Masonic Apron Mystery: Are These From the Same Hand?
February 14, 2012
As we have explained in previous posts, we have a wonderful collection of Masonic aprons at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. This striking painted apron, which is among my favorites, recently received some conservation treatment prior to being shown in our current exhibition, Inspired by Fashion: American Masonic Regalia. Prior to the treatment, the apron was in poor condition with severe splits to the silk ground fabric, as well as discoloration and staining. Conservator Deirdre Windsor of Windsor Conservation in Dover, Massachusetts, carefully surface-cleaned the apron as part of a treatment to stabilize it for exhibition and research, and to aid its long-term preservation. She humidified the apron to flatten out the creases and ripples. And, in order to employ best practices in preserving and exhibiting the apron, it was put into a pressure mount that provides full support of the fragile silk and protects the apron from airborne pollutants and soils.
The apron was donated to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in 1976 by a descendant of its original owner, Conrad Edick (1763-1845). Edick was born in German Flats, Herkimer County, New York, and lived there until the town was burned by the British in 1779, when he and his stepfather, Nicholas Weaver, moved to Stone Arabia, Montgomery County, New York. Shortly after the move, in 1780, Edick volunteered as a ranger in the Revolutionary War and saw several subsequent service assignments until his regiment disbanded in 1784. In 1787, Edick settled in Deposit, New York, where he married Margaret Whitaker (1770-1798) and became a merchant. Shortly after Margaret died in 1798, Edick married his second wife, Elizabeth Sneeden (1778-1858). With his two wives, Edick had nine children.
Records at the Grand Lodge of New York show that Conrad Edick was a member of Charity Lodge No. 170 in Deposit between 1814 and 1819. Other details about his Masonic membership require further research. The materials used to make the apron, along with the style of clothing worn by the Masons depicted on it help us date the apron to the early 1800s. This evidence supports the idea that Edick wore this apron to lodge meetings in Deposit.
The distinctive decoration of the apron suggests that it may have been made by the same person who created a second apron in the Museum’s collection (at right). The Museum acquired this second apron at auction in 1984, so unfortunately, we do not know its provenance – where it originally came from, or who owned it. But, the striking similarities in the colors and motifs strongly suggest that both aprons were made in the same shop.
Adding intrigue to the story about these aprons is the recent discovery of two more aprons showing a very similar style – in the collection of the Henry W. Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry at the Grand Lodge of California in San Francisco. Collections Manager Adam Kendall takes it from here to tell us about those aprons:
The first example (at left) is almost identical to the Edick apron, although in this case, there was no provenance documented in the original museum records and, unlike the Edick apron, there is no name inscribed within the ovals on the upper flap; they are left blank. However, its resemblance is uncanny and its possible relationship was brought to my attention by first seeing the Edick apron in Bespangled, Painted and Embroidered by Barbara Franco. The layout, the materials, the colors, the Germanic fraktur-style lettering, and the overall artistic style all point to a possibility that the aprons are from the same artist, or at least a close copy from a similar time period.
The second apron (below at right) is also similar to the Edick apron and gives much more detail: an inscription under the flap states that it was "used to raise Brother Ralph Hankins, Tammany Lodge No. 83, November 16, 1807." St. Tammany Lodge was founded in 1800 near what is now Milanville, Pennsylvania—a 45 mile distance from Deposit, New York (the latter location being the origin of Edick’s apron).
Like the two other aprons, it is hand painted and inked on silk with various Masonic symbols - most prominently the personification of Hope standing beside her anchor. On the rounded flap is an all-seeing eye flanked by two cherubim holding cloth banners that spell out Sanctum and Sanctorum. The entire scene is stylistically reminiscent of the aforementioned aprons, the common design of other Masonic aprons of that era notwithstanding.
While there are many stylistic similarities—particularly the cherubim and the calligraphy (Sanctum and Sanctorum) upon the festoons in their tiny hands, it is my belief, due to slight artistic differences, that this apron may not have originated from the same maker as Edick’s. However, it is most certainly from the same general location, and resembles the Palatine German decorative art motifs common in Edick’s birthplace of German Flats, Herkimer County, NY. As observed by Franco, “Edick’s apron is a Germanic interpretation of a popular Masonic design which appeared in English and American engravings between 1790 and 1815.” I do believe the two aprons within the possession of the Henry W. Coil Museum and Library can be classified in this same category.
Have you ever seen another apron decorated like this? Please let us know in a comment below. And, to see the Edick apron in person, visit the Inspired by Fashion exhibition before March 24, 2012.
Top Left: Masonic Apron, 1800-1820, New York. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, gift of J. Earl Edick, 76.22. Photograph by Windsor Conservation.
Top Right: Masonic Apron, 1800-1820, probably New York. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Special Acquisitions Fund, 84.15. Photograph by David Bohl.
Bottom photos: Courtesy of Adam Kendall, Collections Manager at the Henry W. Coil Library & Museum of Freemasonry, www.masonicheritage.org.
Reference: Barbara Franco, Bespangled, Painted & Embroidered: Decorated Masonic Aprons in America, 1790-1850, Lexington, MA: Museum of Our National Heritage, 1980.