Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Wedded Bliss:" An 1801 Wedding in Salem, Massachusetts

Federal architecture and Neoclassical fashion - an ideal combination. Miss Sally Peirce (1780-1835) wore this Empire-style gown, of a fine cotton voile, apparently brought back from India by her fiancé, Mr. George Nichols (1778-1865). In 1801, she wed Mr. Nichols in the room in which the dress was displayed. The parlor of her childhood home, it was updated in the latest Adamesque style by Salem's Federal architect extraordinaire, Samuel McIntire, for the wedding ceremony. This vignette is from the 2008 exhibition "Wedded Bliss" at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. 

George wrote: "…the ceremony took place on the 22nd of November, 1801, on Sunday evening. We were married by Rev. Dr. Hopkins, in my Father Peirce's great eastern room, which was finished and furnished only a short time before." [1] 

Photography by Jim Steinhart, 2011

The Peirce-Nichols House is part of the Peabody Essex Museum's extensive holdings of noteworthy historic buildings. Most likely designed by Samuel McIntire (c. 1784), he updated the east parlor in the Adam style by 1801.

 [1] See "The Peirce-Nichols House" Historic House Booklet Number Four, by Gerald W.R. Ward, Essex Institute Publications, 1976.

For more on the architecture at the Peabody Essex Museum, see

For more on Samuel McIntire, see Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style, Dean Lahikainen, Peabody Essex Museum, 2007

For more on Sally Peirce & related textiles, see Painted With Thread: The Art of American Embroidery, Paula Bradstreet Richter, Peabody Essex Museum, 2000

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lord Clapham’s Justacorps and a Marlburian Uniform

Lord and Lady Clapham, London, circa 1700

Looking for an example of a Marlburian uniform I came across this happy looking couple from circa 1700.  Known as Lord and Lady Clapham, they reside in the collection of the V&A and are, I am sure, well known inhabitants of South Kensington.  Never met them until now, but happy to make their acquaintance.  Dolls normally leave me cold, whereas dioramas captivate me, odd since both essentially represent life in miniature, but that’s the mind for you. However, this couple enchanted me lock, stock and barrel.  The description from the V&A notes that these belonged to the Cockerell family who were related to Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) through his grandniece who married into the Cockerell family of Clapham (south London).  The dolls were named the ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady’ after the family’s resident town.  Dolls of this age are rare enough, as is the clothing for either a doll or a person, so this is a rare artifact indeed.

Lord Clapham, the wee man and his clothing

Lord Clapham’s justacorps immediately caught my eye. The flare of the wee man’s coat is dramatic. In part this may be due to the flattening of the fabric over time and the exaggerated pressed bell-shape that results, but also due to the circumference, which displays the stylistic difference between the beginning and end of the 18th century.  This early 18th century justacorps has a lush fullness that is the antithesis of the shadbelly silhouette of the 1790s.  Men must have moved differently in this part of the century, or rather clothing moved differently on them. Perhaps it can be likened to the shimmy of a woman’s fringe tiered dress from the 1920s, which encapsulates a style, a period, and a way of moving through space. I look at this coat and the term swagger comes to mind, the self-possessed not the pompous definition of the word.  It illuminates that moment of confidence that propelled the 18th century out of the turbulence and political quagmire of the 17th century and into the enlightenment, inquiry and reason that become the hallmarks of the 18th century.  To my eye there is a raw exuberance in this period’s clothing, which disappears with the studied elegance of its fin de siècle cousin. 
Conceptually, they are of the same family, but the stylistic refinement of the later leaves me a bit cold.  It is a personal conceit and I can understand the fascination with the end of the 18th century, but perhaps I am too much of a Whig at heart to surrender to the opposition.  

As this started with a quest for an example of a Marlburian justacorps I need to be mindful of the military aspect of this period with the triumph of Marlborough and the allied armies. England entered the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714) as a realm fearful of French and Spanish Continental domination, but finished it as a united kingdom of England and Scotland triumphant on the European battlefield.  This engraving by Jean Dubosc, created after a painting by Louis Leguerre, of the battle of Taniers (currently Malplaquet) (1709) shows how voluminous justacorps could be.  The pleating of the coat skirts displays a kilt-like density. This color version done later is easier to read than the black and white original, at least for my purposes and close-ups follow.

The Battle of Taniers, after Dubosc, Robert Wilson

Close-up center

Close-up right of log

Lord Clapham's justacorps interior view

While only a vestige of the full scale rendition, Lord Clapham’s justacorps and vest with their tight but closable tubular torsos and voluminous skirts are indicative of the of the stiffened coat skirt that waxes and wanes for the next fifty years.  Was the use by men of coat skirt stiffeners a martial fashion response to this triumphant military decade? Was the reintroduction of side padding by women at this time a nod to martial influenced fashion?   Questions for another time I think.

Jeffrey Hopper is an author, editor and the Manager of the Warner House, in Portsmouth, NH.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Salem Letters: Quaker Rebecca Kinsman Ponders the Architecture of Macao, 1840s

Architecture and World History

World History Connected
University of Illinois Press

Rebecca Kinsman and the Architecture of Macao, 1843-1847
Kimberly Sayre Alexander, Ph.D.

            In the study of world history, architecture has a resonance that is often lost on scholars who work outside the haunts of the art historian.  Yet, the significance of the built environment should not be underestimated.  Considerations of structure and design have frequently influenced the nature and development of early global encounters.  These matters certainly predisposed the perceptions of those involved in first contacts, both those who traveled to “exotic” lands and those who received them.  Consider the classic example of global encounter, an indigenous peoples’ first impressions of visitors from abroad, seen in the architecture of the visitors’ ships.  In the Aztec empire, it was Cortes’s floating islands that so astonished Moctezuma’s people in 1519; in East Asia, it was Perry’s black ships that impressed the Japanese in 1853.  Likewise, the ways in which travelers described indigenous architecture often reveal underlying cultural values and assumptions.  Examination of both sets of impressions, focused on the built environment, sometimes remind us, too, that the sites in which encounters took place were neither indigenous or foreign, but rather a collage of places of cosmopolitan intermixture – clearly the case with Macao by the nineteenth century.
 Rebecca frequently provided detailed descriptions of the domestic, public and religious architecture she experienced in her travels throughout Macao. Seen through her Antebellum Western lens, she was clearly cognizant that her time in China marked an important episode in her life, and indeed, we know almost nothing about her after her return to the United States. Her letters and journal entries are significant on several counts: the majority of the sites she describes in this significant city, Macao, no longer survive; we have few accounts by women travelers and expatriates of the multinational architectural character of Macao during the 19th century (or any time for that matter), and finally, her writing is highly descriptive and largely without racial, ethnic or religious bias. While a handful of excerpts from her correspondence have been used in larger works, little attention has been paid to her writings on architecture, landscape and the experience of place.

Rebecca describes the burned out Baroque/Mannerist St. Paul’s Cathedral (constructed by the Jesuits from 1582-1602; elaborate carved stone façade, 1620-1627), among many other sites, many long disappeared or altered.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

In Situ: An 1881 Wedding Dress, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

What is so compelling about the wedding dress of Mary Ann Morison (1844-1935) is the fact that it provides one of those rare opportunities when the display of a garment sits within its original footprint. The wedding dress is currently at the top of the stair hall of the John Paul Jones House (as it is now known.) 

The 37 year-old Mary Morison wore this fashionable parchment colored silk wedding gown when she married James Rundlet May on April 26, 1881. Can’t you imagine her descending the stair, holding her fan, with the rustle of her gown and train heard above the quiet of the family and handful of guests?

Mary was the granddaughter of Samuel Lord and had lived in this house most of her life. Reverend James DeNormandie, pastor of the South Church, presided over the ceremony. She moved only three blocks away to the Rundlett-May house with her husband following her marriage.  Mary died in 1935.

While the Lord and Rundlet May families were prosperous members of the Portsmouth community, there is no label in the garment. The assumption has been that a local seamstress created the gown of imported fabric.  In any case, the gown was certainly representative of the style of the time with its rich silk, lace trim, well-tailored, form-fitting jacket and voluminous trained skirt. The May family donated the gown many years ago, but with no further information. Incidentally, on the table next to the gown is the wedding fan.

The gown is from the collection of the Portsmouth Historical Society, John Paul Jones House Museum, in Portsmouth, NH.

Thank you to Sandra Rux, Curator, Portsmouth Historical Society & Jeffrey Hopper, Manager of the Warner House, for their assistance with this post.