Thursday
Aug062009

Captain Palmer House, Stonington, CT

Built in 1852, this house was the home for two brothers, both sea captains. They originally named the house “Pine Point” after the area between the 2 coves of Stonington.

The house has 16 rooms and was considered a marvel in its time. One bedroom contains a sink with running water, fed by a cistern on the roof which held rainwater. The Captain’s office has a built-in desk within a closet; another room has a china closet.

The older brother, Captain Nathaniel Brown Palmer, inadvertently earned fame--he landed on Antarctica during a sailing expedition for seals. He didn’t know that’s where he was until later. Today, a section of land in Antarctica is named “Palmer Land” in honor of him.

 

Monday
Jul272009

Gilbert Stuart Homestead, Saunderstown, Rhode Island

Gilbert Stuart (December 3, 1755 – July 9, 1828) gained fame for his many portraits of George Washington. His most famous portrait is the Athenaeum Portrait. His father immigrated from Scotland in 1751 and built the mill shown in these pictures. The mill was a business venture with a partner to produce snuff from tobacco. The younger Stuart was a prodigious artist and painted the portrait of Washington that was used on the one-dollar bill.

Saturday
Jul182009

Vanderbilt Hyde Park Cottage

Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt bought a home on this site in 1895. The original home was in bad shape, so the Vanderbilts demolished it and built this mansion in its place. It was designed by McKim, Mead and White after the syle of a European country estate. The Vanderbilts, being new money, craved what they were not: noble ancestry. Thus, money was not enough. They strove to acquire the veneer of nobility by living the lifestyle, acquiring the material possessions, and marrying into European lineage as much as possible.

In this mansion, all the furnishings are European, the exceptions being two sofas in the main hall. This, in spite the fact that the most prized furnishings then and now are American antiquities. The building represents the state of the art in modern construction techniques of the time: steel construction, central heating, interior plumbing, electricity, and its own electric generation facility.

Thursday
Jul162009

Stonington, Connecticut Stoneware

What gets your attention in stoneware? The artwork? The rarity of the vessel? The condition? Those are the ususal guidelines for late-ninteenth-century stoneware. But that's also the era of consolidated, big-production potteries. Competition was more intense. Production had to be higher. But before the 1850's, the landscape was different. The States pottery in Stonington Connecticut is an example. In business from 1780 - 1834, it's the kind of pottery we don't see very often. It didn't feature very interesting cobalt slip artwork. But it did feature something you rarely see post-1850: incised art. Incised or scribed art is more time-consuming. Thus, the big potteries abandoned it in favor of slip decoration. The age and incised decoration make these vessels prized by collectors. The prices reflect it. These pieces, when in good condition and when featuring an incised animal, can easily fetch five figure prices. 

 

 

The States pottery carried the names A. States, A. States & Co., W. States, and Swan & States, Stonington. The clay used for these pieces was imported to Connecticut from New York and New Jersey.

The pottery works don't feature very elaborate decoration. The artisans decorated with cobalt slip at the base of the handles or splashed through the stamped name. And yes, sometimes these pieces have incised decorations.

 

States ovoid jug with incised bird decoration

Thursday
May282009

Peter Wentz Farmstead, Pennsylvania

 

The Peter Wentz Farmstead, Worcester (Montgomery County), PA.A few weeks ago, we visited The Peter Wentz Farmstead in Montgomery County, PA. This little treasure gained its fame as Washington’s headquarters during the Pennsylvania Campaign in the fall of 1777. For this reason, it has survived in good condition. This leads to its value as a study in English/German architecture and decorative arts.

Peter Wentz was an affluent man of German descent. Judging by the English and German influences in the architecture, he seemed to embrace both cultures. He inherited the farmstead in 1749 and performed improvements to the buildings at that time. In 1969, the Montgomery County Commissioners purchased the farmstead and later began a serious restoration of the property. That was a time when advanced surface conservation techniques emerged. These techniques led to the surprising discovery of bright and bold paint colors on the original surface. Sound familiar? We love those original painted surfaces--especially if they've been preserved by later coats of paint.

In 1777, Washington established a base at the farmstead. During the fall there, he made plans to recapture Germantown (Philadelphia). It’s also where he got news of General Gates’ defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga—the turning point of the American Revolution.

Peter sold the farmstead in 1784 to move to a smaller home, where he died in 1793.