Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Video: Behind the Scenes at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Friday, June 23, 2017

Susan reporting,

Consider this both a Friday Video, and a super-duper Breakfast Links.

Recently Google launched a new project through their Arts & Culture program. Called "We Wear Culture: The Stories Behind What We Wear" - the landing-page link is here - the program features scores of links to videos, articles, and on-line exhibitions that highlight fashion, material culture, and clothing, both past and present. Links will lead to museums, collections, and institutions from all over the world, and cover everything from modern fashion trendsetters to the most ancient of textile crafts. There is so much to explore - be prepared to spend some time!

The video, above, is a taste of what you'll find. This is a short behind-the-scenes look at the Conservation Laboratory of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, and features several garments that presented special challenges. A hint for viewing this video (and it took me a few tries to figure this out!): use the navigation tool in the upper corner to go right and reach each new segment. I remember seeing the Worth gown on display as part of last year's "Masterpieces" exhibition, and the solution to the gown's issues was wonderfully unobtrusive, and a sympathetic way to present a still-beautiful, if damaged, garment.

If you receive this post via email, you may be seeing an empty space or black box where the video should be. Click here to go directly to the video.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Wallace Collection

Thursday, June 22, 2017
Loretta reports from London:

Though I had already put the Wallace Collection on my list of must-sees, the enthusiasm of our guide on a Marylebone walking tour led us to seek it out sooner rather than later.

As we came through the entrance, I think my head snapped back, and I had an image of myself with my eyes popping out of my head like a cartoon character. I've been to quite a few stately homes and museums, but I must say that none quite matched the visual impact of this. Though no photos can fully capture the experience, these will, I hope, offer a sense of the house. I also urge you to explore the website.

Meanwhile, we have our fingers crossed that time and circumstances will allow us to go back before we have to leave London.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When the Other Army Triumphs: The Benjamin Ring House & the Battle of Brandywine, 1777

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Susan reporting,

Wars are fought by armies, soldiers, and generals, but too often civilians in the path of battles suffer, too.

Earlier this year I wrote about Gideon Gilpin, a Quaker farmer and his young family living near present-day Chadds Ford, PA. In 1777, the Gilpins found themselves in the middle of the Battle of Brandywine, the largest land battle (in number of men) of the American Revolutionary war. As a Friend, Gilpin followed his religious beliefs and refused to choose one side over the other in the conflict, and was distrusted by both the British and Continental Armies. When the battle was done, his farm was destroyed because of his pacifism, and he'd lost all his crops and his livestock as well.

The Gilpin family's nearest neighbors, also Friends, made a different choice. Benjamin Ring was far more prosperous and established than Gideon Gilpin. Not only did he own a 150-acre farm, but also three mills: a fulling mill (for woolen cloth), a tannery, and a sawmill. The Rings' house was nearly double the size of the Gilpin's home, and more elegant, too, with more and larger rooms and handsome woodwork. The Ring family had six children, and the household also included two indentured servants.

But when the Revolution began, Benjamin Ring decided to go against his beliefs as a Friend, and side with the Continental forces. Both he and his two older sons were on the local militia rolls, meaning that they were willing to bear arms. For this, Ring and his sons were read out of their Meeting (banished from their Quaker congregation). When Commander-in-Chief General George Washington and his officers came to reconnoiter the area near the Ring farm in anticipation of a major battle, Ring welcomed them into his home, offered them hospitality, and supplied them with information. Soon after, in early September, 1777, Washington returned with his army, determined to stop General Sir William Howe from taking Philadelphia. The Continental forces numbered about 11,000 men, facing approximately 15,000 British and Hessian soldiers.

The Ring house became the general's headquarters, and Mrs. Ring's parlor was the army's central office and the site of terse Councils of War. The general's tent was pitched behind the house, and the rest of the army camped nearby. (Among the youngest of the officers: Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, and the Marquis de Lafayette, recently commissioned as a major general.) For two days and nights, Mrs. Ring cooked for the general and his officers; the receipt (this is a copy, above right) for the payment for the six meals for thirty men still exists. On the morning of September 11, 1777, the day-long battle began.

While Mr. Ring and his older sons were with Washington's troops (and eventually advised the general on the best path for the army's retreat), Mrs. Ring and the younger children remained at the house. As the fighting drew closer, she decided to flee to the safety with her children, loading boxes of valuables and gold into a carriage. But she'd waited too long, and the road was now blocked with soldiers. Abandoning their carriage and belongings, they fled on foot across the fields to the relative safety of the nearby meetinghouse.

Meanwhile, fighting surrounded their now-empty house. The kitchen gardens were rutted and churned, stone walls were pitted by shot, and a cannonball left its mark on one of the gables. But more indignity followed after the Americans retreated, and the British claimed victory. The Ring property was singled out as the home of a traitor who'd supported the rebels. Everything inside it was either stolen or wantonly destroyed. All the farm's livestock was taken or slaughtered, and the orchards and surrounding fields of crops were burned. The contents of the three Ring mills were also destroyed and made unusable.

When the British finally left after three days and the Ring family returned, only the shell of their house remained. The Rings applied to Congress to be compensated for their losses, and were paid in near-worthless Continental bills. More heartbreaking sorrow came when their youngest daughter sickened and died from an illness left by the armies.

Yet Ring family tradition states that Benjamin Ring claimed to have no regrets about having aided Washington and the Continental cause. Standing in the ruins of her home with a dying child, I wonder if Mrs. Ring felt the same.

After the Battle of Brandywine, the house was repaired, and over time served as a tavern, hotel, and tenant farmer's housing. In the early 20thc, it became a tourist attraction as Washington's headquarters, operated by historian, teacher, and preservationist Christian C. Sanderson. In 1931, the house suffered a devastating fire, and fell into overgrown ruins. Eighteen years later, the State of Pennsylvania purchased the property, and rebuilt the house to reflect its appearance in 1777. It is now open to visitors as part of Brandywine Battlefield Park, which this fall will be the center of a major reenactment of the battle.

Coming next week: A first-person recollection by one of the Rings' younger sons who watched the battle - and the destruction of his home - from the branches of a nearby peach tree.

Many thanks to Andrew Outten, director of education & museum services at Brandywine Battlefield Park, for his excellent tour and additional information for this post.

Photos ©2017 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Andrew Ducrow, the Great Equestrian of Astley's Amphitheatre

Monday, June 19, 2017
Loretta reports from London:

Say you're recovering from a migraine. Do you lie languishing upon your sofa, or, when your husband says he's going for a tour of Kensal Green Cemetery, do you swallow another pill and put on your walking shoes? Gentle readers will know what my decision was. I mean, if you're going to expire from a migraine, why not do it in a cemetery where Royal Dukes and Princesses and many famous and infamous persons are buried?

Actually, I had recovered by then and was able to give the tour my full attention. On another post I may talk about the cemetery itself, but today I want to focus on Andrew Ducrow's mausoleum.  First of all, Mr. Ducrow's wife and the theater he managed--Astley's Amphitheatre--play a role in my third Dressmakers book, Vixen in Velvet. Second, it appealed to my love of everything exuberantly over the top--which it is,  even by Regency/Victorian standards. The Duke of Portland has a plain, pink granite monument. The Duke of Cambridge has an elegant but simple mausoleum. Not Mr. Ducrow.

The epitaph his second wife, Louisa Woolford (who performs in my book) wrote is modest by comparison:

"Within this tomb, erected by Genius, for the reception of its own remains, are deposited those of Andrew Ducrow, many years lessee of the Royal Amphitheatre, London; whose death deprived the arts and sciences of an eminent professor and liberal patron, his family of an affectionate husband and father, and the world of an upright man.

"He was born in London, 10th October, 1793. and died 27th January, 1842; and, to commemorate such virtues, his afflicted widow has erected this tribute."

The London Dead blog post link given above has several images of the Ducrows in performance.There are more images here at the Victorian Web, with some explanations of the various funereal ornaments.  And here's a bit more, with a map.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of June 12, 2017

Saturday, June 17, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Strong constitutions: that time when the Founding Fathers racked up a huge bar tab.
The liberated wife who inspired Wonder Woman.
Julia Grant's eyes: a love story.
The etiquette of the Victorian ballroom: twenty tips for single gentleman.
• Stunning 1870 solar system quilt combines needlework and astronomy.
• Ah, the Enlightenment with Thomas Jefferson: when discussing how shells might have spontaneously appeared on land made more sense than geological time.
Image: Colorful summer fashions via The Delineator, July 1915.
• The mother of all apples is disappearing.
• A color chart for woolen cloth from the early 18thc, including the delightful "Gall Stone Brown."
Victorian Monopoly: from The Strand to Jail.
• An early 14thc wonder: the 53-ft tall bishop's throne canopy at Exeter Cathedral.
• The umbrella as a weapon (and why not?)
Image: Swatches of Marie-Antoinette's dresses, preserved in the Archives Nationales.
• The feminist legacy of The Baby-Sitters Club.
For decades inconvenient wives or relatives were committed to the Bloomingdale Lunatic Asylum.
• Before the garden gnome, there was the ornamental hermit.
• A 14thc garden of love and earthly delights in a flowery mead.
• For Poldark fans: explore the 18thc history behind the show.
Image: Women's March, 17thc style: an army of women confront an army of monsters in this illustration from a 17thc pamphlet.
• Artist Mucha and his muse, pioneers of the Art Nouveau movement.
• A travel guide: the British tourist and Napoleonic Milan.
• From disinfectors to mush-fakers, photographs of real life on the streets of Victorian London.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection
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