Western Europe and its former colonies in the Americas were long fascinated with the Eastern cultures Europeans depicted as “mysterious”—specifically their exotic and luxurious trade goods. This is the second of two blog posts that examine this European and American fascination with Asia and the way that was expressed in the decorative arts. In the first post, I discussed the China trade in the 17th and 18th centuries, specifically Chinese export porcelain and the related tea trade. This post focuses on the 19th century, with the decline of the China trade, the opening of Japan to the West, Western eclecticism in the decorative arts, and the beginning of Western understanding of Asian design.
The China Trade in the First Half of the 19th Century
By the early 19th century, Europe and America had learned the secret of “hard paste” or true porcelain, so Westerners could produce their own high-quality wares. In the early American republic, porcelain factories popped up as early as the 1820s. This is not to suggest that that trade in Chinese porcelains declined; rather, it entered a new phase.
The serving bowl above would have been a prized possession of an American family in the first half of the 19th century. Part of a dinnerware set, this Canton ware, or “Blue Willow,” pattern appealed to middle-class Americans as an example of the exoticism of a faraway place, and implied the owners’ good taste and sophistication. Compared with the expensive and highly prized 18th-century wares, Canton china was inexpensive. This porcelain was shipped from Guangzhou, then called the Port of Canton by the English, to serve as a ship’s ballast under the more valuable tea chests.
These wares usually depict a landscape with Chinese buildings and a bridge in the center and have a decorated rim. This pattern was widely copied by English makers in the late 19th and 20th centuries and became so inexpensive that it was sold at five-and-ten cent stores in the 20th century. This example is interesting as it broke at some point during its working life and was mended with visible staples, indicating that it was indeed a valued possession.
Watercolor Painting, Two Rooms of a Chinese Painter's Studio, circa 1865 / THF119916
The remarkable image above shows the interior of a Chinese porcelain studio, with craftspeople decorating ceramics for the Western market. Visible on the wall on the left are prints or drawings supplied by Western agents, which were then copied by the artists in the foreground. The table on the right is filled with finished pieces of decorated ceramics. This piece itself was a souvenir intended for the Western market.
While the China trade continued throughout the 19th century, imports to America declined with the Civil War in the 1860s and never rebounded. After the Civil War, the United States and Europe became fascinated with another Asian nation, Japan.
Japan and the West
Japan, like China, traded with the Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch beginning in the 15th century. However, by the middle of the 17th century, Japanese authorities closed their doors to Europeans, primarily due to the undue influence of Catholic and Protestant missionaries. In 1853, the American Commodore Matthew Perry, under the direction of President Millard Fillmore, arrived in Yokohama harbor with a fleet of steam ships, which impressed the Japanese with their high degree of technology. The Japanese grudgingly agreed to open their markets to the Americans and the West. During the next few decades, traditional Japanese arts flowed to the West, where they profoundly influenced European and American fine and decorative arts.
Japanese River Scene Wood Block Print, 1900–1929 / THF292625
Japanese Travelers in a Snow Storm, Wood Block Print, 1900–1929 / THF292633
The wood block prints above are good examples of Japanese exports that excited Western artists and designers. The compositions were like nothing ever seen in Europe or America. The use of flat, unmodulated colors laid down next to each other, combined with diagonals, provided a sense of depth. This influenced the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists in France and designers everywhere.
The influence of images from Japanese prints on Western decorative arts can be seen in the carved cranes on the side chair above, painted in black to imitate ebony, an expensive wood that late Victorians associated with Japan. This is known as Anglo-Japanese style, which began in England in the 1870s and spread to America by the 1880s. Like many of the Asian imports, this Western style had little to do with Japan itself; rather, it suggested the “exoticism” of the Far East.
Pitcher, 1870–1875, Made by Tiffany and Company, New York, New York / THF190746
Like the side chair, Tiffany and Company’s elegant silver pitcher uses stylized images of birds and foliage done in the Anglo-Japanese style.
The highly stylized wallpapers shown above were derived from the floral patterns of Japanese prints. European and American designers called these abstracted patterns “conventionalized” ornament. These wallpapers appealed to those interested in what was called the “aesthetic” taste. This taste tended to be high style, although by the 1880s, middle-class Americans applied elements of it in their interiors. For example, the sample above was found in the middle-class Firestone Farmhouse, now in Greenfield Village. The date of our interpretation is 1885.
Eclectic Design in the Late 19th Century
What we’ve looked at so far has imagery directly linked to either Chinese or Japanese originals, but there is another category of decorative objects that contain more interpretive elements derived from Chinese, Japanese, or other Asian designs. Some of these pieces contain imaginary elements that the designer created out of thin air.
“Crown Milano” Vase, 1888–1893, Made by the Mount Washington Glass Company, New Bedford, Massachusetts / THF163595
“Burmese” Caster, 1885–1895, Made by the Mount Washington Glass Company, New Bedford, Massachusetts / THF167758
The ornate and elegant glass pieces above are clearly influenced by Japanese designs but have been transformed by late-19th-century American glassmakers into something unique. They are highly decorative and distinctly of their time.
Silver Tea Caddy, 1875, Made by the Gorham Manufacturing Company, Providence, Rhode Island / THF190070
Tea and Coffee Service, 1883–1884, Made by Gorham Manufacturing Company, Providence, Rhode Island / THF154882
In the late 19th century, wealthy Americans demanded ornate silver sets, and above are notable examples of just how wild they could get. The tea caddy references Asian design elements—as perceived by Americans, who had little true understanding of Asian cultures. Likewise, the full tea set picks up on the Anglo-Japanese style, but takes it much farther, into something truly Victorian—and, like the glass examples, totally unique.
Attempts at Understanding Asia
Vase, 1896–1908, Made by Hugh Robertson at the Dedham Pottery, Dedham, Massachusetts / THF176707
By the beginning of the 20th century, there were several designers looking for true sources of inspiration in Asian design. One of the most interesting of these was the English-born potter Hugh Robertson (1845–1908). During his time at the Dedham Pottery in Massachusetts, Robertson was obsessed with recreating the well-known Chinese oxblood glaze, seen on the vase above. He spent decades experimenting and perfecting the glaze, first at his family's Chelsea Keramic Art Works and later at Dedham. He was also interested in recreating the forms of Chinese porcelain made for domestic production rather than for export.
I hope you have enjoyed this quick journey through The Henry Ford's collection of Asian-influenced decorative arts. All of these artifacts, as well as many more, are available for browsing online in our Digital Collections.
Unknown artist, “Lady in a Lace Bonnet,” located in Robert Frost Home in Greenfield Village, before conservation. / Photo by Marlene Gray
The same painting, after conservation. / Photo by Marlene Gray
It is that time again, as Greenfield Village opens this week for another exciting season! While you were away, staff at The Henry Ford have been busily cleaning and repairing objects throughout the village buildings. During the winter months, conservation staff move artifacts in need of repair back to our labs for a bit of TLC. Some of these objects are on full display while others hardly ever get the spotlight. One of the latter objects is a painting rarely seen by visitors.
View of Robert Frost Home with the parlor on the right. / THF1883
Within the Porches and Parlors district of Greenfield Village is the home of American poet Robert Frost. Originally located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the house was moved to the village by Henry Ford in the 1930s. As you enter the house, a parlor is on the immediate right. If you look inside on the left, you will see a frame on the wall. There hangs a portrait of a woman, “Lady in a Lace Bonnet.” During routine maintenance, our dedicated clean team noticed the painting had some paint losses, which you typically find with old paintings. The paint losses at the top and bottom of the painting were the most obvious. These types of losses can occur when the painting is roughly handled during framing.
Image courtesy of clean team member Teresa McCloud, who noted the damage.
Conservation staff then brought the artwork to the lab to give this hidden painting some much needed attention. Once the painting was removed from the frame, the next step was a good cleaning. Paintings trap abrasive dust and debris, both on the canvas behind and the painted surface. After vacuuming to remove the larger debris, a very mild cleaning agent was used to remove the surface grime collected over the years. What a drastic change that made!
Grime cleaning, with right side cleaned. / Photo by Marlene Gray
Still, the portrait had a yellow tint, visible in the sitter’s face, which is a tell-tale sign of an aged varnish. Various solvents were tested to see what worked best at removing the old varnish, and we selected one that did not cause harm to the paint surface. After the varnish was removed, the portrait looked much brighter and fresher.
Varnish removal, with left side cleaned. / Photo by Marlene Gray
Once our lady was cleaned, it was time to tackle the paint losses. Color-matching the surrounding paint is tricky and takes patience to get right, but when we do, it is so rewarding to see the complete image. Last but certainly not least, a new coat of varnish with stabilizers that resist the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation was added to protect the painting from light from the window on the other side of the parlor.
After securing the painting back inside the frame (being sure not to scratch the surface), we whisked it back to Frost home, tucked into its “hidden” spot. Now you know what hangs on the wall, and you may even be able to get a little peek from outside the parlor window on your next visit. The lady will be happy to show off her fresh appearance!
“Lady in a Lace Bonnet” returned home. / Photo by Marlene Gray
Cleaning artifacts is an everyday occurrence here at The Henry Ford’s conservation department, as anyone who has ever looked into the windows of the lab at the back of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation knows. Still, it is not every day that stored paintings can be brought into the lab in view of guests to have detailed cleaning and preservation work done. Thanks to Susan and Henry Fradkin, with additional funds from The American Folk Art Society, that is changing this summer, as we address some of the folk art paintings from our sizeable collection.
The first painting to be selected for this project was an oil painting dating from the 1830s–1840s. The artist is unknown, but an inscription on the back of the painting notes that this is a portrait of “Sarah ... at age 4.” This painting was very dirty and yellowed with age. The paint layers were also unstable with some losses in the background. “Sarah” had been conserved in the late 1960s but needed more attention.
After examining the painting, the first steps in the conservation plan were to remove it from its frame and take the canvas off its stretcher, due to distortions from a previous wax-lining.
Removing the staples to take the painting off the stretcher.
Several areas of the painting had flaking and paint losses. To safely move forward with the rest of the conservation, it was necessary to consolidate those areas to ensure no further loss of paint. This was done by removing some of the excess wax on the reverse used to line the painting to a supporting piece of fabric. Wax-lining of paintings was previously used to preserve paintings, but is no longer the accepted technique due to the tendency of the wax to physically change the properties of the paint layers. Therefore, the wax on the back of the canvas was heated and carefully scraped off. These bits of wax were then reheated and placed into areas on the painted side of the canvas that had unstable paint layers.
Once the flaking paint was resecured, it was time to start cleaning. Over time, the natural resin varnish on the paint surface had yellowed, which is common with paintings. To reveal the original paint colors, the varnish layer was removed. To better understand what material is being removed from the surface, ultraviolet (UV) light is useful.
UV light to aid in cleaning.
With the use of UV light, varnish has a fluorescence that is different than the matte appearance of the original paint. The UV light tells conservators how thick a layer of varnish is and when we have successfully removed the varnish and exposed the original paint. UV light also shows distinctions between the original paint used by the artist and paint that was applied later, which appears black. In this case, we found that an area of the dress had been previously fixed after the canvas had torn.
Detail shot showing varnish removed from half of the painting.
Detail shot of varnish and dirt removal from the floor.
After testing several small areas with various cleaning solvents, we chose the best one for cleaning this painting. During cleaning, the details of the floor popped out, along with “Sarah” appearing much brighter. As the varnish was removed, it also revealed more areas of paint loss that would need inpainting. Before inpainting, we added fills to several areas where there was paint and gesso loss to create an even level when the new paint was applied.
Before and after adding fills to the areas of paint loss.
With the level fills in place, the painting could be re-stretched onto the stretcher before inpainting. Due to short tacking edges on the original canvas and wax-lining, we added new fabric with an adhesive film on all four edges. This process is called strip lining and the use of this extra material (we used sail cloth) helped strengthen the canvas during the re-stretching process.
Sail cloth added to edges of original canvas.
After adding the sail cloth, the material was wrapped around the stretcher, pulled taut with pliers, and heated to stay in place. After securing it to the back of the stretcher, extra sail cloth was cut away.
Re-stretching the canvas.
Canvas is re-stretched and extra sail cloth removed.
Over time, paint canvas stretches and tightens on its stretcher as humidity levels change. Some paintings can become too loose, and with the weight of an extra piece of fabric and excess wax, this painting was beginning to sag. Re-stretching the canvas helps to evenly disperse the tension of the canvas to the stretcher.
With the canvas re-stretched, it was time to inpaint. This is the process of adding new paint to areas that have previously lost paint. Paint colors are carefully mixed to match the existing paint.
Getting set up to inpaint.
Once the inpainting was dry, a new coat of varnish was brush-applied. New varnishes have been created that will filter out harmful UV rays, create a barrier layer to protect the paint from dust that can scratch the surface over time, and should no longer yellow with age. After letting the varnish cure, the last thing to do was return the painting to its frame, which had also been cleaned and inpainted.
The completed painting after conservation.
What’s next? Because of philanthropic support from Susan and Henry Fradkin and The American Folk Art Society, we can continue conservation work on another painting. Here is a sneak peek at an 1850s oil painting attributed to Fredrick E. Cohen: “King Strang and His Harem on Beaver Island.” If you are visiting the museum this summer, stop by the back of the museum and peek into the conservation lab to see its progress.
As we approach the Memorial Day holiday, when our thoughts turn toward lost loved ones and friends, it is insightful to consider how Americans of the past memorialized their loved ones.
Americans always treasured the memory of the dearly departed, but during the era just after American independence, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, elaborate and artistic memorials were the norm. Scholars debate the reasons. Many believe that with the death of America’s most revered founding father, George Washington, in 1799, a fashion developed for creating and displaying memorial pictures in the home. Other scholars argue that the death of Washington coincided with the height of the Neoclassical, or Federal style in America. During the period after the Revolution, Americans saw themselves as latter-day Greeks and Romans. After all, they argued, the United States was the first democracy since ancient times. So, they used depictions of leaders like George Washington, along with imagery derived from antiquity.
Watercolor Painting, Memorial for George Washington, by Mehetabel Wingate, 1800-1810 / THF6971
This wonderful memorial painting of George Washington was drawn in pencil and ink and painted in watercolors by a woman in Haverhill, Massachusetts, named Mehetabel Wingate. Born in 1772, Mehetabel was likely trained in painting as part of her education at an academy for genteel young ladies, much like a “finishing school” for young ladies in the 20th century. She also would have been tutored in the needle arts. The concept was to teach proper young ladies the arts as part of an appreciation for the “finer things” in life. This would prepare them for a suitable marriage and help them take their place in refined society.
In the academies, young women were taught to copy from artistic models for their work. In this case, Mehetabel Wingate copied a print engraved by Enoch G. Grindley titled in Latin “Pater Patrae” (“Father of the Country”) and printed in 1800, just after Washington’s death in 1799. Undoubtedly, she saw the print and was skilled enough to copy it in color. The image of the soldier weeping in front of the massive monument to Washington is impressive. Also impressive are the angels or cherubs holding garlands, and women dressed up as classical goddesses, grieving. One of the goddesses holds a portrait of Washington. Of course, the inscriptions tout many of Washington’s accomplishments. Mehetabel Wingate was a talented artist and ambitious in undertaking a composition as complicated as this one.
Watercolor Painting, Memorial for Mehetabel Bradley Wingate, by her daughter Mehetabel Wingate, 1796 / THF237513
Fortunately, The Henry Ford owns two additional works made by Mehetabel Wingate (1772–1846). From these, we can learn a bit about her life and her family. This remarkably preserved watercolor painting memorializes her mother, also named Mehetabel, who died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1796. Young Mehetabel, who would have been 24 in 1796, is shown mourning in front of a grave marker, which is inscribed. Although it is simplified, she wears a fashionable dress in the most current style. Around her is an idealized landscape, which includes a willow tree, or “weeping” willow, on the left, which symbolized sadness. On the right is a pine tree, which symbolized everlasting life. In the background is a group of buildings, perhaps symbolizing the town, including the church, which represented faith and hope. These are standard images seen in many, if not most, American memorial pictures. Mehetabel Wingate undoubtedly learned these conventions in the young girls’ academy in her hometown of Haverhill, Massachusetts.
Women in Classical Dress, 1790-1810, by Mehetabel Wingate / THF152522
The painting, above, while not a memorial painting, shows us how young ladies in the academies learned how to paint. Mehetabel seems to be practicing poses and angles, as the young ladies dressed as classical goddesses reach out to each other. It likely pre-dates both works previously shown and may have been done as a classroom exercise. As such, it is a remarkable survival.
In memory of Freeman Bartlett Jr. who died in Calcutta November the 1st 1817, aged 19 years, by Eliza T. Reed, about 1818 / THF14816
This example, painted later than Mehetabel Wingate’s work, shows the same conventions: a grieving female in front of a tomb with an inscription about the dearly departed—in this case, a young man who died at the tender age of 19 in far-off Calcutta. We also see the idealized landscape with the “weeping” willow tree and the church in the background.
Memorial Painting for Elijah and Lucy White, unknown artist, circa 1826 / THF120259
The painting above, done a few years later, shows some of the variations possible in memorial pictures. Unlike the previous examples, painted on paper, this was painted on expensive, white silk. It commemorates two people, Elijah and Lucy White, presumably husband and wife, who both died in their sixties. We see the same imagery here as before, although the trees, other than the “weeping” willows, are so abstract as to be difficult to identify.
Memorial Painting for Sarah Burgat, J. Preble, 1826 / THF305542
The example above represents a regional approach to memorial paintings. German immigrants to Pennsylvania in the late 1700s and early 1800s brought an interesting, stylized approach to their memorial paintings that have come to be known as “Fraktur.” The urn that would be seen on top of the monument in the previous examples now takes center stage, and is surrounded by symmetrically arranged birds. What we are seeing here is a combination of New England imagery, such as the urn, with Pennsylvania German imagery, such as the stylized birds. We know that this work was made in a town called Paris, as the artist, J. Preble, signed it in front of her name. There are two possible locations for Paris—one in Stark County, Ohio, and the other in Kentucky. Both had sizeable German immigrant populations in the 1820s. As America was settled and people moved west in the early 19th century, cultural practices melded and merged.
By the 1840s and 1850s, the concept of the memorial painting came to be viewed as old-fashioned. The invention of photography revolutionized the way folks could save representations of loved ones and friends. By the middle of the 19th century, these paintings were viewed as relics from the past. But in the early 20th century, collectors like Henry Ford recognized the historic and artistic value of these works and began to collect them. As a uniquely American art, they provide insight into the values of Americans in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Sophia Kloc, Office Administrator for Historical Resources at The Henry Ford, for editorial preparation assistance with this post.
The Gettysburg battlefield monument depicted in this painting honors the Michigan Cavalry Brigade. The figure of the soldier looks out over the field where this famed unit fought fiercely on July 3, 1863 to help assure Union victory on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Their commander was 23-year-old Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer, promoted only three days before. Gettysburg was the Michigan Brigade's first major engagement.
This "Wolverine Brigade" fought in every major campaign of the Army of the Potomac, from Gettysburg to the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House in April 1865. A number of the surviving veterans were present at the monument's dedication in Gettysburg on June 13, 1889.
Jessie Zinn created this painting of the monument soon after. Did a proud Michigan Brigade veteran ask the 26-year-old Gettysburg artist to paint it? Did Michigan veterans commission the artwork to hang in their local Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Hall?To learn more about Jessie's story, take a look at this special visit To Henry Ford.
“Opening the Door” is an unusual and large ( 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide) painting that recently received some much-needed conservation here at The Henry Ford.
Painted in the 1840s by self-trained artist George W. Mark, it depicts a young girl holding a flower. She stands in an elaborately-painted open doorway. Behind the girl a bust and lamp are visible on the table in a very shadowy room. The intent is to present a life-size vision that fools the eye into thinking that we are looking into a real space.
If you have the opportunity to take part in a VIP or Special Access tour of our Benson Ford Research Center storage, you will see this painting. It is greatly admired and it is positioned in a prominent location in the state-of-the-art storage facility here at The Henry Ford.
The painting needed conservation attention because it was not in stable condition after years of storage and many moves. Some of the damages were due to the challenges of handling – the painting is not framed, so corners got crushed when it was set down with too much force. And past attempts to hang it resulted in old patched holes near the top.
Take a look behind the scenes to see some of our work conserving "Opening the Door." This project was made possible by the generous support of The American Folk Art Society and Susan and Henry Fradkin.
Curator of Decorative Arts Charles Sable, Conservator Celina Contreras de Berenfeld, and Senior Conservator Clara Deck examine the work in progress.
This image shows the last old, yellowed varnish as it was removed from the paint surface.
This is a microscopic image of the thick varnish, before and during removal. The cracks (which are actually quite small!) are expected in a painting of this age and type.
Many paintings suffer over time due to the natural aging that darkens the once-clear protective varnish coat. As the varnish darkens, it shifts colors that were originally intense and bright; they become murky and brownish. Varnish removal restores the painting’s original colors. It is not unusual for old varnishes to require renewal, and this was done as part of an extensive conservation treatment completed last year.
Old patches were also redone so that they are invisible from the front and the whole painting was lined with stable backing material to support its large size. The restoration of damaged areas of the paint was done by “in-painting” only the small areas of lost paint. Finally a new, reversible varnish was applied overall.
The final result is a stronger, stable painting that can survive for at least another 171 years in the care of The Henry Ford.
This week, people around the globe will ring in the New Year. In the 18th century, some Pennsylvania Germans used to create frakturs, illuminated documents, for their friends and neighbors during this season, wishing them well in the upcoming year. The Henry Ford has a collection of frakturs that includes not only New Year’s wishes, but also family records, birth and baptismal certificates, and house blessings. We’ve just digitized a number of these, including this New Year’s wish, likely made by minister Daniel Schumacher for Jacob Grimm and family in eastern Pennsylvania in 1784. See more frakturs from our collection by visiting our collections website, and watch for more to come in 2015. All of us at The Henry Ford thank you for your interest in and support of our collections digitization efforts during 2014, and look forward to sharing more with you in 2015. Happy New Year!
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford
Last November, I made a trip to the Benson Ford Research Library to see a small (8-by-6.75-inch) album of watercolor drawings made by Lewis Miller, a Pennsylvania German carpenter who lived from the time of the American Revolution to the Centennial. I have long been intrigued by his drawings, which have provided me with great material for the history of American landscape design, my specialization as an art historian.
Over the years I had seen hundreds of Miller’s drawings, which are primarily in two collections: the York Heritage Center, York, Penn., and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Museum, Williamsburg, Va. There are about 2,000 of his drawings in these collections. The album, however, is alone in Dearborn and how it got there is an interesting story.
Donald Shelley, former executive director of Henry Ford Museum was himself from York, and knew well “the Chronicler” of his hometown. When Miller’s album appeared on the market in New York in the 1960s, Shelley purchased it for The Henry Ford collection. In his introduction to the only major work on Miller, (Miller, Lewis. Lewis Miller, Sketches and Chronicles: The Reflections of a Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania German Folk Artist. York, Pa: Historical Society of York County, 1966) Shelley said Miller’s work was unmatched by that of any other American folk artist.
When the opportunity arose to write an online article for Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, my colleagues, Kathryn Barush, Emily Pugh, and I immediately saw that Miller, whose large body of work had not been seriously studied in almost fifty years, was an ideal topic. The Dearborn album is a guide to Central Park, the greatest public urban park in America. It offered a focused entry into both Miller’s worldview and into the study of the most important landscape undertaking of the nineteenth century, New York City's first public park. The 54 leaves are filled with watercolors of the park’s earliest features and structures and inscribed with English and German poems and commentary.
Upon seeing the album, my first reaction, after delighting in its bright colors and charm that are lost in reproductions, was to query, what is this object? Why did this folk artist make it? How does it relate to the rest of his work? Kathryn Barush undertook the identification of all the texts that filled the sketchbook, English and German. That was the first breakthrough in terms of understanding the breadth of Miller’s literary appetite: William Cullen Bryant, Shakespeare, Martin Luther--a miscellany of poems, fiction, and travel literature as well as botanical lists. Then the images, once analyzed, compared and decoded, revealed a wealth of pictorial sources that drew from newspapers, magazines and again, travel literature. Miller was not the naive folk artist we took him to be, but rather a man of his times, and his works were an omnium-gatherum of visual culture.
This study has taught us a great deal about the penetration of the new pictorial press, especially in the middle decades of the 19th century, when innovations in printing and photographic technology revolutionized popular publishing. It is fitting that today’s innovations in online publishing has made it possible to bring the Miller album to the Web in a multifaceted digital facsimile. The online article designed by Emily Pugh unifies traditional scholarly interpretation with new tools and links to rich digital resources. Thus, the Dearborn album is important for two reasons. First, its study provided a model for how digital humanities can be a tool to enhance scholarly communication. More significantly, it has provided a key to writing a new interpretation of Miller’s lifetime of drawing and writing, one which sees him not as an exponent of a closed tradition but as a person partaking very much in contemporary life, where the deluge of visual and textual culture impressed and shaped his worldview. This is just the beginning of a new history of Lewis Miller.
Therese O'Malley is associate dean at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. She oversees the Center's publications and scholarly programs. Her scholarly publications have focused on the history of landscape architecture and garden design, from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, concentrating on the transatlantic exchange of plants, ideas, and people.
Her recent publications include Keywords in American Landscape Design (Yale University Press), The Art of Natural History, co-edited with Amy W. Meyers (National Gallery of Art), and several articles on aspects of the early profession of landscape design and the history of botanic gardens.
As we digitize the collections of The Henry Ford, we try to find and tell complete stories—for example, we don’t just digitize the race car, but also trophies it won, and photos from some of its most famous races. Because of our broad collecting approach and the resultant depth of our collections, we uncover these stories all the time.
Sometimes fate and/or current events help us out. Though The Henry Ford is an independent institution, we do maintain a warm relationship with Ford Motor Company and often work together on projects. Recently we discovered a series of items in our collection that played a big role in Ford Motor Company’s history, both nearly 90 years ago and again just six years ago.
The items include a number of paintings, magazine advertisement proofs created from those (and other) paintings, and correspondence that formed an impressive ad campaign. The campaign itself consisted of 16 ads that ran in the Saturday Evening Post and other magazines in 1924 and 1925. The ads, two-page spreads that contained both visually arresting artwork and a significant amount of text, explained the backstory of the Ford company at a time when, as Marc Greuther, Chief Curator and Curator of Industry and Design at The Henry Ford, states, the company was at “a certain kind of pinnacle” with their signature product, the Model T, but “the product is slipping.”
As fascinating as it is, this ad campaign might have disappeared into relative obscurity if it hadn’t been rediscovered by Ford Motor Company’s new President and CEO, Alan Mulally, in 2007. In a recent interview with Fast Company, Mulally said, “I was looking for a compelling vision, a comprehensive statement to deliver that strategy.” This ad campaign from the previous century provided just the fundamental sense of purpose that Mulally was after, and allowed him to create a new strategic vision that was embraced across Ford Motor Company.
As we discussed this backstory with Ford Motor Company, both organizations were extremely interested in highlighting the ad campaign. Marc Greuther conducted a one-on-one interview with Alan Mulally about the impact the earlier campaign had on today’s Ford Motor Company (you can view clips from that interview here and here). As discussions continued between our institutions, the Ford Motor Company Fund generously provided a grant to conserve and reframe some of the materials, as well as create videos covering the conservation process and interviews. We made plans to highlight some of the newly conserved paintings within our Driving America exhibit. The new exhibit was officially unveiled on June 24, with Alan Mulally and other luminaries (including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who checked in at the Museum on Foursquare) in attendance.
The interactive kiosk within this section of the exhibit was updated to include new video clips featuring Marc Greuther’s interview with Alan Mulally, as well as additional analysis of the campaign by Marc. It also now features an electronic collections set containing all of the paintings, ad proofs, and correspondence connected to the campaign, as well as other related materials.
In case you’ve ever wondered what it takes to pull this kind of historical story together, in both physical and digital formats, here are some of the groups that played a role:
Archivists from The Henry Ford combed the stacks, locating the ads and other materials related to the campaign
Registrars, archivists, and curators from The Henry Ford researched all of the materials as well as the backstory
Ford Motor Company provided access to Alan Mulally, Dean Weber (Manager of the Ford Archives), and other key corporate resources, both for interviews and project planning
The Ford Motor Company Fund provided a grant which underwrote conservation and reframing of some of the materials, as well as creation of videos covering the conservation process and interviews
Conservators, both at The Henry Ford and outside the institution, examined and conserved the artifacts
Curators at The Henry Ford planned the story, materials, and text for the new exhibit
Photographers and imaging specialists from The Henry Ford photographed and scanned of all the material
Digitization staff at The Henry Ford made sure all artifacts related to the campaign appeared online and on the interactive kiosk within this exhibit section
Museum and exhibits staff at The Henry Ford worked with contractors to update the Driving America exhibit with the new material
Events staff at The Henry Ford worked with Ford Motor Company to ensure the official unveiling went without a hitch
Ford Motor Company created a website to share photos, videos, and a press release relating to this project
And it continues to build… Staff at The Henry Ford have already fielded one loan request for some of the paintings and advertisements not used in Driving America (you can see them through October 2013 in the Michigan Modern exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.)
It certainly took a lot of time, effort, and funding to put this all together, but we hope you’ll agree that the resulting exhibit in Driving America within the Museum—as well as the digital assets, available to anyone around the world—are worth it. Let us know what you think.
Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford, is always trying to integrate the physical and the digital.
Objects in museum collections often tell rich stories—but sometimes you have to search for them.
A few months ago, The Henry Ford’s staff came upon an intriguing object in our collection—a late 19th century painting of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade Monument in Gettysburg, Penn. In this painting, the figure of a soldier at the top of the monument gazes out over the field where this famed Civil War unit fought fiercely on July 3, 1863, helping to assure Union victory on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Detail of Jessie’s signature on the Michigan Cavalry Brigade Monument painting.
We thought this painting would be a perfect choice for our upcoming Civil War Remembrance Weekend in Greenfield Village! The theme of this year’s display of objects from The Henry Ford’s collection was Michigan Soldiers in the Civil War. And 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg.
Yet we knew virtually nothing about the painting—how could we tell its story to our visitors? The signature of the artist provided an intriguing clue. It read “Jessie C. Zinn/Gettysburg Pa.” But who was Jessie Zinn? And why did she choose this subject to paint?
Our search for answers to these questions took us from internet sources like Ancestry.com to places like Gettysburg and Williamsport, Penn., and Dallas, N.C. Along the way, we found helpful librarians and museum curators who provided information and gave us further leads for our search. To our great surprise, one of these leads put us in contact with Jessie’s grandson, Lawrence Lohr! Even more surprising, Mr. Lohr lived only about 30 miles from The Henry Ford.
It was exciting for The Henry Ford’s staff when Mr. Lohr paid us a visit to view his grandmother’s painting in mid-April. We had managed to learn quite a bit about Jessie in the previous couple of months. But Mr. Lohr shared photos of Jessie and rich stories that could only have come from family.
Here are some of the things we learned about Jessie Zinn.
Jessie had a very personal connection to the Battle of Gettysburg—she was born on a farm near the town the day after the battle! From 1868 through 1876, Jessie’s father ran a store in Gettysburg. The Zinn family then lived on an Adams County, Penn., farm for a few years, returning to Gettysburg by the late 1880s. Jessie moved to Dallas, N.C., in September 1890, where she served as head of the art department at Gaston College for Girls. Here, Jessie met Luther Lohr, a professor at the college, whom she married in July 1891 in Gettysburg. Luther then attended the Lutheran seminary in Gettysburg, graduating in 1894.
Jessie and Luther Lohr with their children, 1905. (Image courtesy of Lawrence Lohr)
In the early 1900s, Jessie and her young family—children Minnie, Lawrence, Elida, and Edmund—lived in Williamsport, Penn., where Luther served as minister at St. John’s Lutheran Church. Jessie Zinn Lohr died in Williamsport in 1905 of a kidney ailment. Then Jessie came back “home” to Gettysburg, where she was buried in the family plot in Evergreen Cemetery.
But what of Jessie’s evocative painting of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade monument? A number of the surviving veterans of this brigade, also known as the “Wolverine Brigade,” were present at the dedication of the monument on June 13, 1889. Jessie Zinn likely created this painting of the monument soon after.
Did a proud Michigan Cavalry Brigade veteran ask the 26-year-old Gettysburg artist to paint it? Did Michigan veterans commission the artwork to hang in their local Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R) Hall? And, if so, how did the client find out about Jessie’s skill as an artist? We don’t yet know. But we do know that Jessie painted one other Gettysburg battlefield scene of monuments near where Pickett’s Charge took place. And Jessie’s brother Merville ran the Gettysburg Hotel. Could a visiting Michigan veteran have seen that painting hanging in the hotel and then asked the Jessie to create one of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade monument? An interesting idea to ponder.
If you come to the Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield Village on Memorial Day weekend, you will see Jessie’s painting on exhibit in the Pavilion. And perhaps stand in the shoes of the unknown individual--Michigan Civil War veteran or not—who, by commissioning this painting, desired to have a tangible reminder of the valor and sacrifice of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade’s men to gaze upon.