MHS Press Releases
Tell It with Pride Opens at the MHS 21 February
Published: Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 3:18 PM
Organized by the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, D.C. and in cooperation with the MHS, Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial will open at the Society 21 February and be on exhibit through 23 May. The exhibition celebrates Augustus Saint-Gaudens's magisterial Shaw Memorial (1883–1900). The monument commemorates the 18 July 1863 storming of Fort Wagner. The Civil War battle was waged by Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, one of the first African American military units raised in the North. Although the 54th was defeated at Fort Wagner and almost a third of the regiment was killed or wounded, the battle was seen as a turning point in the war: it proved that African Americans’ bravery and dedication to country equaled that of the nation’s most celebrated heroes.
When Saint-Gaudens created the monument, he based his likeness of Shaw on photographs of the colonel, but for his depiction of the other soldiers, he hired African American men to pose in his studio. This exhibition seeks to make real the soldiers of the 54th represented anonymously in the memorial. It brings together vintage photographic portraits of members of the regiment and of the men and women who recruited, nursed, taught, and guided them. To represent the variety of soldiers in the 54th, Saint-Gaudens searched for models in New York and Boston. In all, he sculpted some forty heads over the course of several years, sixteen of which he incorporated into the final relief. The exhibition showcases five heads on loan from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, N.H., cast from the artist's clay sketches, which illustrate Saint-Gaudens' great sensitivity as a portraitist.
The Society is pleased to have contributed to the national exhibition by providing a number of photographs, a recruiting poster, and a letter that Gov. John A. Andrew wrote to Francis Shaw offering command of the 54th to Shaw's son, Robert.
Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs at the NGA, and Nancy Anderson, curator and head of American and British paintings at the NGA, are the curators of the exhibition, which is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog and a printed brochure.
Throughout the run of the exhibition, special programs are planned in cooperation with the Museum of African American History, Boston African American National Historic Site, and the Friends of the Public Garden.
Governor Deval Patrick Names September 17th Massachusetts Furniture Day
Published: Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 12:06 PM
Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture is a collaborative venture highlighting Massachusetts furniture-making through the centuries.
BOSTON, MA – In honor of the statewide celebration, Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture, Governor Deval Patrick has named September 17th, Massachusetts Furniture Day. A first-time collaboration among ten museums and cultural institutions throughout the state, Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture will highlight Massachusetts furniture-making, from the 1600s to the present day, through a series of exhibitions and public programs. Exhibitions and programs will begin in September and will run through December 2014. Participating institutions include the Colonial Society of Massachusetts; Concord Museum; Fuller Craft Museum; Historic Deerfield; Historic New England; Massachusetts Historical Society; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; North Bennet Street School; Old Sturbridge Village; and Peabody Essex Museum. Also playing a key role in the development of the project is Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.
The Honorable Bryon Rushing will read the Governor’s proclamation at a special event held in Nurses Hall in the State House on September 17th at 2:00pm. Legislators from throughout the state will join in the celebration and a special chair belonging to Governor John Endecott (1589-1665), the first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, will also be on display. The chair is one of the earliest known upholstered chairs made in New England.
Never before have so many renowned institutions in the Northeast joined forces to exhibit, study and promote a single topic in the field of American Decorative Art. Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture is an unprecedented celebration of the Bay State’s remarkable furniture-making legacy. From the earliest products of newly arrived immigrants in the 1600s, to the outstanding work of present-day studio furniture-makers, Massachusetts holds one of the most prominent places in American furniture-making history.
“We are honored that Governor Patrick has recognized the Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture project with such a wonderful designation,” said Dennis Fiori, President of the Massachusetts Historical Society and one of the founders of the project. “By declaring September 17th as Massachusetts Furniture Day, Governor Patrick is recognizing the truly remarkable legacy in American furniture history that Massachusetts holds, not only as a traditional industry but also as an art form,” said Fiori.
For more information on Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture go to: fourcenturies.org.
"The Cabinetmaker and the Carver: Boston Furniture from Private Collections" Opens 4 October
Published: Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 12:00 AM
An extraordinary opportunity to view nearly 50 examples of rarely seen furniture borrowed from private collections in the greater Boston area.
BOSTON, August 2013—Boston has been the home of an important furniture trade since the mid-17th century. As part of the Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture collaboration, the Massachusetts Historical Society presents an exhibition covering several centuries of a rich and varied furniture-making tradition. From 4 October 2013 through 17 January 2014, visitors will have the opportunity to explore nearly 50 examples of rarely seen furniture borrowed from distinguished private collections in the greater Boston area. Ranging in date from the late-17th century to about 1900, these privately held treasures, generously lent by their owners, provide a look at the trajectory of cabinetmaking in the Hub. Supplemented with complementary materials from the Society’s collections the exhibition explores furniture as history and provides a look at Boston’s distinctive urban tradition.
Bostonians, and New Englanders at large, have long been responsible caretakers of the area’s history. The furniture in this show, gathered by passionate and knowledgeable collectors in the last few decades, complements the incomparable manuscript collections of the MHS, whose stewardship of the written record has been so significant since the late-18th century.
The exhibition begins with a constellation of the earliest surviving furniture made in Boston. Fashioned by joiners, turners, and chair makers from the 1680s to about 1730, these sturdy early objects in the Anglo-American tradition are evocative of “the world we have lost,” as phrased by the historian Peter Laslett. The display includes a rare high chest of drawers with “japanned” decoration, an interpretation of true Asian lacquer that was popular in Boston at this time.
The show continues with an extraordinary array of Boston’s finest colonial furniture in the late baroque, rococo, and early neoclassical styles. Bostonians’ taste—before the Revolution but after the war as well—remained firmly indebted to English modes. Case furniture in the blockfront and bombé (or swelled) modes, both characteristic of Boston shops, along with several pieces attributed to John Welch, Boston’s most important specialist carver of the period, will be on display. Desks and desk and bookcases—the work stations of Boston’s 18th-century merchants and ministers, are featured prominently. A cluster of four card or gaming tables provides evidence of the more relaxed social mores of the Georgian era.
Next, visitors are presented with late neoclassical or Empire-style furniture, when stylish Bostonians looked to the designs of ancient Greece, Rome, and occasionally Egypt for inspiration. The objects on display are mainly by Isaac Vose and Son and Emmons & Archbald, two of Boston’s most important shops in the early Republic. A little cabinet, an unusual form attributed to the Vose firm, may have been used by a collector to store miniatures, coins, medals, jewelry, or other small precious items.
The exhibition continues with examples of the eclectic, imaginative styles of the mid- and late-19th century, including the Gothic and rococo revivals, and an example of innovative patent furniture. The adjacent Dowse Library serves as the show’s “period room.” New information, discovered in the course of preparing the exhibition, has identified Edward Hixon as the source of the room’s woodwork and furnishings in 1857. The show concludes with a few masterpieces from the arts and crafts movement of the late-19th century, a design reform impulse in which Boston took a leading role.
Furniture tells us much about the past—about social customs and human interaction, about the relationship between Americans and the world, about the changing nature of technology and the evolution of aesthetics, among many other topics. By providing a snapshot of Boston’s furniture tradition, this exhibition provides another lens through which to examine the city’s long and distinguished history.
A full-color, extensively illustrated catalogue written by guest curator Gerald W. R. Ward and published by the MHS will be available and can be purchased online or at the Society.
About Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture
Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture is a collaborative project of the Massachusetts Historical Society and ten other institutions that features exhibitions, lectures, demonstrations and publications to celebrate the Bay State's legacy of furniture-making. Visit fourcenturies.org.
Recent Discovery of Early Writings and Drawings by E. E. Cummings on Display at the Massachusetts Historical Society
Published: Friday, 7 June, 2013, 12:12 PM
Early childhood writings and sketches of poet E. E. Cummings uncovered at the MHS while organizing Cummings-Clarke Collection
BOSTON, JUNE 2013—Long before Edward Estlin Cummings became known as E. E. Cummings, one of 20th-century America’s most popular poets, he experimented with words and sketches that reveal a delightful childhood imagination. The Massachusetts Historical Society is delighted to display a selection of these writings and drawings in "Estlin Cummings Wild West Show" from June 13 through August 30. The items on display, dating from 1900 to 1902, showcase the poet's early experiments with words and illustrations. Uncovered while organizing and describing a large collection of Cummings family papers with support from the Peck Stacpoole Foundation, these are likely some of the earliest works by Cummings.
In a sketch of a rhinoceros and soldier completed about 1900, Cummings writes, "THIS. RHINOCEROUS. IS. YOUNG. MARCHING BY. A. SOLDIER. He TELLS-TALES TO-HIM". This youthful work displays one of the poet’s earliest uses of capitalization and punctuation, which would later become one of his trademarks. Fanciful drawings and writings, from when Cummings was about seven years old, illustrate his early fascination with the circus, wild west shows, and animals of all varieties. Those on display include a self-portrait entitled "Edward E. Cummings, the animal emperor, famous importer, trainer, and exhibitor of wild animals" as well as ink blots, watercolors, and sketches in pen and pencil of cowboys and Indians, wild west shows, locomotives, zoos, circuses, lions, and elephants. Among the writings is a November 1902 letter to his mother about life on Joy Farm, his family’s retreat in New Hampshire and a letter to his father from written in January 1900.
The papers of Edward Cummings, a Unitarian minister and champion of social justice in early 20th century Boston, and his family have now been fully organized and described in a collection guide that is available on the MHS website. The large collection consists not only of the papers of Edward Cummings including his sermons, writings, and correspondence with family and his mentor Edward Everett Hale but also his wife Rebecca (Clarke) Cummings, and their children, Edward and Elizabeth. The Society received the Cummings-Clarke collection as a gift from the estate of E.E. Cummings in October of 1969, and from the poet’s sister, Elizabeth Cummings Qualey, between 1969 and 1973. Although the collection had previously been available for research, the project to describe the collection in more detail has highlighted the importance of these childhood poems and sketches.
E.E. Cummings was born in Cambridge, Mass. in 1894. He attended the Cambridge Latin High School and received his B.A. from Harvard University in 1915, and his M.A. in 1916. Known for his poetry, Cummings was also an artist and author. He received a number of honors including two Guggenheim Fellowships, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, and a Ford Foundation Grant.
Artwork and text: Artwork by E.E. Cummings. Used by permission of the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust.
“Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land” Opens at the Massachusetts Historical Society
Published: Friday, 22 February, 2013, 12:00 AM
Manuscripts, broadsides, artifacts, and portraits from the Society’s collections illustrate the role of Massachusetts in the national debate over slavery
In the decades leading up to the Civil War, Boston became a center of the national antislavery movement, and in 1831 William Lloyd Garrison, "all on fire" for the cause, began publication of The Liberator, the country's leading abolitionist newspaper. There was strong resistance to the radical movement not only in the slave-holding South, but among Northerners as well. Open at the MHS through May 24, "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land": Boston Abolitionists, 1831-1865, features manuscripts, broadsides, artifacts—including the imposing stone for The Liberator—and portraits of key players to illustrate the role of Massachusetts in the national debate over slavery, and to demonstrate how the movement was communicated and followed.
While Garrison played a central role in the abolitionist movement in Boston, his efforts were part of a larger—sometimes uneasy—alliance of black and white Bostonians in a crusade for freedom and equality that already was underway when The Liberator first appeared. Even in the “cradle of liberty,” abolitionists faced the hostility of fellow citizens who did not share their egalitarian ideals, or thought that antislavery agitation would lead to civil war. The Society’s recently acquired maquette of a sculpture of Garrison by Anne Whitney is on display as well as the first issue of the paper in which Garrison wrote, “—but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch.—AND I WILL BE HEARD.”
Through the pages of The Liberator and other local antislavery publications, and lecture tours by visiting American and English abolitionists, Boston became the hub of the national and international antislavery movements. A year after the 1834 New York anti-abolition riots, Garrison was mobbed and almost lynched when he attempted to address the Female Anti-Slavery Society in Boston. In a letter dated October 24, 1835, Garrison wrote to Samuel E. Sewall, one of his closest allies, and pondered whether he could continue to live in Boston and edit The Liberator.
Photography, introduced to America in the 1840s, was quickly enlisted in the abolitionist cause. A daguerreotype by Southworth & Hawes shows the right hand of Captain Jonathan W. Walker, an ardent abolitionist. He was branded with the letters, "S.S.," for slave stealer, for attempting to help Florida slaves escape to freedom. In 1850, as the national debate over slavery became ever more intense and angry, Harriet Beecher Stowe began composing what would become arguably the most influential work of fiction in American history—Uncle Tom’s Cabin. On March 2, 1852, she wrote to educator and reformer Horace Mann and announces that she completed the novel.
The Fugitive Slave Law, part of the Compromise of 1850, left it to federal magistrates to determine whether slaves who had escaped to free states should be returned to bondage. Massachusetts had a personal liberty law—the “Latimer Law”—to protect runaway slaves, but when it proved ineffective, Boston abolitionists prepared to take direct action. Visitors can examine a diagram showing the drill developed by the secret Anti-Man-Hunting League to run off slave catchers.
While some slaves were liberated, others were captured and returned to bondage. In 1854, the rendition of Anthony Burns, a fugitive from Virginia, galvanized Boston. In a letter to her father, Benjamin Seaver, Mary Blanchard described the crowds gathered in Boston on June 4, 1854 to watch the procession that marched Burns from the courthouse to the waterfront and back to slavery in Virginia. After his return to bondage, Burns wrote an anguished plea to Richard Henry Dana, Jr. asking for help in securing his freedom. Visitors can read this letter and see two checks totaling $1,300 used to purchase his freedom.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 broke the Missouri Compromise by leaving it to a vote of the inhabitants whether a state formed from the Kansas territory would be slave or free. Boston emigrant aid societies publicly appealed for colonists who would win the battle for the territory at the ballot box, but in secret members shipped “special supplies”—Colt revolvers and Sharps rifles—to Kansas. The legend of “Captain” John Brown, murderous fanatic and/or heroic defender of the antislavery cause, was born in “Bleeding Kansas.” By 1859, with financial support from Northern abolitionists Brown began to plan direct action against the South—an attack on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
After the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified—and 35 years of publication—Garrison printed the final issue of The Liberator at the end of 1865. He set some of the type himself on the same imposing stone used in 1831 when the paper began. Though many of his readers and supporters thought the battle for civil rights was just beginning, they flooded the paper with congratulatory messages forcing Garrison to print an “extra” final issue.
Visit www.masshist.org/features/boston-abolitionists, a companion website featuring manuscripts, photographs, and artifacts of the antislavery movement from the Society’s collections.