Sunday, July 23, 2017

Still Fishin'

Sunday, July 23, 2017
Our fishin' trip continues - but never fear, we'll be returning to blogging next week with a fresh batch of Breakfast Links, and new posts to follow.

In the meantime, we invite you to explore our individual blogs for much more about our books and the stories, history, and research behind them:

Loretta's author blog.

Susan's author blog.

See you next week!

Left: Fishing by Daniel Ridgway Knight, c1890, private collection

Friday, July 14, 2017

Gone Fishin'

Friday, July 14, 2017
It's the middle of July, and we feel a bit of fishin' is in order. 

Loretta is continuing on her Grand Tour abroad, and Susan is heading off to the 18thc and Colonial Williamsburg. Seems like as good a time as any to take a short break from blogging and general social media-ing. Look for us to return later this month. 

Enjoy your summer!

Elegant Ladies Fishing by Georges-Jules-Victor Clarin, c1900. Image via Sotheby's.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The "Art & Mystery" of Cutting an 18thc Gown

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Susan reporting,

An 18thc mantua-maker (dressmaker) seldom shared the "art and mysteries" of her trade with her customers. It was hard-earned knowledge and skill, gained through an apprenticeship that might have lasted seven years, and it also benefited the business to keep a bit of alluring, magical mystery to her fashionable creations.

For the last five years, Sarah Woodyard, journey-woman in the mantua-making trade, Margaret Hunter Shop at Colonial Williamsburg (shown here in the floral short gown), has been studying different theories of cutting out 18thc gowns - the most important part of the "art and mystery" of dressmaking - and has agreed to share some of her research here.

There was, of course, no single way of cutting out an 18thc gown. Various mantua-makers would have devised methods that worked best for them, and even at the Margaret Hunter Shop, each mantua-maker has a favorite technique. However, Sarah's study of extant garments made her realize the importance of the linen linings in construction and fittings and, in best 18thc style, led her to develop her own favorite method. The technique is simple. Using linen, a less expensive fabric, the lining is cut out and used to establish the fit of the bodice and to "build' the outer garment on top of the lining. The lining becomes both the guide for the creation the gown, and the base for its structure. Not only would this method preserve the more costly outer fabric from being damaged by a slap-dash cutting mistake, but it was also an easier way to control the large amounts of fabric that created the volume of a sack or common gown.

The technique was also a time-saver for both a busy customer, and a mantua-maker determined to make the most of her sewing time. At every price point, women's clothing in the 18thc was fitted and cut on the individual body rather than on a dressmaker's form, ensuring a custom fit. By fitting just the lining on the customer, the rest of the gown could be cut and stitched without her presence until one more final fitting.

In these photographs, Sarah is shown fitting the plain linen lining for a polonaise jacket and matching petticoat on Aislinn Lewis, one of the blacksmiths at Colonial Williamsburg. This ensemble was one of Sarah's final apprenticeship projects completed to prover her skill and move up as a journey-woman. Sarah only required Aislinn for a fitting in the morning to cut the lining, and another in the afternoon for a sleeve fitting. That was all; Sarah was able to hand-sew and complete both pieces - made from pink changeable silk - in about thirty-six hours, including all the trimmings.

The same technique could be used to construct a gown for a woman unable to come in person to the mantua-maker's shop. For women who lived far from town, travel could be prohibitively difficult, and in many families the men traveled to town on business, while the women remained at home with the children.

The trade card, bottom right, for London mantua-maker M. Giles offers the same services for "Ladies residing in the Country [who] may be fitted in the exactest manner by sending with their Commands a Gown or Pair of Stays which fitts them."

As the advertisement shows, a woman could still have new clothing made by sending either an existing gown or a pair of stays to her mantua-maker. Stays were the 18thc version of a corset; no only were they, too, custom-fitted, but over time they assumed the shape of the wearer's body, and could serve as a good replica of her upper torso. Either way, the mantua-maker could use the existing garment to copy and cut a new lining as a pattern, and built a new gown from the lining out without an in-person fitting - and once again, fashion triumphed.

All photographs by Fred Blystone. Used with permission.
Trade card, 1770s, London, British Museum.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Albania's Bizarre Bunkers

Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Loretta reports from Europe:

The one previous time I was in Albania, it was a strictly Communist country, ruled by Enver Hoxha (pronounced Hoe-jah).  We young visitors--the first group allowed in who were not born there--were carefully shielded from the dark side of his rule. I can't remember if anybody asked about the strange mushroom-shaped structures on the mountainsides, on beaches, and various unexpected places.  I remember hearing about them later, from Albanian immigrants, who laughed (this was years later), though it wasn't funny at the time.

You can read about the bunkers here and here.

Though we saw at least a dozen in the course of our journey through Albania, this was most often when we were in the car, which is why I have so few photos.  This includes a fascinating group that were under covers while the road they sat by was under construction. One of my cousins joked, "They don't want them to get cold." It was one of the few jokes in Albanian I actually understood, and I think my laughter gratified him.

Please click on images to enlarge.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Eliza Schuyler & Alexander Hamilton: Love, A Miniature Portrait, & Fine Needlework, 1780

Sunday, July 9, 2017
Susan reporting,

True love, a war-time memento, and virtuoso needlework: inspiration doesn't get much better for me than that! This elaborately embroidered mat was stitched by a young woman in Albany, NY in 1780, specifically to surround the miniature portrait of her fiancé. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

The mat is worked in silk and metallic (now tarnished) threads, with metallic bobbin lace (also now tarnished) framing the miniature. The lace may have been a costly import - perhaps it had originally trimmed a gown - or it may have been worked by the young woman herself. The harmony of the design, the elegantly shaded colors, and the precision of the stitches all indicate that she possessed considerable skill with her needle as well as a flair for design.

There's also little doubt that this was a labor of love whose sheer exuberance (imagine how brilliant it must have been when the colors were still fresh and the metallic threads glittered!) threatens to overwhelm the tiny miniature, which is less than two inches in height. You can just tell that the young woman was dreaming of her beloved with every stitch she took. Perhaps she even kept the miniature nearby as inspiration.

Who were these two sweethearts? The needleworker was Elizabeth Schuyler, 22, and her fiancé was Lt. Colonel Alexander Hamilton, 23, who was serving in the Continental Army as an aide-de-camp to Commander-in-Chief Gen. George Washington. In 1780, the American Revolution was dragging through its sixth year, with no resolution in sight. The war had brought these two together - they had become engaged during the army's winter encampment earlier in the year - just as it also kept them apart during the summer and fall. Both had hoped for a quick wedding, but Alexander's military duties forced them to postpone their marriage until shortly before Christmas, 1780.

While Alexander was occupied with the war, Eliza had returned to her parents' home in Albany. They corresponded frequently, and though her letters no longer survive, his are filled with love and impatience. At one point during the summer and fall, she begged for him to have a miniature portrait of himself painted for her as a keepsake.

In this era before the constant imaging of cellphones, miniatures were the only small and portable reminders of a loved one's face available, much as daguerreotypes would a century later during the Civil War. In war-time, when a violent death or disfigurement could occur at any time, the significance of these mementos rose significantly. Enterprising American artist Charles Willson Peale held sittings in his Philadelphia studio as well as traveling to encampments during the war, painting miniatures of dozens of soldiers for the sum of $28 a piece - a not insignificant amount to young men in an army which was often late paying them.

Alexander had himself painted twice by Peale: once earlier in the war wearing his uniform, and this one that he sent to Eliza, where he is shown a blue coat and a red waistcoat, with his auburn-red hair elegantly powdered and curled. In a letter discussing their coming wedding, he offered to wear either his uniform or civilian clothing for the ceremony; he left the decision to her. Perhaps he had himself painted as a civilian to reassure her that he wouldn't always be a soldier, and that peace would come. It did, but not until after Alexander had fought heroically in the last major encounter of the war, the Battle of Yorktown, in 1781. To her joy, he survived unscathed, and came home to her - a home that always included this portrait and the needlework around it.

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, to be published in September, 2017, by Kensington Books.

Above: Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by Charles Willson Peale, c1780. 
Mat embroidered by Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, c1780. Both from the collection of the Office of Art Properties, Columbia University Libraries. Image copyright Columbia University Libraries.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of July 3, 2017

Saturday, July 8, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Before she was famous: Jane Austen in the newspapers.
Dolley Madison, Washington's first power hostess.
• "Full fathom five the poet lies": the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley.
• Everything has its history: a timeline of American burlesque.
• The dandies of White's in the Regency era.
Video: Rembrandt's self-portraits from age 22 until his death at age 63 in 1669.
• The dragons are back on the Great Pagoda, Kew Gardens, London.
• A treasury of historic clothing: undressing the royal and aristocratic funeral effigies in Westminster Abbey.
• An 1804 Regency recipe for Pomade Divine.
• The odd link between Thomas Hardy, the Man with Two Heads, and Mary Shelley.
Video: This writing table once belonged to Marie-Antoinette.
Image: Entertaining (and we hope posed!) c1900 photo of young women fooling around with firecrackers.
• Newly discovered schoolboy sketches by John Leech, illustrator for Charles Dickens.
• Even Founding Fathers can have their hearts broken: on the road through Europe with Gouverneur Morris.
• How did Word War One recruitment posters persuade Americans to enlist?
Image: Metal & leather convertible straight-backed steamer trunk, c1890.
• Searching for stolen Nazi gold and treasure in the mountains of Poland.
• The medical history of rhubarb around the world.
• Friends in grief: Martha Washington and Elizabeth Willing Powel.
Image: A silk textile curtain sewn into a 13thc Bible to protect the delicate gold leaf illumination.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

A Bit of Quick Shameless Self-Promotion: Enter to Win an ARC of "I, Eliza Hamilton"

Susan reporting,

Yes, I'm shamelessly self-promoting on this lazy July afternoon. But aren't you curious about what these two handsome gentlemen have found so intriguing?

My new historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, won't be published until September 26, but my publisher is hosting a contest to win an Advance Reading Copy now. Skip on over to Goodreads (you can also log in with a Facebook account) and enter before midnight Wednesday, July 12,  for a chance to win.

Good luck!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Friday Video: New York City in 1911

Friday, July 7, 2017
Susan reporting,

Because of copyright & ownership issues that prohibit embedding, you'll have to click here to watch today's video, but it's well worth it. This is another of the wonderful travelogues produced in the early twentieth century. This one was made by a team of cameramen with the Swedish company Svenska Biograteatern, who traveled around the world making films. Now in the collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art, the museum's description of the eight-minute travelogue is worth repeating:

"Opening and closing with shots of the Statue of Liberty, the film also includes New York Harbor; Battery Park and the John Ericsson statue; the elevated railways at Bowery and Worth Streets; Broadway sights like Grace Church and Mark Cross; the Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue; and Madison Avenue. Produced only three years before the outbreak of World War One, the everyday life of the city recorded here - street traffic, people going about their business - has a casual, almost pastoral quality....Take note of the surprising and remarkably timeless expression of boredom exhibited by a young girl filmed as she was chauffeured down Fifth Avenue in the front seat of a convertible limousine."

My favorite parts include the hats on every man (summer straw boaters, derbies, and everything in between) and woman (stupendous creations, with drifts of ribbons, flowers, and veils.) I also liked how, when the ferries dock, the vehicles that disembark are all drawn by horses. But I was most surprised by how little the cityscape has changed in the last century. Except for dodging trucks and taxis instead of horse-drawn wagons, in many ways walking the sidewalks of New York is still much the same experience it apparently always has been.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Meanwhile in Albania...

Thursday, July 6, 2017
Loretta reports:

I'm on the road, with terrific internet connections but little time for posting. There's been so much to see and do. Here are some things I've seen during my too brief time here. I plan to post in more detail after I'm home.

Castle of Gjirokaster.

Ancient city of Butrint. (This is just one tiny section of the excavation.)

Doorway of second school in which Albanians were finally educated in their own language. This is in Pogradec. 

Archaeology Museum in  Durres.

A little gorgeous scenery.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"Taking Sides with... the Rebel Congress & the Rebel Army" in 1777

Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Susan reporting,

For most American teenagers today, Independence Day and the Revolution it led to aren't things to be given much thought during summer vacation from school (unless they're Hamilfans, and then they're rapping the Revolution along with the HamiltonAn American Musical soundtrack.)

But for sixteen-year-old Samuel Ring, a young Quaker living near Chadds Ford, PA in 1777, the Revolution was unavoidable. He witnessed the Battle of Brandywine first-hand, and watched the British destroy his home afterwards. His family had dared to side with the Continental Army, and had been branded as traitors. (I've written before about the Ring family, here in this post.)

The following excerpt comes from recollections that were written by Samuel's son, also named Samuel, in 1859. The letters remain with his descendants, and a copy is now in the collection of the Brandywine Battlefield Park; to the best of their knowledge, these recollections haven't been published. Although written over 80 years after the battle, the details (like eating the peaches in his family's orchard, as well as the betrayal by their neighbors) are exactly what a teenager would remember.

On the morning of September 11,1777, Samuel's father and older brother had gone to serve Washington as guides to the area, while his mother and the younger children had fled their home to avoid the coming battle, first attempting to leave by carriage, and then escaping by foot over the fields. Too young to be with the army, yet too old to be with his mother, Samuel remained near the family's house.

"[Samuel] said that he left in a hurry in the morning, on some errand, with only shirt and pantaloons on, thinking nothing of what was coming, and before his return, the road was completely blocked [by soldiers]. There was no chance of approaching very near the house, so he made for the higher ground where he could view the contending armies, out of harm's way.

"He was in a peach tree with some others, eating peaches, when the Americans gave way; he never heard such a noise, it appeared as if all the fiends of the infernal regions were let loose. He quit eating, his heart seemed to sink, he knew that the enemies of his country had triumphed.

"[His] family was scattered and part did not know where the others were. All he had was on his back, and that was almost nothing; his home was in the hands of the enemy, and liable to be laid in ashes, which, indeed, a good part soon was.

"The British occupied the ground for three days and nights....When the British retired and [Samuel] returned home, desolation was complete. He thought of changing his clothes, but a glance at the house made him think it doubtful whether there were any left there for him.

"He went upstairs to his chest - it was open, the lid broken off, and not a vestige of anything in it, and indeed not an article of clothing of any sort remained about the house. The beds [mattresses] had been ripped open, the feathers strewed over the yard (they had had about a dozen good beds) and not a sign of either beds or bedsteads [remained]. The latter had been used for fuel...and not a rail was left – all burned. Not a fowl, sheep, or hog was left on the place...the yard and fields torn up by the horse and baggage wagons and common carriages. [The British] had used a part of the house as a stable. Desolation reigned, and the work of the destroyer complete.

"[Samuel's son later] asked him if that was the way the neighborhood had been served generally, and he said it was quite different with some, their property was respected and a guard put over it, and the smallest thing left unharmed.

"[Samuel's son] asked the cause of this (being quite small and [knowing] little of such things, and [Samuel had answered] that his father favored the side of the colonies in every way, so far as his religion would permit, and many thought he went farther in his politics than he ought in taking sides with what was called the Rebel Congress and Rebel Army, and the fact of Gen. Washington having his headquarters for the time being at our house when he came to view the battlefield - and there is no doubt that had he been victorious he would have taken up his headquarters there again; all this the British general knew. There were scores in the neighborhood ready to carry news, and this was the cause of the destruction of [his father's] property. Whilst others were protected, he was pointed out as a rebel and his property given over to the enemy for destruction...."

Although the Ring farm was looted and vandalized and the contents of the house destroyed, the stone house itself survived. A restoration of the house is today part of Brandywine Battlefield Park, and is open to the public. See here for more information. A major reenactment of the battle to mark its 240th anniversary will take place this fall; see here for more information.

Many thanks to Andrew Outten for his assistance with this post.

Above: "The Nation Makers" by Howard Pyle, c1902, Brandywine River Museum of Art.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Green Cab Shelters

Monday, July 3, 2017
Loretta reports from London:

Some while ago, I reported on hackney coach stands and the watermen who attended them. Comments on that blog post alerted me to the green cab shelters created in the Victorian era to allow cabbies to get some refreshment and take shelter from bad weather. I put these green huts on my list of things to look out for in London.

This one is on The Kensington Road, near the Palace Gate, opposite the Albert Hall. I've seen others while riding on buses--not the ideal situation for taking photos. But, yes, they are there, and as far as I can make out, given the way roads have come and gone in London, a number remain at their 19th C locations.

You can read all about these cab shelters here at Cabbie Blog (it's pretty wonderful, and if anything will make you loyal to these true London cabbies, who spend years obtaining The Knowledge, this will). Several times on our walks through London, we saw men on scooters with maps sticking up from the handlebars: They were learning the streets, gaining The Knowledge.

Please click on images to enlarge.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of June 25, 2017

Saturday, July 1, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Stalking Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1838...or maybe it wasn't a fan?
• Revealing the face of Tudor Dublin.
• Oh, patch. That time when the French aristocracy was obsessed with fancy face stickers.
• Finding Elizabeth Hooten, an itinerant prophet in 17thc New England.
• The Wynyard Ghost story.
Image: Spectacular 1750s court mantua.
• The wine-fueled destruction of Charles II's fantastic sundial.
• Joseph Crouch, "a Body Snatcher since a child."
• A feline Scottish war veteran was one of the "famous cats of New England", 1921.
• Indomitable women: American trailblazers, Mexican revolutionaries, and death.
Blackballed in Regency England.
Daniel Boone's homestead: a Kentucky frontiersman's Pennsylvania roots.
• Stitching history: ashion sketches made decades ago by a Holocaust victim finally brought to life.
Marie Antoinette and her Hameau de la Reine.
Image: Patchwork dressing gown made for a recuperating World War One soldier by his mother.
• Ten reasons why Gouverneur Morris was the oddest of the Founding Fathers.
• A brief history of the Napoleonic Wars told in ten hand-held fans.
Aphra Behn, the 17thc spy who became the first successful female professional writer.
• How did the Elizabethans spend their summers?
• How Regency clothing was cleaned and repaired.
• How an electrician's visit led to the discovery of Toronto's oldest home.
Image: Gorgeous! Angel Oak tree in South Carolina is 1,500 years old.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, June 30, 2017

Casual Friday: Victorian Jewellery at the Museum of London

Friday, June 30, 2017
Loretta reports from London:

Today's photos: some Victorian bling from the Museum of London. Below, in order:
gold tourmaline jewelry c. 1860, in original case; tiara front or comb mount c.1840; brooch and earrings c. 1850 (gold set with aquamarines, rubies, and foiled quartz).  Unfortunately, I seem not to have collected correct info for the last item. Labeling in the museum is not very detailed, but you can contact them for more specifics, if you're curious.

I apologize for any confusion and lack of story in these posts: Blogger hates my iPad and vice versa. This combined with a dial-up internet connection makes posting an ordeal.

Please click on images to enlarge.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Looking Backwards & Forwards at History at Valley Forge

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Susan reporting,

The perception of the historical past is always changing. Each new generation looks at history with fresh eyes, and fresh ideas, too.

Nowhere is this more evident than in how we Americans have treated our historically important buildings. In the years following the American Revolution, many of the place we now venerate most were simply old buildings, allowed to grow more shabby by the year.

Portions of Independence Hall in Philadelphia - the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence - had already fallen into such disrepair that they were torn down in 1812. Federal Hall in New York City - home of the first Congress as well as where George Washington was inaugurated as the first president - was also demolished barely a generation later in 1812. Built in 1713, the Old State House in Boston witnessed the Boston Massacre, but was later cut up into shops and businesses, and finally suffered the ultimate indignity of having a subway station built into its basement.

But the Centennial celebrations of 1876 brought a new interest in preserving the past. Older buildings were finally beginning to be recognized and preserved for their historical importance. Sometimes, however, these early preservationists often relied on a romanticized version of the 18thc, with some interesting  results.

The present-day Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania first became recognized as a state park focused on history in 1893. Then, as now, the centerpiece of the park was the stone farm house used by General George Washington as his headquarters during the Continental Army's winter encampment of 1777-78. Also known as the Isaac Potts House for the original owner, the Headquarters was occupied not only General Washington, but by his wife Martha Washington, seven aides-de-camp, servants, and occasional visitors.  The house is not large, especially not considering how many people were squeezed inside it, and from contemporary reports, quarters were cramped, and tempers often ran short.

But you'd never guess it from the way the house was decorated and presented to the public in the early 20thc. The photo, right, on display in the information center near the Headquarters, shows the parlor as a genteel, white-washed room decorated in the best Colonial Revival style, complete with a spinning wheel and yarn-winder for processing homespun fibers (no mention of whom was doing all that spinning.) The original caption declares it to be a view of the "parlor and secret passage." But as the modern caption in the information center dryly notes:

"When [the house] opened as a museum, explanations of the way the house had been used as a military headquarters were fanciful. The hallway identified here as a 'Secret Passage' was, in fact, an entrance used by those arriving by carriage in the 18thc."

Based on research, archeology, and paint-sampling, the same room is interpreted today, upper and lower left, as the busy hub of the military camp. There are chairs, tables, and desks strewn with letters, pens, and books, with charts and maps pinned to the walls. The white dishes on the shelves are reproductions of what was used in the house in 1777. It's a lively room, and has the distinct feeling that the occupants have only stepped out for a moment, soon to return. To 2017 eyes, it feels authentic.

But I wonder if those young officers stationed here in 1777 would agree. Would they feel at home in this modern recreation? Or would aspects of it appear as peculiar to them as the spinning wheel now does to us in the early 20thc picture? And I wonder, too, how this same room will be presented in 2117....

Middle photo: Valley Forge NHP.
Photos upper & lower left: ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Churchill War Rooms

Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Loretta reports from London:

Fairly early on in our time in London, we visited the Churchill War Rooms. This happened a few days after the attack at London Bridge, and made perfectly clear, in case we hadn't already realized, what it really means to be a "city under siege." As in, when bombs are falling and invasion is a definite possibility.

"The story of the Churchill War Rooms is ... one of brilliant improvisation in the face of deadly necessity," according to the guidebook. You can read a short history of its creation here, and learn more about it on the website. I'm going to do my usual while abroad with extremely low speed internet and alien computer technology, and offer pictures.

What I will point out is, not until you get down into this claustrophobic space, think about the numbers of people working here every day and night in secret, read the signs, see the working conditions, and so on, do you have the beginnings of a clue about what it might have been like to get through that war. I choked up more than once, thinking about the courage and endurance of these heroes.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

What Story Is This 18thc Painting Telling?

Sunday, June 25, 2017
Susan reporting,

Earlier in the year, I posted this painting on Instagram along with close-ups of various details. The painting is so intriguing that I'm going to assemble my rambling observations here as a blog post as well - please feel free to offer your own interpretations! (And, as always, click on the images to enlarge them.)

The artist is Louis Rolland Trinquesse (c1746-1800), a Frenchman who specialized in creating titillating scenes like this that his wealthy patrons craved. With that in mind, I doubt that the title the painting has now - An Elegant Interior with Two Ladies and a Gentleman - was what it was originally called. I'm sure it went by something much more suggestive and saucy; that's just the kind of picture it is.

The gentleman is clearly a good "friend," and has been granted the intimacy of being here in the boudoir of the woman in pink while she dresses. We'll call her the mistress of the house, and I'd guess that she may be (or has been) his mistress as well. This could be an expensively appointed room in their love-nest, or it could be the house she shares with an absent husband. She's wearing a sheer white dressing robe to protect her gown as she arranges her hair and make-up - another sign of intimacy.

But while the man is doing his best to press his advantage - he's leaning into her, his foot nearly touches hers, and his hand is almost on her knee - the  mistress doesn't seem entirely pleased that he's there. She's paying more attention to repairing her somewhat mussed hair and cap than to him. Her tiny feet in seductively high-heeled mules do point towards him, but her legs are firmly crossed at the knee.

Meanwhile, the maidservant (and despite the painting's current title, she is definitely a servant from her dress) seems to be watching the other two with sly interest. She definitely Knows Things, and has probably Seen Things, too, and she'd be perfectly happy to tell them. Note how familiarly she's leaning on the back of her mistress's chair. She's probably wearing her cast-off clothing, as was a common practice among lady's maids, and her cap is nearly as impressive as the one her mistress is wearing. But the front of the maid's pinner apron seems loose, even rumpled, and without that flat, straight front that 18thc stays gave to every woman's torso. Has she left off her stays? Is her body uncorseted, and agreeable available beneath her gown? Maybe she's plotting to take her mistress's place in the man's attentions and his bed - or perhaps she already has.

Outside the window, the sun is either setting, or rising. Does it signify the beginning of an affair, or the end of it? Is the the aftermath of a nigh-long dalliance that the mistress is already regretting, or is she wrestling with her consciences, and wondering whether to give in to the man's persuasive seduction? Consider how she's holding that elaborate cap on her equally elaborate hair with one hand, while taking a pin from the pin cushion with the other (she would have used ordinary straight pins to anchor the cap to her hair.) Would she use one of those pins to jab his wrist if his hand creeps too close?

The fluttering pages of the open book in the background imply an unfinished story. It also appears as if the green drape around the mistress's looking glass on her dressing table has been pulled to cover the glass entirely. Is her conscience so unsettled that she doesn't want to confront her own reflection?

One final thing to note: the large incense burner (the peculiar item on the tripod stand in the foreground) is smoking: richly, luxuriantly, fragrantly. And where's there's smoke....

So what story do you see when you look at this painting?

Above: An Elegant Interior with Two Ladies and a Gentleman by Louise Rolland Trinquess, 1776, The Wadsworth Atheneum.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of June 18, 2017

Saturday, June 24, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
Kate Warne, the first female detective in the United States.
Jane Austen, war novelist and worldly businesswoman.
• A rare deposition from the Salem Witch trials that helped sentence an elderly widow to death is to be sold.
Image: Stunning 1856 photo of Queen Victoria with George III's daughter Princess Mary (Minnie.)
• Changes on the land: 19th American photography east of the Mississippi.
• An 18thc tartan frock coat that may have been worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie himself.
• How a fragment of Chinese wallpaper at Uppark can be a piece in a continent-wide puzzle.
Image: An early 19thc view of Sadler's Wells Theatre.
Spy techniques of the American Revolution.
• Protection and punishment: beliefs about angels in Tudor & Stuart England.
• The painted leg: liquid stockings of the 1940s.
• Mud, sweat, and fears: the making of a Japanese kimono.
• Architect Mary Colter was "a surly woman who cursed with abandon" - and designed pioneering National Park structures that blended into the environment.
• Striking portraits of ancient people in this collection of Fayum portraits.
Image: Surely this "Mosco Silk" shawl was unusual in 1804 Portland, Maine.
• How Tories used money and influence to win an 1816.
Rayon, an epidemic of insanity, and the woman who fought to expose it.
• The comforts of home on the battlefield: an 18thc folding camp bed used by General George Washington.
Umbrella etiquette and manners in the 19thc.
• Remembering Bingo, a trench dog and mascot of World War One.
Mary Katherine Goddard, the printer of the first broadside of the Declaration of Independence to list signers.
Image: Just for fun: Civil status, according to Jane Austen. And while we're at it, how about these hints on achieving a Regency Beach Body.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

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.
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