Fine Art

Is This a Masonic Painting?

90_14T1 Can you tell what makes this ship painting a “Masonic painting”? Look very closely at the flags it is flying and you’ll be able to make out the square and compasses symbol on the blue one atop the ship’s mizzenmast (third from the left - if you click on the picture, you can see a larger version of the image). One of the most well-known Masonic symbols, the square and compasses signify reason and faith.

The painting depicts the bark Isaac Rich as it entered the port of Leghorn, Italy, in 1876. The artist, Luigi Renault (1845-ca. 1910), was active in Leghorn from 1858 to 1880 and was appointed marine painter to King Victor Emanuel.

Ships might fly a Masonic flag if the owner or the captain were Freemasons. In the case of the Isaac Rich, the ship’s captain, William Bartlett Sheldon (d. 1903), joined New Jersey’s Burlington Lodge No. 32 in 1863. Sheldon served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. While Acting Master of the gunboat steamer U.S.S. Flambeau in South Carolina, he was captured in May 1863, but was exchanged in June 1863 and continued serving until October 1865. See our previous post about the preferential treatment that some Masonic prisoners received during that conflict.

If you would like to see the painting in person, please visit our current exhibition, Curators’ Choice: Favorites from the Collection.

The Bark Isaac Rich, 1876, Luigi Renault (1845-ca. 1910), Leghorn, Italy, National Heritage Museum collection, Special Acquisitions Fund, 90.14. 

"The Initiated Eye" Extended Until February 26, 2011

02 Have you visited the Museum’s exhibition, "The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry, and the Architecture of Washington, D.C."? Worried that you’ll miss it? Well, fear not – we are extending it for one more month. "The Initiated Eye" will now be open until Saturday, February 26, 2011. We hope you will make plans to see it before it disappears!

"The Initiated Eye" presents 21 paintings by artist Peter Waddell, based on the architecture of Washington, D.C., and the role that our founding fathers and prominent citizens (many of whom were Freemasons) played in establishing the city. The depictions of historical events, activities, and ceremonies carefully explain and demystify Freemasonry for the public. In addition to the paintings, approximately 40 objects from the National Heritage Museum collection enrich the exhibition.  The Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. We are located at 33 Marrett Road (Route 2A) in Lexington, Massachusetts. Please visit our website for more information.

This painting, The Age of Reason Made Manifest, shows the working plan for the city of Washington, D.C., laid out on a desk at Monticello. The creative dialogue between Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), George Washington (1732-1799), and Pierre L’Enfant (1754-1825) resulted in a classically-inspired vision and plan for Washington, D.C. Although the vast majority of the design was realized, a few key landmarks seen here were not built. The Supreme Court building was to have taken the form of a Roman temple at the site of Judiciary Square; the Washington Monument would have been an equestrian statue of George Washington; a rostral column would lie south of it; and a cascade flowing from a pyramid would grace the base of Capitol Hill. 

The paintings in the exhibition 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.

The Age of Reason Made Manifest, 2005, Peter Waddell, Washington, D.C., Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C.  Photograph by Carol Highsmith.

How Many Presidents were Freemasons?

79_34_1T1 It never ceases to amaze me how much inaccurate information is out there concerning Freemasonry. One of the most common questions circles around how many U.S. presidents were Freemasons – and from there, many people wonder about how many Freemasons signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The answers to these questions range from well-established – how many U.S. presidents were Freemasons – to less clear-cut – how many signers of the Constitution were Freemasons. When searching the internet for more information about this topic, be warned!  There are many websites with inaccurate information. So, allow me to offer an accurate, clear answer.

Fourteen U.S. presidents have been Freemasons, meaning that there is conclusive evidence that these men received the Master Mason degree: George Washington; James Monroe; Andrew Jackson; James Polk; James Buchanan; Andrew Johnson; James Garfield; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt; William Taft; Warren Harding; Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Harry S. Truman; and Gerald Ford.

Nine of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons during their lifetime, though not necessarily in 1776: William Ellery; Benjamin Franklin; John Hancock; Joseph Hewes; William Hooper; Robert Treat Paine; Richard Stockton; George Walton; and William Whipple. 77_75_6DI1

Things get a little less clear when it comes to the Constitution. It seems that at least nine of the signers can be conclusively documented as Freemasons: Gunning Bedford Jr.; John Blair; David Brearly; Jacob Broom; Daniel Carrol; John Dickinson; Benjamin Franklin; Rufus King; and George Washington. Some sources suggest that an additional four men were Masons, while other sources make the total number even higher. Additional research – and debate – is welcome. It is also important to be clear about how you are defining a Freemason: Is it men who have received the Master Mason degree? Or is it any man who took the Entered Apprentice degree? Do “Masonic signers” have to be Freemasons when they signed the document, or at some point in their life? Let me know what you think in a comment below!

For more information about Freemasonry, please visit the National Heritage Museum website. Also, you may want to check out an excellent Masonic website that is the brainchild of Paul Bessel:  It includes much useful information about American Freemasonry.

Top: Presidents of the United States, ca. 1861, A. Feusier, lithographer, and F. Bouclet, publisher, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, collection of the National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 79.34.1.  Photograph by David Bohl. 

Bottom: The Declaration of Independence, 1840-1880, John Francis Eugene Prud’homme (1800-1892), New York or Washington, D.C., collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of J. Robert Merrill, 77.75.6.

The Talented Charles Buckles Falls

76_59_2DI1 Falls painting For many years, I have wanted to know more about a group of graphically charged and boldly colored paintings in the museum’s collection by the artist Charles Buckles Falls (1874-1960). In making selections for “Curators' Choice: Favorites from the Collection,” I had the perfect opportunity to explore them further.

The talented Falls illustrated books and designed posters, advertisements, invitations, book bindings, stage sets, fabric and furniture in a career that spanned from the late 1890s through 1960. He produced some of his best-known work for the Division of Pictorial Publicity during World War I. You can see several examples here. Falls executed much of his work for paying clients, including Masonic publications such as The Shrine Magazine and The New York Masonic Outlook. In 1927 editors at The New York Masonic Outlook described Falls as “one of the distinguished artists of the day.”

Based on the topic, size, style and information from the donor, we believe Falls made nine paintings in76_59_10DP1 Falls Feb 1927   the museum’s collection (7 oils and 2 watercolors) for The Shrine Magazine. At least five of the paintings eventually graced the cover of the publication, all in 1927. This February cover and Falls’ related painting offer an opportunity to compare the artist’s original artwork against the magazine that arrived in subscribers’ mailboxes.

Editors shaped “The Shrine Magazine,” published from May 1926 to December 1928, to appeal to not only to male Shrine members, but also to their families with attractive covers, short fiction, a women’s department and general interest articles. To capture readers' attention, editors hired several popular illustrators, such as Falls, to create artistic covers for the magazine. Their cover art did not often relate to stories or articles in the magazine, nor were these artists necessarily associated with Freemasonry. Falls, for example, does not appear to have been a member.

Commercial artwork is ephemeral--sold to a client, who may use it as he likes, for a fee. The end product, a magazine or advertisement, might be read once and then thrown away. However, in this case, as suggested by information from the donor, Falls’ wife, Bedelia, preserved these examples of her husband's work.  Eventually, they came to the museum for visitors to enjoy.

If you have any questions or information about Falls and his association with “The Shrine Magazine,” please get in touch or leave a comment, we'd love to hear from you. 

Photo credits:

Rider on a White Horse, ca. 1927. Charles Buckles Falls (1874-1960). New York, New York. Gift of Dorothy H. Trower, in memory of Ralph E. Trower, 76.59.2.

Cover, The Shrine Magazine, February 1927. Charles Buckles Falls (1874-1960). New York, New York. Gift of Dorothy H. Trower, in memory of Ralph E. Trower, 76.59.10.  Photograph by David Bohl.


Wayne G. Hammond, The Graphic Art of C. B. Falls: An Introduction, Chapin Library, Williams College, 1982.

Norman Kent, “C. B. Falls, 1874- 1960: A Career in Retrospect,” American Artist, Februrary, 1962.

Thanks to Wayne Hammond, Assistant Librarian, Chapin Library, Williams College and Thomas M. Savini, Director, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library of Grand Lodge for their help in providing information about C. B. Falls to the museum.

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.

What do we collect?

89_76T1 Tracing Board Established in 1975 by Scottish Rite Freemasons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States, the National Heritage Museum tells America’s story. For over thirty years, the museum has collected, by gift and by purchase, objects that help tell that story. Today, the collection numbers over 16,000 objects. 

The collection’s primary strength is its American Masonic and fraternal items.  As the largest group of objects of its kind in the United States, the Museum’s holdings include over 400 fraternal aprons, over 2,500 fraternal badges and pieces of jewelry, and more than 1,000 items of fraternal regalia, as well as household and lodge furnishings, glass, ceramics and works of art, all decorated with Masonic and fraternal symbols.  The Museum manages an additional 12,000 objects and documents from the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts under a long-term loan agreement.  The Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives comprise 60,000 books, 1,600 serial titles and 2,000 cubic feet of archival materials related to American history and fraternalism.  Selected treasures from our collection can be seen on our website.  The Library’s catalog of printed books is also accessible online.

The Museum also collects material related to American history.  These items offer different perspectives for the interpretation of important events, people, themes and issues in American history.  For example, the Willis R. Michael collection of American and European clocks comprises an encyclopedic diversity of over 140 time-keeping mechanisms.  Many of these clocks are currently featured in the National Heritage Museum exhibition, "For All Time," on view through February 21, 2010.  The Dr. William L. and Mary B. Guyton Collection of more than 600 George Washington prints and related ephemera showcases the way that the memory of our first president has developed over the past 200 years.86_61_115DI1 Guyton GW print

The objects in the museum collection are highlighted in interpretive exhibitions, presented in educational programs and used as the focus of scholarly research.  All enrich our understanding of the past.  The National Heritage Museum actively seeks to add items to its collection that tell an engaging story, do not duplicate existing holdings and are in good condition.

If you have questions about the National Heritage Museum’s collection, or would like to make a gift to the collection or a financial donation to support future object purchases and conservation, we would like to hear from you. For more information, please contact Aimee E. Newell, Director of Collections, at (781) 457-4144 and anewell[at]

Top: Masonic tracing board, ca. 1820, attributed to John Ritto Penniman (1782-1841), probably Boston, Massachusetts, National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 89.76.  Photograph by David Bohl.  Bottom: G. Washington, 1856, A. Chappel, artist, G.R. Hall, engraver, New York City, National Heritage Museum, Dr. William L. and Mary B. Guyton Collection, 86.61.115.

Franklin Opening the Lodge

81_56T1 While George Washington (1732-1799) is arguably the best-known American Freemason, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) may be a close second.  The National Heritage Museum collection includes a number of objects depicting Franklin, which recognize his Masonic membership. 

This print, Franklin Opening the Lodge, was published by Kurz and Allison of Chicago and dates to 1896.  The partnership, which extended from 1880 to at least 1899, produced a wide range of decorative prints, including a series depicting Revolutionary War battles.

Benjamin Franklin became a Freemason when he was initiated in St. John’s Lodge in Philadelphia in 1731.  His involvement with the fraternity extended over the next fifty years, during which time he held several leadership roles.  He served as Grand Master of Pennsylvania in 1734 and Provincial Grand Master of Pennsylvania in 1749.  While in Paris during the American Revolution, Franklin became a member of the Lodge of Nine Sisters (La Loge des Neuf Soeurs), serving as its Venerable Master from 1779 to 1781.  (For more on Franklin's Masonic activities, see this previous post on our blog.)

In this print, Franklin wears a Masonic apron and a Master’s jewel around his neck.  He stands in a lodge room, surrounded by a number of Masonic symbols.  Presumably, this print appealed to Freemasons around the country and was considered appropriate as decoration in the lodge and in the home.

This print is pictured in the Treasures section of our website, which includes information on approximately 100 objects from our collection.

Franklin Opening the Lodge, 1896, Kurz and Allison (partnership 1880-1899), Chicago, Illinois, National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 81.56.  Photograph by David Bohl.

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.

The Question We Cannot Answer - How Much Is This Worth?

GL2004_1869T National Heritage Museum staff answer hundreds of questions each year – and we love doing it.  Except for one question – the question we cannot answer.  It is one of the top questions we are asked – “How much is this [book / Masonic apron / certificate, etc.] worth?”

We’re a Museum, Library and Archives, right?  We have thousands of antique objects, books and documents.  We follow the market and even purchase examples from time to time, so we should know, right?  Just like the experts on the Antiques Roadshow, our curator, librarian and archivist should be able to assess antiques and suggest a value. 

Not quite.

Believe us, it’s hard not to be able to answer a question for an interested inquirer.  But if we answer that particular question, we are being unethical.  For one thing, while we are trained museum and library professionals, with many years of experience, we are not trained appraisers.  Appraising antiques takes curatorial knowledge, but also a sense of the market on a much wider scale than we have time to cultivate.  We simply do not have the knowledge to confidently suggest the value of an antique object in terms of what it might bring on the open market or in the event of an insurance settlement.  While we do follow the antiques market, we spend the bulk of our time researching the history of objects we already own and interpreting their use and function for our visitors, rather than how much they might be worth to a collector 200 years after they were made.

But the real danger in this situation is a conflict of interest.  Say you come into the Museum with a wonderful silver ladle that was used by a Boston Masonic lodge during the 1790s.  You are considering donating it to the Museum because you know it’s interesting and has some history, but you don’t think it’s worth much from a monetary viewpoint.  You ask us what we think.  As we’re looking at it together, the museum curator notices that it has the mark of Paul Revere’s shop on the bottom; obviously something that would add significantly to its financial value.  But the curator worries that if she mentions this, you will no longer want to donate it.  Instead, you’ll want to sell it to us, or put it up for auction.  So she doesn’t let on and tells you it’s only worth $500 and you make the gift.  Flash forward a year when the Museum puts it on exhibit with a label about Paul Revere’s silversmith shop.  How do you feel?  This kind of conflict of interest is why we can’t answer the value question.  The American Association of Museums is quite clear on this point.  Even more importantly, so is the IRS, which requires third-party appraisals when a donor wants to write off a gift like the one described here.

So when you ask this question, not just of National Heritage Museum staff, but staff at any Museum or Library, understand that we’ll politely explain that it’s a conflict of interest.  We may give you an alphabetical list of appraisers in the area, being careful to let you know that we do not recommend one over the others, nor do we imply any kind of recommendation of any of the names on the list – which can also be a conflict of interest.  There are several national professional associations for appraisers; all maintain lists of their members and, unlike museum staff, are not prohibited from helping you to find an appraiser in your area.  So, if you find an antique of your own and are wondering about its value, try contacting one of the following:
American Society of Appraisers, 800-272-8258
Appraisers Association of America, 212-889-5404
International Society of Appraisers, 312.224.2567
National Institute of Appraisers, 800-676-2148

Ladle, ca. 1765, Paul Revere (1734-1818), Boston, Massachusetts, Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.1869, photograph by David Bohl.

King Solomon Reigns

EL2007_001Overall After smaller version
King Solomon Dedicating the Temple, 1874, George Whiting Flagg (1816-1897), Connecticut, Loaned by Annawon Lodge 115 A.F. & A.M, West Haven, Connecticut, EL2007.001, photograph by David Bohl.

One of the ways we serve our Masonic audience at the National Heritage Museum is by caring for important documents and objects on loan from local lodges.  This painting was presented to Annawon Lodge 115 in West Haven, CT in 1874.  In late 2006, Annawon Lodge sold its building to the city and prepared to move to smaller quarters – too small to house this large painting.  Lodge members did not want to see it destroyed, but had no way to display or store it locally.  Working with the Lodge, the Museum oversaw the transport of the painting from West Haven, CT to Lexington, MA.  Prior to hanging the painting in our Farr Conference Room, Museum staff facilitated conservation treatment of the painting and the construction of a new frame.  Through cooperative effort, the painting is now on exhibit at the National Heritage Museum for our visitors to enjoy, and to preserve this piece of Masonic history for the future.

The painting depicts King Solomon officiating at the dedication of his Temple.  The Bible tells the story of King Solomon building his temple.  This same story inspired the ritual behind the first three Masonic degrees – Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason.  On the left-hand side of the painting is an urn burning incense with two workmen above.  One is an overseer holding a square, the other is a craftsman who is sitting down, indicating that their work is complete.  Other common Masonic symbols are also visible: a partial square and compass at top center, signifying reason and faith; and an all-seeing eye at top right, representing watchfulness. 

While the painting’s large size – it measures approximately 9 1/2 feet by 5 1/2 feet – makes quite a first impression, the story behind its origin is even more intriguing.  According to the painting’s history, Solomon’s face is modeled on the artist’s father.  The work also has a history of being started by one artist and finished by a second.

The painting is signed by George Whiting Flagg (1816-1897) of New Haven, Connecticut.  Flagg studied under his uncle, Washington Allston (1779-1843), and painted many historical scenes and genre pictures.  Early in his career, he was supported by his patron, Luman Reed of New York City, and was able to travel extensively in Europe.  No evidence has yet been found that Flagg was a Mason, but his father is listed as a member of New Haven Commandery No. 2. 

The story passed down with the painting states that the first artist passed away, leaving the canvas incomplete.  A second artist associated with the painting is Harry Ives Thompson (1840-1906) from West Haven, Connecticut.  Thompson trained as an artist, studying under Benjamin H. Coe and exhibiting at the National Academy of Design in the 1870s and 1880s.  Thompson was a Mason and a member of Annawon Lodge in Connecticut.  So far, we are unable to conclusively prove that two artists worked on the painting.  The story of one artist dying and the second taking up the brush cannot be true as Flagg, the initial artist, passed away in 1897, twenty-five years after the painting was presented to Annawon Lodge.   Although this colorful history cannot be supported with the available information, the newly conserved painting is a vibrant addition to the Farr Conference Room.