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.

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

George Washington Welcomes You!

Museum_Washington_CloseUp for portalIf you have visited the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library since 1979, you have been greeted by a statue of George Washington (1732-1799) outside the building.  As you may know, Washington was a Freemason.  Initiated in 1753 in Fredericksburg, Virginia, he became the first Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22, in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1788.  That lodge was later named Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 to honor the first President.  (For more posts related to George Washington, click here.)

The statue that greets our visitors today is pictured at left.  In 1784 the Commonwealth of Virginia commissioned the well-known French artist, Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828), to make a sculpture of George Washington.  Houdon traveled to Mount Vernon in October 1785, where he took measurements of Washington and made plaster casts of the man's face and limbs (check out this link for more on Houdon's process).  In 1791 Houdon completed the work and in 1796 it was installed in the Virginia State House.  The statue, which is 81 inches high, combines elements representing aspects of Washington's life.  In it he holds the cane of a gentleman, wears a soldier's uniform, stands in front of a farmer's plow, and rests his arm on an ancient Roman "fasces" or bundle of thirteen sticks - signifying his authority and the unity of the thirteen original states.  In 1910 the General Assembly of Virginia authorized the Gorman Company to make bronze replicas.  The one on view in front of the Museum is one of twenty-two made in the 1910s and 1920s.Library GW resized

Prior to the installation of the Gorman Company statue in front of the Museum in 2006, a statue of Washington by sculptor Donald DeLue (1897-1988) welcomed visitors.  Recently, that statue has been reinstalled in the reading room of the Museum's Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives (at right).  This is a half-size replica of the original statue, which the Grand Lodge of Louisiana commissioned from DeLue in 1959.  That nine-foot-tall statue was erected in front of the Public Library in New Orleans.  According to DeLue, the museum's sculpture is the "original model from which the large one was made."  It depicts Washington wearing his Masonic apron and holding a gavel as he stands next to an column-shaped altar.  The statue was a gift of the Stichter family in memory of Wayne E. Stichter, the Grand Lieutenant Commander of the Supreme Council and the Scottish Rite Deputy for Ohio.  Brother Stichter had served as Vice President of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library prior to his death in 1977.

Top: George Washington, 1924, from original by Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828), Gorman Company, Providence, Rhode Island, loaned by the Scottish Rite Valley of Columbus, Ohio, EL2004.001.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Bottom: George Washington as Master Mason, 1959, Donald DeLue (1897-1988), United States, gift of the Stichter Family, 2010.042.1.


"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.

An Example of Tiffany's Favrile Glass

77_70_10S1 Although this bowl may not be as recognizable as the famed stained-glass Tiffany lamps or windows, it does bear Louis Comfort Tiffany’s (1848-1933) name on the bottom. The soft colors and elegant style of the bowl made it a natural for inclusion in the “beauty and craftsmanship” section of the National Heritage Museum’s current exhibition, Curators’ Choice: Favorites from the Collection.

The ruffle-edge rim gives the piece a natural feel, which was one of the hallmarks of Tiffany’s work with glass vessels. In the early 1890s, Tiffany developed a method of blending different colors together in a molten state. He initially used this technique when crafting his stained-glass windows, extending it to three-dimensional objects in 1893. Initially, Tiffany christened this glass “fabrile,” from an Old English word meaning “hand-wrought.” By 1894, he changed it slightly to “Favrile” and the name stuck. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is fortunate to have 27 Favrile pieces from Tiffany’s personal collection.

Do you have a favorite Tiffany piece? Let us know in a comment below.

Favrile Bowl, 1909, Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), Corona, New York, National Heritage Museum, gift of Dorothy A. Richardson, 77.70.10.

Sharing Comments on The Initiated Eye

SR from IE with JB columns Here at the National Heritage Museum, we always include a way for visitors to leave their comments after viewing our exhibitions.  Since our show, The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry and the Architecture of Washington, D.C., opened almost six months ago, we have received a variety of feedback in the comment book at the end of the exhibit. 

The book offers visitors a chance to make any kind of comment they wish.  Sometimes they include their names and where they are from.  While most list an American town or state, we were excited to see some foreign visitors – including those from England, Scotland, Switzerland, and even India!

We are interested in all kinds of comments, whether positive or negative.  For example, one visitor helped us catch a typographical error by pointing out that the birth year for the artist was incorrect on one of the painting labels – it read “b. 1855” instead of “b. 1955”!  We appreciate this attention to detail and have fixed the errant label.

Still other visitors shared their favorite object in the show.  Nora Jane wrote “I especially loved the statue of George [Washington].”  Anja and Ashley, who signed the same page in the book, both liked the 38-star flag (don’t miss an upcoming June blog about this fascinating artifact).  And, Mike H. noted that he liked “the parade at the Capitol photo.”

Some visitors leave their questions in the comment book.  Thirteen-year-old Christina from New Hampshire wrote “I noticed in the painting to the left [Building the Temple Within, shown here at top] that the 2 columns were in the order of JB but here it is BJ [a pair of actual Masonic columns from the collection, shown at right].”  Undoubtedly, Christina has not been the only one to notice this discrepancy.  In fact, the exhibition includes two paintings – by the same artist – that contradict the order of the columns.  In the painting, An Auspicious Day, which depicts George Washington (shown below at left), the stair posts are labeled like columns and read “BJ.”  So, why the discrepancy?89_47S1

In Freemasonry, the columns marked B and J represent Boaz and Jachin, the columns that were erected at the entrance to King Solomon’s Temple.  They are described in the Bible, in 2 Chronicles 3:15-17, “And he reared up the pillars before the temple…and called the name of that on the right hand Jachin, and the name of that on the left Boaz.”  From this description, the B column should stand on the left, while the J column should be on the right.  This description is used in Masonic ritual, which is based on the story of the building of Solomon’s Temple. 

So, why do the columns appear in the opposite position in the painting Building the Temple Within – and, indeed, in a number of printed and published sources?  It may be that the artist was following the way the names of the columns are listed in the Bible – with Jachin coming before Boaz.  Or, it may relate to the fact that text is reversed when converted from Hebrew, which is read right to left, to English, which is read left to right.  When we set up our columns in the exhibition, we chose to follow the biblical description – and the Masonic ritual.  Unfortunately, we do not know why the artist of the paintings placed the columns in one order in one painting and in the opposite order in another.

GW from IE with BJ columns We appreciate all of the feedback we receive on our exhibitions.  It’s gratifying to know that this exhibition provided “new insights into our US history,” as one visitor wrote.  Or, as another commented, “New view of how history was made!”  So, let us know how you think we’re doing – on site or online.  We can’t wait to hear from you.

The Initiated Eye will be on view through January 9, 2011.  The paintings in the exhibition are the work of Peter Waddell, and were commissioned by, and are the property of, the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C., with all rights reserved.  This exhibition is supported by the Scottish Rite Masons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A.

Top: Building the Temple Within, 2005, Peter Waddell (b. 1955), Washington, D.C.  Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C. 

Middle: Masonic Columns, ca. 1840, Ohio.  Collection of the National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 89.47a-d.  Photograph by John Miller.

Bottom: An Auspicious Day, 2005, Peter Waddell (b. 1955), Washington, D.C.  Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C.

"Jim Henson's Fantastic World": Public Programs in May

Now entering its second month at the National Heritage Museum, "Jim Henson's Fantastic World" continues to delight visitors. Throughout May, we are offering public programs for every age and interest level. Read on - you're sure to discover a program you'd like to attend.

Heather Henson Head Shot This Mother's Day, Sunday, May 9, at 2 p.m., Jim Henson's youngest child, Heather Henson, will offer visitors an exquisite treat, entitled "A Daughter Remembers." Heather Henson's reminiscences about her father's life and extraordinary career will open a window to her own professional activities. She is the president and artistic director of IBEX, an entertainment company which promotes puppetry for the stage, film, and gallery. This presentation is free.

If you come to the Museum a bit earlier on May 9, you can enjoy a free gallery tour of "Jim Henson's Fantastic World." Join Museum staff at 1 p.m. for insights into the artist's astonishingly versatile mind and works.

Would you like to plunge in and AnythingCanBeAPuppetride the waves of your own creativity? Let Jim Henson inspire you at our puppetry workshop, "Anything Can Be A Puppet," offered on Saturday, May 15, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Michelle Finston, art educator and puppeteer, will be on hand to lead a workshop for people of all ages in how to create puppets and use them to tell stories. Ages seven to adult will enjoy this program, which costs $20/participant for non-members and $15/participant for members. Reserve your spot by emailing: [email protected].

Falk-IMG_4208-vF[1] The third May weekend brings a second special guest to the Museum. On Saturday, May 22, Karen Falk, exhibition curator and archivist at The Jim Henson Legacy, will offer visitors two exciting programs. At 12 p.m., she will lead a free gallery tour of "Jim Henson's Fantastic World." Please note that participation is limited to 25 and pre-registration required. To secure one of the few remaining spots, call (781) 861-6559, ext. 4101. Then, at 2 p.m., Ms. Falk will present a free talk entitled "Sell, Sell, Sell! Highlights from Jim Henson's Commercials." Did you know that Jim Henson was an innovator in advertising in the early 1960s, launching many of his characters' careers in that field? Come see video of this little-known and highly entertaining work!

Calling all pre-schoolers! Even the smallest visitorsErnie&Bert can connect with "Jim Henson's Fantastic World" through our Mornings at the Museum programs. Come on Thursday, May 13 at 10:30 for a "Puppet Delight." We'll read a story about an imaginative chicken named Minerva Louise and make our own puppets. On Thursday, May 27 at 10:30, "MONSTERS!" will be our theme. Find your inner monster by listening to Where the Wild Things Are, creating a monster mask, and parading to some fun and fuzzy monster tunes. Children ages 4 and under and accompanying adults will enjoy these programs. $5/child (non-members) and $3/child (members). No pre-registration necessary.

You'll find more information about these and other public programs offered at the Museum on our programs webpage. Send us a mail at [email protected] or give us a call at 781 457-4126 if you have questions about programming.

MLF name Blue The Smithsonian Community Grant program, funded by MetLife Foundation, is a proud sponsor of these public programs. 

"Jim Henson's Fantastic World" is on view at the National Heritage Museum through June 27, 2010.

Photo Credits:

Heather Henson. Photo courtesy of The Jim Henson Legacy

Puppet. Photo courtesy of Michelle Finston

Karen Falk. Photo by John E. Barrett

Bert & Ernie. Photo by John E. Barrett. TM & © 2010 SesameWorkshop. All Rights Reserved


“Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” is organized by The Jim Henson Legacy and SITES, in cooperation with the Henson Family; The Jim Henson Company; The Muppets Studio, LLC; and Sesame Workshop. The exhibition is made possible by The Biography Channel. Additional support has been provided by The Jane Henson Foundation and Cheryl Henson.

SmithsonianLogo      Henson_logo       Tbc_logo

Does This Building Ring a Bell?

91_037_2aDP1 Did you know that the Old Belfry is the only site in Lexington, Massachusetts, to ever appear on an official United States coin?  In 1925, the United States Mint issued over 162,000 Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollars to mark the 150th anniversary of the opening battles in the American Revolution.  Each silver half dollar bore the image of the Old Belfry on the reverse or back side, along with Daniel Chester French’s (1850-1931) Minute Man statue from Concord, Massachusetts, on the obverse or front.  The National Heritage Museum owns two of these coins, which it received in 1991, along with their original presentation boxes.

The town of Lexington originally built the Old Belfry in 1762 on land owned by Jonas Munroe. Six years later, the Belfry was moved to the town common, where it stood during the Battle of Lexington. On the night of April 19, 1775, the Belfry’s bell sounded the alarm that the British regulars were coming.  While the original Belfry was destroyed in 1909, the Lexington Historical Society built an exact replica in 1910 on its original Belfry Hill location. 91_037_2aDP2

During the months leading up to the anniversary celebration, the United States Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Commission came up with the idea for the commemorative half dollar, and created a preliminary design for the coin.  Next, the Commission, which was primarily composed of residents of the two towns, hired noted sculptor Chester Beach (1881-1956) to turn their blueprint into a metallic reality.  While Beach is most famous for his marble and bronze statues and busts, including The Unveiling of Dawn (1913) and Fountain of the Waters (1927), he also designed the Monroe Doctrine Centennial Half Dollar (1923), and produced the models for the Hawaii Sesquicentennial Half Dollar (1928).

91_037_2bDP1 Although Beach had his own ideas of how the coin should look, the Commission insisted that he follow their predetermined design.  In the end, he reluctantly created models for the coin that met the Commission’s exact specifications, but refused to sign the design as he had done for his previous half dollars.  Each coin came in a pine presentation box, with the Concord Minute Man and the Belfry, respectively, printed on the lid and the bottom of the box.  While Beach may not have been satisfied with the final product, fairgoers in Lexington and Concord liked the coins enough to buy 60,000 of them between April 18 and 20, 1925.  An unseasonable snowfall impacted the turnout for the fair, which featured a reenactment of the battle at the North Bridge in Concord, and an elaborate military parade afterward.  Collectors in New England bought most of the leftover coins.  

While the Massachusetts State Quarter, issued in 2000, showed a figure resembling the renowned Minute Man statue in Concord, the Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar remains the only legally issued American coin to depict a Lexington landmark.  Will the Mint recognize Lexington again in 2025, for the 250th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord?  We hope so!


"1775 Battle Acted at Concord Bridge: Great Crowds See a Pageant in Which Minute Men Again Face British Regulars. Throngs at Lexington Dawes and Pershing Take Part In Series of Exercises Beginning With Paul Revere's Ride." New York Times (1857-Current file), April 21, 1925, (accessed January 11, 2010).

Murphy, Ian. “Lexington Belfry Has Storied History.” The Concord Journal, April 11, 2007, (accessed January 21, 2010).

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. “1925 Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar.” Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, (accessed January 8, 2010).

Opitz, Glenn B., ed. Dictionary of American Sculptors: 18th Century to the Present. Poughkeepsie, NY: Apollo, 1984.

Tour Lexington, Massachusetts. “Historic Sites and Museums.” The Liberty Ride, (accessed January 11, 2010).

Yeoman, R.S. A Guide Book of United States Coins, 2010 (63rd Edition): The Official Red Book. Edited by Kenneth Bressett. Atlanta: Whitman Publishing, 2009.

Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar and Box, 1925, U.S. Mint, Washington, D.C., National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Dorothy L. and Stephen W. Smith, 91.037.2a-c.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Handpainted Hearts

A83_015_1Tweb_version Pictured here is the handpainted family record, or fraktur, of the Zuller family, probably from Minden, New York. In the central heart image, we can see that Abraham Zuller married Mary Moyer (1787?-1850) on April 11, 1808. 

Above this heart is a circle containing many Masonic symbols laid out in a familiar pattern.  Among these symbols are the letter "G", which is interpreted within Freemasonry as a reference to the Grand/Great Architect of the Universe [i.e. God] or Geometry.  The arch without a key stone is not only a Masonic symbol, it is specifically a symbol of Royal Arch Masons As depicted here, the dislodged key stone allows the light from the all-seeing eye to shine through.  Other Masonic symbols depicted here within the circle are a coffin, a trowel, and mosaic flooring.  With the inclusion of of Masonic symbols on this fraktur, leads us to speculate that it is likely that Abraham Zuller had Masonic ties.

Surrounding these shapes are smaller hearts with the name of each child born to the Zuller family between 1808 and 1827.  The children include:  Daniel, Betsy, Caty, Abraham, Nancy, Mary, and John.  These hearts, like everything on this fraktur, were handpainted by the artist.  Later, as other children were born, hearts were written on in ink to give children's birth dates.  These include  Henry Zuller, born in 1827.  Other small hearts give the death dates of children.  Nancy Zuller died or "departed this earth" and was buried in 1829.

Henry S. Moyer (1785-1860), the artist who created this fraktur in 1825, was of German descent and lived in Minden, New York.  Moyer's style is considered as artistically as following William Murray, or "in the school of" William Murray. As with Murray's frakturs, the Zuller family fraktur is decorated with watercolor and ink on paper.

Image Caption

Zuller Family Fraktur, by Henry S. Moyer, 1825, New York.  Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A83/015/1. 


Franco, Barbara.  Masonic Symbols in American Decorative Arts. Lexington, Mass.:  Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Inc., 1976, p. 17-44.

Arthur B. and Sybil B. Kern. "Painters of Record:  William Murray and his School", The Clarion, vol. 12, no. 1, Winter 1986/1987, p.28-35.

William Hogarth: An Interpretation of one of his Masonic Engravings


   Early Years


William Hogarth (1697-1764) was born in Smithfields, London, the son of Latin teacher Richard Hogarth. At first, Hogarth apprenticed as a silverplate engraver. Later, he met a man who was to prove an inspiration for his future career, artist Sir James Thornhill (ca.1675-1734). Hogarth attended classes at Thornhill's free art academy in Covent Garden, became friends with the artist, and eventually married his daughter, Jane, in 1729.  A talented draughtsman, Hogarth took up the ambitious trade of engraving on copper for reproduction.  Throughout the 1720s, Hogarth made a living from selling his pictorial advertising cards for shops, billheads, theatre tickets and  funeral invitations.  He also created book illustrations and satirical engravings, which were sold in bookshops at a shilling per copy.

    Joining Freemasonry

A sociable man, Hogarth joined many clubs in London.  For him, however, Freemasonry was most important.  There were several reasons for this.  One was the social connections that the lodge and banquets provided.  Another was that Freemasonry stood for equality at this time in English society.  Hogarth realized the social prestige that came with membership in a Masonic lodge.  He was also introduced to a club, his Masonic lodge, that was interested and active in charitable institutions.  Hogarth chose the prestigious life of Freemasonry over an association with the old artist guilds.   

Hogarth became a Mason by 1725.  He belonged to a lodge that met at the Bear and Harrow tavern on Butcher Row, later called "Corner Stone Lodge".  Prominent men such as Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744), a founder of English Freemasonry, belonged to this lodge.  As well, many aristocrats, such as the Duke of Montagu (1690-1749), were members this lodge and became patrons to artists including Hogarth. Several members of Hogarth's inner circle of friends (actors, artists, lawyers, poets) also joined this lodge.  

   Interpreting a Hogarth Engraving

91_035DI1 First printed in 1724, Hogarth's engraving, The Mystery of Masonry brought to Light by ye Gormagons was reprinted several times.  The copy in the National Heritage Museum collection was not printed until 1755 (see image to the left) by Robert Sayer, a map and printseller in London.   

The figures in this engraving may express Hogarth's ambivalence concerning the change in Freemasonry from a stonemasons' guild to a more philosophical organization.  In England this change was led by James  Anderson (c.1679-1737) and Theophilus Desaguliers.   Other historians have interpreted this engraving as Hogarth's expression of social criticism.

A dispute broke out in the Grand Lodge of England.  Who would be the next Grand Master in 1724?  This dispute ended in compromise with the appointment of Desaguliers as Deputy Grand Master.  The next year, the Duke of Wharton lost by one vote, when the Earl of Dalkeith was elected Grand Master.  The Duke of Wharton stormed out of the Grand Lodge in anger and threatened to withdraw his supporters from the Grand Lodge.  To avoid any problems with the Duke of Wharton, members of the Grand Lodge published an advertisement announcing the formation of the Ancient Noble Order of Gormagons. The Gormagons denounced Freemasonry. The members of the Grand Lodge of England hoped that this publication would, by implication, discredit the Duke of Wharton and any actual competitive actions he might take.  

This engraving is pure Hogarth at his best! Starting with this historical incident, Hogarth used caricature to illustrate the tension between the Freemasons and the Gormagons.  One can read the figures of the old woman riding the donkey as representive of the ancient craft of Freemasonry and the man on the ladder as James Anderson.  The Duke of Wharton stands caricatured as Don Quixote, wearing armour and pointing toward the Chinese sages (or Gormagons).  Behind Don Quixote stands Sancho Panza, who could be intended to represent Desaguliers. Some of the people in this engraving wear Masonic aprons, which may be symbolic. Hogarth uses Don Quixote and Sancho Panza not as comic extremes, but to represent the ideal and the real.  Don Quixote appears quite dignified despite the chaos of the scene.

The Ancient Noble Order of Gormagons, the new fraternal order, had recently arrived in England from China according to a notice published in a London newspaper in 1724.  The text, or rhyme, below the engraving comments on how graceful and wise the Chinese sages look compared to the wild, mad Freemasons.  Four Chinese sages lead the procession, which is spilling out of a tavern,  the location for many Masonic meetings.  Masonic processions had just started to appear in the streets of London, in the 1720s, so this type of gathering was not unknown. 

This was William Hogarth's first Masonic engraving, though there would be many more with Masonic themes such as The Free Mason's Surpriz'd, or the Secret Discovered, (1754).


Beresiner, Yasha. "William Hogarth: The Man, The Artist and His Masonic Circle", Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry, 1996-2009.

Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. "The Gormogons", Anti-Masonry Index, 2004.

Hamilton, John.  Material Culture of the American Freemasons. Lexington, Mass.: Museum of Our National Heritage, 1994, p. 31-32.

Paulson, Ronald.  Hogarth.  New Brunswick, N.J.:  Rutgers University Press, 1992. v.1, The Modern Moral Subject, 1697-1732, p.95-155, v. 2, High Art and Low, 1732-1750, p.55-64.

"William Hogarth:  Portrait of a Mason-Artist", MQ Magazine, issue 7, Oct. 2003.


Image Captions

Carte-de-visite portrait of William Hogarth, 1850-1900, Gustav Schauer, Berlin, Germany, National Heritage Museum, Gift of Patricia MacMillan, 2003.010.4.

The Mystery of Masonry brought to Light by ye Gormagons, 1755, William Hogarth (1697-1764), National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 91.035.



A Masonic Print: The Iron Worker and King Solomon

95_028_1T1 Masonic prints can often be confusing to the uninitiated.  Sometimes, it can even be hard to tell whether a print is Masonic or not.  Upon first glance, the print pictured here (from the National Heritage Museum collection) may not appear to relate to Freemasonry, but if you dig deeper, it does have a connection.  Titled The Iron Worker and King Solomon, it depicts the celebration of the completion of King Solomon’s Temple, a Biblical structure that figures prominently in Masonic ritual and symbolism.

As illustrated by the print (and explained in printed text below the image), Jewish legend tells that King Solomon invited all of the people who worked on the Temple to the celebration, but when the throne was unveiled, a blacksmith was sitting in the place of honor.  Threatened by the crowd, the smith said, “Thou hast, O King, invited all craftsmen but me.  Yet how could these builders raise the Temple without the tools I fashioned.”  “True,” agreed Solomon, “The seat is his right.  All honor to the Iron Worker.”  In addition to connecting with Masonic symbolism, the print reflects its Gilded Age date of publication, when steel was a pre-eminent American industry.

Bradley and Bro. of Philadelphia published this steel engraving in 1889.  The artist, John Sartain (1808-1897), emigrated to Philadelphia from London in 1830.  Sartain enjoyed a prolific career as an engraver.  He also published magazines.  In 1876, he headed the art department for the Centennial Exposition, which was held in Philadelphia.

The Iron Worker and King Solomon, 1889, John Sartain (1808-1897), artist, Bradley and Bro., publisher, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, National Heritage Museum, gift of Clement M. Silvestro, 95.028.1.   Photograph by David Bohl.