Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Portrait of the Week - Seeing Double

Dearest Friends,
Our portrait of the week is actually two women presented in the same manner by the same artist and was perhaps married to to same man OR maybe the second portrait is not who it appears to be.  So I present to you an identity mystery to solve.

Portrait# 1

Mrs. John Lothrop nee Mary Jones by John Durand, National Gallery of Art c 1770
Mary Jones was born on December 12, 1743, daughter of Timothy Jones and Jane Harris.  She married John Lathrop in 1764 and died in 1773, after a "long and painful sickness" at the age of 30. Here is her obituary from the Connecticut Journal 5/21/1773.

Portrait #2

Mary Lathrop or Susannah Bontecou Lothrop c 1768-1770 by John Durand - Metropolitan Museum of Art

"Deja vu all over again!" The information on this second, almost identical, portrait is a little sketchy.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art has it listed as Susannah or Mary Bontecou.  Though according to Deborah Chotner, author of America Naive Paintings (National Gallery of Art), the woman in Portrait #1 is John Lathrop's first wife, Mary and Portrait #2, is Mary Bontecou Lathrop, John's second wife, who he had married by 1774 and John had her portrait painted in a similar style by the same artist.

In checking the Bontecou genealogy, there is a listing for a daughter (name and other information unknown) who was "married to a John Lothrop, cabinet maker".  And family lore has it that there was a portrait of her that was said to have been damaged in a raid by the British in 1779. Apparently later, family members fessed up that it was they who had damaged it -- they used to shoot arrows at it when it was stored in their attic. So is this that portrait of Daughter Bontecou who married John Lathrop?  And did poor bereaved John Lothrop really have his second wife painted by John Durand in the image of his first wife?

So the plot thickens.  I found an article written for Antiques and Fine Art Magazine by John Herdeg about a portrait he had purchased.  Long story short (read his article for details.) He hypothesizes that the portrait at the Met (Portrait #2) is actually Susannah Bontecou, the wife of Peter Bontecou (married 1762) rather than his sister who had married John Lothrop.  And Portrait #2 is the really mate to the portrait that Mr. Herdeg purchased, which he believes to be Peter Bontecou.

I'm with Mr Herdeg. Why would a husband have his new wife painted in the exact same manner as his late wife -- that's just creepy!  Unless he didn't actually commission Portrait #2 and it is the Bontecou's family's painting of their daughter that was shot with arrows by her male relatives. But if it is Lathrop's second wife, why was it passed down through the Bontecou family rather than the Lothrops as its provenance indicates?  I have to agree with Mr. Herdeg, it does look like a partner to the Peter Bontecou portrait. And if it's a marriage portrait of Peter & Susannah Bontecou (m. 1762) , it was done within two years of when the woman in Portrait #1, Mary Jones Lathrop, was married (m.1764).  

What do you think?

Next week we'll take a closer look at what they are wearing - in the meantime, perhaps we can solve this mystery.

Mrs S

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thankgiving from the Crazy Concord Chicks

The Crazy Concord Chicks would like to wish our readers much happiness on this Day of Thanksgiving!  We'd also like to share what we are thankful for....

" Learning a new skill: I've never sewn before getting into this hobby.
Furthering my research skills, which is helpful in my real life.
The opportunity to learn from some of the most amazing, bright, and
helpful people I have ever met.
The infinite patience the more experienced reenactors have for a newbie
like me!"
--Miss Kristin

"This year, I'm thankful for the wonderful fabric that is linen and my new fancy 18c. shoes."
--Miss Wendy

"I’m grateful for the wonderful bunch of women and men that make up the living history community to which I belong.... for their research, insight, constructive criticism, willingness to share their  knowledge, humor and patience.  I’m also grateful for the opportunity to share my love of history with so many people both in and out of the hobby and for the tall guy who started me in this “hobby” so many years ago when he was not so tall."
--Mrs. Glasse

"I'm thankful for the wonderful friendships that I have developed by being involved with this crazy hobby, and the fact that we all push each other to do the best that we can!"
--Mrs, Derby

"I am thankful for my 18th century family.
I am thankful to have an outlet which addresses so many of my needs all at once! For example, my needs to learn and grow, to disseminate knowledge (to grown-ups), to play dress-up and to escape from my hectic 21st century life!
Finally, I am thankful for a hobby in which I found a hubby with the same weird interests that I have!"
--Mrs. Revere

"I am thankful for the other creative women who are generous with their ideas, which help me participate, despite myriad challenges."
-Mrs. Miles

"Thankful for the many good friends and good people in this hobby."
--Mrs. Peabody

"I'm thankful for a hobby where there are discoveries to be made around every corner and I'm ever thankful for the friends who make it all fun."
--Mrs. Skinner

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Portrait of the Week - The Peale Family

Dearest Friends,
In honor of Thanksgiving, this week's portrait is all about family.  I give you Charles Wilson Peale & his family painted in 1773 in the collection at the New York Historical Society.  There are some nice close-up images on the NYHS site.

 Lots of great detail here ladies and gentlemen, especially the contrast between the older and the younger women -- even the difference between how both grannies are dressed.  So hopefully you can take a few minutes to enjoy Mr Peale's family before you are off to enjoy your own.


Mrs. S

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Challenge --Jury Duty

Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of reenactors like the words, "juried event".  It conjures up images of showing up to participate and being turned away by the evil stitch counters because your kit wasn't good enough.  Just the word itself is frightful,  "jury" it brings to mind being called to jury duty, or an image of 12 people sitting in a box passing judgment on YOU!  Being juried by your peers, implies that you have done something wrong and you will incur a punishment or penalty!

Well, that is not what this is about.  Yes, The Challenge will involve a juried event scheduled for next summer.  However, all the participants are, in essence, part of the jury.  The Challenge is a process designed to push you towards your goal of an impression that meets the prescribed guidelines.  Self examination is always hard, but will be the most crucial element of this jury process.  If you know what you need to do, or if you know what you have is appropriate, then you are ready for the "jury".   If you know something needs some improvement, then this is a great opportunity to make that improvement.  If you are not sure, we will help you out, and opportunities will be available for one on one assistance.  

Most importantly, the thumbs up/ thumbs down will be happening all along the way. Questions will be answered, fabrics vetted, details debated during the entire process. The last thing we want to see is someone spending the time and effort on something and have it be wrong.  Unfortunately, that happens far too often in this hobby, and it is one of the primary reasons we founded the Hive to begin with -- to be a resource for area reenactors to have access to the latest research as well as a place to learn and get support from others.  So jury-schmury, this is about improvement and growth and the fun that can be had in the process.

Yes, the event is juried, but in the end, the ultimate arbiter will be the primary sources from the period. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Portrait of the Week - Dedicated to the Devotions

Dearest Friends,
Our portrait of the week is actually a collection of paintings, of the Devotions of Connecticut by the artist Winthrop Chandler.

Meet Eunice Huntington Devotion Lyman depicted with her child in a portrait by Winthrop Chandler dated 1772, located at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, CT.

Eunice Huntington Devotion Lyman 1772 by Winthrop Chandler
She is the wife of merchant Ebenezer Devotion, Jr., whose father and mother were painted by Winthrop Chandler two years earlier in honor of Ebenezer Senior's 56th birthday.

Interesting handkerchief treatment here and cap similar to others we have seen previously in our portrait gallery.  Her gown is more highly decorated than some of our other ladies, perhaps demonstrating their wealth, though oddly, notice a lack of jewelry.

Here is her husband, Judge Ebenezer Devotion who's portrait is also at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum.  Nice mole, but not a proper hair mole.  Fabulous suit!

Ebenezer Devotion by Winthrop Chandler 1772 

By the way, here are her in-law's portraits, no wonder Eunice is not smiling

Revered Ebenezer & Mary Lathrop Devotion 1770 by Winthrop Chandler

What is fun about this collection of portraits is that they are more in the folk art style -- very different from the very realistic paintings done by the classically trained Mr. Copley.   However Mr. Chandler still takes the time to show us important clothing and accessory details.

As we prepare for The Challenge, examining portraits is one of several very valuable tools we have to help us define what 1773 fashion really looked like.

I hope you enjoyed the Devotions.


Mrs. S

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Challenge --Is "New" Necessary?

Do I have to create all new clothes for The Challenge?

Do you want to?

Do you need to?

Some people will, because it is a good excuse to make something new and they have just been looking for a reason to finally get around to using that really good fabric they bought two years ago.   Some people just don't have the time or the desire or the money to make something new.

The object of this exercise is to not force anyone to start from scratch (unless you want to) but to provide an opportunity and a reason for you to look at your existing clothing and make changes to improve your impression.  Fix those shift sleeves so they are not down around your wrists, replace that machine sewn apron with a hand sewn one, small improvements can make a big difference and some don't cost a thing except a few hours of time.  In addition, we are asking participants to look beyond "generic 18th century" and focus on Massachusetts in 1773, not Pennsylvania, Virginia or Maryland in 1778 or 1783.  So what does your current impression look like?  For example, do you have a shortgown, that is more appropriate for the mid-Atlantic than Massachusetts?  Then consider a bedgown, which is better suited to New England.

Okay, so you have a impeccably hand sewn, center front closing gown with polonaise style back (vs. pleated en fourreau).  Spot on for late and post war but, in this case, too far fashion forward for 1773. Wearing styles that had not yet been invented would not be appropriate for this event.  If you participate in Battle Road and other pre-war events, a stomacher front/en fourreau back gown would be in keeping with the fashion of that particular time period and this event could be your motivation to create a new gown that would serve you well for the reenacting you do in this time period.

This challenge has started us (the Crazy Concord Chicks) on a research path to determine exactly what women in New England were wearing in the early 1770's, hence the portrait of the week posts.  Something we might not be pursuing, if it were not for this challenge.  That is what we are hoping will happen with everyone who participates, challenge all the assumptions, question what you think you know, document it and then represent it.

Another example -- you have a partially hand sewn (you did the unseen seams by machine) stomacher front/en fourreau back gown and you just made it and cannot even imagine trying to sew another at this point.  This might be a chance to look at the other parts of your kit.  Take a look at the caps being worn in the portraiture of the early 1770's, perhaps it's time for a new cap, new handkerchief or new apron. How can I accessorize my current look to be more in line to a woman coming out to a social gathering where she would want to put her best foot forward so to speak.

Remember this event is not mandatory, it is a new event especially targeted for civilian impressions. If you decide that this is something you want to do, you won't be out there in the wilderness trying to figure this all out on your own.  We will be adding morning Sunday Hive sewing bees, starting in January, for you to get feedback and help with your projects, as well as to share research.  In addition we will also have a Facebook page for you to discuss your progress with others, ask questions and post pictures.  And you'll have those Crazy Concord Chicks to inspire, motivate and perhaps even amuse you with how they undertake this challenge and see their progress and frustrations as well.

Coming Next: Jury Duty

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why a Challenge?

Because we all need a little motivation.  Let's face it, we're human and we are all busy people with jobs, families and life commitments.  Most of us use goals as motivational tools. Want to run faster and longer, you enter a road race.  Want to improve your handicap, you sign up for that charity match at the local golf course.  Have a couple of pounds to lose?  Put the date of your high school reunion on the calendar and see what happens.  And there are those of us in the reenactment world who look forward to an upcoming event and use the event to motivate them to make something new or add a new accessory to their impression or finally finish that project that is hanging on the chair.

We all have parts of our kit that need work.  Even things we thought were totally correct at one point turn out not to be with the advent of new research.  Kitting up for living history is not an exact science.  We don't have the same materials available to us, the research is on-going, plus this is a hobby and we need to play within our means and abilities.  However, that does not mean we shouldn't strive to improve the things we can and a small local event or a large national event can be the impetus to make those improvements.

We selected a muster day because it allows for a wide range of interpretive possibilities - from lower class to upper class, military or not.  And a specific date was chosen in order to explore the nuances in clothing of a particular year and locale, as well as to get a more focused look at pre-war Concord.

Some people will embrace this challenge, others will not.  There are those who live for the big powder burner events, while some prefer small town programs, while there are still others who just adore roughing it at an immersion event -- that's what make the world go round.

Those who choose to participate will set a goal for this challenge that is appropriate for them.  And since staying on track is easier with the support and guidance of those with similar goals, everyone will have each other to help keep them motivated.  Research will be shared, ideas exchanged, and we'll each be challenged to move forward.

Coming next: Does that mean I have to make a whole new kit?

Monday, November 14, 2011

What's in the Works?

Dearest Friends,
This week The Hive will be announcing our very first New England Living History Challenge. We are challenging the reenactment community to embark on a ten month journey with us to raise the level of our individual impressions - culminating in an event in August, developed specifically for you to show off your accomplishment.  We'll be creating a muster day in Concord in 1773.

We've established this blog (and are working on another for the guys) so you can follow several people, from a wide range of experience levels, as they take on this challenge. Everyone will have a different way of going at this, some will go over the top, some will make one new garment while making adjustments to existing ones, while many will most likely fall somewhere in between.

We're just putting the finishing touches on a website that will answer all of your questions and fully outline the guidelines of "The Challenge". In addition, we'll have a Facebook page for you to discuss your progress, get help and share your experience with other participants.  Each Sunday Hive, starting in January, will also include a morning session for you to get help with your projects, ask questions and share research.  We'd like to see everyone who signs up to participate enjoy the process and be successful in this endeavor.

So, stay tuned, there is more to come this week!  In the meantime, start thinking about how you might like to look in the summer of 1773.

Mrs. S.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A brief interlude with the uses of Plantain...

Well, yes, I’ve been “bad” and have not written much beyond my introduction.  Things at my house often seem to get, um, beyond the normal.   What follows is a good example of this.

Things that happened since I’ve attempted this project include preparing for the MMNP Preserving the Harvest Day (will write that one up soon!  Really!), getting ready for an event HM 10th did at Wayside Inn called Battle of Red Horse Tavern – that one even included some sewing.  I’ll be writing that one up as well.  More typically, this is what goes on:  Saturday night after the MMNP program I get home, change my clothes and notice a funny black spot on my calf.  It itches and burns.  It’s obviously an insect bite but it doesn’t look like a tick bite, which, unfortunately, I’m overly familiar with.  Plus, there’s no tick.  I put some salve on it and a bandage on it.  Overnight it gets larger with a spreading irregular red patch below it. I have a digital microscope to check out the bite with.  I can see two brown fang marks amidst some infection.  I also have a day-long odd feeling headache and really stiff shoulders, which is odd since I didn’t sleep in a bad position or do anything out of the ordinary to make me feel that sore.  It’s a funny kind of stiffness as well.  I have a hunch (I was standing right by an old woodpile at MMNP) and check it out – hunch verified.  I have a brown recluse spider bite.  The headache, sore shoulders and bite appearance match the symptoms described and images on several medical websites. Good thing I was wearing my thick wool socks!   I don't think too much venom got through the wool. 

So, I get some plantain, which I had talked about to so many people the day before.  I often found myself explaining how plantain, Plantago lanceolata or Plantago major, is not related to the plantain banana-thing you find in the grocery store.  It's a plant that grows pretty close to the ground in compacted soil.  Brought with the English settlers to North America.  Now I get to use plantain in one of the ways it was actually used in the 18th Century, as a poultice for drawing out infection or venom.  I smashed it up and applied it to the bite, holding it on my 21st Century Band-Aid.  It worked, and drew most of the poison out but not all.  It reduced the itch and completely got rid of the red area spreading from the venom.  I didn’t end up with any necrosis, but the infection wouldn’t go away, either, even with Bacitracin.    By Friday I was at the doctor’s office where the doc put more Bacitracin on the bite and wanted me to take systemic antibiotics for a bit the size of a pencil eraser that was clearing up.  Um, no.

In the midst of all this I’m making my younger daughter a Boudicca costume for Halloween out of some unusable-for-18th -Century wool someone gave me, having an almost-fight on the new 18th Century Life list about women riding horses (more on that one, too), getting ready for the Battle of Red Horse Tavern on the 29 Oct, and making a craft for the local homeschool group Halloween party (ghosts made from circles of white cloth, cotton balls and string.  Very popular.). By this time, snow’s in the forecast so I’m busy making a new kerchief for extra warmth and adding some length to a wool flannel gown I made a wee bit too short in April for Battle Road.   Also, I have to exercise the horse five to six days a week and homeschool the girls.  The horse is highly amused with the 18th Century kit when she’s seen it, but that’s another story.  Of course, the next thing that happens is the snow storm, no electricity, now this week, several trips to the dentist for a lost filling.  I live in Mendon and the dentist is in Sudbury.   That’s been a fun 4+ hours of driving.

And the spider bite?  It’s much better, especially after I put a paste of green clay and Echinacea purpurea tincture on it to draw out the last of the venom and dry up the infection (Echinacea would be the Native American remedy for venomous bites).  It’s almost gone and barely hurts now.  Most brown recluse bites take four to six weeks to heal, so I’m very pleased with two and a half weeks to three weeks of healing.  It also looks like I’ll have minimal scarring.  I’m hoping it’s back to normal family chaos next week so maybe I can squeeze in a blog post about 18th Century or reenacting type things!


Deb aka Mrs. Cook

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Portrait of the Week - Meet Elizabeth Lewis Goldthwait

Dearest Friends,
Last week you were introduced to Elizabeth Goldthwait, the younger, this week her mother Elizabeth Lewis Goldthwait (1713-1794) is our portrait of the week.  Completed in 1771, this portrait by Copley was billed to the Goldthwaits at 19.2 pounds and 9 pounds for the frame.

Elizabeth, who is 59 years old here, wears a brown silk satin sacque, with very little ornamentation other than sleeve ruffles.  Notice -- no apron.  Her cap is similar to Margaret Manning's -- a heart shaped cap that fastens under her chin - set off by some lovely pearls at her neck.  What is notable in this portrait, is how it appears that Mrs. Goldthwait is wearing two handkerchiefs or is the second a lace mantle?

Here is the portrait of Elizabeth's husband.  The two portraits were painted to complement each other.

Ezekial Goldthwait, by Copley 1771

Elizabeth died in 1794, outliving her husband by 12 years.  Here is her obituary.

A wonderful model for any of our women of "a certain age" who would like to portray a lady of means - and who looks good in brown.


Mrs. S

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mrs. Hancock’s Baby Stays: Finding Fashion Fabric

As you may remember from my last post, the baby stays need fashion fabric. The wool I had intended to use was a bit too bulky, so I searched my scrap stash (that is, fabrics leftover from previous projects) and I decided to use a scrap of dull green linen because:

a) I have plenty of it.
b) It’s a fairly lightweight fabric so it should work well for the summer.

In a quick scan of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's collections I found this example: 

Women's stays, mid 18th century Accession Number 1903-135
The fashion fabric is a glazed wool that is the same kind of green as my fabric.
And I found this...

Child's stays, c.1770-1790 Accession Number  1988-15-1
The fashion fabric is a gold coarse, plain weave linen. 
If you consider that the green lady's stays are the same color as my fabric, and the child's stays are the same type of fabric that I have on hand, it would seem sufficient to use my dull green linen, right?

So I did.

I covered the outer part of the stays...

I had to piece the fabric together at the bottom front since the fabric was a little too short.

I whip stitched the fabric to the lining.

And whip stitched each panel together. 

And I thought that they were almost complete, that I just needed to make the eyelets. 

However, Mrs. Peabody recently blogged in her post TextileThoughts about ceasing to use linen colors that are not documented, such as green.

This is a bummer because:

a)      I had thought that the project was nearly complete.
b)      I made a petticoat with this linen that I'll have to retire. And I used a scrap to line my absolutely favorite accessory, my needlework bag, which will have to take apart and redo. : (

Sew. Does it seem too much of a stretch to use green linen for baby stays? Or should I snip it off and start over? 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sleeve Ruffles

On Mrs. P.'s recent journey to study all things 18th century, she spent many hours in many places looking at many things, but also chose to focus and ask to examine certain things.  One of which was sleeve ruffles.

Those necessary and yet so often overlooked accessories that can often make or break an entire impression.  I saw a large number and variety of ruffles.  Plain, laced, dresden work, simple and fancy whitework of all sorts and one pair that had a lovely array of eyelets worked around the edges!  Fabrics were muslin, linen, dimity and net, and yes, I said net.  (the net pair will probably be the first that I will try to reproduce).  Loved, Loved Loved!

Antique Textiles
This example from Antiques Textiles is very similar to those plain muslin ruffles that I examined.  The construction is as I have always thought and use today when I make sleeve ruffles, the fabric is gathered with whip gathers, and attached to the linen tape.  That was the universal way of attaching the fabric to the tape regardless of the style of the ruffle.  Not up for discussion, incontrovertible evidence of a sewing stitch not previously thought to be used in the 18th century.   Whip gathers allow the fabric to actually be hinged to the tape, which lets the fabric flair out and stand proud of the tape.  It is always nice to be validated, but it is more important is to find documented evidence of a useful technique.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Return of Mrs. Peabody

My Dear Friends and Correspondents,

It is wonderful to return home to Massachusetts after my absence over the sea.  While the voyage is always a trial, the metropolis of London has much to offer to improve one's knowledge and expand the mind.

It is so nice to read the posts of Mrs. S. so illuminating and Miss K. who is full of good questions.  I am happy to report on several items of interest to us all.

First I have found no general difference in the methods used by us here in Concord to those in England of making gowns and other items.  If one were to place a garment made in Boston next to one made in London or Leeds, you would be hard pressed to choose which was which.

In dressmaking the usual conventions were seen; shoulder straps, white linen linings, cuffs and sleeve flounces similar in all respects.  Hems and seams the same, all methods known and used by us here, were also used in the height of fashion there!

One of the highlights of my journey was an examination of this gown.

Leeds Costume Collection

This gown is in reality a deep shade of raspberry and not the scarlet shown in the image.  A rare example of a highly decorated damask gown. In almost all instances, damasks are usually undress gowns and as such not lavished with passementerie.  There is a damask gown at the MFA (and one at the MET) that does have some trim as well, but by and large they are not often found with this extent of trimming.   There is no doubt in my mind that not only was the trim purchased at the same time as the gown but was also dyed to match the fabric, probably by the same silk dyer.  The color of the trim is exactly the same as the gown, not a bit of a shade off color -exact- and the abundance of such is lavish to a degree of lavishness not to be believed. This gown was made to be worn over hoops, thus displaying the gown to full advantage.

So that brings Mrs. P to her own personal goal setting for the upcoming winter, I am determined to divine in detail many of the trims made with silk.  Simple flies are not a challenge, but the other elements that are usually so combined with them really will be more complex to duplicate.   One has to have goals to endure the long, and cold winter ahead.

The first and most important hurdle will be to find the right fabric, since the trim is always secondary to the fabric.  Oh, wait.  I may have some in storage.  Will have to check my trunks for a suitable length as I have laid aside many for future use.

Mrs. Peabody