Square and Compasses in Wax
January 08, 2021
A square and compasses with a G at the center is one of the most identifiable symbols in Freemasonry. The square and compasses represent reason and faith. The letter G in the center stands for God, geometry, or both. This symbol was and is still used on all types of objects, from furniture and ceramics to textiles and jewelry. Artisans and craftsmen portrayed the symbol from a number of different materials, including the modeled wax paper flowers illustrated here.
This example in the Museum collection is a wax flower composition crafted in 1890 by Chrissie Taisey Whitehill (1855-1937) of Vermont. Whitehill was married to John F. Whitehill (1844-1912), a member of Pulaski Lodge No. 58 in Wells River, Vermont. She mounted her wax flower creation on black velvet and likely made it to memorialize an–as yet–unidentified member of the fraternity.
In the Victorian era, wax flowers enjoyed immense popularity as decorative elements included in ornamental household wares, personal accessories, and memorial or mourning pieces. Most often crafted by women, wax flower modelling was "a gendered and class-linked accomplishment, promoted as a welcome activity for women of social standing or pretension to social standing."
Making wax paper flowers was an intricate process in which makers first disassembled a real flower, tracing each component on paper. They then used those pieces as templates to create paper petals which were carefully cut out, shaped to achieve a realistic look, and glued or wired onto stems. The flowers were often finished by applying wax on each petal. By the 1850s, manufacturers also produced wax flower kits and models with ready-made flower parts that could be shaped and assembled. Do you have a family heirloom made with wax flowers? Let us know in the comments below.
Square and Compasses, 1890. Chrissie Taisey Whitehill, South Ryegate, Vermont. Gift of the Supreme Council, 33º, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., 74.1.53. Photograph by David Bohl.
Elegant Arts for Ladies: Comprising Bead Work, Bead and Bugle Work, Calisthenic Exercises... (London: Ward, Lock and Co., 1856), 184-197.
Ann B. Shteir, "'Fac-Similes of Nature": Victorian Wax Flower Modelling," Victorian Literature and Culture, vol. 35, no. 2, 2007: 649-661.