« April 2009 | Main | June 2009 »

May 2009

Last Chance to See "Keepers of Tradition"--Closing June 7

Ortiz, Vejigante mask, 2-10 Don't miss "Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts," our very popular special exhibition! It closes on June 7. This colorful and beautiful show features more than 100 works by 70 Massachusetts artists who preserve and revitalize deeply rooted traditions. Reflecting the populace of Massachusetts, their art takes many expressive forms—from Native American basketry to Yankee wooden boats, Armenian lace, Chinese seals, Puerto Rican santos, and Irish music and dance.  Passed down from person to person within both long-settled and new immigrant communities, traditional art involves the shaping of deeply held cultural values into meaningful artistic forms.

These keepers of tradition are recognized in their communities as outstanding practitioners of craft, music, dance, and sacred arts. Yet much of this work is hidden to the public at large, remaining essentially unknown beyond the local community in which it flourishes. Don't miss the work of these master craftsman! Admission is free.

Funding for Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts is provided by Bank of America, an anonymous local foundation, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the National Heritage Museum, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Photo caption:
Large vejigante mascara, 2007. Angel Sánchez Ortiz, Holyoke, Massachusetts. Courtesy of National Heritage Museum and Massachusetts Cultural Council. Photography by Jason Dowdle

Louis Felix's Bell

Felix_bell_higher_resolution_2001_0 Bookkeeper Louis A. Felix (1837-1910) joined Monitor Lodge of Waltham, Massachusetts, in 1859.  He presented this attractive bell to the lodge the following year.

It looks like a cloche or garden bell designed to protect young plants, a product made by American glass companies from the 1810s on.  However, this bell had a different purpose.  Members of Felix’s lodge likely used it to chime symbolic midnight during a Masonic ritual based on the Biblical story of Hiram Abiff’s murder at King Solomon’s Temple.  Crafted from colorless lead glass (instead of green bottle glass) and handsomely engraved, this bell doubtless cost more than the garden variety.

It was a meaningful gift.  Because of the bell’s role in ritual and the Felix's name permanently engraved upon it, Monitor Lodge members likely thought of him at a solemn point in their ceremonies for many years. 

When the museum purchased this bell seven years ago, staff had not seen another like it.  Since then, a similar bell, presented to Revere Lodge in 1871, has come to light.  It forms part of the the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts collection housed at the National Heritage Museum. 

Ritual Bell, ca. 1860. Probably New England Glass Company, East Cambridge, Massachusetts. National Heritage Museum, 2001.078.  Photo by David Bohl.

References: Glass in Early America, Arlene Palmer (Henry Francis Du Pont Winterthur Museum:  Winterthur, Delaware), 1993, p. 392-3. NK 5112 .A1 H46 1993

A Masonic Squirrel Mascot

93_035T1 Among the more than 16,000 objects in the National Heritage Museum collection, Masonic symbols appear on a mind-boggling number of items – clothing, furniture and ceramics, to name just a few.  The ceramic squirrel statuette seen here is unusual, but comes complete with the familiar square and compasses.  Known as “sewer tile” folk art, figurines like this squirrel were made from a type of clay used in the production of sewer pipe.  The clay for the pipe was locally dug, poured into plaster molds and then fired in the kiln.  Throwing buckets of salt into the kiln at the height of the firing achieved the golden brown glaze. 

After a long day of monotonously turning out pieces of pipe, some employees used their creativity to make these whimsical items after hours.  Some sources suggest that these figures were popular gifts from factory employees to their family members.  While the maker of this figurine is unidentified, Ohio was a center for sewer tile folk art because of its rich natural deposits of red and white clay.  The state was home to many sewer pipe and brick companies, providing both the materials and the opportunity for local workers.

These items seem to have originated around 1880 and continued to be made into the early 1900s.  Figures, like the squirrel, were usually cast in molds.  Other popular animals include lions, dogs and pigs.  In addition to figural items, some artists made functional pieces like match holders or ashtrays.  Inspiration for the animal figurines may have come from imported fine ceramic Staffordshire figurines, which were popular during the late 1800s, but considerably more expensive.

Masonic sewer tile squirrel, 1880-1900, probably Ohio, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of E.R. Moody Family, 93.035, photograph by David Bohl.

Masonic Impostors Redux: "sleight-of-hand and song-and-dance man"

MasonicImposter_Logsdon_smaller Our blog turns one year old this week, and we thought we'd harken back to our first post and return to the subject of Masonic impostors, by featuring another image from the Album of Masonic Impostors, published by the General Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada in 1903.

But first a little background about the organization that published the Album. In 1885, a number of Masonic organizations in North America met in Baltimore to organize the General Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada, in order “to establish a central organization for the purpose of facilitating the discovery and exposure of persons traveling about the country and imposing upon the charities of Masons.”

One of the main ways that they accomplished this was by publishing a warning circular that was distributed to relief boards in major cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. From there, the relief boards would pass on the information within their local jurisdiction. The goal of all this? To try to spread information about known frauds and impostors who were looking to bilk Masonic relief boards out of money. The Masonic Relief Association compiled physical descriptions, and sometimes photos, of known impostors into their circulars and sent the circulars to relief boards - hopefully in advance of the arrival of the Masonic impostors described within.

Shown above is Patrick Logsdon, from the Album of Masonic Impostors. He is described as follows:

Traveling showman, sleight-of-hand and song-and-dance man. Claims to have been a rough rider and wounded at San Juan Hill. Says he is a member of a Lodge in Lexington, Ky.

WarningCircular_September_1928_smaller The Album contains impostors who all originally appeared in one of the warning circulars. But what exactly was this circular and what purpose did it serve?

The Official Warning Circular (No. 503, September 1928 is shown here) was distributed by the Masonic Relief Association to the various masonic relief boards throughout the country. The hope was that by centralizing communication, word could spread faster than a Masonic impostor could travel. For example, if the relief board in Chicago discovered someone trying to defraud them, they could send a telegraph or place a telephone call to the Masonic Relief Association. The Association would include this information in the compilation of their four-page monthly circular - publishing names, descriptions, and sometimes photographs of known Masonic impostors who had been caught attempting to defraud local relief boards. The circular was mailed out to all the relief boards that belonged to the Association. By the time the Masonic impostor in Chicago made his way to Boston, the Boston relief board would already have seen his mug shot in the warning circular. (An aside: if you're interested in communication networks and how news travels, check out our post on the spread of the Lexington Alarm from last month.)

In addition to publishing newly reported impostors, the Official Warning Circular also republished old cases, reported missing persons, and gave a list of "Lost Receipts" - i.e. Masons who had lost their membership cards - cards which subsequently might have fallen into the hands of a current, or future, Masonic impostor, who might assume the name and identity from the membership card.

Suggestions for Further Reading

General Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada. Album of Masonic Impostors. New York : Press of Eclipse Printing Co., 1903.
Call number: 19.78 .A345 1903

Croteau, Jeffrey. "Brotherly Deception." Cabinet, Spring 2009 (Issue 33). Brooklyn NY: Immaterial, Inc., 2009.

Halleran, Michael. "Be on the Qui Vive—Cowans, Swindlers, and Con Men, Then and Now." Scottish Rite Journal, May/June 2009. Washington, DC: Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry of the Southern Jurisdiction, 2009.

In addition, the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives also has a number of issues of the Official Warning Circular, as well as some of the proceedings of the annual meeting of the Masonic Relief Association.

Exciting Discovery - Artist of Mark Book Identified!

A92_001_1T1Tabbot One of the staff’s favorite objects in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives collection at the National Heritage Museum is the mark book for King Hiram Royal Arch Chapter (see Archivist Catherine Swanson’s previous post about the book).  For several years, we theorized that the artist of the book, an “M.S. Harding” who signed several pages, might be a young woman.  The technique exemplified in the drawings and the use of watercolors to create them suggest the kind of work taught in numerous New England academies for young ladies during the early 1800s (see an image of one page on the left).

New research has led to the exciting discovery that “M.S. Harding” was indeed a young woman, Martha S. Harding of New Salem, Massachusetts.  Born in 1813, Martha was the daughter of Alpheus Harding (1780-1869) and Sarah Bridge (b. circa 1788).  Her father belonged to King Hiram Royal Arch Chapter, which was established in nearby Greenwich, Massachusetts in 1815.  Massachusetts history buffs will recognize Greenwich as one of the towns submerged in the 1930s to create the Quabbin Reservoir.  Alpheus Harding, the pastor of New Salem Congregational Church, chose a mark that reflects his vocation.  It shows a lamb holding a Christian cross.  Two other pages from the book are shown here; the one on the right depicts the mark chosen by Thomas Thwing and shows Martha’s signature at the bottom.A92_001_1Thwing

Alpheus also served as a preceptor at New Salem Academy.  School records show that his children - including Martha, who was a pupil from 1822 to 1829 - attended.  It is possible that she learned to draw and paint while at the Academy, perhaps even making the mark book while she was a student.  When she was 25, in 1838, Martha married Asarelah M. Bridge (1810-1865), who was a student at New Salem Academy in 1830.  Sadly, Martha contracted consumption soon after her marriage and died in 1841 at the young age of 27.  But her drawings live on in the King Hiram Chapter mark book, allowing us to admire her artistic skill and teaching us that the families of 19th-century Freemasons were familiar with the symbols and values of the fraternity.

Left: Mark of William K. Talbot, King Hiram Royal Arch Chapter Mark Book, 1825-1838, Martha S. Harding (1813-1841), New Salem, Massachusetts, Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, National Heritage Museum, Museum purchase, A92/001/1, photograph by David Bohl.

Right: Mark of Thomas Thwing, King Hiram Royal Arch Chapter Mark Book, 1825-1838, Martha S. Harding (1813-1841), New Salem, Massachusetts, Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, National Heritage Museum, Museum purchase, A92/001/1, photograph by David Bohl.

Does the Order of Eastern Star exist in Lexington today?

A2008_13_1_OES_LexingtonThe Library & Archives recently acquired a collection of material from the Lexington Chapter, No. 183, Order of Eastern Star (MA 051) donated by John M. Murray, Jr. The donor's parents, Florence M. Murray and John M. Murray, Sr., were active in the organization in the 1940s and the 1950s at the local and state level.

Much of this new acquisition consists of meeting notices of Lexington Chapter No. 183 and quite a bit of material about the Grand Chapter of Massachusetts, Order of Eastern Star (OES).  The meeting notices span the time period 1938 through 1975.   On the left you can view an example of one these notices from  January 1950.  From 1949-1950, Florence M. Murray was Worthy Matron (or president) of the chapter and her husband John M. Murray, Sr. was Worthy Patron.                                  

Other material in the new acqusition includes the Diamond Jubilee Program of the Grand Chapter of Massachusetts, Order of the Eastern Star.  By 1951, Order of the Eastern Star had been active for 75 years in Massachusetts (1876-1951).  You can see the cover of this program on the right.            A2008_13_1_OES_GrandChapterMA

The Grand Chapter of Massachusetts, Order of Eastern Star is alive and well with chapters existing in many communities.  In searching the Grand Chapter's chart of existing chapters, however, I did not find Lexington Chapter, No. 183.  Noting its absence, I wondered: does the Order of Eastern Star exist in Lexington today? 

Lexington Chapter No. 183 was constituted (chartered) in 1922.   Following the close of World War I, there was an increased interest in fraternal organizations.  In 1922, there were 12 new chapters instituted and 10 new chapters constituted in Massachusetts. This was the largest number of new chapters organized in one year in the Grand Chapter's history. 

The Lexington Chapter was active for 82 years – until 2004 – when it merged with Mount Carmel Chapter No. 230, in North Reading.

Among the meeting notices, programs, and calendars in the gift we received were a group of photographs.  One photograph in particular stands out in the collection, and can be seen here.  What ceremony are they performing?  What significance does it have? I was curious to know.

A2008_13_1_OES_Lexington_Chapter_heart From further inquiry, I discovered that this is not a photo of a Lexington Chapter ceremony, but instead a ceremony that took place at a Grand Chapter of Massachusetts meeting of Order of Eastern Star.  It was a public ceremony, not a private ritual ceremony.

According to Dianna M. Gillard, of the Grand Chapter of Massachusetts, the photo shows Eastern Star women standing in the formation of a heart – the emblem of the year of this ceremony – with the OES symbol inside.   The watchwords that year were “Loving Kindness...Thoughtful Understanding.”  The public ceremony shown in the photo is a Confirmation of the Deputies for the Flor-del-es year 1958-1959, held in Worcester Memorial Auditorium. Florence Waldron was Worthy Grand Matron and Ernest Pearson was Worthy Grand Patron.


New to the Collection: A Masonic Sampler

Notherman, CarolineThe National Heritage Museum recently acquired this fascinating needlework sampler, which shows the Baltimore Masonic Hall. 

Samplers depicting buildings are not rare – many schoolgirls stitched a house on their sampler, and some depicted local public buildings like churches, hospitals or monuments.  However, this is the first sampler I’ve seen that features a Masonic building.

The sampler’s maker, Caroline Notherman, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, around 1816.  Her father, George Notherman, made and sold shoes and boots in the city between 1814 and 1837.  George Notherman was raised a Master Mason in Union Lodge No. 60 in 1824, but demitted, or resigned his membership, in 1829.  Caroline Notherman married William Jones Jr. in Baltimore on January 5, 1837.  By 1860, the couple had moved to Brooklyn, New York, where William worked as a merchant.  According to the U.S. Census that year, their household included thirteen people – their children, a servant and some of Caroline’s relatives.

Caroline stitched the sampler in 1827, when she was about eleven years old.  Historic photographs of the Baltimore Masonic Hall show that Caroline’s likeness is recognizable.  The building was begun in 1814 and used by the city’s Masons from 1822 to 1868.  During that same time, the Federal Court of Baltimore worked on the lower floor.  The building was demolished in 1895.

In addition to teaching us about the maker, her family and the Baltimore Masonic Hall, the sampler also illustrates how Freemasonry was understood beyond its male members.  Appreciated by families and communities alike, Freemasonry's values made its meeting places and symbols touchstones for all who recognized them.

Do you have a sampler with a Masonic symbol or building?  Have you seen any samplers similar to this one?  Please let me know by commenting below, or by sending an email to anewell@monh.org.

Special gratitude to Jason Sentz, Office of the Grand Secretary, Grand Lodge of Maryland, and to Amy Finkel, for sharing information about the sampler, its maker and her family.

Sampler by Caroline Notherman  (b. circa 1816), 1827, Baltimore, Maryland, National Heritage Museum, purchased with the assistance of the Kane Lodge Foundation, 2008.008.  Photograph courtesy of M. Finkel & Daughter, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Museum Announces Changes to its Operating Schedule

MONH_ext_Bunting The National Heritage Museum announces changes to its operating schedule. Beginning June 1, 2009, the Museum will close on Mondays—except for selected Monday holidays. Effective immediately, the Museum will close for the day at 4:30 pm rather than 5 pm. The changes come as a result of budget pressures due to the current economic conditions.

Said Richard V. Travis, Director Pro-Tem, “We need to enact these changes in order to run the Museum responsibly with an eye toward a vigorous future. We are forced to close one day a week to mitigate the impact on our budget, which has experienced the same battering shared by many other institutions. We are, however, serving our public by opening on Monday holidays to offer individuals and families the option of visiting on those special weekends. In addition, we remain one of the few major institutions in the country that offers free admission to all. Our schedule of exciting exhibitions and popular public programs will continue.

“These cost-cutting measures help us preserve the integrity of our offerings,” concluded Travis. “We look forward to welcoming visitors to Museum and Library in the years to come.”

The Museum’s days and hours of operation are as follows as of 1 June:
Closed Monday, except for Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Patriot’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day
Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am-4:30 pm
Sunday, noon-4:30 pm
The Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives are open weekdays during regular Museum hours, and on the first and third Saturdays of the month. The Library and Archives are closed on Sundays.
Admission and parking are free.