Masonic Symbols in American Decorative Arts

New to the Collection: "A Free Mason Composed of the Materials of his Lodge"

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"A Free Mason Composed of the Materials of his Lodge," 1781, J. Coles (dates unknown), artist, Salem, Massachusetts Perkins and Coles, printers. Gift of Jon Gregory Adams Hill, 2016.005.6. Photograph by David Bohl.

Along with several other Masonic items from the Hill family of Beverly, Massachusetts, a donor recently gave this print (at left) to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.  Designed by J. Coles (dates unknown) of Salem or Boston, Massachusetts, A Free Mason Composed of the Materials of his Lodge shows a fanciful Freemason; his body formed of Masonic symbols.  His head is a shining sun (a symbol of the lodge master), his neck and body are shaped out of Masonic tools (including a plumb, a level, closed compasses and a rule).  He has columns (symbolizing the pillars at the entrance of King Solomon’s Temple) for legs and blocks, or ashlars (representing perfection through education), for feet.  The figure stands with his bent arms pointing up and down on a black and white pavement, another Masonic symbol.  An elaborate surround of curving elements supports the flooring and frames a verse.  The verse suggests that even when Masonic symbols are easily observed, their meaning is known only to Freemasons.

This striking image closely resembles others.  A London printer issued one delineated by A. Slade (dates unknown) in the 1750s (at left, below) now in the collection of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.  In the 1700s Americans who sought to depict Masonic symbols often relied on English models for their own work. The Slade print was, in turn, the model for a watercolor painting thought to have been undertaken by a young Rhode Island artist named Samuel King (1749-1819) in 1763 (at right).  The London version also likely inspired the design of transfer prints on ceramic vessels decorated to appeal to Masonic consumers.    

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"A Free Mason Form’d out of the Materials of his Lodge," 1754, A. Slade (dates unknown), artist, William Tringham (1723-1770?), publisher, London. Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.0141. Photograph by David Bohl.

In crafting these images Slade, King and Coles drew on a tradition of whimsical images of artisans first popularized in prints published in Europe in the late 1600s and early 1700s.  In those depictions, artists cleverly portrayed craftsmen and women in shapes formed out of their tools and finished wares.  You can see an example, an etching of a glazier published in 1695, here. These eye-catching images can be read as satires, grotesques or as affectionate depictions of skilled tradesmen.  Likewise, Coles’ image of A Free Mason Composed of the Materials of his Lodge can be interpreted as either a caricature or as a celebration of its subject. 

References:

Barbara Franco, Masonic Symbols in American Decorative Arts. Lexington, Massachusetts: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum of Our National Heritage, 1975, 47-52.

John D. Hamilton, Material Culture of the American Freemasons. Lexington, Massachusetts:  Museum of Our National Heritage, 1994, 29-30.

Aimee E. Newell, Hilary Anderson Stelling and Catherine Compton Swanson, Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection. Boston and Lexington, Massachusetts: Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, 2013, 72-73.

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"A Free Mason Form’d out of the Materials of his Lodge," 1763, Samuel King (1749-1819), Newport, Rhode Island. Extended Loan from Lodge of St. Andrew, A.F. & A.M., Boston, Massachusetts, EL76.001.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

40th Anniversary: Masonic Symbols in Decorative Arts

Forty years ago, the Scottish Rite Mason86_32aDP2DBic Museum & Library published the book Masonic­­ Symbols in American Decorative Arts to accompany an exhibition on the topic. The book, written in 1976 by former museum curator Barbara Franco, highlighted and contextualized 146 American decorative arts objects with Masonic symbols. Decorative arts, often defined as the design and decoration of functional objects, include glassware, furniture, ceramics, textiles, basketry, and clocks. Artist's and craftsmen commonly incorporated Masonic symbols into their designs in the 1700s and 1800s; a period of rapid growth for American Masonic and fraternal organizations.

The Museum has acquired more Masonic decorative arts objects since 1976. Many of the artifacts featured in Franco's publication have been re-photographed and continue to be a part of our exhibitions. Two of these items are highlighted below and have recently been exhibited at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

This pocket watch is featured in our current exhibition “Keeping Time: Clockmakers and Collectors" open through 2017. The watch, designed and manufactured by the Dudley and Hamilton Watch Companies, was made in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, around 1925. William Wallace Dudley's (1851–1938) company produced distinctive watches with movement parts shaped like Masonic symbols. This particular watch includes a trowel, square and compasses, level, bible, and shoe.

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This Worshipful Master’s Chair made around 1870 and marked by maker John Luker (b. 1838) was featured in the exhibition "‘Every Variety of Paintings for Lodges’: Decorated Furniture, Paintings and Ritual Objects from the Collection." You can find out more about the chair in this 2008 blog post.The chair is also currently included in the online exhibition of the same name, available here.

Find these objects and more in our new decorative arts album on Flickr! Like, share, and comment on objects you find on our Flickr page.

 

 

 

 

Captions:

Pocket Watch, ca. 1925, Dudley Watch Co. and Hamilton Watch Company, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Gift of Hazel D. Hubley in memory of Bert H. Hubley, 86.32a-b. Photograph by David Bohl.

Masonic Worshipful Master's Chair, ca. 1870, John Luker, Vinton County, Ohio, Gift of the Estate of Charles V. Hagler, 85.20.1.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

Reference:

Barbara Franco, Masonic Symbols in American Decorative Arts, Lexington, Massachusetts: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Inc., 1976.

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