Exhibitions

Lecture: What Map Was Used by the British Officer Who Led the Retreat from Lexington and Concord?

Map of the Most Inhabited Parts of New England JeffreysIt's spring of 1775, and the Province of Massachusetts Bay is rebelliously defying the laws Parliament has passed to coerce the local Assembly to obey His Majesty, King George III. Instead of offering reimbusement for the tea destroyed in Boston Harbor back in late 1773, the country people outside of Boston have formed an illegal assembly which is turning the once-loyal town militias into an army of insurrection! What is a Regular Army officer to do? Imagine yourself in the position of Brigadier General Percy, commander of the 5th Regiment of Foot, stationed in Boston in 1774 to keep the King's peace. How can you make a strategic, tactical or even logistical assessment of the surrounding landscape? Are there maps available that provide the level of detailed information about the countryside required by your duties?

Join Matthew Edney, Osher Professor in the History of Cartography at the University of Southern Maine, as he explores these fascinating questions in a free lecture at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library. On Saturday, March 15 at 2 pm, his topic will be: General Hugh, Earl Percy's Use of the Map of New England During the American Revolution. Edney delves into the evidence provided by the revealing annotations made on a personal copy of this map by Hugh, Earl Percy, a distinguished career officer in the British Army and commander of its 5th Regiment of Foot. (Our image is of the Museum & Library's print of this map; the print annotated by Percy is held by the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine.) Percy led the relief column that saved the retreating British forces at the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. This presentation will be a particular treat, as our museum is located just yards down the road from Lexington's Munroe Tavern, where Percy set up a temporary field headquarters on April 19th. A variety of other maps available in the period outline the distinct kinds of geographical knowledge possessed by the British military in Boston in 1774-1775 and will be also be examined in the lecture. This program is free to the public once again thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation.

Matthew_edneyMatthew Edney studied for a B.Sc. in geography at University College London before moving to the U.S.A. for graduate work in geography, cartography, and the history of cartography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He taught at the State University of New York at Binghamton for five years before moving to USM in 1995, at which time he declared himself a willing refugee from GIS and digital mapping. USM has allowed him to focus on his specific interests in map history, which have steadily expanded from the history of surveying technologies and their role in nineteenth-century European state formation and imperialism to encompass the wider practices and performances of map making in Europe after 1600, and more particularly in the British Atlantic World, 1650-1800.

On the same Saturday, March 15, we've planned a 12 noon gallery tour of "Journeys and Discoveries: The Stories Maps Tell" in anticipation of Matthew Edney’s lecture at 2 PM. Polly Kienle, Public Programs Coordinator, will focus the tour on some of the Revolutionary War-era maps from the Museum’s collection. While London mapmakers published views of the American colonies and towns where British soldiers and colonists fought for territory, other maps of North America reflected power struggles between European nations as well as Native American nations’ lessening influence on the continent. Click here to read a related past post from our blog.

Melinda Kashuba of Shasta College will join us on Saturday, April 12, at 2 p.m. for the series' second talk. Her topic will be: Organizing Wonder: Using Maps in Family History Research. After the lecture, the presenter will offer an informal discussion with interested audience members.

For our final spring map lecture, we will welcome David Bosse, Librarian and Curator of Maps, Historic Deerfield, to the Museum & Library on Saturday, June 7. His 2 p.m. presentation will be on: Map and Chart Publishing in Boston in the 18th Century.

For further information, contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559 or check our website: www.monh.org.

Image credits:

“A Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England…,” 1755. Cartography by Bradock Mead, alias John Green, (ca. 1688-1757). Published by Thomas Jefferys (c. 1719-1771), London, England. Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, 055-1755

Courtesy of Matthew Edney


Speaking of Maps: An Exploration of Cartography and History - Our New Lecture Series

A Plan of the Action at Bunkers Hill 1775We are pleased to announce the Museum's new lecture series: “Speaking of Maps: An Exploration of Cartography and History.” In the Spring and Fall of 2014, we will offer a series of programs related to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library’s collection of historic maps. Click here to see the most up-to-date topics, speakers, and dates. All programs are free to the public once again thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation.

Maps were among the first objects that the Museum collected after its founding in 1975. Our collection holds maps dating from the 17th century to the present. Using this collection as a touchstone, the series reflects current research that helps us grasp the value of historical cartography. In addition, we don't want to miss the oppportunty to explore the new digital technologies that are changing the nature of maps and enhancing our ability to create them. We hope you are as eager as we are to delve into the past worlds historic maps describe and forge paths to the new ones that digital mapping promises to chart.

Here are the first four programs in the series. Three focus on the use and production of maps in the 1700s, when North America was a theatre where conflict between great European powers played out and colonists suddenly stepped onto the stage to change the course of history. Our image above shows a strikingly detailed map of the British "intrenchments" during the siege of Boston (April 1775-March 1776). This map will be on view in the "Journeys and Discoveries: The Stories Maps Tell" gallery through April 5 - don't miss your chance to see it and many more fascinating witnesses to history. The second half of our maps lecture series will commence in September, 2014 - stay tuned!

On Saturday, March 15, at 2 p.m., Matthew Edney, Osher Professor, History of Cartography, Univ. of Southern Maine will present a talk entitled: General Hugh, Earl Percy's Use of the Map of New England during the American Revolution. How did British officers know the landscape of New England at the start of the revolution, whether strategically, tactically, or logistically? This lecture considers the evidence provided by the annotations made on Hugh, Earl Percy's personal copy of the standard map of New England, together with the variety of maps available in the period, to outline the distinct kinds of geographical knowledge possessed by the British military in Boston in 1774-1775.

On the same Saturday, March 15, we've planned a 12 noon gallery tour of "Journeys and Discoveries: The Stories Maps Tell" in anticipation of Matthew Edney’s lecture at 2 PM. Polly Kienle, Public Programs Coordinator, will focus the tour on some of the Revolutionary War-era maps from the Museum’s collection. While London mapmakers published views of the American colonies and towns where British soldiers and colonists fought for territory, other maps of North America reflected power struggles between European nations as well as Native American nations’ lessening influence on the continent.

Melinda Kashuba of Shasta College will join us on Saturday, April 12, at 2 p.m. for the series' second talk. Her topic will be: Organizing Wonder: Using Maps in Family History Research. From sixteenth century maps depicting the location of Irish clans to maps of DNA test results showing ancient migration patterns, family historians use maps in many ways to tell the story of their ancestries. No longer content to use maps for reference, modern genealogists create maps using a variety of software products and social media to research and share their ancestries. Join Melinda Kashuba and explore the wide range of maps family historians employ to research and document their families’ story. You may be inspired to start mapping your own family's journey. After the lecture, the presenter will offer an informal discussion with interested audience members.

For our final spring map lecture, we will welcome David Bosse, Librarian and Curator of Maps, Historic Deerfield, to the Museum & Library on Saturday, June 7. His 2 p.m. presentation will be on: Map and Chart Publishing in Boston in the 18th Century. For much of the 18th century, map publishing in America was a financially precarious undertaking. The same held true in Boston, where individuals from many walks of life ventured into commercial map-making.  This lecture explores the work of several Boston mapmakers during this period of ad-hoc publishing.

For further information, contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559 or check our website: www.monh.org.

Image credit:

A Plan of the Town of Boston with the Intrenchments & c..., 1777. Surveyed by Thomas Hyde Page (1746-1821). Printed by William Faden (1749-1836). Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, 073-86.  Photograph by David Bohl.


Come In from the Cold! Museum Gallery Talks, January-March

The Museum is showing two fabulous exhibitions featuring objects from our collection. The curators of these shows will present our free spring gallery talks. Come in from the cold and seize an opportunity to learn from the makers of the exhibitions!

Hilary cropped 2Journeys and Discoveries: The Stories Maps Tellon view through the beginning of April, was curated by Hilary Anderson Stelling, Director of Exhibitions and Audience Development. Join her for a gallery talk on Saturday, January 11, 2:00 p.m. or Saturday, February 1, 2:00 p.m. Maps can chart everything from newly explored territories, familiar hometowns or distant theatres of war. This free talk will share some of the stories maps tell.

Newell PhotoA Sublime Brotherhood:  200 Years of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction was curated by Aimee E. Newell, the Museum's Director of Collections. Two free gallery talks on this show are slotted for Saturday, February 8, 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, March 22, 2:00 p.m.Come and learn about the Scottish Rite's French roots, its founding in America two centuries ago and its evolution into one of the most popular American fraternal groups during the 1900s. The exhibition includes photos, costumes, and Scottish Rite items, many of which have never previously been on view.

"A Sublime Brotherhood" celebrates the bicentennial of the Scottish Rite fraternity. Our readers may be interested in the accompanying anniversary publication, co-authored by Aimee E. Newell and other Museum staff. To learn more about the book and how to order it, read our previous post.

If you come to a talk on January 11 or February 1, you'll have the chance to see our Library and Archives exhibition, Secret Scripts: Masonic and Fraternal Ritual Books, curated by Jeffrey Croteau, Library Manager. You can see Jeff's posts on books and manuscripts in that show here

For further information, contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559 or check our website: www.monh.org.


Written Mnemonics - Deciphering a Controversial Ritual

Written_Mnemonics_webMost Masonic ritual, if it is not printed in plain English, is written in a cipher that works as a prompt for a script that has already been memorized. In other words, it is not a cipher that requires a key to read. Instead, the key to reading it is, almost counter-intuitively, previous knowledge of the text. Ritual books are what a Mason uses to learn his part. Here’s an example of how you might be able to read a similar kind of cipher to a text you already know:

I pldg allgnce t Ћ flg oЋ Un St o Am & t Ћ repblc fr wh i stnds, 1 ntn undr Gd…

The cipher pictured above was published in 1860, and is titled Written Mnemonics: Illustrated by Copious Examples from Moral Philosophy, Science and Religion. It is an example of a Masonic ritual cipher that was encrypted – that is, a text which can be read if one has the key to decrypt it (see our post on the Ast Ritual, for another example of an encrypted cipher ritual). Written Mnenomics is currently on view in Secret Scripts: Masonic and Fraternal Ritual Books in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

A group known as “The Conservators,” led by Freemason Rob Morris, published this book, which is an unusual-looking cipher containing the Craft degrees. The Conservator movement was short-lived, only lasting from 1860 until 1865. Their goal was to disseminate a standard Craft ritual for the United States, at a time when (as today) Masonic ritual was not uniform from state to state. The Conservators tried to recruit prominent Masons who were either in influential positions within their Grand Lodge or who were noted for their ritualistic ability. In the end, around three thousand Masons joined the Conservators.

While it may be hard to imagine that such an impenetrable looking cipher could have provoked strong opinions, Written Mnemonics had vocal detractors. The objection was two-fold: the first was about the accuracy of the ritual and the second was about whether Morris had violated his Masonic oath.

In trying to create a uniform ritual, Morris used the ritual and lectures popularized by Thomas Smith Webb (1771-1819), who himself built on the work of Wiliam Preston (1742-1818). Morris claimed that Written Mnemonics contained the true “Preston-Webb” work. Many detractors doubted the authenticity and accuracy of Morris’s ritual, a criticism that Morris refuted in the pages of the movement’s official magazine, The Conservator.

But the largest part of the objections made against Written Mnemonics centered around Morris’s Masonic obligations. Many Masons objected to this book’s publication, claiming that, because the book could be read by anyone who had the key, its publication violated Morris’s Masonic oath. The objectors’ main concern was that the publication included – albeit in code – the tokens, grips, and signs that all Masons promised not to reveal.

For those wondering how complicated decryption of the text is, Ray V. Denslow, in his book about the Conservator movement described the encryption of Written Mnemonics this way:

"The inside [i.e. of Written Mnemonics] contained little but a jumble of figures and letters arranged in eighteen columns and twenty-five rows. But the book, itself, was not complete; to be able to read the volume required the "spelling book" and an additional page of instructions. The latter told where to begin; sometimes the searcher for authentic ritual would read up, at other times down; and again, cross-wise. To be a Conservator, and a student of Mnemonics required an exercise of those truly Masonic and Conservator virtues of Time, Patience and Perserverance.

If you are interested in reading more about Written Mnemonics and the Conservator movement, look no further than Ray V. Denslow's book, The Masonic Conservators (Grand Lodge of Missouri, 1931). It is the definitive work on the topic. (Denslow's book can be read online through a digitized copy on the HathiTrust Digital Library website.)

Caption:

Rob Morris, Written Mnemonics: Illustrated by Copious Examples from Moral Philosophy, Science and Religion, 1860, Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Collection, RARE 14 .W7 1860.

Masonic Ritual Cipher: A Personal Object

Arthur_Pearson_cipher_webAs we've written about previously, Masonic ritual ciphers are books that serve as memory aids for Masons memorizing various portions of Freemasonry's first three initiation ceremonies. These cipher books are, in many cases, more than just the sum of the text they contain. They are, in many instances, personal objects and show evidence of previous owners.

Pictured above is a cipher book once owned by Arthur A. Pearson (1904-1997) of Portland, Maine. On the title page (below, right), Pearson recorded the dates of all the important Masonic degrees that he had participated in or witnessed. Pearson joined many Masonic organizations - the list that starts on the title page continues onto the reverse of the title page. This book is currently on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room exhibition, Secret Scripts: Masonic and Fraternal Ritual Books, at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

Pearson's cipher book fits neatly into what David Pearson, in Books As History, has called "the importance of books beyond their texts." Although the book flap that keeps the cover closed has Pearson's name nicely embossed on the inside of it, the book offers more than just provenance (i.e. history of ownership). It is a record of Pearson's Masonic participation.

Arthur_Pearson_cipher_title_page_webCorrect Work for Maine does not contain any publication information within the book, so it is unclear who published it. We know, however, that it was not the Grand Lodge of Maine  Around the time that Pearson became a Master Mason in Corner Stone Lodge No. 216 in Portland in 1940, the Grand Lodge appointed a special committee to deliberate on whether Masons should be allowed to use ciphers, which were neither published nor approved by the Grand Lodge. According to its published Proceedings, at a 1941 meeting of the Grand Lodge of Maine, the committee appointed to investigate the topic of ciphers was agnostic on the matter: 

"Your Committee on Masonic Cipher has carefully considered the matter referred to it. Ciphers are not approved by the Grand Lodge. Neither is their use forbidden. The present practice appears to satisfy the need. Your Committee, therefore, recommends that no legislation on this subject by Grand Lodge is expedient at this time."

The Committee had been appointed in response to a report of Charles E. Crossland, the Grand Lodge's Grand Lecturer in 1940. The Grand Lecturer, among other duties, travels to the subordinate lodges in the state, inspecting the ritual work of the lodges and insuring that it is well done. Crossland noted that, in four years as Grand Lecturer, "not a dissenting voice" had been heard in terms of Maine Masons using ciphers. Yet he also noted that the Grand Lodge did not officially approve of them either. He continued "Has not the time come when the Grand Lodge shall face this issue squarely? If we are to tacitly consent to the use of these 'Ciphers' should we not supervise their preparation and handle their sale? Before action is taken, it is possible that a committee should study the full significance of such action and what might be involved if it seems wise to adopt such a plan."

In the years that followed, the Grand Lodge of Maine - like many other Grand Lodges during this period and earlier - revisited the topic of how to officially respond to the use of unofficial ciphers in subordinate lodges. In 1949, the Grand Lodge responded by publishing an official cipher - prepared, drafted, and sold by the Grand Lodge of Maine and declared all other rituals and ciphers to be unauthorized.

Caption:

Correct Work for Maine, Revised Edition 1941, Van Gorden Williams Library & Archives Collection, 14.246 .D1-3 ME.


Albert Pike's 1870 33° Ritual

Pike_33rd_page_1_webAlbert Pike (1809-1891), Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite’s Southern Jurisdiction from 1859 to 1891, revised all of the Scottish Rite degree rituals, including the 33°, during his tenure. A handsomely bound book, containing Pike's reworked version of the 33°, was presented to the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (NMJ) in 1870. This manuscript version of Pike's 33° ritual is currently on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room exhibition, Secret Scripts: Masonic and Fraternal Ritual Books, at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

The inscription (see below) inside the book reads:

This Copy is most respectfully Presented to the Supreme Council of the Northern Jurisdiction of the U.S., by special permission of M∴ P∴ Albert Pike, Sov∴ Gr∴  Commander of the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction, U.S., by RMCGraham, 33° Gr∴ Rep∴, New York, March 19, 1870.

Robert McCoskry Graham (1830-1890) was an Active Member of the NMJ's Supreme Council and Grand Representative from that Supreme Council to the Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction (SJ) from 1867 until his death in 1890. Graham lived in New York City and was actively involved in both the SJ's and NMJ's Supreme Councils.

In June 1870, three months after Graham inscribed the Pike ritual to the NMJ's Supreme Council, Albert Pike attended the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's annual meeting, held that year in Cincinnati, Ohio. Although Sovereign Grand Commanders from the NMJ and the SJ regularly attend each other's annual meetings today, Pike observed in 1870 that "It is, I think, the first time when the Grand Commander of one of our Supreme Councils has been present at a session of the other..." Although the 33° was conferred upon fourteen men at the 1870 annual meeting, the NMJ's annual Proceedings from 1870 do not indicate whether the Committee on Rituals had adopted the Pike ritual and whether that was the version of the 33° ritual that was used.

Pike_33rd_inscription_page_webThat Graham would have presented the ritual to the NMJ's Supreme Council is unsurprising. Not only was Graham the NMJ's Grand Representative to the SJ's Supreme Council, he was also close friends with Pike. Pike himself wrote the obituary for Graham that was published in the SJ's Official Bulletin. The obituary (later reprinted in Pike's collection of obituaries, Ex Corde Locutiones) is dated March 10, 1891 - less than a month before Pike's own death. Writing about Graham, Pike not only makes it clear that Graham was a friend, but that he was intimately involved with the activities of the Southern Jurisdiction's Supreme Council: "During the last ten years he had regularly been present at our sessions, feeling like one of us, and looked upon by us as one of ourselves, so much so that he sat with us in our confidential sessions, always welcomed and beloved by all."

The Northern Masonic Jurisdiction used Pike’s 33° ritual from 1870 until 1880, at which point they adopted Charles T. McClenachan’s revision of Pike’s ritual. A version of this ritual was used until 1938, when the Supreme Council approved a rewritten ritual composed by then-Sovereign Grand Commander Melvin M. Johnson. It is a version of this ritual that the NMJ's Supreme Council still uses today.

For further reading:

de Hoyos, Arturo. “On the Origins of the Prince Hall Scottish Rite Rituals,” Heredom 5 (1996): 51-67. [In this article about how the NMJ assisted in the production of the United Supreme Council (PHA)'s book of Scottish Rite rituals, de Hoyos, using primary sources in the collection of the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, provides a few concise paragraphs (pp.60-61) on the development of the NMJ's 33rd degree through the nineteenth century.]

Caption:

Albert Pike, Manuscript Ritual for the 33°, 1870, Washington, D.C., Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Collection, R-40.


A Salute to the American Military

Jacket in caseThis summer (2013), the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is pleased to be one of 1,800 museums across America to welcome military personnel and their families in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families and the Department of Defense, as part of the Blue Star Museums program.

The program runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day and identifies museums that offer free admission to active-duty military personnel and their family members. The Museum & Library is included on the Blue Star Museums website. “Blue Star Museums is something that service members and their families look forward to every year and we are thrilled with the continued growth of the program,” said Blue Star Families CEO Kathy Roth-Douquet. “Through this distinctive collaboration…service members and their families can connect with our national treasures.” The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is proud to participate in this program and to support our military families. BlueStarLogo1800

The Museum’s collection includes numerous objects and documents associated with the American military and its soldiers, dating from the Revolution to the Iraq War. The leather jacket shown here is currently on view in our exhibition, “Journeys and Discoveries: The Stories Maps Tell.” It was originally worn by Technical Sergeant Ronald W. Hirtle (1924-1986) during World War II. A radio operator and gunner, Hirtle belonged to the 491st “Ringer” Bomb Squadron of the 14th Air Force – also known as the “Flying Tigers” – and logged over 200 combat hours on almost 50 bombing missions in the China-Burma-India Theater.

Jacket2The exhibition also features an Escape and Evasion Map of Burma and Siam and the Far East and a selection of Asian currencies that the Air Force provided to Hirtle. An airman like Hirtle could be shot down in unfamiliar territory. To prepare for this possibility, the Air Force equipped its flyers with lightweight escape kits. Hirtle’s map is printed on silk making it quiet to use, more impervious to water than paper and easy to hide. The currency would allow him to buy food and water, or pay a local resident to help him return to American forces.

Air Force Type A-2 Flight Jacket, 1942-1945, Aero Leather Clothing Co., Beacon, NY; Escape and Evasion Map of Burma and Siam and the Far East, 1942-1945; Currency, 1942-1945; all gifts of the Family of Ronald W. Hirtle, 96.041.1, .2 and .3a-f.


Astronaut John Glenn's Scottish Rite Ring

Glenn Ring Front2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Scottish Rite’s Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (see these posts for more information on the history of the Scottish Rite). The Jurisdiction’s Supreme Council founded the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in 1975. To celebrate, we are presenting a new exhibition, “A Sublime Brotherhood: Two Hundred Years of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.”

Opening June 15, 2013, the exhibition uses more than 100 objects and images to tell the story of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. While most people assume that the Scottish Rite began in Scotland, it was actually founded in France in the mid-1700s. Early groups met in the West Indies, eventually taking root in New York, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. Glenn Ring Inside

Among the objects on view is the 33rd degree ring originally owned by astronaut and Freemason John H. Glenn Jr. (b. 1921). The first American to orbit the earth, in 1962, Glenn circled the planet three times in the Mercury capsule Friendship 7. After retiring from the Marine Corps in 1965, Glenn pursued his interest in politics. Starting in 1974, he served Ohio for four consecutive terms in the United States Senate. The Grand Master of Ohio made John Glenn a Mason at sight in 1978. In 1998, soon after Glenn received the Scottish Rite’s 33rd degree, conferred on selected members as a high honor, he wore this ring when he returned to space in the shuttle Discovery.  On the journey he became the oldest American to participate in a NASA mission.

Starting Saturday, June 15, 2013, the exhibition will be open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. On June 15, 2013, at 2 p.m., Aimee E. Newell, the museum’s Director of Collections and curator of the exhibition, will give a gallery talk. Please visit www.nationalheritagemuseum.org for more information.

Scottish Rite 33rd Degree Ring, 1998, Irons and Russell Company, New York, NY, gift of John H. Glenn Jr. in memory and honor of Vern Riffe, a good friend, 33° Mason, and the longest serving Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives in history, 2000.018a. Photographs by David Bohl.


Brave the Snow to See our Cozy Masonic Quilts!

95.043.11 overall after consHere in New England, it’s the time of year when nothing seems more cozy than curling up in a warm quilt. There is no better time to visit our exhibition, “Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles.” The exhibit is on view through March 23, 2013, so make plans now to see it before it closes. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with free admission and free parking.

Among the needlework on view is this quilt from about 1860, which is one of my personal favorites. I have always been drawn to its graphic nature. Unfortunately, it has rarely been exhibited because the red fabric was disintegrating and hanging it in the gallery would have caused more damage. Fortunately, we were able to perform some conservation work on the quilt to better preserve it and to finally show it off. You can see a “before” image below to the right.  As you can see, the blocks along the left-hand side of the quilt suffered the most disintegration. 95_043_11T1

This appliqué quilt is comprised of sixteen blocks showing the most common Masonic symbol – the square and compasses, signifying reason and faith. Freemasonry grew out of medieval stonemason trade guilds in England and Scotland, eventually becoming a fraternal society for men encouraging sound moral and social virtues. Freemasonry’s tenets are taught through a series of ritualized lessons using symbols to remind the initiates of important principles. Each block also shows the letter G, which stood for geometry, God, or both. At the corners of each block are four important Masonic symbols: a level symbolizing equality; a plumb signifying uprightness; a gavel reminding Masons to divest the heart of vice; and a trowel that spreads the cement that unites Freemasons in brotherly love.

95.043.11 detail after consTo get it ready for the exhibition, we worked with textile conservator Marie Schlag from The Studio for Textile Conservation in Scituate, Massachusetts. She painstakingly stabilized 35 different areas of the quilt with polyester organza.  The organza helps to reduce further disintegration and covers the areas where the foundation fabric is showing through.  This treatment allows the quilt’s red and green graphic pattern to come to the front once again. In this detail at left, you can see the muting effect of the organza where the red fabric has been lost. We are very pleased to be able to share this quilt in its newly improved condition with our visitors and look forward to caring for it for years to come.

Masonic Quilt, ca. 1860, American, Museum purchase, 95.043.11. Before photograph by David Bohl.


A Crazy Quilt

89_25S1As an amateur scholar of historic textiles and museum intern, I was excited when asked to assist the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum’s Collections Manager with transferring rolled textiles to a new, customized storage rack. During the process I was introduced to crazy quilts. Their heavily stylized designs struck me as modern and innovative for their time period. Crazy quilts became popular in the United States during the last quarter of the nineteenth century (1875-1900). Bright colors and embroidered motifs sprawling across a dark ground are characteristics of their Japanese influence. This brief glimpse at the treasures stored away inspired me to take a closer look at the textiles in the Museum’s current exhibition, “Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles,” which includes a crazy quilt.

I asked my friend and colleague, Kate Herron Gendreau, to join me in attending a gallery talk led by Dr. Aimee Newell, the Museum’s Director of Collections (see our previous post). By trade, Kate is a handcrafted artisan specializing in embroidery and hand sewing. We share an interest in the details of female domestic roles throughout American history. When I mentioned my fascination with the crazy quilts in the Museum’s collection, I learned that Kate recently inherited the unjoined blocks of her family’s crazy quilt. I was eager to hear her opinion on the quilt in the exhibition in hopes that she might be able to enlighten me with some uncelebrated details. We never could have imagined that on the day of the gallery talk, family members of J. Bruce Spilman, who donated the crazy quilt to the Museum (in memory of his relation, Charles Hadley Spilman of Illinois, for whom the quilt was made in 1886) would be present!

The size of this quilt tells us that it was a decorative piece - at 76 inches wide and 68 3/4 inches long it is not quite large enough to be used on a bed - likely used as a sofa throw blanket or piano cover. Crazy quilts often functioned as status symbols, demonstrating that their female makers had leisure time and wealth at their disposal. Textiles made in the homes of women belonging to the working class were often simple or purely functional since daily chores and household budgets limited women's time and resources.  Unfortunately, the Spilman family members present at the gallery talk could not add to the quilt’s history, but by sifting through the notes I scribbled down while Kate swooned over “heavy hand stitching” on velvet and silk, I could see the lost story of this quilt come to life.

As Kate began rhythmically rhapsodizing about “isolated daisy chain, turkey trot and fern stitch … or maybe this is a zigzag blanket stitch,” I began to feel as if I was sitting next to the woman who created this masterpiece. While Kate explained that variegated stitching with this many color changes is something that is rarely created or appreciated today, I could envision the quilt in progress spread across the embroiderer’s lap. I was delighted to learn that many of the blocks are composed of clothing scraps. Kate identified several men’s ties and shirts as well as women’s dress and blouse material in the quilt. From these scraps we can perhaps form an impression of the personal style maintained by the household in which the quilt was made. Often quilters of this era repurposed fabric from clothing that had been stained or torn and could no longer be worn. This decorative status symbol may exhibit more frugality than we initially assume. 89_46_138S1

One feature that distinguishes this particular crazy quilt is the abundant fusion of conventional fabric and Masonic ribbons. Most of the ribbons in this quilt commemorate Knights Templar meetings in Chicago and San Francisco, dating from 1880 and 1883 (similar to the one at right from a Knights Templar meeting in 1892). Twenty-nine of the quilt’s thirty blocks include ribbons, some arranged in geometric shapes to mimic symbols used in Freemasonry. Most of the ribbons are outlined with an embroidered motif in yellowish-gold stitching that resembles the glory rays surrounding the Masonic symbol of the all-seeing eye, signifying watchfulness. As do many of the textiles in this exhibition, this crazy quilt presents a noteworthy example of the way Freemasonry has intersected popular culture throughout American history.

Masonic Quilt, ca. 1886, unidentified maker, United States, gift of J. Bruce Spilman in memory of Charles Hadley Spilman, 89.25.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Masonic Knights Templar Ribbon, 1892, unidentified maker, probably Connecticut, gift of Jacques Noel Jacobsen Jr., 89.46.138.