARE PN 6081 .W48 1852.  Fore-edge painting of Stratford-upon-Avon.


George Washington’s Inaugural Bible

When Barack Obama takes the presidential oath of office next week, he will participate in a ceremony that dates back to George Washington’s 1789 inauguration. His choice to swear his oath on an historical Bible—the one that Abraham Lincoln used in 1861—is much rarer. Only four presidents have used Bibles that former presidents used, and all four chose the same one: George Washington’s.

GWBible after8 cropped

George Washington’s inauguration as the first U.S. president was held on April 30, 1789, in New York City. According to a 1908 account by New York’s St. John’s Lodge No. 1, although the ceremony was elaborately planned, at the last minute, organizers decided that the president should place his hand on a Bible when taking the oath of office. Jacob Morton, parade marshal and Master of St. John’s, quickly walked to his nearby lodge meeting room, and borrowed its 1767 King James Bible. Robert R. Livingston, State Chancellor and presiding Grand Master of Masons in New York, then administered Washington’s oath of office on it.

No one knows where the Bibles that the first fourteen presidents used came from, but we do know that in 1857, William Carroll, the clerk of the Supreme Court, procured a Bible for James Buchanan’s inauguration. Carroll and his successors provided the next half-dozen inaugural Bibles—including Abraham Lincoln’s. Then, on March 4, 1885, Grover Cleveland created a new tradition when he chose to swear his oath of office on a Bible his mother had given him when he was 15. Since then, most presidents have used family Bibles.

Freemason Warren G. Harding was the first president known to select the Washington Bible for his 1921 inauguration. Dwight D. Eisenhower followed in 1953, Jimmy Carter in 1977, and George Bush in 1989. George W. Bush intended to use it in 2001, but rainy weather changed the plan. He used a family Bible instead.

The George Washington Bible has been featured at a number of other important public and Masonic occasions, including Washington’s funeral procession in 1799; the dedication of the Masonic Temples in Boston and Philadelphia, in 1867 and 1869, respectively; the 1885 dedication of the Washington Monument, and its rededication 112 years later; a 1932 reenactment of Washington’s inauguration, commemorating the bicentennial of the first president’s birth; the inaugurations of some of New York’s governors; the installations of many of the Grand Masters of New York; and numerous exhibitions. Usually on display at New York’s Federal Hall, this Bible was on view at the National Heritage Museum for a 2005 exhibition on George Washington’s Masonic life and legacy.

Sources

Proceedings of the Sesqui-centennial celebration of St. John's Lodge, no. 1. (A.Y.M.) F. & A.M. of the State of New York: December 7th ... 5907. New York: St. John's Lodge, no. 1. (A.Y.M.) F. & A.M., 1908. Call number: 17.97751 .N1 1908 

Web site of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, http://inaugural.senate.gov/history/chronology/index.cfm

Thanks to St. John's Lodge No. 1 for their help with this entry. For more information on the George Washington Bible, please click the link "The Lodge" on the St. John's Lodge web site.


Bible, 1767. Printed by Mark Baskett, London. Photo courtesy of St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, Free & Accepted Masons, New York, New York. This Bible was opened to Genesis 49–50 when George Washington took his oath of office on it.


100 Years and Radically Different...The Election of 1904

2001_067_32S1 As we prepare to celebrate the historic inauguration of our first African American president in the wake of record voter turnout, a lively rivalry and media overload, it may soothe the soul to read about what is considered one of the dullest presidential contests in history – the election of 1904.

That year saw Republican Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) running against Democrat Alton B. Parker (1852-1926).  I’m sure you’re asking, “Who?,” right about now.   Parker and his running mate, Henry G. Davis (1823-1916), can be seen on the campaign textile at the left.  Leaving the colorful textile, now in the National Heritage Museum collection, aside, neither candidate did much campaigning that year.  It’s so hard to imagine such a thing that I’ll type it again – neither candidate did much campaigning.

Parker, who was born and raised in New York, worked as a lawyer and became active in that state’s Democratic politics in the 1870s.  In 1885, he was appointed to the New York Supreme Court, and then to the Court of Appeals in 1889, eventually becoming chief justice of the appeals court.  Parker’s pro-Labor views, along with his criticism of the 14th Amendment because of its power to restrict state action on civil rights, made him an attractive candidate for the Democratic party.

Roosevelt, on the other hand, was well-known, and remains so today.  Elected as Vice President under William McKinley (1843-1901) in 1900, Roosevelt moved into the top spot when an assassin killed McKinley in 1901.  In 1904, Roosevelt honored what was then an unwritten rule – no sitting president openly participated in a campaign.  Known as a hero of the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt also popularized the motto, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” which came to characterize his foreign policy.  Despite his lack of campaigning, Roosevelt won big, carrying 33 states out of 45.  Roosevelt declined to run for reelection in 1908, but did run in 1912 as the Progressive party candidate.  The second textile shown here dates from that campaign and includes his name, the year and the name of the party, “National Progressive.”2001_067_36S1  The textile also shows "big sticks" and bull moose, to remind voters of Roosevelt's past achievements.

The political textiles pictured here are part of a larger collection owned by the National Heritage Museum that was generously donated by Robert A. Frank.  This group numbers more than fifty items dating from 1819 to the early 1980s.  Most relate to presidential campaigns during the late 1800s.

To learn more about election history, see these previous blog entries: Voting the Party Ticket and The Anti-Masonic Party's First National Convention.

Sources consulted:
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., ed., Running for President: The Candidates and Their Images, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

‘If Elected…’: Unsuccessful Candidates for the Presidency 1796-1968, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972.

Top: Campaign Banner for Alton B. Parker and Henry G. Davis, 1904, National Heritage Museum, gift of Robert A. Frank, 2001.067.32, photo by David Bohl.

Bottom: Campaign Banner for Theodore Roosevelt, 1912, National Heritage Museum, gift of Robert A. Frank, 2001.067.36, photo by David Bohl.


Enjoy a Special Chef's Cooking Series in the Courtyard Cafe, January 21 through February 25

Cafe_With_Kids The Museum offers a great mix of new exhibitions and special events this month!

The Courtyard Cafe′ presents a "Chef's Cooking Series," Wednesday, January 21 through Wednesday, February 25, 2009 from 11:30 am - 1 pm. A chef from Short Order Gourmet will be on site preparing savory omelets made to order, delicious pasta dishes, and specialty paninis! Be sure to stop in for a lunch time treat!

Note:
The Courtyard Cafe′ is open Tuesday through Friday, and the chef's dishes will be offered on those days
.


At the Prohibition Ball

At the prohibition ball Back in June, we wrote about Irving Berlin's Prohibition song I'll See You in C-U-B-A, one of the pieces of sheet music that's on view in "There'll Be a Hot Time in the U.S.A.": Illustrated American Sheet Music, 1917-1924, the current exhibition in the Library & Archives reading room. This week, we're taking a look at one of the other Prohibition-inspired songs that's also in the show, a song called At the Prohibition Ball.

When I was first trying to decide how to select thirty pieces of sheet music out of hundreds to choose from, I realized very quickly that the pieces fit easily into various themes or topics and that each exhibition case could focus on one of these topics. Because of the time period, one of the themes that made itself apparent was Prohibition. After selecting five Prohibition-themed pieces of sheet music for the exhibition, I was struck by their publication date. All but one were published in 1919.

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on January 16, 1919, but it didn't take effect until one year later, on January 16, 1920. Section 1 of the amendment reads, "After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited." The Prohibition songs written during 1919 weren't based on the reality of Prohibition, but instead reflect the anxiety of what social life in America might be like once the country went dry.

The cover for At the Prohibition Ball is an amusing depiction of this anxiety: an imagined party that's taking place on January 15, 1920 - the night before Prohibition begins. A Grim Reaper figure is pointing at the clock which is about to strike midnight, signalling that the party - both actually and metaphorically - is almost over. The cover, of course, was designed to catch a consumer's eye and sell music, but it also reflects the lyrics of the song:

All the folks will come from ev'ry state,
Ev'rywhere they'll congregate
It will be the night before the Prohibition Law!

Chorus:
We'll be at the Prohibition Ball,
There we'll mix with Mister Alcohol,

Folks will pay their last respects
To Highballs and to Horse's Necks;

The Gin we got from the Land of Cotton,
Will be gone but not forgotten.

Then we'll say farewell to old Champagne,
We may never taste a drop again;

It's gonna take till early morn
To say goodbye to Barleycorn,

We'll celebrate at the Prohibition Ball!


The exhibition, "There'll Be a Hot Time in the U.S.A.": Illustrated American Sheet Music, 1917-1924, will be on view until January 25, 2009.

At the Prohibition Ball, words by Alex Gerber, music by Abner Silver. Published by M. Witmark & Sons, 1919. Gift of Estelle F. Gese, Gale S. Pemberton, and Anne D. Pemberton, in memory of Frances Schmidt Pemberton. 04-014sh


January at the Museum! From Antique Valentines to the Politics of Immigration. It's All Here and More!

The New Year brings fresh programming and two new exhibitions opening in the Van Gorden-Williams Library! Here's what's coming up. Remember, the Museum offers free admission and parking!

Cambodian_ElephantPot Cambodian Ceramics Demonstration
Saturday, January 17
12-2 PM
FREE

Yari Livan will demonstrate his talents as a Cambodian master ceramicist.  The sole survivor of his generation of artists trained in traditional Khmer ceramics at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, he came to Massachusetts in 2001. His work is featured in the current exhibition, “Keepers of Tradition.” Free. Snow date: Sunday, January 18.


Borjas George J. Borjas of the Kennedy School on Immigration and Economics
Saturday, January 17
2 pm
FREE

George J. Borjas, of the Kennedy School of Government, will speak on immigration policy and economics. Borjas, a Cuban immigrant and preeminent scholar in his field, examines the controversial idea that more job seekers from abroad means fewer opportunities or lower wages for native workers. This issue lies at the heart of national debate over immigration policy. Funded by the Lowell Institute. The lecture is presented in conjunction with the current exhibition "Augustus Frederick Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits, 1905-1920." Free.


 NativeAmerican_TwndBasktry Native American Twined Basketry Demonstration
Saturday, January 24
1-3 pm
FREE
Julia Marden will demonstrate the Native American art of twined basketry, or soft-form baskets made out of natural materials such as corn husks and grasses. An Aquinnah Wampanoag who learned her craft while working at Plimoth Plantation, Marden is featured in the current exhibition, "Keepers of Tradition." Free. Snow date: Sunday, January 25.

Valentine Valentines from the Kalman Collection, 1910-1920
January 31 through March 8, 2009
Romantic Valentine greetings have been popular as far back as the Middle Ages, when lovers said or sang their verses to their sweeties. Today we are most familiar with the pretty paper variety. Each year, the Van Gorden-Williams Library presents a delightful display of antique Valentines from its collection. Smiling puppies and impish cherubs, lovely maidens and heartsick gentlemen, the characters on these charming cards convey their messages of love to sweethearts of long ago. Many of the 25 cards on view stand up or feature moving parts, showing an inventiveness rarely seen in cards today.

This antique valentine collection originally belonged to Albert Kalman, who owned and managed Kimbal's Camera and Card shop in downtown Boston for 35 years. His wife, Vivienne, donated the collection in his memory. Each year, Mr. Kalman decorated his shop with these vintage cards to celebrate Valentine's Day. Visit us and carry on the tradition!

Postcard_Tunnel "A Penny for Your Thoughts: Postcards from the Golden Age, 1898-1918"
Opens January 31, 2009
In the early 1900s, when telephones and cameras were few and automobiles were limited to the well-to-do, the postcard filled a necessary and appreciated role. Costing only a penny each to send, postcards were an inexpensive way to convey short messages. Images on the cards showed American pursuits and pastimes, customs, costumes, morals, and manners. Sold everywhere--in drug stores, souvenir shops, dime stores, specialty shops and even on street corners--many postcards from this age still exist today.

In "A Penny for Your Thoughts," on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, more than 100 examples from the Golden Age will be shown, along with postcard scrapbooks. The images capture the optimism, the people, the industrialism, and the transportation of the period from 1898-1918. Visitors will see favorite tourist destinations, cityscapes, and period automobiles. They will also be able read the messages on these antique postcards. A variety of styles and subject matter will be shown, including color lithographic, photographic, novelty, and fraternal postcards.

The exhibition is drawn from gifts from Martin A. and Mildred H. Gilman and various museum purchases. Bertha Petersen, Martin A. Gilman's mother, collected many of the postcards when she lived in New Jersey and Connecticut from 1904-1917.

Captions:
Postcard, 1906.  O. & W. Ry, New York. Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives. Gift of Martin A. and Mildred H. Gilman

Valentine Greetings, 1910.  Sam Gabriel, New York, Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, Gift of Vivienne Kalman in memory of Albert L. Kalman


Calling All Collectors!

The National Heritage Museum gets its exhibitions from a number of sources. We produce some, like “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty,” primarily from the Museum’s collections. Others are the result of a collaboration between the Museum and another organization. For example, staff from the Massachusetts Cultural Council approached us with a great idea, eight years of fieldwork, and a list of artists who were interested in sharing their work with the public. We provided a gallery space and expertise in how to produce and display a museum exhibition. The result is the critically acclaimed show, “Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts,” now on view.

We even rent exhibitions from other organizations, which gives us access to objects we wouldn’t otherwise be able to present to our visitors. Our upcoming exhibition, “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World,” is a good example. The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services (SITES), in conjunction with the Henson Legacy and the Biography Channel, has produced this rare look into Jim Henson’s life work. The show will be traveling all over the country, with a stop here in Lexington from April 3-June 27, 2010.

Neon - 4thRoom3 We have produced some of our most popular exhibitions by drawing from local collectors’ material. These enthusiasts contacted us, or we heard about them through word-of-mouth or feature articles in newspapers and magazines. Once we’ve identified a collection related to a topic in American history that we think will be of interest to our visitors, and have learned that the collector is interested in working with us, we set a date for the exhibition, usually two to four years in the future. We then begin working with the collector to select the objects and themes that help tell a compelling story in American history. Recent exhibitions based on local collections include “The Western Pursuit of the American Dream,” “Blue Monday: Doing Laundry in America,” and “New England Neon.” Visitors enjoyed these shows, which we think provided winning combinations of the museum’s mission and collectors’ passions.

If you have or know of a collection that relates to a topic in American history, we’d like to hear from you! Please call us at 781-861-4101 or use our contact form.

Gallery photo of "New England Neon," which was on view at the museum from April 12-September 14, 2003. The museum worked with a local collector to produce this popular exhibition.