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Brook Farm

Brook Farm Oil on panel
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[ This description is from the project: Witness to America's Past ]

Josiah Wolcott's rendition of Brook Farm, one of two known contemporary views by Wolcott, captures the entrance to the community, along with the various buildings—the Hive, Shop, Eyrie, Cottage, and Pilgrim House—and the foundations for the new building, the phalanstery, which was begun in 1844 and burned to the ground in March 1846, prior to its completion. The setting for the community was bordered by a brook on one side and a pine forest on the other and was accessed by a private drive from the road. On the back of the painting panel is a pencil sketch detailing the specific buildings, primarily the Hive. The Hive, home of the previous owner Charles Ellis, was the center of Brook Farm from its inception, housing George Ripley's office, the dining room, kitchen, meeting rooms, and a number of sleeping quarters. Early in 1842, due to a housing shortage, the Eyrie was built to house the Ripleys and a number of new members and their families. When more accommodations were needed later that year, the Cottage and Pilgrim House were built, the latter also housing the laundry and the printing presses. Construction of the phalanstery began in 1844 upon the community's change in philosophy to Fourierism. (FN 1)

The artist Josiah Wolcott was listed in the Boston Directory for many years as an "ornamental painter," and in 1837 he exhibited he exhibited three landscapes at the Boston Athenaeum. (FN 2) Wolcott later became better known as one of the illustrators for the Carpet-Bag, a weekly published in Boston in the early 1850s. The editors in their opening issue of March 29, 1851, wrote that Wolcott "has a peculiar genius for designing, and we expect many rich things from his pencil." In addition to individual drawings for the stories, Wolcott also designed the masthead for the Carpet-Bag. (FN 3) His later work is unknown, but his occupation was still listed as artist at the time of his death. (FN 4)

In January of 1837, Wolcott because a charter member of the Boston-based organization of the Religious Union of Associationists, one of several groups founded as followers to the theories of Fourierism. Other charter members included George and Sophia Ripley, the founders of Brook Farm, John S. Dwight, and Albert Brisbane, the leader of the Fourierist movement in America. Another member of the society was the former owner of the painting, John T. Codman, son of John Codman, a member of Brook Farm. (FN 5)

1. Crowe. Charles. George Ripley: Transcendentalist and Utopian Socialist. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1967, p. 182.

2. Groce, George C. and David H. Wallace. The New-York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564-1860. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957, p. 698; Athenaeum 1837.

3. Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers, 1670-1870. 2 vols. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1968, 2:152.

4. Massachusetts Vital Records, Massachusetts State Archives, Boston.

5. Religious Union of Associationists Records, MHS.