Masonic Decorative Arts

Hurricane Gavel

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Gavel, ca. 1939. Massachusetts. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.2657.

High in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey, there is a grove of Cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus libani). In the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collection cared for at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, there is a gavel made from the wood of one of these trees. The story of this gavel – from seeds to storage – brings together natural science and Masonic ingenuity.

In the early 1900s, Charles Sargent (1841-1927), the first Director of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, wanted to add examples of Cedrus libani to the collection of trees and shrubs at the site. However, these trees – which are mentioned in the Bible – grew primarily in the warmer climate of Lebanon and did not seem suited for New England weather. With the help of German naturalist Walter Siehe (1859-1928), Sargent was able to locate a forest of Cedars of Lebanon in the Taurus Mountains in Turkey. These trees grew further north and at higher altitudes and the two men thought they might also grow in Massachusetts.

In early 1902, Siehe shipped a number of cedar cones to Sargent and the trees were propagated in the greenhouses at the Arboretum. They started well and were planted on the grounds. By 1930, the Turkish Cedars of Lebanon were growing well and producing their own seed cones. The experiment was a success.

Then came the Hurricane of 1938, one of the most severe storms in New England history. The storm devastated the forests of the Northeast, destroying an estimated two billion trees in New York and New England. In the Arboretum, at least five of the Turkish cedars fell victim to the storm. (Happily, in 2022, eight of the original trees still survive on site.) As for the hurricane-damaged ones, a group of local Masons “grasped the opportunity to perpetuate these trees Masonically,” as one of them later said.

William Judd (1888-1946) was a member of Eliot Lodge in Dorchester and a gardener at Arnold Arboretum. During the clean-up after the hurricane, he and Welby McCollum (1887-1952) of West Roxbury Lodge decided to use some of the cedar wood to make a gavel. Given that McCollum worked as a builder, he may have crafted the piece.

After the gavel was completed, it was given to West Roxbury Lodge’s Past Master, Alexander McKechnie (1887-1965). He wrote out the story of the gavel on two typewritten pages – kept with the item – as a draft of his planned speech for a January 1940 presentation to West Roxbury Lodge. McKechnie mentioned in a handwritten addendum that he intended to present the gavel to the lodge and thence to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts if desired. His note is addressed to Joseph Earl Perry (1884-1983), then-Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, and ends, “If you decide to put this gavel in the Museum you can pick out the important points in the above for a small card.” This small piece of material culture made of wood more than one-hundred-twenty years old still has a big story to tell.

Reference and Further Reading:

Anthony S. Aiello and Michael S. Dosmann. “The Quest for the Hardy Cedar-of-Lebanon,” Arnoldia, Volume 65, Issue 1 (2007). https://arboretum.harvard.edu/stories/the-quest-for-the-hardy-cedar-of-lebanon/


New to the Collection: Elisha J. Cleveland’s Past Master’s Jewel

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Past Master’s Jewel, 1860. Massachusetts. Gift of Virginia B. Squair, 2021.008.5a-b. Photograph by Frank E. Graham.

In December of 1859, twelve men applied to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts for permission to form a new Masonic Lodge, called Hammett Lodge, in East Boston. Members of this group selected Elisha James Cleveland (1821-1866) to be the presiding officer—or Master—of their inchoate lodge. After the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts granted Hammett Lodge a charter in 1860, Elisha Cleveland served as Master. Members and guests attended Hammett Lodge’s dedication and officer installation ceremony early in 1861. Attendees and officers marked the event with speeches and refreshments.

In choosing Elisha Cleveland as their leader, members of the new lodge looked to someone with immediate experience as Master of a lodge. Cleveland had first become a Freemason at Mount Tabor Lodge, in East Boston, in 1851 and served as Master in 1858 and 1859. Around this time, he earned his living as a blacksmith or as a shipsmith in Boston. The brethren of Mount Tabor Lodge thanked Cleveland for his service as Master with a handsome Past Master’s jewel. Cleveland soon received another gold Past Master’s jewel (at left) with an inscription noting that it was given “by his friends, E. Boston, Apr. 6, 1860.” Cleveland was elected Master of Hammett Lodge before it received its charter and held the office through at least part of 1861. Though the inscription is not specific, this jewel likely commemorated Cleveland’s leadership of Hammett Lodge from its start.

After he received this jewel, Cleveland visited a photographer’s studio a few blocks from his home in East Boston. There he had his portrait (at left) taken by a self-described “photographist,” William R. Hawkes. In dressing for his appointment at the studio, Cleveland wore his street clothes—a jacket, vest, neckcloth, and shirt—with the Past Master’s jewel he received in 1860 pinned at the center. This photograph, in a small carte-de-visite format, is an intriguing document of how Cleveland used the jewel and suggests the pride he may have felt in wearing it.

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Elisha James Cleveland, 1860-1866. William R. Hawkes, East Boston, Massachusetts. Gift of Virginia B. Squair, 2021.008.2.

Cleveland died suddenly, of a stroke, in 1866. His obituary noted that he was “much beloved by the masonic fraternity.” Many years later, his widow Mary Ann Cleveland (1824-1883) bequeathed “the Past Master jewels belonging to my late beloved husband” to her son-in-law, Charles Leeds. Both of Cleveland’s Past Master’s jewels, and other Masonic items that descended in his family, are part of a recent generous gift to Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

Reference:

“Funeral of the Late Elisha J. Cleveland,” October 5, 1866, Boston Herald, page 2.


A Maine Mason at Sea

In 1852, shipbuilders in Calais, Maine, near the American border with Canada, launched a ship named the Lincoln. The following year, the Lincoln would commemorate American Independence Day many miles from Maine, in the Aegean port of Smyrna, Greece (now İzmir, Turkey). Like the Lincoln, her captain that day left his Maine home to make a living in the maritime world of the nineteenth century.

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Bark Lincoln, W.H. Polleys Master Laying at Anchor in Smyrna July 4th 1853. Raffaele Corsini, Smyrna, Greece. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 85.9.

In this watercolor, acquired by the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in 1985, the Lincoln is shown lying at anchor in the foreground, with the city, its castle, and surrounding hills in the background. The ship bears four flags: from bow to stern, the “Union Jack” or Navy Jack, a blue flag with a Masonic square and compasses, a masthead pennant, and an American flag. The Lincoln’s Union Jack, a blue flag with white stars flown on American ships, appears to have twenty-six stars and her American flag twenty-one stars. Given that the United States had thirty-one states by 1853, perhaps the ship’s owners or captain had not updated her flags or, more likely, the painter took artistic license with these details.

It is believed that ship’s captains sometimes raised a flag bearing a square and compasses to invite Masons in the area aboard their vessel. To local residents and other mariners, this signaled his fraternal affiliation and served as an invitation for conversation, informal meetings, and trade. The Lincoln was in Smyrna in July 1853 to purchase opium, a common ingredient in American patent medicines at the time.

The Lincoln’s captain and 1/16 share owner for her first five years was Woodbury H. Polleys. Polleys was born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine in 1817 and raised in Portland Lodge No. 1 in 1844. When he took command of the ship, he had been, as he later wrote in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, “at sea as Master of a Ship since June 1848, principally trading between Europe & southern ports . . .”

After the Lincoln, Polleys went on to captain other vessels, including at least three Union ships during the Civil War. These included the USS Katahdin, USS Oleander, and USS Madgie. The latter two ships were part of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron, preventing Confederate vessels from eluding the Union trade blockade. After the Madgie sank off North Carolina in 1863, Polleys traveled north to Maine for a month’s leave “to procure a new outfit and visit my family.”

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, Polleys used his knowledge of international trade to serve the new United States as Consul to Barbados and Commercial Agent to Cuba. Woodbury H. Polleys died of suicide in 1885 and is buried in Portland’s Pine Grove Cemetery. His headstone bears a Masonic square and compasses, as his ship’s flag did that day in 1853, many miles from Maine.

If you want to dive into this piece of artwork further, you can visit it and many others in our exhibition, “What’s in a Portrait?,” now on view at the Museum & Library. You can also visit the online version of the exhibition.

Further Reading:


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.

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Pisgah Forest Masonic vase (1959), cup (circa 1948), bowl (1942). Pisgah Forest Pottery, Arden, North Carolina. Museum purchase, 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.


New to the Collection: Fob Owned by Members of the Chillson Family

Chillson fob 1867 credit Robert Scholnick view oneThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently added an intriguing piece of silver jewelry to its collection--a watch fob owned by three members of the Chillson family. Dates and initials engraved on this fob help tell its story.

Throughout the mid-1800s, an increasing number of American men wore watches, often keeping their timepieces safe and accessible in a vest pocket. A watch chain, usually threaded through a buttonhole, served to secure the watch to a vest, in case it slipped out of the user’s hand when he was checking the time. Some watch-wearers selected tokens and ornaments, called fobs, to add sparkle and pizazz to their watch chains. This fob is made of three square plates joined by wide rings. Rings attach an ornament in the shape of a keystone to the bottom-most plate. The square plates, made from cut down silver dollars, bear engraving detailing its different owners over time.

The first owner recorded in engraving on the fob is “L. D. Chillson” who gave the fob “to his Brother W. S. C., 1867.” Lorenzo Dow Chillson (1830-1921) was the giver; the recipient of this gift was the eldest of Lorenzo’s fifteen siblings, Waters Sherman Chillson (1808-1887). Waters, in turn, gave the fob “to his Son W. F. C.,” William Francis Chillson (1851-1922), in 1884. The keystone-shaped ornament connected to the plates is engraved with Masonic symbols. One side shows a Masonic emblem, a square and compasses with the letter G. The other is decorated with a mnemonic associated with the Mark degree of Freemasonry. Within this circle of letters, an engraver outlined a personal symbol chosen by William.  The symbol on this fob is a ticket punch with the initials W. F. C. engraved on it. These are William Francis Chillson's initials and the ticket punch relates to his profession--census records show that William worked as train conductor in 1880.

Chillson fob 1867 credit Robert Scholnick view twoHis uncle, Lorenzo Dow Chillson, worked in Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, and California as a miner, surveyor, and entrepreneur. He is listed as a Master Mason at Washoe Lodge No. 157, in Washoe, Nevada, in 1863 and was a charter member of San Buenaventura Lodge No. 214 in Buenaventura, California in 1870. In the 1890s, he was involved in Freemasonry in Arizona. What prompted him to give this fob, or the silver dollars it was made from, to his eldest brother in 1864 is not known, nor is it known if a particular occasion led Waters Chillson to give the fob to his son almost twenty years later. Further research may offer insight into this object and its different owners in the Chillson family. In the meantime, it serves as a tangible reminder of the enduring connections between family members.

 

Photo credit:

Fob and Detail of Fob, 1864-1884. United States. Museum Purchase, 2022. Photo, Robert Scholnick, Essex River Antiques.

References:

Deanne DeGrandpre, “The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Dow Chillson,” The Journal of Ventura County History, vol. 60, no. 1, 2017-2018.

Proceedings of the M. W. Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of California (San Francisco, Frank Eastman), 1863-1866, 1871-1878.


A Glowing Lineage: Brilliant Cut Glass

2019_044a-bDI6editedCreamer and Sugar Bowl, 1876-1917, USA. Gift of Vikki Sturdivant, 2019.044a-b.

The sugar bowl and creamer pictured here are among the more recent gifts to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's collection. The owner of this charming cut glass set displayed it in his home for many years. At the center of either side of each piece is a symbol used in Freemasonry, a six-pointed star, surrounded by rays.

An intriguing discovery during the cataloging process suggested that this set may possess a notable lineage, likely hailing from the era of glass manufacturing referred to by collectors as the American Brilliant Period. Glass formulas of this era, which lasted from about 1876 to 1917, typically included manganese as a clarifying agent. This element causes them to luminesce a light green shade under black light. We couldn't resist trying this test, and were rewarded with the mesmerizing results you see below. Combined with what we know about who owned them, we believe it is likely that these table wares were a product of this fascinating time.

In the late 1800s several factors converged to change the glass industry: large deposits of high-grade silica were discovered in the US, and around the same time, electric-powered machinery and assembly-line methods were ramping up production in American factories and allowing manufacturers to turn out increasingly sophisticated goods. Along with all this, surging prosperity led to a growing consumer demand for fancy table wares. Cutting shops multiplied, and American companies' designs soon garnered awards and fame at the 1889 Paris Exposition and 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. 

2019_044a-bDI5Glowing green under a black light.

The cut glass pieces of this period are characterized by intricate patterns and the ability to catch and reflect light particularly well. They were made of a type of glass with a high proportion of lead oxide. This ingredient effectively softened the glass, enabling it to be cut without shattering. Their manufacturing process started with the creation of thick “blanks” in the shape of the desired form. After being marked with a design, they underwent several stages of cutting and polishing on wheels of metal, wood, and stone. You can read more about the process, and see examples from this period—which ended abruptly when lead was needed for military purposes in World War I—at this website. Curious parties can delve into further examples of American cut glass here

The manufacturer of our creamer and sugar bowl is not known. Many glass makers did not mark their products, or used paper labels which wore off over time. Cut glass from the late 1800s and early 1900s was comparatively durable and was popular in its day. These two qualities have contributed to the survival of cut glass objects in family collections. If you have any cut glass objects decorated with Masonic symbols, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below. 

References:

John C. Roesel. "American Brilliant Cut Glass, 1876-1917." American Cut Glass Association website, accessed May 29, 2021, at https://cutglass.org/AboutCutGlass.htm

"Black Light Testing." The House of Brilliant Glass website, accessed May 29, 2021, at https://www.brilliantglass.com/black-light-testing/


New to the Collection: Scottish Rite Jewel Owned by Winslow Lewis

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Jewel Owned by Winslow Lewis, ca. 1863. Museum Purchase, 2020.028.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library recently added a sparkling jewel owned by Winslow Lewis (1799-1875) to it its collection. This jewel, in the form of a compasses and arc topped with a crown containing a cross and a pelican feeding her chicks was likely presented to Lewis when he served as the Most Wise Master of Mount Olivet Chapter of Rose Croix in Boston in 1863.

Lewis’s jewel is made of metal set with cut glass stones in white, green and red. These stones, called paste, are imitation gems cut from lead glass that is soft, refracts light and can be produced in different colors. The jewel, almost 4 inches high, features a symbol, the pelican in her piety, used in the 18th degree of Scottish Rite Freemasonry. The pelican, as depicted on this jewel, feeds her chicks with blood drawn from a wound in her chest, representing self-sacrifice, charity, and resurrection. On this jewel, the head of the pelican and the chicks are formed from red stones, echoing the color of the blood. At the center of the cross is a group of red stones set in a circle that symbolize a rose. Unfortunately, the jeweler who created this elegant object did not mark it; its maker is unknown.

On the back of the jewel (see below), on the arc, an engraver noted the name of its owner, "Winslow Lewis." Trained as a physician, Lewis was a surgeon and anatomist who taught more than 400 private medical students and was associated with the Massachusetts General Hospital. He wrote and translated several book about anatomy. Many other interests claimed his time. In 1861, for example, members of the New England Historic Genealogical Society elected him president, a position he filled until 1866. He amassed a well-regarded collection of Papal medals and was the first president of the Boston Numismatic Society, founded in 1860. He served as a trustee at Harvard College and at the Boston Public Library.

In addition to these and other pursuits, he led, as one author described, “a Masonic life of greatest activity and usefulness, extending over more than thirty years.” He first received his degrees at Columbian Lodge in Boston in 1830 and 1831, and, soon after, took the York and Scottish Rite degrees. Twenty-four years after he was raised at Columbian Lodge, he served as the Grand Master of Massachusetts for two years. He held the office again in 1860. During the time that he received this jewel, along with his office at Mount Olivet Chapter, he was the Grand Secretary General for the Supreme Council. Lewis’s jewel is a striking artifact and reminder of the Masonic career of a man who declared that, “…in Masonry, I have found the best friends, the best social ties and comforts….”

 

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Back of Jewel Owned by Winslow Lewis, ca. 1863. Museum Purchase, 2020.028.

References:

"Personal Sketches," Freemasons' Monthly Magazine, Vol XX, No. 8, June 1861, 231.

“Obituary, Dr. Winslow Lewis” Boston Journal (Boston, MA), August 4, 1875, [2].

Samuel Harrison Baynard, Jr., History of the Supreme Council, 33°Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Vol. 1 (Boston, MA: The Supreme Council, 1938), 428-29.


An Engraved Masonic Jewel from Ireland

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Masonic Jewel, 1790-1820. Possibly Ireland. Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.4591.

Last month we posted about the frontispiece to David Vinton’s The Masonick Minstrel: A Selection of Masonick, Sentimental, and Humorous Duets, Glees, Canons, Rounds and Canzonets and how this image was based on an advertisement for a Dublin jeweler, James Brush & Son, published in Smollet Holden’s A Selection of Masonic Songs. In creating the ad, the jewelry firm depicted one of their products—a Masonic medal—along with information about their services. Just as Brush’s ad inspired Vinton’s frontispiece, one of Brush’s medals may have been a source for some of the engraving on this jewel, part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts.

Brush’s ad featured—suspended on ribbons linking three columns—images of the back and front of one of his medals. Brush produced these medals in multiples and examples survive to the present day. Cleverly, Brush created an ornament that would appeal to Freemasons holding different degrees by designing two options for one side of the medal—one with Royal Arch symbols, the other featuring symbols from the Knight Templar degree. At the time Brush produced his medals, Irish Masons received Royal Arch and Knight Templar degrees in craft lodges. Both Bush’s Knight Templar and the Royal Arch medals featured the same design, a selection of symbols associated with the craft degrees, on the other side. Brush joined the two sides of the medal with a molded rim secured by a hinged hanging ring. The finished medal, composed of two sides and a rim, was hollow inside.

Intriguingly, the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts holds a jewel bearing some designs that are similar to symbols on Brush’s medals—for example, the ornate letter G surrounded by three crowns—but the symbols on this jewel are engraved onto the jewel’s surface, rather than expressed in relief, as they are on Brush’s medals. As well, the symbols on the side of the engraved jewel with the letter G on it relate to both the Knight Templar and Royal Arch degrees—and the compasses and arc at the center of the jewel, may refer to the Past Master degree or status (pictured above). On the side of the jewel related to the craft degrees, the selection and arrangement of symbols differs quite a bit from Brush’s version (pictured below). To represent the craft degrees, the engraver who ornamented this jewel included a large all-seeing eye, a motto ("Sit Lux Et Lux Fuit," Let there be light and there was light), and Masonic tools (a square and compasses, a trowel, a plumb, a level, a mallet, and a rule), along with other symbols (two columns, a sword, a sprig of acacia, and the 47th Problem of Euclid). Like Brush’s medals, the two sides of this jewel are held together with a molded rim fixed with a hinged suspension ring. The sides of the engraved jewel are oval in shape and slightly convex.

Whether the engraver who decorated this jewel looked to Brush’s medals or advertising for inspiration is uncertain. It is possible that the engraver may have drawn his ideas for how to arrange and depict Masonic symbols from the same printed or material sources as Brush. That said, the mix of symbols on this engraved jewel and the way it was constructed may be clues that it is of Irish origin.

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Masonic Jewel, 1790-1820. Possibly Ireland. Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.4591.

New to the Collection: George M. Silsbee’s Masonic Model

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Model, George M. Silsbee (1840-1900), 1887. Leadville, Colorado. Museum Purchase, 2020.010. Image courtesy of Freeman’s.

In the early 1870s, a Civil War veteran named George M. Silsbee (1840-1900) moved to Denver, Colorado. City directories from 1871, 1873, and 1876, listed his occupation as “artist,” though what kind of art he practiced is not known. When he was drafted to serve in the Union Army in 1863, a clerk noted that he was a daguerreian—an artist or photographer specializing in daguerreotypes. In 1875 he worked in partnership with Charles Anderson (1831-1922) as an organ builder.  Together they constructed a church organ with over 500 pipes—one of the first large organs built in Colorado. By 1880, Silsbee had moved to the boom town of Leadville, Colorado, likely prompted by the discovery of silver in the area. He lived there for the next twenty years, earning his living as a miner and as an engineer.

While in Leadville he embarked on a project later described by his family as “his life’s work.” The project included at least 14 large ink and watercolor paper charts backed with fabric and mounted on wood dowels. Densely packed with writing, calligraphy, and illustrations, these mystical charts explore ideas and symbols related to the Bible, Christianity, and Freemasonry. Along with these charts, Silsbee created this model (at left), newly added to the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

About two feet tall, Silsbee’s three-dimensional model takes the form of a three level structure set onto a floor or counter, with an arch and columns spanning the whole.  Each level of the structure is rich with Masonic symbols portrayed as three dimensional objects shaped from different kinds of stone, metal, wood, plaster, and other materials. The first two levels feature symbols taken from the first three degrees of Freemasonry.  The upper level highlights symbols from the Royal Arch degree. Crowning the levels, Silsbee created a dark blue sky, glittering with sparkling grains (possibly pyrite) with an all-seeing eye at the center. Silsbee placed a keystone at the middle of the arch.  On it is the mnemonic associated with the Mark Master degree incised onto a circle.  What is likely Silsbee’s own mark—a square and compasses over a shield decorated with blue dots and red strips, representing the colors and symbols of the American flag—is at the center of the circle. At the very bottom of the model, on a blue shield, Silsbee cut his own initials in script, along with the year 1887, the date he likely completed this arresting work.

In crafting this model, Silsbee showed his skill at working with a wonderful variety of materials, and also demonstrated his knowledge of Freemasonry and its symbols.  The 1875 proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin list Silsbee as a member of Kenosha Lodge, No. 47 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He became a Mason at the lodge in 1863. When and where he became familiar with Royal Arch Masonry and where he took the Mark degree is not known. 

A few months ago, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library added this striking example of Masonic folk art, which had been preserved in Silsbee’s family for several decades, to its collection. In the coming years, with additional research, we hope to learn more about George M. Silsbee--remembered by his family in an obituary as "an artist of ability"--and his remarkable creation.

Reference:

Micheal D. Friesen, “’A Wonderful Promise of Something to be Attained’: Colorado Organbuilder Charles Anderson and his Work,” The Tracker, Journal of the Organ Historical Society, vol. 42, no. 1, 1998, 27-34, 46.

Many thanks to Erika Miller of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin.


An Elaborate Royal Arch Jewel Owned by Lambert Keatting

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Front, Royal Arch Jewel, 1810. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.6656.

This elaborate gilded Royal Arch jewel belonged to Lambert Keatting (1773-1847), a member of Harmony Holy Royal Arch Chapter No. 52 in Philadelphia. Founded in 1794, the chapter—like others in Pennsylvania at the time—worked under the authority of a craft lodge warrant issued by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and took its name from that lodge, Harmony Lodge No. 52. In spite of its connection with Harmony Lodge No. 52, the chapter drew its membership from several different craft lodges in Philadelphia. Lambert Keatting belonged to Lodge No. 67, where he was elected Master in 1811 and 1812. Later, in 1820, he became a member of Lodge No. 2, also in Philadelphia.

A boot and shoemaker, Keatting joined the Harmony Holy Royal Arch Chapter No. 52 in 1810. A few years later, in 1816 and 1817, he served as the presiding officer, or High Priest, of the chapter. Around the same time, he was appointed to be the Senior Grand Deacon at the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. Keatting had a life-long connection to Freemasonry. When he died, in 1847, his friends and acquaintances were requested to attend his funeral. The notice of this event in the newspaper invited specifically, “The Brethren of the Masonic Order generally, and particularly Lodge No. 2….”  

Keatting’s intriguing jewel, part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, appears to have been made from two separate jewels(at left). The inner jewel—the round element topped with a bow at the top a banner at the bottom—is a Royal Arch jewel . This style of jewel—in the shape of a circle containing two interlaced triangles—was first worn by English Royal Arch Masons in the mid-1700s. On this jewel, at the center of the star, is a triangle that, on one side, has an engraving of a compasses surrounding a globe, and, on the other side, a circle with the letters of the mnemonic associated with the Mark Master Degree (below, at left). The space within the circle is left blank, suggesting that Keatting may have not taken the degree. Or, if he did, he did not have his personal mark or emblem engraved on this jewel. The banner at the base of the jewel threads beneath an oval with the letter G (a symbol for God or geometry) engraved on it. On the circle and on the arms of the triangle, on both sides of the jewel, an engraver cut phrases in Latin, English, and Greek that relate to the Royal Arch Degree (you can read about these inscriptions here, as they appear on another Royal Arch jewel made in England around 1791). On the back of the jewel, the engraver added Keatting’s name on one of the horizontal arms of the triangle, as well as a Latin phrase and the date (1810) on the circle. On the back of the jewel, the banner at the bottom bears the name of Keatting’s chapter, Harmony Royal Arch Chapter.

The outer element of the jewel is in the shape of an arch supported by two columns, spanned by four steps at the base. At the peak of the arch, above a keystone engraved with an all-seeing eye, is a hanging loop. A ladder (representing Jacob’s Ladder) connects the arch to the bow at the top of the round jewel. To join the arch to the round jewel, a craftsman cut away part of the bow. The round jewel is also connected to the inner sides of the columns and the top of the stairs. On the back side of the jewel, at the base, an engraver cut the initials of the name of the chapter and its number, “H. H. R  A. C. N[o] 52.” This inscription suggests that the arch and columns surrounding Keatting’s jewel may have come from a jewel owned by the chapter. Why Keatting’s jewel and another were joined together is unknown. If you have an idea or theory, we would love to hear  it. Please share it in the comments section below.

GL2004_6656DP2DB-1
Back, Royal Arch Jewel, 1810. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.6656.

References:

John Curtis, Centennial Celebration and History of Harmony Chapter No. 52 (Philadelphia, PA: Dunlap Printing Co., 1894).

Bernard E. Jones, Freemasons’ Book of the Royal Arch (London, England: George G. Harrap & Company Ltd), 1969,258-271.

Joshua L. Lyte, Reprint of the Minutes of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA: The Grand Lodge, 1897).

Public Ledger, (Philadelphia, PA) August 6, 1847), [2].