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September 2011

Fantastic Model Miniatures at the Museum, October 1 and 2

Moss Spitfire Join us for a fun weekend as the Patriot Chapter of the International Plastic Model Society and The East Coast Figure Artists present “Fantastic Model Miniatures” at the Museum on Saturday, October 1 and Sunday, October 2, 2011. More than 150 miniatures will be on view including aircraft, vehicles, dinosaurs, and figures and dioramas from history and popular culture. Hours for the show are Saturday, October 1, 10 am-4:30, and Sunday, October 2, from noon-4:30 pm. Admission is $7 per family; $5 individual. Proceeds support educational programs at the Museum.

The art of miniatures allows us to see the people, machines, and places lost in time past. The models take us to places we could never visit, from the inside of a WWII British Fighter plane to the surface of the moon. Visitors can examine the interior of a deep diving submarine, walk among prehistoric creatures, and look into the fantasy world of the Lord of the Rings. The historical figures presented, like Sir Edmond Hillary atop Mount Everest, are superb examples of the exacting work done by miniature portraitists. Model makers will also offer demonstrations and talks.

General1 The organizers of the event, Robert Butler and Pip Moss, are teachers, artists and long time miniaturists. Butler, who will present a number of miniature dinosaurs that he created for the Discovery Channel's Paleo World, says "Miniature sculptures serve as blueprints in the creation of the life size sculptures of extinct animals such as the dinosaurs that are seen in museums worldwide. Models are irreplaceable tools used in the design of the planes, tanks and vehicles, much relied on by the military throughout the history of our country. The displays are intriguing to look at, yet teach a great deal about art, history, craftsmanship and science."

Photo Credits:

Scale Model (1:48) of a 1943 USAAC Spitfire, 2010. Courtesy of Pip Moss.

Fantastic Model Miniatures! at the Museum, 2009. Courtesy of Pip Moss.

Let's Go Shopping!

Shopping cart in gallery view two A long-time staff favorite, a toy shopping cart in our current exhibition Curators' Choice: Favorites from the Collection, is attracting visitors’ attention.

This charming toy is a child-sized cart (about 20” high) decorated inside and out with a colorful collage of the kinds of groceries that could have been found in a 1950s supermarket.  Made by the Gong Bell Manufacturing Company of East Hampton, Connecticut, the cart, like many of this maker’s products, incorporated a bell in its wheels.  As the cart rolled, bells in the wheels clattered and rang.  In fact, the original owner, who donated the object to the museum, recalled that this cart made an “incredible racket” when she and her brother played with it.  We tested the cart in the museum storage area and confirmed that it is very noisy indeed!

Founded in 1866, the business that became the Gong Bell Manufacturing Company started making toys a few years later.  A collector’s website shows many examples of the company’s products and notes that in 1921, a Gong Bell toy telephone proved to be one of the most popular toys on the market at the time.  Toys with bells in many shapes and sizes soon followed.  The museum’s cart, purchased in Connecticut around 1953, is just one example of the many kinds of push, pull and ride toys the company made.  In spite of this variety of offerings, less than ten years after this cart was made, Gong Bell went into bankruptcy. Collectors suggest that the emergence of plastic toys in the late 1950s made it hard for the Gong Bell Company, with its metal and wood products, to compete. 

A 1954 catalogdescribed this Gong Bell toy shopping cart as “chuck-full of Famous Brands groceries.”  For $2.98 you could take one home with the accompanying “miniature empty boxes of well-known merchandise” to fill it up.  Some of the brands highlighted on this cart include Jolly Time Popcorn, Sun-maid Raisins, Swift ham, Jello-o and Dreft laundry detergent.  Playthings, such as this cart, helped children learn about everyday tasks that they would undertake as adults, such as cooking, laundry or shopping.  Toys that used real product names made play more realistic.  They also, rather insidiously, cultivated brand loyalty and consumer awareness in young children.

If you have a story about your Gong Bell company shopping cart or another toy you have seen on view at the museum, please tell us about it, we would love to know more!

Toy Shopping Basket, ca. 1953. Gong Bell Manufacturing Company, East Hampton, Connecticut. National Heritage Museum, gift of Ellen G. Lenart, 93.015.1.


A Quilted Footnote

83_44_3a-bDP1 At first glance, the quilted scraps seen at left seem rather mundane. But, if you read the handwritten note attached to them, you may start to see them in a different light. It reads “The corners cut out of Mother’s quilt she had when married May 16th 1820.” T-shaped quilts experienced great popularity in New England in the early 1800s. I speak from personal experience when I say that having those two bottom corners cut out makes it much easier to put the quilt onto a four-poster bed. (See our previous post on a T-shaped quilt in the National Heritage Museum’s collection; I’ve included the image of that quilt here to help refresh your memory.)2008_002_1T1

Have you ever wondered what happened to those cut-out corners? I’ve come across some quilts where the cutouts were well thought out in advance and the corners must have been cut and discarded (or put into the scrap basket) as the quilter worked. But, other quilts clearly show that the maker stitched the entire piece and then cut out the quilted corners before binding the quilt's edges, as these scraps demonstrate. The wholecloth fabric of the top – a red-and-white printed fruit basket design, which would have been quite fashionable in 1820 – is sandwiched with batting and a muslin backing fabric and then quilted in a scallop pattern. One edge of each piece is finished with a knife-edge binding, while the other three sides are raw.

This is the only example I’ve seen where the cut out pieces were saved and passed down through the family. Sadly, the quilt itself has been lost. A family descendant donated these pieces to the Museum in 1983. The “Mother” in the note was Hannah Morgan Russell (1799-1879), who married Stephen William Little (b. 1795) of Newbury, Massachusetts, on May 16, 1820. Stephen was a farmer. The couple had ten children, but five died in childhood and their daughter, Susan, passed away in 1859 at the young age of 29.

To see more quilts from our collection, please visit our website and do an online collection search. If you know of other cut-out corners that were saved, do tell us about them in a comment below!

Pair of Quilt Fragments, 1820, Newbury, Massachusetts, National Heritage Museum Collection, gift of Mrs. Joseph E. Belcher, 83.44.3a-b. Photograph by David Bohl.

T-Shaped Quilt with Masonic Handkerchief, ca. 1817, probably New England, National Heritage Museum Collection, Special Projects Fund, Supreme Council, 33º, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., 2008.002.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

Reference: George Thomas Little, The Descendants of George Little, who came to Newbury, Massachusetts, in 1640. Auburn, Maine: The Author, 1882.

Richard Hatcher to Speak on "The Flags of Fort Sumter," Sept. 17

Fosu1861_1 Fort Sumter, the scene of the first shots exhanged in the U.S. Civil War, still has vital significance for how Americans define themselves today. In April of 1861, South Carolina had seceeded from the United States, while Fort Sumter remained a bastion of Federal military authority in Charleston's harbor. An immense 34-star United States flag flew over the garrison. After Union forces were bombarded into surrendering the fort to Confederate troops, its new occupants replaced the garrison flag with not only the Confederate colors, but the palmetto flag of the new Republic of South Carolina.

Hatcher Richard W. Hatcher III, as the National Park Service's historian at the Fort Sumter National Monument, is entrusted with helping present generations better understand the site and its role in our national history. Moreover, he knows the symbolic power of these two flags, now part of the site's curatorial collection. Hatcher will share his knowledge with us at the Museum on Saturday, September 17 at 2 PM in a talk entitled, "The Flags of Fort Sumter: National Symbolism in the Civil War." He will offer insight into what new flags such as the palmetto meant to secessionists and how American flags that formerly signified national unity now became divisive. Join us for a lively illustrated talk that traces the history of the Civil War-era flags in the Fort Sumter collection.

This lecture is part of a series that celebrates the National Heritage Museum’s own treasured 15-star flag and explores the changing history of the American flag. Thanks to the generous sponsorship of Ruby W. Linn, the lecture is free to the public. For more information about this public program, visit our website or call the Museum during business hours at 781-862-6559.

Flag-raising Fort Sumter 1865 Richard Hatcher has had a deep and rich career as an historian with the National Park Service. Since 1992, he has served at Fort Sumter - Fort Moultrie National Monument. As site historian, he has played a leading role in reframing of how the Park Service interprets Fort Sumter to the visiting public. Over the past two decades, Hatcher and site staff have developed an engaging and inclusive story that does not shy away from some of the knottier dilemmas of the causes of the Civil War. Hatcher is the author of numerous Civil War-related books and articles.He is also a National Civil War Museum Advisory Council member and a regular speaker at Civil War Roundtables.

Photo credits:

Palmetto Guard Flag, 1861, courtesy of the Fort Sumter National Monument collections.

Courtesy of Richard W. Hatcher III.

Flag-raising ceremony at Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina, 1865. Library of Congress.


"Treasured Lands" Photographer Returns to Museum Sept. 10

Yosemite "Luong’s large-format camera creates images of beaches and glaciers  and deserts and waterfalls from American Samoa to Maine that were so astonishingly sharp and mesmerizing that my father was convinced there was some special 3-D technology involved. There’s not: they’re just awesome photos."

- Seth Kugel, The New York Times

Photographer Quang-Tuan Luong prefers to capture his images with a large format camera and film sheets over using a lightweight digital camera. The spectacular images in his exhibition, "Treasured Lands: The Fifty-Eight U.S. National Parks in Focus," testify to his success. Using this technology, his camera catches more detail than the human eye can perceive, making his photos particularly dense and rich.

Treasured-lands-mohn-events Visitors love this show - many report they have returned to visit it four or five times. "Treasured Lands" strikes a deep chord with many people, so we have invited Luong to speak at the Museum on Saturday, Sept. 10. Join us at 2 PM for "Treasured Lands: Journeys and Vision." Luong will show us fresh images from the "Treasured Lands" project that occupied him for fifteen years, explain how his explorations of the American National Parks have influenced his recent photographic work, and delve into the intricacies of large format photographic technology. He will be on hand following the talk for a book signing. Spectacular Yosemite, 2011, will be available for purchase. His free public lecture is sponsored by the Lowell Institute. For more information about the talk, visit our website or call the Museum during business hours at 781-861-6559.

A computer scientist by training, Luong’s love for nature and adventure led him to become a mountain climber, wilderness guide, and full-time photographer. In picturing the distinguishing features of each of the 58 national parks, Luong shares his understanding of what makes a particular place unique. His photographs allow us to see the parks with fresh eyes. They also serve as a reminder for us to cherish and protect these treasured lands.

For the past twenty-five years, I have been privileged to travel, trek, and climb in some of the most remote and beautiful corners of the earth. My goal has always been to bring back the wonders I’ve seen to people who can’t get there.

--Quang-Tuan Luong

Photo Credits:

Yosemite National Park, California, January 2002. Quang-Tuan Luong. © by the artist.

Quang-Tuan Luong Speaking at the National Heritage Museum, March 2010. Courtesy of Quang-Tuan Luong.

Rare "Ast Ritual" Given to Library

Ast_Ritual_web The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library recently acquired two copies of a uniquely American Masonic ritual - the Reverend Daniel Parker's Masonic Tablet (New York, ca. 1822), which was the first published American cipher ritual. The Masonic Tablet was published with no title page and is often referred to as the “Ast Ritual,” a reference to the first word on the first line of the book (shown here).

Both copies were a gift of the Pittsfield Masonic Association of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The gift includes one complete copy of the 28 page book and a second copy of the same edition, but lacking the last four pages. As well, we received a separately printed four-page glossary of cipher words (also originally printed ca. 1822) with their translations, printed in two columns. The Masonic Tablet contains Craft and/or Chapter ritual in cipher and was printed around 1822 in both a 28 page version and a 44 page edition. The only other known copy of the 28 page edition is in a private library. This gift to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library triples the number of known copies of the 28 page book and makes the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives the only Masonic library in the world to hold two copies of this important, early Masonic ritual.

Ast_Ritual_detail The book’s striking cipher (see detail at right) uses five different methods to conceal the text: letter and number substitution, omission of letters, inclusion of meaningless letters between backward brackets, numbers and punctuation marks, words spelled backwards, and the inclusion of foreign words. This is in stark contrast to the many plain-English (i.e. unencrypted) ritual exposures that followed Parker’s Tablet in the 1820s and 1830s, which clearly aimed to reveal Masonic ritual to non-Masons. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine that anyone who wasn’t already familiar with Masonic ritual would have easily deciphered the text of the Ast Ritual. As for the content, according to one Masonic ritual expert the Masonic Tablet likely contains the ritual that lodges in and around New York City in the 1820s would have used. Although the book was printed without publishing information in the book itself, Masonic historian Arturo de Hoyos and bibliographer Kent Walgren, using secondary sources, have reasonably attributed the printing of the book to New York (possibly Kingston) in 1822.

Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of the State of New York, as well as the Grand Lodge of New York from the early 1820s, contain information about the Masonic trials that took place when it became known that the Reverend Daniel Parker (1774-1835), a Freemason, was advertising and selling a memory aid containing Masonic ritual. In publishing his cipher, Parker raised the ire of both the Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter of New York. It appears that Parker went to great lengths to conceal, rather than reveal, Masonic ritual and likely intended his book as a memory aid for other Freemasons to learn ritual. Despite this, upon hearing about Parker’s book, the Grand Lodge adopted a resolution in 1822 that condemned the use of all books or manuscripts explaining Masonic ritual. Four years later, Parker was expelled by the Grand Chapter of New York. The Grand Chapter got involved because some editions of the Masonic Tablet contained the Capitular (i.e. Royal Arch Chapter) degrees and the Grand Chapter stated that Parker had “rendered himself a dangerous member of our fraternity.” They also claimed that he had “violated one of the most important of our Masonic obligations, by printing or publishing, or causing to be printed and published, a work calculated to expose some of the mysteries which bind together and preserve our fraternity.” Parker was expelled from the Grand Chapter of New York on February 10, 1826. It is not known how many copies of Parker's Masonic Tablet were printed. Today, there are only six known copies of any edition/state of the Ast Ritual. As this gift proves, others may emerge in the future.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is grateful to the Pittsfield Masonic Association for this important gift. If you have something rare and unusual in your lodge's library, why not drop us a line and ask us about it?

If you are interested in learning more about Daniel Parker's Masonic Tablet, the following two sources, which I relied upon for the information above, are invaluable:

Arturo de Hoyos. Light on Masonry: The History and Rituals of America’s Most Important Masonic Exposé. Washington, DC: Scottish Rite Research Society, 2008; pp.27-34.
Call number: 19 .D4 2008

Kent Logan Walgren. Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and Illuminism in the United States : 1734-1850: A Bibliography. Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 2003; cat. nos. 2038-2041.
Call number: REF 04 .W165 2003

Photo caption:
Daniel Parker. Masonic Tablet/Ast Ritual (New York, ca. 1822). Gift of Pittsfield Masonic Association, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, RARE 14.9 .P238 1822.