Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Let the Genealogy Research Begin!

Researching our family history has always been on our “we should really do that” list.  Now, thanks to a some recent interest from one of our cousins, we are elbow deep in index cards of possible ancestors and copies of census records.  We started with what we know and what our parents could tell us.  Unfortunately, our grandparents are no longer with us to share their memories and we have very little to begin with. 

One set of our grandparents, married in 1946.

A few weekends ago, we attended a genealogy workshop at the Connecticut Historical Society, where we gathered some tips on how to get started and how to begin to organize and coordinate what information we find.  The CHS Research Center is an excellent resource, especially for local history, so we spent the afternoon following the workshop in the Research Center gathering what we could find to help us get started.  We have since spent countless hours online digging for more.  Most of what we have found was through HeritageQuest Online, FamilySearch.org, and ancestry.com.  Luckily, our last name, and most of our other related surnames are fairly uncommon, so any information that is available has been pretty easy to spot (except when people decide to change the spelling of their names!).  We have several census records, a few military records (more are on order from the National Archives), town directory listings, and a sprinkling of immigration and naturalization records.  At this point, I think we have exhausted the online records and we have plans to visit the CT State Library this weekend to see what we can find there. 

Our other grandparents, married in 1950.

We have made a few connections between family lines, but still have a long way to go.  We have one line that we can trace to the Civil War (including a Medal of Honor recipient!) and we think they've been in the U.S. since at least the middle of the 18th century.  The other lines of our family were immigrants to the U.S. in the generation of our great-grandparents.  We hope to share some fun stories with you all as we continue to unearth them.  Have any of you embarked on this journey of family discovery?  Any tips or recommendations, especially for foreign research, would be most appreciated!

Monday, February 27, 2012

George Washington Ball 2012

This past weekend, we attended our regiment's annual George Washington Ball to celebrate both the illustrious General's day of birth and the accomplishments of our group over the past year.

5CR George Washington Ball 2012
The ladies...

5CR George Washington Ball 2012
...and the gents.

During the course of the evening, in between much convivial conversation and enjoyment of a fine dinner, we listened to one of our very own members share his experiences with researching and writing a book that is just about to be published in a few weeks.  Dan Kinley's Common Courage: The Campaigns of a Revolutionary War Veteran tells the little-known story of Timothy Percival, a Connecticut farmer and F&I War veteran who took up his arms once again in 1775 to join the fight for liberty.  If you're interested in learning more about Dan's very personal connection to the experiences of this "common" Revolutionary soldier, he will be speaking about his book at the Wilton Public Library in Wilton, CT on 5 April.  He's a fantastic and passionate speaker, so if you live close enough, we highly recommend attending!

The book is scheduled to be released on 19 April, though copies
will be available for purchase at the Wilton Library talk on 5 April.

After dinner concluded and the dancing was well underway, we took a brief break to honor several of our members who have gone over and above the "call of duty" this past year with their dedication to our group and all that it stands for.  This year's recipients of Soldier of the Year and Distaff Member of the Year were a husband and wife team, and we personally thank you both for making us feel so welcome in our first year as members.  Huzzah! and congratulations for honors most highly deserved!

5CR George Washington Ball 2012
Huzzah to the Ss for their unsurpassed dedication over
the past year!  Congratulations!

5CR George Washington Ball 2012
Let the dancing begin!

One of the most fun parts of the evening for us ladies of the distaff was that we got to dress up more than we usually do around the campfire!  Some of the ladies had recently attended a gown workshop and we thoroughly enjoyed admiring their newly finished, beautifully-sewn creations.  Now we just need to come up with more excuses to wear them...:-)

5CR George Washington Ball 2012
With Mistress S in her stunning new gown.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" at the Yale University Art Gallery

A few weekends ago, we spent a day exploring some exhibits at the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art (more on visiting the YCBA later).  The exhibit Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness is being presented at the Yale University Art Gallery in three parts, and author David McCullough even narrates part of the audio tours!  (Read the press release announcing the exhibit.)  I was able to catch a quick visit to the first installment, We the People, just before it closed at the end of 2011.  American paintings and other works of art, along with furniture, medals, and other objects both significant and everyday depicted an overview of our nation as it began to evolve from the very first settlements up through the American Revolution.  My favorite pieces (and quite honestly, the reason for my visiting the exhibit in the first place) were the works of John Trumbull.

ca. 1802
Artist: John Trumbull, American, 1756 - 1843
Gift of Marshall H. Clyde, Jr.

On display were several of his miniatures and sketches, along with his series of history paintings that depict some momentous events of the American Revolution.  I was awestruck to be standing in front of his Declaration of Independence - and even more excited that the brochure for the exhibit features a large fold-out poster of this work!  The first version of this painting is smaller (20 7/8 x 31 in.), as compared to the second, life-sized version that so famously hangs in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.  Trumbull actually painted a third version as well, owned by the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT.  Trumbull made slight changes in each of these versions, adding or deleting a man or two, as well as changing the look of the room in his last version.

At the time, and even still today, these paintings receive criticism for their inaccuracies.  Most prominently, his Declaration of Independence depicts all of the signers gathered together to sign the document at one time, which we know was not the case.  Some of these inaccuracies were discussed recently in this interactive page by Colonial Williamsburg, where you can even scan over each man to see his name.  I uploaded each version of this painting and had fun comparing them side-by-side and noting the numerous slighter differences, such as the carpet that disappears and the way the cloth on the table changes.  I think my favorite evolution through these different versions is how John Adams seems to get younger...and thinner!  What do you see?

The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
Artist: John Trumbull, American, 1756 - 1843
Trumbull Collection

Declaration of Independence
 John Trumbull
Oil on canvas, 12' x 18'
Commissioned 1817; purchased 1819; placed 1826

John Trumbull
The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
1832 Purchased by Daniel Wadsworth and members of the Atheneum Committee

I also spent quite some time admiring Trumbull's life-sized portrait of General George Washington at Trenton.  This portrait was commissioned by the city of Charleston, South Carolina, but upon completion they decided they preferred a different portrait of Washington.  Trumbull thus kept this painting in his collection for some time before gifting it to the Society of the Cincinnati in Connecticut, which in turn presented it to Yale.  Examining this portrait close-up, I was amazed at the magnificence of the colors in addition to the incredible details.

General George Washington at Trenton, 1792
Artist: John Trumbull, American, 1756 - 1843
Gift of the Society of the Cincinnati in Connecticut

The second installment of this exhibit, Defining the Nation, is now open at the YUAG and will be on display through April 8, 2012.  We spent some time admiring this installment a few weeks ago.  Much like the first, the exhibit utilizes American furniture, paintings, prints, and other media to present the continuing story of our nation as industrialization and the country's economy began to evolve. 

One of the most interesting stories from this exhibit was that of the New York Crystal Palace.  The Crystal Palace was built in 1854 for the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations.  The building was used on and off for several years and was also host to the Annual Fair of the American Institute when a fire broke out in 1858.  The entire building, along with the valuable objects inside, was completely destroyed in under an hour.  These prints by Currier & Ives dramatically capture the magnificence and the demise of the Palace:

New York Crystal Palace: For the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations.
Artist: Frances Flora Bond Palmer (known as F. F. Palmer), American, 1812 - 1876
Publisher: Currier & Ives, American, active 1834 - 1907
Mabel Brady Garvan Collection
Burning of the New York Crystal Palace: On Tues. Oct. 5th 1858. 
During its Occupation for the Annual Fair of the American Institute.
Publisher: Currier & Ives, American, active 1834 - 1907
Mabel Brady Garvan Collection
The final segment of this three-part exhibit, America Rising, will open at the Yale University Art Gallery May 8 and run through July 8, 2012.  You can learn more about the YUAG, its collections, and vising the gallery through its website: http://artgallery.yale.edu/.  If you are interested in exploring more of the gallery's pieces online, please visit the eCatalogue.

Some of the information I shared on John Trumbull was found in Helen Cooper's book, John Trumbull, The Hand and Spirit of a Painter, published in 1982 by the Yale University Art Gallery.  I've been researching Mr. Trumbull and have come across some other interesting stories that I hope to share here soon.

Friday, February 17, 2012

New Book Release!

Book Two in Jenny Tiramani and Susan North's extraordinary Seventeenth-Century Women's Dress Patterns series is being released this spring!  Similarly formatted like its predecessor, this second volume will feature 17 different articles of clothing, from a gown and a jacket to stays to shoes and a host of various accessories.  Detailed color photos, x-ray images, line drawings, and scaled patterns for each garment will again be accompanied by meticulous descriptions of their construction processes, enabling the garments and accessories to be studied, understood, and even reproduced as accurately as possible.  Amazon has several tantalizing page previews up already that are definitely worth a look!

For those of you who gloried in the first installment of this book, be sure to put this next volume on your wish list now!  The V&A spring publications catalogue lists the release for June, while Amazon cites an earlier May 1st date.  Either way, keep an eye out for this newest, much-anticipated contribution to fashion history!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Historic Threads: Three Centuries of Clothing Colonial Williamsburg Online Exhibit

Last January, Colonial Williamsburg launched the beginnings of an online companion to their current exhibit "Fashion Accessories from Head to Toe."  Today, a new and improved and significantly expanded version of that online exhibit has arrived!

The portal page to the new online clothing and accessory exhibit from Colonial Williamsburg.

"Historic Threads: Three Centuries of Clothing" explores in glorious depth and detail the incredible costume collection of Colonial Williamsburg.  Drawing upon both the current accessories exhibit and their 2002 "The Language of Clothing" display (which was heaven, and I'd give almost anything to persuade them to mount it again!), this digital exhibit is organized to educate and dazzle both the newcomer to fashion history and the seasoned enthusiast.  The "Learn" portion explains the important aspects and terms of 18th century dress, from the parts of a formal gown to the pieces of an everyday man's wardrobe to the curiosities that were the fashionable accessory pieces of the day.  From these pages, one can easily link directly into the "Explore" half of the exhibit, which is a treasure-trove of accessories, gowns, jackets, prints, and shoes.  Each item is accompanied by a description and some pretty incredible zoom capabilities that are clear enough even to offer glimpses at the stitches in garment seams.

So stop wasting time reading this post and start exploring!  You can link to the exhibit from the Online Exhibits and Multimedia page of CW's museums website (where you'll also find much more to see!).

The zoom function on the individual items allows incredible close-up views of the items
and their construction techniques.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Tale of One Extraordinary Edwardian: Rosa Lewis

With all of the interest in all things Edwardian currently being stirred up by Downton Abbey, I thought it would be fun to share the story of one of my favorite lesser-known Edwardian figures. Rosa Lewis was London's famed "Queen of Cooks" around the turn of the century and a significant figure in London society until her death in 1952. Though she began her working life at the age of 12 as a lowly general servant and scullery maid, her tenacity, quick wits, and marked talent for all things culinary earned her a place in the kitchens of the Comte de Paris (the exiled heir to the French monarchy), where she swiftly earned her place as Head Kitchen Maid.

Rosa Lewis in an undated photo, presumably from the end of the Edwardian period.
Photo linked from Wikipedia.

While with the Comte's household, she was tutored in the art of French and Continental cuisine, which was becoming increasingly fashionable in the 1880s. The Duc D'Orleans took her into his household in 1887 as Head Cook; he soon began to hire her out to cook in the houses of society's leading families, and it was while working at one of these private engagements (for Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Winston Churchill) that Rosa first encountered Edward VII, then still Prince of Wales. He was so impressed by her culinary abilities and by her eccentric personality that the two became lifelong personal friends. The King is known to have had many mistresses, and Rosa was presumably one of them, though he never publicly acknowledged that they shared anything more than a close friendship.

As a known favorite - both culinary and personal - of the Prince of Wales, and later King Edward VII, Rosa was highly sought-after by society hostesses looking to impress their guests with the most fashionable and sumptuous cuisine; she was dubbed the "Queen of Cooks" and was widely acknowledged to be the best cook in London. In 1902, Rosa purchased the Cavendish Hotel and transformed it into one of the most fashionable private hotels in the country. The Cavendish catered to the elite of society, serving as a home-away-from-home where the wealthy of British and American society could enjoy themselves and be entertained by the infamous Cockney-accented antics of Mrs Lewis. Kaiser Wilhelm II (whose portrait she allegedly hung in the men's lavatory at the outbreak of WWI), Evelyn Waugh, Winston Churchill, and the future King Edward VIII were among many of her famous guests.

Rosa Lewis in 1914, painted by Daniel Albert Wehrschmidt.
Photo linked from Christie's.

Though the fashion for the elaborate and costly entertainments of the Edwardian period declined rapidly during WWI and the hotel came very close to financial ruin, Rosa kept its doors open, catering to returning soldiers who were never permitted to pay. She toured America in the late 1920s, giving some rare interviews and teaching a new generation of eager culinary students some of her royal secrets.  During WWII, the front of the hotel was destroyed by a bomb, but Rosa and the hotel emerged still victorious and determined to go on. Those who knew her in her later years were still impressed by her exuberant and oversized personality and her desperate desire to hold on to all that had been great about the late-Victorian and Edwardian period that had been her heyday; until her death in 1952, she persisted in wearing the fashions of the turn of the century.

The extraordinary life of Rosa Lewis was (thinly) fictionalized into a BBC series, The Duchess of Duke Street, which originally aired in Britain in 1976-77. Gemma Jones portrayed the eponymous "Duchess" and "Queen of Cooks," renamed Louisa Trotter in the show. Jones's performance is one of the finest pieces of acting I've ever seen; having read the little that has been written about Rosa by those who knew her, it's easy to imagine that Jones quite closely and brilliantly captures all that was fascinating and remarkable about Rosa Lewis.

Rosa's Cavendish Hotel was demolished twelve years after her death, but it was rebuilt by new owners on the same site. Today, it remains one of London's exclusive hotels and honors the history of its most famous - and infamous - personality with a recently unveiled memorial plaque.

Rosa's commemorative plaque outside of the present day Cavendish Hotel.
Photo linked from wikipedia.

Further Reading:
If you're interested in learning more about the life and times of Rosa Lewis, be sure to check out these sources.
- a Rosa Lewis online biography from The Royal Forums
- The Queen of Cooks - and some Kings, by Mary Lawton, reportedly written from the dictation of Rosa Lewis herself (1925).
- Rosa Lewis: An Exceptional Edwardian, by Anthony Masters (1978).
- The Duchess of Jermyn Street, by Daphne Fielding (1976).
Unsurprisingly, the latter two were published during the run of the successful TV series, The Duchess of Duke Street.  Perhaps with all of the new interest in Edwardiana, we might see some further research in the near future!
- The Duchess of Duke Street, the fictionalized TV serial about Rosa Lewis, with Gemma Jones in the leading role.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Threaded Bliss

A Pink Silk Triangular Reticule

pink silk reticule 7

To accompany some new in-progress outfits (which shall remain unidentified for the present!), I've been collecting all sorts of cute reticule patterns and inspirational images.  One of my favorites was this "Three-Sided Reticule" pattern shared by World Turn'd Upside Down.  It was originally published in 1831 in The American Girl's Book; Or, Occupation for Play Hours, by Miss Eliza Leslie.  When I looked through the book (which is available in full on googlebooks), I found a wealth of not only additional reticule patterns, but all sorts of nifty period tidbits and treasures, from pincushion and needle book patterns, to games and riddles.  It's great fun to skim through, and you'll be surprised at the neat little things you'll find in there!

Anyway, I was itching to try the triangular reticule, and when I found myself in need of a thank you gift for our friend S, who very generously gifted us with our very own Jane Austen cookie cutter after we so adamantly admired hers, I decided to test out the pattern.  She's an Austen devotee, and even though the pattern is from an 1831 source, it is unquestionably a shape and style seen twenty years earlier during the Regency as well.

pink silk reticule 5
The completed reticule next to the original pattern.

The pattern: The pattern from The American Girl's Book is given verbally, rather than as a sketch or scaled drawing, but it was incredibly simple to draft.  I did it directly onto my fabric using a fabric pen, since it's nothing more than straight lines.

pink silk reticule 1
The pink silk pieces cut out, with the cutting lines of the ivory lining
drawn directly onto the fabric.

Construction details: The construction process was very easy, the only fidgety part being accommodating the tassels into the piped seams.  The first step was to sew together the three silk lining pieces.  Then I cut strips of bias and inserted the cording and sewed one piece of piping to each of the three pink outer pieces.

pink silk reticule 3
Attaching the piping and stitching the pieces together.

Each of the outer pieces was then sewn to the others, taking care to insert the cording holding the tassels so that they would fall right at the corners and at the center bottom tip.  Finally, the lining was inserted and the top finished by folding over the outer pink fabric to the inside to create a channel through which to run the two ribbon ties.

pink silk reticule 8
A shot of the bottom, which shows the triangular construction better than a side view.

The fabric: Because S has a gorgeous pink painted fan that she often uses with her Regency wardrobe, I decided to make up the reticule in a pink silk taffeta.  It is piped and lined in the ivory silk taffeta I used on my ivory silk petticoat.  The tassels were a necessary compromise, as it's nearly impossible to find real silk ones; I got these at Joann in the home decorator's department and snipped them off the be-tasseled braided trim!  The reticule ties with two ivory silk satin ribbons.

pink silk reticule 6

Additional photos of this project can be found in its flickr set.  If you're interested in a full-blown tutorial of this reticule, just say the word and I'll be sure to take more in-progress pictures the next time I make one (which will be in the next couple of weeks) and put up a more detailed post then!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Yale Needlework Lecture Online Tonight!

I know it's a bit last-minute, but tonight at 5:30pm, Mount Vernon curator Susan Schoelwer will be presenting a free lecture at the Yale University Art Gallery entitled “The Daughters of Eli: Yale, Family, and the Needle Arts in Early America.”  The talk will discuss Connecticut needlework from the 18th and early 19th centuries.  For those of you who do not live in the area, Yale will be streaming the lecture live via this link: www.livestream.com/yale.  It should be interesting to see how this lecture coincides with the Connecticut Needlework exhibit we saw last spring at the CT Historical Society.

Tonight's lecture coincides with the opening of the gallery’s second installation in the three-part exhibit series, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  I will be visiting this second part, Defining a Nation, this coming weekend and will be sure to share the highlights here next week.  I was able to view the first installment, We the People, in December and will also share my thoughts on that in the upcoming post.

A Revolutionary Lady's Adieu to Her Tea-Table

In sorting through old posts recently, we've discovered several drafted during the past few months that somehow never got posted! Pray forgive the slight delay and the relative time lapse of some of them, but we hope you'll enjoy them nonetheless for their tardiness!

While Ashley was in Williamsburg in November for the conservation conference, I permitted myself a couple of hours off from research one afternoon to indulge in some of CW's special program offerings. One of these I was particularly keen to see, as it's a seasonal program that we've never before been lucky enough to catch. "The Polite Academy" explores the socio-cultural lives and roles of women in the colonial and early-Revolutionary capitol of Virginia. Using the domestic space of the parlor as its setting, four ladies in first person move through all of the graces and accomplishments any woman of gentility would be expected to demonstrate as a respectable member of polite society. From the proper serving and consumption of tea, to the admirable elocutionary exercises of poetry-reading, to the demonstration of musical talents like singing and playing an instrument, to deportment and dance, the ladies educated their twenty-first-century guests on nuances of the true art of being a lady in the mid-to-late eighteenth century.

"The Polite Academy" at Colonial Williamsburg

The discussions surrounding the ritualized tea ceremony were particularly fascinating. The ladies discussed the degree to which tea - and that includes the physical tea service and all of the accountrements necessary to serve a cup of tea, in addition to the actual tea leaves themselves - was very much a status symbol in colonial America. Serving tea was just as much about showing off one's ability to afford commodities like a tea pot, china cups, and a (locked) chest full of tea, as it was about demonstrating in a social setting one's carefully (and often expensively) acquired manners.

"The Polite Academy" at Colonial Williamsburg

When addressing the prickly social situation that arose when politics began to infringe on the female world of polite parlor manners, one of the ladies in the group offered to share this very clever poem, which was published in numerous newspapers across several colonies immediately following the Boston Tea Party. Though a woman couldn't make a public political statement, a subtle and highly symbolic change to her very English tea ceremony could speak just as loudly and passionately for the cause.

A Lady's Adieu to Her Tea-Table

Farewell the Tea-board with your gaudy attire,
Ye cups and ye saucers that I did admire;
To my cream pot and tongs I now bid adieu;
That pleasure's all fled that I once found in you.
Farewell pretty chest that so lately did shine,
With hyson and congo and best double fine;
Many a sweet moment by you I have sat,
Hearing girls and old maids to tattle and chat;
And the spruce coxcomb laugh at nothing at all,
Only some silly work that might happen to fall.
No more shall my teapot so generous be
In filling the cups with this pernicious tea,
For I'll fill it with water and drink out the same,
Before I'll lose Liberty that dearest name,
Because I am taught (and believe it is fact)
That our ruin is aimed at in the late act,
Of imposing a duty on all foreign Teas,
Which detestable stuff we can quit when we please.
Liberty's the Goddess that I do adore,
And I'll maintain her right until my last hour,
Before she shall part I will die in the cause,
For I'll never be govern'd by tyranny's laws.

If you'd like to read more about this fantastic program, check out this Colonial Williamsburg podcast, which features a lengthy and enlightening interview with the creator of "The Polite Academy."