Tour America's Treasures

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

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Newberry, Ayer American Indian History Collection

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

Portrait of Abdih-Hiddisch, a Minatarre Chief, by
Karl Bodmer (1809-1893).
Image courtesy of the Newberry.

The Newberry, Edward E. Ayer American Indian History Collection
60 West Walton Street
Chicago, IL

Website:  The Newberry

The Treasure:  Comprising many thousands of rare books, manuscripts, maps, artifacts, paintings, and photographs, the Edward E. Ayer American Indian History Collection at the Newberry is one of the largest and best collections on Native American history in the world.

Accessibility:  A full list of research guides is digitally available for help in navigating the Newberry Library’s collections online. Many objects in the Ayer Collection have been digitized and their images can be found in three online digital collections: the Ayer Art Digital Collection, the Great Lakes Digital Collection, and the North American Indian Photographs Collections. Before visiting Chicago, check the Newberry website for upcoming  exhibitions, programs, and events.

Background:  Edward E. Ayer (1841-1927) donated his major collection of American Indian material to the Newberry Library in 1911. While the Newberry had been in existence for 24 years at that time, it was Ayer’s generous donation that really put the Newberry on the map as one of the country’s leading research institutions. Consisting of more than 17,000 items at the time of the donation, the Ayer Collection offered scholars a bonanza of information pertaining to early contacts between Native Americans and Europeans, as well as important photographic records of the Indians of his time and valuable archaeological information on pre-Columbian Indian cultures.

Equally to his credit, Ayer had the foresight to give the Newberry a significant endowment that has enabled the institution to vastly increase the size of this collection. Slightly over a century later, the collection now contains more than 130,000 volumes, 1 million manuscript pages, 2,000 maps, 500 atlases, 11,000 photographs, and 3,500 drawings and paintings. The Newberry’s D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies develops programs and activities to promote use of the collection by scholars, teachers, tribal historians, and others.

With his keen interest in history, Ayer quickly realized the tremendous importance of primary documents. Whenever possible, he acquired the manuscript field notes and drawings of the scientists and explorers who did the pioneering work in recording indigenous cultures. Original manuscripts and drawings by John Howard Payne, Bernardino de SahagĂșn, Jean-Frederic Waldeck, W.H. Holmes, and E.H. Thompson are among the many treasures in the Ayer Collection.

Artwork from the collection brings the material to life. As one example, the Black Horse Ledger (c. 1874-1878) is a wonderful document of the artistry of the Plains Indians who maintained a tradition of creating visual records of their lives. Originally, they practiced their art on buffalo hides but later adopted the use of paper, such as ledger books obtained from U.S. soldiers, traders, missionaries, and reservation employees.

"Soldiers charging at Powder River" from the Black Horse Ledger
in the Ayer American Indian History Collection at the Newberry.
Image courtesy of the Newberry.

The Black Horse Ledger depicts the lives of Cheyenne warriors, including their interactions with white soldiers and settlers. Drawn by an anonymous Cheyenne warrior (or warriors), the picture above is captioned “Soldiers charging at Powder River,” an 1876 battle. Adding to the complexity of interpretation, the caption may have been added later by one of the ledger’s white owners.

"War party coming home" from the Black Horse Ledger
in the Ayer American Indian History Collection at the Newberry.
Image courtesy of the Newberry.

Also from the Black Horse Ledger, the drawing above depicts Cheyenne warriors on horseback. The artistry of the Plains Indians comes through in their stylized treatment of the horses, colorfully rendered in hues of gold, blue, and green. All 86 pages of the Black Horse Ledger can be viewed at the Plains Indian Ledger Art Project.

Portrait of Pahl-Lee, a young Hopi woman, by
Elbridge Ayer Burbank.
Image courtesy of the Newberry.

It seems appropriate that one of the major art collections within the Ayer Collection showcases the work of Ayer’s nephew, Elbridge Ayer Burbank. Ayer encouraged—and even commissioned—his talented nephew to go west to draw and paint realistic portraits of the Indians. In addition to the painting of a young Hopi woman above, the Newberry holds 1,200 red chalk drawings by Burbank of western and southwestern Indians.

And we haven’t even touched on the photographs, maps, atlases, and material relating to Philippine and Hawaiian history in the Ayer Collection! The collection is truly vast and a remarkable American treasure.

Notes from the Editor:  In 2000, the Newberry received one of the first grants from the Save America’s Treasures program. The funding enabled the Newberry to provide conservation treatment—including media consolidation, paper and parchment stabilization, binding repair, and rehousing—for many fragile items in the Ayer Collection.

Sometimes these opportunities for intensive work result in advancements in the field of conservation. When addressing the needs of seven parchment treaties between the Oneida Nation and the State of New York, the Newberry Conservation Department decided to investigate the range of potential treatments for the deteriorating wax seals on the documents. Through their research and experimentation, they identified the strengths and weaknesses of various consolidants.

While their findings were technical in nature, this type of work is vitally important in determining the best treatment strategies available to conservators engaged in preserving historic documents. The findings of the Newberry Conservation Department were presented and published at the 30th Annual Meeting of the American Institute of Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, held in 2001.

Other Recommended Sites:  The American Indian Center of Chicago is the principal cultural resource for the many Indians who live in the Chicago metropolitan area. For more than 50 years, they have held a popular annual pow wow. Recently, the American Indian Center of Chicago opened a Trickster Gallery of Native American art in Schaumberg, Illinois.

Without leaving your computer, you can explore a world of information at Native American Cultural Resources on the Internet, a site compiled by web designer Karen Strom building upon the earlier work of Paula Giese.

Entrance to the Newberry.  Photo by Antonio Vernon.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Tour America's History Itinerary
Monday’s destination:  Adlai E. Stevenson Historic Home

© 2012 Lee Price

Monday, September 24, 2012

Destination: Illinois

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That’s a lot of sites to cover in Illinois!

Above, I’ve placed three maps’ full of Save America’s Treasures sites, each loaded with genuine historical treasure. While there’s an undeniable concentration of sites in the urban northeast of Illinois, I’m pleased that this exploration will eventually take us into nearly every section of the state.

It took me fifty years to get to Illinois for a genuine vacation. Last year, my family and I arrived at Chicago during the annual “Taste of Chicago” event in Grant Park, billed as the world’s largest outdoor food festival. It was a great introduction to a city as renowned for its cuisine as it is for its history and architecture. Naturally, our taste of Chicago included Frank Lloyd Wright homes, the dinosaurs at the Field Museum, Seurat at the Art Insitute of Chicago, and Save America’s Treasures sites, along with the deep dish pizza.

But it’s my hope that our Save America’s Treasures tour will take us beyond Carl Sandburg’s “Hog Butcher for the World/Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat/Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler,/Stormy, Husky, Brawling, City of the Big Shoulders.” I’m eager to venture out into the suburbs and great rural expanses of Illinois.

Northern Illinois is the great urban area, where around 80% of the total population lives. Smaller cities—like Peoria, Springfield, Quincy, Decatur, Carbondale, and Marion—dot the central and southern portions of the state. As a part of the country’s interior plains, much of Illinois is flat prairie land. Once you’re out of the cities, the farmland extends for miles and miles.

People have found Illinois to be a welcoming and hospitable land for a long time. The record of human settlement extends way back in time. Archaeological findings at the Koster Site in western Illinois document human activity dating back 7,000 years. Cahokia, located in southern Illinois near St. Louis, Missouri, was the largest Native American city of the Mississippian culture. Not surprisingly, Cahokia has an important Save America’s Treasures site. We’ll be visiting there.

For more professional orientation to Illinois tourism, visit Enjoy Illinois, the official website of the Illinois Office of Tourism.  For more detailed information on Chicago vacation, try Explore Chicago or Chicago Traveler for advice on events, transportation, hotels, and restaurants.

Our Tour America’s History exploration of Illinois’ 32 Save America’s Treasures sites begins on Thursday.

Greetings from Chicago, Illinois!

Tour America's History Itinerary
Thursday’s destination:  Newberry Library, Ayer American Indian Collection

© 2012 Lee Price

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

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

The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.
Photo courtesy of the Wadsworth Atheneum.

The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
600 Main Street
Hartford, CT

The Treasure:  The Wadsworth Atheneum was the first public art museum in the United States.  Over 165 years after its founding, it’s still one of the country’s best.

Accessibility:  The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is open Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 11 to 5 and Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 5. On first Thursdays, the museum is open until 8.

Background:  It’s almost as if Daniel Wadsworth (1771-1848) willed the Hudson River School into being. Wadsworth was still a boy when the American Revolution changed the nature of his homeland. Casting their lot with the Patriot cause, his wealthy family successfully navigated the stormy political waters. Everything was in Wadsworth’s favor. As a young man, he had vast wealth, the respect due his family’s service, and a new country to lead into the future.

Wadsworth did become an influential leader, but the degree of his impact upon the country has always been easy to overlook. He didn’t go into politics, and he didn’t become a captain of industry. Instead he traveled much and dabbled in the arts. But he quietly cultivated an important vision—a celebration of his country’s natural landscape as a core part of America’s cultural identity. Wadsworth embraced the emerging European interest in the sublime (artistic representations of the power and vastness of nature) and felt that his nation offered landscapes that could truly capture nature’s grandeur. Unfortunately, he didn’t possess the artistic talent to paint this vision on canvas himself.

When Wadsworth learned that the painter Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was working to capture the American sublime, Wadsworth offered his friendship and his financial patronage. With his backing, Cole painted a series of works that launched the movement that came to be known as the Hudson River School.

Wadsworth’s art collection was eclectic, with European old masters, American historical paintings, and these new contemporary American landscapes. At the age of 70, he announced that he was committed to using his art collection as the core of a new public institution to promote the nation’s culture. Ultimately, Wadsworth hoped to promote a distinctively American culture for a new country—a culture with strong roots in its own native wilderness.

Opened to the public in 1844, the Wadsworth Atheneum has grown enormously over the past century and a half. Thanks to many generous patrons, the museum’s holdings became genuinely encyclopedic—one of the greatest art museums in the country. The collections are strong in contemporary art, surrealism, Old Masters, European and American decorative arts, and, of course, the Hudson River School that Daniel Wadsworth was so influential in nurturing. Today, the Hudson River School collection at the Wadsworth Atheneum includes more than 65 paintings, including works by Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, John Frederick Kensett, Sanford Robinson Gifford, Martin Johnson Heade, and Worthington Whittredge.

Thomas Cole
American (born England), 1801-1848
Mount Etna from Taormina, 1843
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase, 1844.6

Notes from the Editor:  When the Wadsworth Atheneum opened in 1844, it enticed the public with its 79 paintings and three sculptures. The collection has grown a bit since then…

Today, the encyclopedic collection is home to more than 50,000 works of art. There are more than 1,000 paintings, 400 sculptures and 4,000 works on paper in the American art collection; about 900 paintings, 500 sculptures, and 3,500 works on paper in the European art collection; and large collections of American and European decorative arts, Colt firearms, and costumes and textiles.

Here’s a brief sampling of some of the museum’s American highlights, selected by the Wadsworth Atheneum Curatorial Department:

Frederic Edwin Church
American, 1826-1900
Vale of St. Thomas, Jamaica, 1867
Oil on canvas
Bequest of Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, 1905.21

Ralph Earl
American, 1751-1801
Oliver Ellsworth and Abigail Wolcott Ellsworth, 1792
Oil on canvas
Gift of the Ellsworth Heirs, 1903.7

Winslow Homer
American, 1836-1910
The Nooning, c. 1872
Oil on canvas
The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund, 1947.1

Fall-Front Desk, c. 1870
American, Madison County, Mississippi
William Howard (c. 1805 - after 1870)
Southern yellow pine, salvaged crate wood, and varnish
The Elijah K. and Barbara A. Hubbard Decorative Arts
Fund, the Evelyn Bonar Storrs Trust Fund,
and the Douglas Tracy Smith and
Dorothy Potter Smith Fund, 2012.2.1

Jazz Bowl, 1931
American, Rocky River, Ohio
Designed by Viktor Schreckengost (1906-2008)
Made at the Cowan Pottery Studio
Glazed earthenware
Gift of Owen and Elizabeth Hedden, 1999.34.1

Other Recommended Sites:  In 1844, the Wadsworth Atheneum building included rooms for the use of the Connecticut Historical Society, the Natural History Society of Hartford, and the Hartford Young Men’s Institute. By 1964, these institutions had moved to new homes.

The Hartford Young Men’s Institute evolved into the Hartford Public Library. In 1892, the library moved from the Wadsworth Atheneum into its first dedicated library building.

The Connecticut Historical Society is one of the state’s most venerable institutions, founded in 1825 and committed to preserving the state’s history. Today, the Connecticut Historical Society offers a library and museum with permanent and changing exhibitions that highlight their significant collections.

East view of the Morgan Memorial at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.
Photo courtesy of the Wadsworth Atheneum.

Tour America's History Itinerary
Tuesday’s destination:  Next stop:  Illinois!

© 2012 Lee Price

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Rogers Studio and Museum

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

The John Rogers Studio.
Photo courtesy of the New Canaan Historical Society.

New Canaan Historical Society, Rogers Studio and Museum
13 Oenoke Ridge Road
New CanaanCT

The Treasure:  Maintained by the New Canaan Historical Society, the John Rogers Studio and Museum preserves the working environment of a beloved artist of the mid- to late 19th century.

Accessibility:  The New Canaan Historical Society is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 9:30 to 4:30 and Saturdays from 9:30 to 12:30. Tours of the John Rogers Studio are by appointment only. Contact the New Canaan Historical Society to make an appointment!

Background:  Marble and brass sculptures were enormously popular in the 19th century.  Cities and towns, businesses, and the wealthiest citizens often bought or commissioned statues from the period’s most eminent sculptors. But these sculptures were out of reach for most households.

John Rogers in 1904.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons
John Rogers (1829-1904) had dreams of being a famous sculptor but realized early on that he would be unable to compete with the academically-trained artists who routinely received the major commissions. Employed by the city of Chicago, he sculpted smaller figures in clay as a hobby. At the age of 30, his sculpture “The Checker Players” proved popular at a local charity fair and then his follow-up, a “Slave Auction” piece, gained attention at an exhibit in New YorkRogers quit his job to be a sculptor—but a different kind of sculptor than the ones who received the prestigious jobs and the critical accolades.

Rogers astutely targeted the emerging middle class. Working in the relatively inexpensive medium of painted plaster, he realized that he could create attractive parlor pieces that could retail for $15 or even a little less. While this was a significant sum for a middle class family, it placed attractive sculpture within their reach. For his subjects, Rogers naturally gravitated toward patriotic, sentimental, and comic themes entirely in keeping with the popular tastes of his day.

Over a nearly 35-year career, Rogers sculpted 86 different scenes (popularly known as “Rogers Groups”), most of them suggesting a short simple-to-understand story—in much the same folksy way as the later Norman Rockwell paintings. He gained fame and popularity with his Civil War groups sculpted during the war, and then moved on to homespun pieces with names like “Weighing the Baby,” “Neighboring Pews,” “The Traveling Magician,” and “The Checker Players.” His all-time bestseller was “Coming to the Parson,” produced in 1870, which sold approximately 8,000 copies over twenty years.

A selection of Rogers Groups at the John Rogers Studio and Museum.
Photo courtesy of the New Canaan Historical Society.

Notes from the Editor:  John Rogers understood the product he was selling and the audience that he intended it for. In his words, he aimed to capture “the little moments in life, humorous and sentimental, events which make up a lifetime.” He steadfastly maintained, “Home scenes interest everybody.”

Even though life has changed enormously in the past 125 years, the little stories of Rogers’ sculptures remain instantly identifiable—and retain their charm as well.

First offered by Rogers in 1870, "Coming to the Parson" was
his most popular piece, selling approximately 8,000 copies.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

"Checkers on the Farm," a Rogers Group from 1875.  Here's a
link to a video celebration of this particular piece, courtesy
of the New-York Historical Society.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

"Weighing the Baby," a popular Rogers Group from 1876.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Other Recommended Sites:  The John Rogers Studio is one of two National Historic Landmarks in New Canaan. The other National Historic Landmark is the Glass House, architect Philip Johnson’s iconic declaration of International Style principles. As its name indicates, it is a house made of glass, with no interior walls to block the view. The effect from inside the pavilion is to create a serene center to contemplate the surrounding landscape. The National Trust for Historic Preservation maintains the Glass House and the other Johnson architectural structures on the property, using them to interpret modern architecture, landscape, and art.

A corner of the Rogers Studio and Museum, decorated with his Rogers Groups.
Photo courtesy of the New Canaan Historical Society.

Tour America's History Itinerary
Wednesday’s destination:  Wadsworth Atheneum

© 2012 Lee Price