Tour America's Treasures

An invitation to tour America's historical sites...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Oral History of American Music, Yale University

Visit our Tour Destination: Connecticut page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990), an American composer represented in the
Oral History of American Music collections.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Oral History of American Music, Yale University
310 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT

Website:  OHAM
The Treasure:  The treasures at the Oral History of Music (OHAM) collections at the Yale University Library are 2,200 audio and video recordings of oral history interviews with great 20th century American composers and musicians.

Accessibility:  The OHAM website lists seven major collections. The first of these, Major Figures in American Music, links to a fairly comprehensive finding aid for researchers. All of the recorded interviews have been transcribed. Summaries of the contents of the oral history recordings are provided on the website for many of the artists represented. Information regarding access to the recorded material and the transcripts is available on the OHAM website. OHAM is open Monday through Friday from noon to 5.

Background:  There is a long history of documenting folk music through the use of sound recordings, particularly in the years immediately following World War II. By 1950, there were already over 10,000 recordings of folk music in the Library of Congress. The invention of the tape recorder in 1950 spurred even more ethnomusicology activity. But emphasis continued to be on performance recordings rather than oral history interviews.

Charles Ives in 1913.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The OHAM collections began in 1968 with the Charles Ives (1874-1954) oral history project—an ambitious three-year documentary history project shaped around the recorded reminiscences of 60 people closely associated with Ives, each of them interviewed in-depth. The documentation of Ives’ career as an important American composer set a high standard for the many other oral history projects that followed. In the early years, efforts were made to interview established composers in failing health. As time moved on, the pool of American composers and musicians covered by the OHAM collections grew larger and larger.

Although OHAM’s work began with a composer in the classical vein, a wide variety of music styles were quickly welcomed. Ragtime composer Eubie Blake (1887-1983) was interviewed in 1972, encouraged to recall the vaudeville and jazz scenes in the early years of the 20th century. Pioneering jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams, who composed important pieces for Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, was interviewed shortly before her death in 1981. Famous classical composers like Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson were interviewed, as well as groundbreaking avant-garde figures like John Cage. The American musical theater was recognized through interviews with luminaries such as Oscar Hammerstein II and Stephen Sondheim. While popular music is less well represented, there are delightful surprises:  for instance, interviews with Les Paul, Quincy Jones, and Frank Zappa.

In addition to the Charles Ives project, other major OHAM projects involve dozens of interviews focused on Paul Hindemith, Duke Ellington, and even the famous piano manufacturing company Steinway & Sons. The Duke Ellington project encompasses 92 interviews with a broad range of friends, relatives, and artists. The depth of material is staggering—an astonishing wealth of material for researchers to explore.

Currently there are approximately 1,000 American composers and musicians represented by oral history interviews in the OHAM collections. These recordings of the voices of composers, musicians, and fellow travelers illuminate the many paths American music has taken in the past century.

Jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981), circa 1946.
Photo by William P. Gottlieb from the collection of the Library of Congress.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons
Duke Ellington conducting from the piano at the
Hurricane Cabaret in 1943.  Photo by Gordon Parks.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Virgil Thomson.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons
Notes from the Editor:  The OHAM collection has several podcasts and interview transcripts available online. Among them is an intense conversation excerpt between the classical composer Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) and interviewer Vivian Perlis on the nature of art and inspiration. As a poet and fiber artist (though admittedly no musician), I found this passage in particular to be deeply resonant:

“I like to make it flow from the beginning, because it hangs together much better that way then if you think of a fine finale and how you are gonna to get there, oh? Because it’s much easier in a continuous flow to cut passages where your inspiration is a little weak or where you repeated yourself unnecessarily. It’s much easier to cut than to add. Anyway I like to begin at the beginning and go straight on.”

Elsewhere, he describes the ideal creative situation as “one in which you write it down as it comes to you very rapidly, and those are likely to be––well, the most inspired passages.”

To conclude with some music (seems appropriate!), here’s Virgil Thomson’s “Suite from The River,” a 1938 score that he wrote to accompany a WPA short documentary on the Mississippi River:

Other Recommended Sites:  There’s more music at Yale! On Hillhouse Avenue, visit the Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments. They exhibit musical instruments from antiquity to the present. And in addition to preserving the historic instruments, they celebrate their collections and the world’s music history through an annual concert series and special events.

Also, the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library at Yale University contains the papers, manuscripts, and correspondence of many of the composers represented at OHAM.

Frank Zappa in 1977 at Ekeberghallen, Oslo, Norway.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Guest author for this entry:  Terry Price

Tour America's History Itinerary
Thursday (7/12/2011) destination:  Hill-Stead Museum

© 2012 Lee and Terry Price

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

First Congregational Church of Litchfield

Visit our Tour Destination: Connecticut page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

The First Congregational Church of Litchfield after the
restoration.  Photo courtesy of the First Congregational
Church of Litchfield.

First Congregational Church of Litchfield
21 Torrington Road
Litchfield, CT

The Treasure:  The First Congregational Church of Litchfield is a quintessential old New England church, beautifully expressing the character of its time.

Accessibility: The exterior can be viewed anytime at 21 Torrington Road in Litchfield. The interior probably looks its best at worship time on Sunday mornings at 10:30.

Background:  Some say it’s the most photographed church building in New England. With its distinctive steeple, fluted columns, and perfect symmetry, the First Congregational Church of Litchfield manages the neat trick of appearing stoically formal and graciously welcoming at the same time. The unadorned interior offers a perfect complement to the promise of the exterior—it’s refreshingly clean and balanced with no ostentatious frills.

Pews and pulpit in the interior of the First Congregational Church
of Litchfield.  Photo courtesy of the First Congregational Church
of Litchfield.
Built in 1829, this building served as its congregation’s third meetinghouse. The first building had been constructed in 1723, just a few years after the first settlers arrived. When the congregation outgrew its first home, a larger one was built in 1761. And then they outgrew that one, too.

Lyman Beecher in a photograph by
Matthew Brady, between 1855 and 1865.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons
Active in Litchfield from 1810 to 1826, Lyman Beecher was the most famous preacher to serve as minister to this congregation. At the time of his arrival, he had already earned a reputation for his sermon concerning the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. However, his major claim to fame belongs to six sermons on intemperance—drunkenness—that he delivered and published at Litchfield in 1814. These impassioned speeches remained popular and sold well for over 50 years.

But tastes change. In the post-Civil War era, the graceful old meetinghouse fell out of favor. It was in fact considered an eyesore, with Henry Ward Beecher (son of Lyman Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, and a skilled preacher in his own right) pronouncing, “There is not a single line or feature in the old building suggesting taste or beauty.” A fourth church building—this time in the newly-fashionable Victorian Gothic style—was built and the old church building was neglected for over 50 years. In 1930, with Colonial revival movements stirring around the country, the congregation tore down their Victorian Gothic building, returning to their 1829 building. Now renowned for its plain beauty, the First Congregational Church of Litchfield is home to an active United Church of Christ congregation and all are invited to worship every Sunday morning at 10:30.

From a brochure for the restoration--showing the
classic design of the church.
Image courtesy of the First Congregational Church
of Litchfield.

Front facade of the First Congregational Church of
Litchfield during restoration.  Photo courtesy of the
First Congregational Church of Litchfield.

Notes from the Editor:  New England churches built in the two hundred years between 1640 and 1840 often were designed to reflect the beliefs of the Protestant Nonconformists, better known in America as the Puritans. The dignified yet plain meetinghouse of the First Congregational Church of Litchfield is typical of the Puritan style. These Congregational churches were independent, sometimes nurturing social movements such as abolitionism, women’s suffrage, and the temperance movement. It was also typical to call their building a meetinghouse, disdaining the fancy airs associated with the term “church.”

Cotton Mather, a famed American Puritan preacher and historian, had this to say in 1726: “We have modest and handsome Houses for the Worship of God, not set off with Gaudy, Pompous, Theatrical Fineries, but suited unto the Simplicity of Christian Worship.” Anything that smacked of the Roman Catholic Church or the Anglican Church was unacceptable. There were no vestments, candles, or crucifixes at the Litchfield meetinghouse.

Other Recommended Sites:  Litchfield is a historic town. Explore its history through the Litchfield Historical Society, which operates the Litchfield Historical Society Museum and two historic sites, the Tapping Reeve House and the Litchfield Law School.

Restored windows and shutters at the First Congregational Church of Litchfield.
Photo courtesy of the First Congregational Church of Litchfield.

Guest author for this entry:  Terry Price

Tour America's History Itinerary
Thursday’s destination:  Oral History of American Music Archive, Yale University

© 2012 Lee and Terry Price

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sterling Opera House

View Sterling Opera House in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Connecticut page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

Exterior of the Sterling Opera House in Derby, Connecticut.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Sterling Opera House
1 Elizabeth Street
Derby, CT
The Treasure:  A classic 19th century American opera house, the Sterling Opera House stands out for its stunning mix of architectural styles and excellent acoustics.

Accessibility:  The exterior is visible from Elizabeth Street; the interior is currently closed for renovation.

Background:  Opera houses in the United States rarely hosted actual operas. They were cultural and civic gathering places for their communities as well as major landmarks that a town could take pride in. When a celebrity came to town to speak or a traveling theatrical troupe arrived to perform, the opera house would serve as their platform. In Connecticut, few opera houses could boast of a more star-studded history than the Sterling Opera House in Derby.

Built in 1889, the Sterling Opera House remained in operation as a theater for 56 years then continued to be used for other purposes for an additional 20 years. H.E. Ficken designed the opera house, creatively employing a mix of architectural influences. Italian Victorian and Baroque imagery comprised the exterior while Germanic influences pervaded the interior, notably using composer Richard Wagner’s triangular seating arrangement that allows an unobstructed view of the stage for all guests. The Sterling Opera House’s design is truly a cultural melting pot of architecture.

Unrestored balcony in the Sterling Opera House.
Photo courtesy of the City of Derby.
The Sterling Opera House was designed for hosting live theater—with ten dressing rooms, a trapdoor on the stage floor, and an impressive pit for the orchestra—but like most American opera houses, it attracted all sorts of entertainment. Major names to grace the stage include famed composer and conductor John Philip Sousa; master magician Harry Houdini; theatrical legends Lionel, John and Ethel Barrymore; comedian Red Skelton; and even aviatrix Amelia Earhart who came in 1936 to address the local Women’s Club. And of course there were the performances of touring chestnuts such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, once performed at the Sterling Opera House with heavyweight boxing champion John L. Sullivan as the villainous Simon Legree.

Notes from the Editor:  Derby is 100% committed to bringing the Sterling Opera House back. Serious renovations are taking place. Everything—from the cupola on the roof to the performance equipment inside—is being updated, replaced, or repaired as needed to make the building operational and a centerpiece for the city again. City leaders have embraced the rich history of the building and see the restored opera house as a key ingredient in shaping Derby’s future.

Artistic rendering by MOS, LLC of interior design proposal for the restored
Sterling Opera House.  Image courtesy of the City of Derby.

Artistic rendering by MOS, LLC of interior design proposal for the restored
Sterling Opera House.  Image courtesy of the City of Derby.

Artistic rendering by MOS, LLC of interior design proposal for the restored
Sterling Opera House.  Image courtesy of the City of Derby.

Other Recommended Sites:  While visiting Derby, why not stop by the Osborne Homestead Museum, located next to Osbornedale State Park? Built in the 1800s and remodeled in the 1920s, the impressive estate of Frances Osborne Kellog contains significant collections of antiques, art, and furnishings.

Save America's Treasure signage displayed on the facade of the
Sterling Opera House during the exterior restoration.
  Photo courtesy of the City of Derby.

Guest author for this entry:  Terry Price

Tour America's History Itinerary
Tuesday’s destination:  First Congregational Church of Litchfield

© 2012 Lee and Terry Price

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Florence Griswold Museum: The Panel Paintings

View Florence Griswold Museum in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Connecticut page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

With no other room like it in America, this prized collection of painted doors
and panels quickly became an attraction that lured tourists to the
Griswold House.  "Every stranger within the gates of Lyme wants to see it --
and to see it is to admire it," wrote one observer in 1941.
Photo by Joe Standart, courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum.

The most elaborate panel is Henry Rankin Poore's The Fox Chase, a long
frieze-like painting above the fireplace that depicts members of the art colony
in a mock fox hunt through the village.  Photo by Joe Standart,
courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum.

Florence Griswold Museum
96 Lyme Street
Old Lyme, CT

The Treasure:  The painted panels and doors at the Florence Griswold Museum chronicle the work of some of America’s finest impressionists working at the height of the Lyme Art Colony. As the Florence Griswold Museum received two Save America’s Treasures grants, this is the second of two entries (the first treated the Griswold House itself as an American treasure).

Accessibility:  The Florence Griswold Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 to 5 and Sunday from 1 to 5.

The first door.  Left panel:
"Hound Dog Baying at the
Moon" by Henry Rankin Poore.
Right panel:  "Bow Bridge by
Moonlight" by Henry Ward
Ranger.  Photo courtesy of the
Florence Griswold Museum.
Background:  Henry Ward Ranger started the practice of panel painting at the Griswold House in 1900. During his first summer at the Griswold House, Ranger painted a moody Tonalist landscape within the right side frame of the door to his room. Then he challenged his artist friend Henry Rankin Poore to paint a complementary scene within the left side frame. Poore rose to the challenge, setting an initial very high standard for panel painting at the Griswold House. The practice really took off in 1905 when artist Willard LeRoy Metcalf suggested decorating the dining room with individually painted wooden panels.

Each year, the core artists of the colony issued invitations to selected artists from their group to paint a panel or door at the house. These invitations were considered the highest of compliments and the artists would generally oblige with an inspired contribution (doubtless additionally motivated by competition among the artists to impress the others with the quality of their work).

Henry Ward Ranger and his cluster of friends—the first artists to gather as a fledgling art colony in Old Lyme—were considered Tonalists rather than Impressionists. An art style adopted by important American artists such as George Inness and James McNeill Whistler, Tonalism typically depicted landscapes that were dominated by an overall tone of a dark, neutral color. Their pictures appeared moody and shadowy, sometimes conveying a sense of mystery or spirituality.

Detail of right panel of door painted
by Childe Hassam:  "The Bathers"
(1903), oil on wood door panels.
Image courtesy of the
Florence Griswold Museum.
But the artistic mood at the Griswold House shifted in 1903 with the arrival of Childe Hassam, already established as a leading figure among the American Impressionists. Like the Tonalists, Hassam embraced the local scene—both its landscapes and its architecture. However, unlike the Tonalist works, Hassam’s paintings burst with bright colors and energy. A very strong artist, his celebration of Old Lyme attracted the attention of other talented American Impressionists, some of whom joined Hassam at the emerging art colony. Even the first wave of Tonalist painters fell under the influence of Hassam as they brightened their palettes toward more Impressionist colors.

From 1900 to 1920, the Lyme Art Colony flourished at the Griswold House, with the great majority of the panels dating from this period. Ultimately, more than 30 artists contributed painted panels and doors to the house. Most of the paintings are located in the dining room—where today’s visitors can find themselves completely immersed in the spirit of turn-of-the-century American Impressionism. The Griswold House dining room has been recognized as an American treasure since the early days of the art colony and remains an enchanting celebration of the American landscape, whether shimmering in sunlight or poetically shadowed by moonlight.

"Landscape with Cow" (1907) by Walter Griffin (1861-1935), Childe Hassam
(1859-1935), and Henry Rankin Poore (1859-1940).  Oil on wood panel.
Image courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum.

"White Cottage in Autumn" by Woodhull Adams (1854-1921).  Oil on
wood panel.  Image courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum.

"Lyme in Winter" (c. 1914) by Everett Warner (1877-1963).  Oil on
wood panel.  Image courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum.

Notes from the Editor:  Nourished by their experiences at the Griswold House, the artists at the Lyme Art Colony were inspired to do some of their best work. They would set up the easels on the grounds or go out exploring the town and countryside in search of new views to capture on canvas. Florence Griswold, their gracious host, worked with the artists to convert the various outbuildings into small studios, with the favored artists getting their pick of the finest.

"May Night" (1906) by Willard LeRoy Metcalf.
Corcoran Gallery
Source:  Wikimedia Commons 
One of the most famous paintings to emerge from the Lyme Art Colony was Willard Metcalf’s “May Night.” Metcalf arrived at the Florence Griswold House in the summer of 1905. At the age of 46, he was respected as an artist by his peers but was still awaiting breakthrough recognition. During his second season at the Griswold House, he began experimenting with “nocturnes,” atmospheric nighttime scenes. 

Painted in spring 1906, “May Night” depicted two women on the grounds of the Griswold estate at night, with the front porch memorably bathed in moonlight. Metcalf offered Florence Griswold the painting in lieu of rent, but she insisted that the painting was too valuable for her to accept. She reportedly said, “It’s the best thing you’ve ever done. When you show it in New York, they’ll snap it up at once, and everything will be lovely.”

Florence Griswold’s instincts were soon proven right. “May Night” was awarded First Prize and Corcoran Gold Medal at the Corcoran Gallery’s inaugural exhibition of contemporary art in 1907, and it became the Corcoran Gallery’s first-ever purchase of a contemporary American painting. “May Night” continues to be regarded as a masterpiece of American Impressionism, one of the great treasures of the Corcoran Gallery, and an iconic image that magically captures the Griswold House mystique.

Other Recommended Sites:  Paintings by the American Impressionists of the Lyme Art Colony are well represented in museums throughout the country. They are some of the finest examples of American Impressionism, as well as charming evocations of the beauty of rural New England.

As noted above, “May Night” by Willard Metcalf is at the famous Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. While visiting Washington, you can find other major collections of American Impressionism at the Phillips Collection (Washington, DC) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, DC). In Connecticut, the New Britain Museum of American Art (New Britain, CT) has a fine selection of works by the American Impressionists.

Since I live in the Philadelphia region, I’ll make a special shout-out for a different art colony—the Pennsylvania impressionists of the New Hope School who were flourishing at the same time as their counterparts in Old Lyme. The James A. Michener Art Museum (Doylestown, PA) has a remarkable collection of works by Pennsylvania Impressionists, including major pieces by Edward Redfield and Daniel Garber.

"Florence Griswold House" (1905) by Will Howe Foote (1874-1965).
Oil on wood panel.  Image courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum.

Tour America's History Itinerary
Friday’s destination:  Sterling Opera House

© 2012 Lee and Terry Price

Friday, June 15, 2012

Florence Griswold Museum: The House

View Florence Griswold Museum in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Connecticut page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

The Griswold House in a painting by Matilda Browne, one of the few female
artists who established herself at the Lyme Art Colony.  This image, circa 1910,
depicts the facade of the Griswold House from the northeast side and shows
the original configuration of the steps, now restored, and the painted
capitals, also replicated during the restoration.  Image courtesy of the
Florence Griswold Museum.

Florence Griswold Museum
96 Lyme Street
Old LymeCT

The Treasure:  The Griswold House itself is a treasure, capturing the changing roles of an elegant Connecticut mansion originally built at the peak of Old Lyme’s prosperity as a maritime center. As the Florence Griswold Museum received two Save America’s Treasures grants, this is the first of two entries (the second will focus on the art treasures within the historic house).

Accessibility:  The Florence Griswold Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 to 5 and Sunday from 1 to 5.

The Griswold House, designed by
Samuel Belcher.  Photo courtesy of
the Florence Griswold Museum.
Background:  Houses undergo transformations over time, always retaining suggestions of their past even as new circumstances change them. The building that’s now known as the Griswold House went through an extreme conceptual transformation during the first two decades of the 20th century. In those years, a once-proud mansion received renewed vitality, reborn as the home of a world-class art colony. But look past the vibrant artworks and boardinghouse atmosphere and you can still catch glimpses of a home that was built for an entirely different community.

The town of Old Lyme went through a boom period from the American Revolution through the 1820s. Located at the confluence of the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound, Old Lyme established itself as a center of the coastal shipping industry, largely through shipyards that built the great steamships that dominated the seas at that time. When William Noyes decided that he needed an elegant mansion in the most fashionable section of town, he turned to the architect Samuel Belcher, who had a reputation as both a skilled shipwright and a master builder. The house that Belcher built for Noyes in 1817 was a late Georgian-style exemplar of Connecticut affluence and respectability.

A young sea captain, Robert Griswold, purchased the 15-acre estate in 1841. At first, the Griswold family prospered but as times changed the family failed to maintain its wealth. Old Lyme’s steamboat industry collapsed as the shipping industry turned away from steam toward wind power. After several difficult decades of financial struggle, Robert Griswold died in 1882. He left the estate—and little else—to his wife Helen who now had responsibility of caring for three unmarried daughters.

One of those daughters, Florence Griswold (1850-1937), would lead the house into its next phase. At some point in the 1890s, the women began to offer the estate as an informal summer boardinghouse, accepting payment from urban residents looking for a bucolic summertime retreat. In 1899, the year that Helen died, Florence welcomed Henry Ward Ranger, a tonalist landscape painter, to their boardinghouse. Ranger was enchanted with the location and proposed the idea to Florence that the Griswold House might make a fine art colony. The fortunes of the house were about to rise again…

The ionic capitals are a graceful feature on the facade of the Griswold House.
Restoration of the capitals uncovered forgotten details enabling them to be
returned to their original appearance when they were painted to match the
clapboard color of the house.  Photo by Liz Farrow, courtesy of the
Florence Griswold Museum.

A photograph of the center hall of the Griswold
House.  The hall served as the main artery of
the house, as well as an impromptu
gallery space where the Lyme artists hung their
work for sale.  This photograph was used to
guide the restoration of the hall.  Photo
courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum.
Notes from the Editor: Many historic houses are furnished and interpreted to capture the feel of a specific time. As mentioned before, the Florence Griswold House retains suggestions of the old New England prosperity of the early 19th century. This nostalgic feeling was retained and even emphasized by the artist colony that gathered in the summer months during those two busy decades following Henry Ward Ranger’s first visit to the house.

When the Florence Griswold House reopened in June 2006 following a year of major restoration work, it was intentionally designed to reflect its appearance in 1910—midway through the glory years of the Lyme Art Colony. It was a very good year for the old house. While Florence was away for some weeks during the summer of 1910, her artist boarders along with other helpful neighborhood friends re-shingled the roof, mended the chimneys, dug a well, and redecorated the grand hallway and parlor. “I never knew I had such wonderful friends,” Florence is reported to have said when she returned home and saw their gift of a beautified house. “It’s a dream of a lifetime come true.”

The hallway restored to its 1910 appearance
following the 2005-2006 restoration.
Photo by Joe Standart, courtesy of the
Florence Griswold Museum.

The fireplace in the historic Dining Room in the Griswold House in the process
of being restored to its 1910 appearance.  The fireplace served more as a
decorative, rather than functional, feature in the room.  Photo by Liz Farrow,
courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum.

Other Recommended Sites:  Like to explore artist homes, studios, and art colonies? The National Trust for Historic Preservation offers a handy Historic Artist’s Homes and Studios search engine with information on 30 important arts sites located throughout the country. Connecticut has three:  The Florence Griswold Museum (of course), the Bush-Holley Historic Site, and Weir Farm National Historic Site.

To explore Connecticut life long before the Griswold House was built, you can travel eastward down the coast to Guilford. The Henry Whitfield State Museum dates to 1639, making it Connecticut’s oldest standing house as well as the oldest stone house in all New England.

In nearby Old Saybrook, there’s a small museum dedicated to another strong-minded woman. Katharine Hepburn called this beautiful section of Connecticut her home, and the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center (affectionately called The Kate) is the town’s tribute to her. Its 250-seat theater keeps a busy schedule and there’s a small museum within it that honors Hepburn’s many impressive achievements on film and on the stage.

The front of the Griswold House midway through the 2005-2006 restoration
as it is returned to its 1910 appearance.  The new steps have been built, replacing
the old steps.  The house has been freshly painted a deeper color based on
scientific paint analysis.  The windows have been conserved and
are being reinstalled, and a new copper drainage system is being put in.
Photo by Liz Farrow, courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum.

Tour America's History Itinerary
Tuesday’s destination:  Florence Griswold Museum:  The Panel Paintings

© 2012 Lee and Terry Price

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

View Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Connecticut page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

Harriet Beecher Stowe House, south front view.
Photo courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
77 Forest Street
Hartford, CT 06105

The Treasure:  Harriet Beecher Stowe, the celebrated author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, lived in this brick Victorian Gothic cottage-style house on Forest Street in Hartford, Connecticut, from 1873 to her death in 1896.

Accessibility:  The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is open Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 to 4:30, Saturdays from 9:30 to 5:30, and Sundays are from noon to 5:30.

Uncle Tom's Cabin, M. A. Donohue edition.
Photo courtesy of the Harriet Beecher
Stowe Center.
Background:   Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) is best known as the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one of the most powerful works of American anti-slavery literature ever published. Her combined passion for writing and combating injustice drove her to publish a total of more than thirty different books, many of them dealing with the most controversial topics of her day. In her works, she tackled topics such as slavery, religious reform and gender roles. Her informal style of writing allowed her to reach a broad audience and challenge her society—at a time when women had very limited opportunities for influencing public discourse.

Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born on June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut, as the sixth of eleven children. Her mother Roxanna Beecher died when she was five. Her father Rev. Lyman Beecher remarried to Harriet Porter Beecher, and he and his second wife raised their children to be intelligent and active members of their community. Their father was both a strong voice in the anti-slavery preaching movement and a teacher of religion at Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy. He honed his children’s debate skills both through his own efforts and by taking in boarders from a local law school. Apparently his efforts were not in vain: All seven of her brothers became ministers, her sister Catharine became a pioneer for women’s education, her youngest sister Isabella was a founder of the National Women’s Suffrage Association, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 51-year legacy of published and influential writing speaks for itself.

Stowe’s most famous work, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, follows the adventures of a small family of enslaved African Americans desperately trying to escape their bondage. The first serialized installment was published on June 5, 1851 in the anti-slavery newspaper The National Era. When issued in book form, the work was a literal runaway success, selling over 1.5 million copies in its first year. It became a potent tool in the effort to win the hearts and minds of mainstream Americans for the abolitionist movement as the country headed toward Civil War.

The Hartford house was occupied by Stowe, her husband Calvin Stowe, and their two oldest and unmarried daughters, the twins Eliza and Hattie (Harriet), from 1873 until her death. While Stowe’s most famous work was behind her while living in Hartford, she continued to write and to enjoy great popularity. The Stowes made an effort to live up to the ideals they preached. For 15 years following the Civil War, they maintained a winter residence in Mandarin, Florida, where they supported a school to educate newly emancipated slaves.

The kitchen at the Harriet Beecher Stowe House.
Photo by Michael McAndrews, courtesy of the
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.

Notes from the Editor:  June is a month of anniversaries for the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, and this post is being published between two of them: June 5 marks the 161st-year anniversary of the first installment to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, while June 14 is Stowe’s 201st birthday.

Women of the United Kingdom presented this petition to
Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Its 26 volumes contain 563,818
signatures of women opposed to slavery in the United States.
Photo courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
Very few writers can claim to have influenced the course of history to the degree that Stowe’s work did. Her clear and articulate calls for justice still resonate:

“I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity—because as a lover of my county, I trembled at the coming day of wrath.”

“It's a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.”

“Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center maintains Stowe’s commitment to social justice and positive change as an essential part of its mission. They recognize that Stowe’s 19th century causes continue to echo in modern debates about race relations, class and gender issues, economic justice, and education equity. In the tradition of Stowe’s activism, their programs ask visitors: “What will you do to make a difference in your world?”

Other Recommended Sites:  While neither Stowe’s birthplace in Litchfield, Connecticut, nor the school she attended (Litchfield Academy) are open to the public, the Litchfield Historical Society preserves much of the flavor of the small town as it was in the days when Stowe was growing up. When she turned 21, her father took a job in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the large family took up residence. Their Cincinnati house, Stowe House, is maintained by the Ohio Historical Society and is open to the public.

Front parlor at the Harriet Beecher Stowe House.
Photo by Michael McAndrews, courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.

Guest author for this entry:  Terry Price

Tour America's History Itinerary
Friday’s destination:  Florence Griswold Museum

© 2012 Lee and Terry Price

Friday, June 8, 2012

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

Visit our Tour Destination: Connecticut page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

The Great Hall at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History with the
Rudolph F. Zallinger mural "The Age of Reptiles" in the background.
Photo courtesy of Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
170 Whitney Avenue
New Haven, CT

The Treasure:  Unearthed out west in the late 19th century under the guidance of Othniel Charles Marsh, the magnificent dinosaur fossil collections of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History are a tribute to Professor Marsh’s passion for scientific exploration and discovery.

Accessibility:  The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 to 5 and on Sunday from noon to 5.

Portrait of young Othniel Charles Marsh,
seated, with bowler hat.
Photo courtesy of Yale Peabody
Museum of Natural History.
Background:  The first professor of paleontology to be appointed in the United States, Othniel Charles Marsh (1831-1899) set out to document America’s prehistory—and to support Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection—through the systematic collection of fossils. The large fossils of giant reptiles and mammals fascinated him above all. As both a professor at Yale University and the first director of the Yale Peabody Museum, Marsh led and organized expeditions into the newly-discovered rich fossil beds in Colorado, Wyoming, and the Dakota territories. Under Marsh’s guidance, large shipments of massive dinosaur fossils were regularly shipped eastward via the new railway systems, heading toward a new home at the Yale Peabody Museum.

Members of the Hale College Scientific Expedition of 1872;
Othniel Charles Marsh in center in back row.
Photo courtesy of Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
A keen and observant scientist, Marsh’s identifications and descriptions of America’s great dinosaur fossils lay a significant foundation for the work of succeeding generations of American paleontologists to build upon. Marsh identified the long-necked sauropod Apatosaurus in 1877 and the more-famous Brontosaurus in 1879 (shortly after Marsh’s death, scientific consensus moved toward identifying both specimens under the same genus of Apatosaurus). Marsh named and described the iconic Stegosaurus and Allosaurus in 1877 and Triceratops in 1889. These names—and the giant dinosaurs associated with them—resonated with the imagination of the general public.

Marsh entered into American legend as a result of his titanic decades-long feud with America’s other top paleontologist, Edward Drinker Cope of Philadelphia. Tensions between the two began to simmer at a Haddonfield, New Jersey get-together in 1868 and reached a full boil in 1877 when both simultaneously learned of dinosaur-laden beds near Morrison, Colorado. Over the following 15 years, the two scientists aggressively competed for dominance in their field, picking fights against the iconic background of a seemingly lawless western frontier.

This extended period of rivalry—sometimes known as the Bone Wars—raised unfortunate questions about the integrity of both scientists, even while each was amassing truly amazing collections and publishing much solid science. Ultimately, Cope’s collection went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City while Marsh’s magnificent collection was preserved at the museum he was instrumental in founding, the Yale Peabody Museum. The fossils that Marsh brought east continue to be studied by today’s paleontologists as they seek to learn about life in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods—America as it looked 65 million to 200 million years ago.

The Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus) skeleton in the background and a
Stegosaurus skeleton in the foreground in the Great Hall of the
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
Photo courtesy of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Notes from the Editor:  It’s starting to look like I’ll never outgrow my childhood love of dinosaurs. Within the past year, I’ve enjoyed finding excuses to write about the pioneer dinosaur painter Charles R. Knight and Victorian dinosaur sculptor Waterhouse Hawkins. Now I get to add Rudolph F. Zallinger to this prestigious list of great paleoartists!

Rudolph F. Zallinger (1919-1995) was still a student at Yale University’s School of Fine Arts when Peabody Museum Director Albert E. Parr approached him with an interesting proposition. Parr decided that a broad stretch of empty wall in the museum’s great hall would benefit from some color. Other important dinosaur collections at The Field Museum (Chicago, IL) and the American Museum of Natural History (New York, NY) had been enlivened by extensive murals and paintings of prehistoric life. Parr wanted something equally impressive for his museum.

Zallinger conceived the idea of one long mural (110 feet by 16 feet) that would depict the world as it looked from the first stirrings of animal life on land through the end of the age of dinosaurs. He worked on this colossal project, called The Age of Reptiles, from 1943 to 1947, creating a paleoart masterpiece that takes the viewer on a stroll through prehistoric landscapes spanning approximately 300 million years. Zallinger’s remarkably effective dry fresco technique, based on Renaissance practices, provides for exquisite colorful details that give the mural an almost photorealist quality.

The Life Magazine cover,
September 7, 1953.
Over the years, images drawn from this mural have entered the public consciousness through various publications including the cover of Life Magazine in 1953 and a six-cent U.S. postage stamp issued in 1970. I first came to love the Zallinger dinosaurs through a paperback book called Prehistoric Life, a 1965 reprint of a 1954 publication of the National Audubon Society with tear-out adhesive stamps featuring classic prehistoric scenes from paleoartists including Charles R. Knight and Rudolph Zallinger.

Zallinger’s complementary mural The Age of Mammals, painted from 1961 to 1967, can be viewed in the Hall of Mammalian Evolution at the Yale Peabody Museum.

Here’s a delightful six-minute video introduction to Zallinger’s The Age of Reptiles that provides a good sense of the truly monumental scale of the work:

Other Recommended Sites:  To see the complementary collection of 19th century dinosaurs collected by Marsh’s rival Edward Drinker Cope, visit the American Museum of Natural History (New York, NY). And for the other essential 19th century dinosaur discoveries, visit the Academy of Natural Sciences (Philadelphia, PA), home of the Hadrosaurus foulkii, the first dinosaur skeleton to be identified and mounted in the United States.

At Dinosaur State Park (Rocky Hill, CT), you can explore one of the largest sets of fossilized dinosaur tracks in North America. The three-toed tracks have been identified as belonging to a carnivorous dinosaur named Eubrontes and they date back to the early Jurassic. While no actual fossilized bones of this particular dinosaur have been discovered yet, the impressive tracks themselves were sufficient to earn Eubrontes the title of official Connecticut State Fossil.

A watercolor sketch by Arthur Lakes showing expedition members
E. Kennedy and Bill Reed with dinosaur bones at Como Bluff, Wyoming.
Photo courtesy of Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Tour America's History Itinerary
Wednesday’s destination:  Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

© 2012 Lee Price