There were, for me, many stimulating offerings available at this year’s ASECS conference in Williamsburg, including a fine session on “Historical Reenactment,” sponsored by the Society of Early Americanists and chaired by Joy Howard. While I found all seven of the brief contributions thought-provoking (none more so than Michael Twitty’s presentation of his extraordinary work, including the Southern Discomfort Tour), Tyler Rudd Putman’s account of working as an intern on The First Oval Office Project during the summer of 2013 seemed perfectly suited to a posting here at Enfilade. I was thrilled he agreed. -CH
Living the History of George Washington’s Tent
T Y L E R R U D D P U T M AN
I spent the summer of 2013 dressed for work in the 1770s. As a historic trades intern working in costume in a workshop at Colonial Williamsburg, I was part of the First Oval Office Project, an initiative to recreate the sleeping tent, or marquee, used by George Washington during the American Revolution. Amazingly, this 22-foot-long oval tent still exists in the collection of the Museum of the American Revolution. Of thousands of tents made and used during the Revolution, only two survived to 2014; both belonged to Washington, saved for posterity.
Why would people spend years of research and months of sewing to make a big piece of canvas, especially when we already have the original? You can imagine what the old marquee is like after two centuries. It’s fragile. When the new Museum in Philadelphia installs it in Philadelphia in a new building about to begin construction, it will rest on a custom support system, so it doesn’t tear itself apart. But we wanted a tent that could travel, a tent that people could touch, a tent that people could walk into, look up at the ceiling inside, and wonder what it was like to be Washington during the Revolutionary War. Moreover, for all the hours experts have spent scrutinizing Washington’s marquee, there were still all sorts of mysteries we hoped to solve by making an exact copy. There were strange stitches, hints of repairs and adjustments, and other oddities we hoped to explain in the process of sewing a new tent, stitch by stitch, by hand (there were no sewing machines in the 1770s).
We also know almost nothing about the men and women who sewed Washington’s tent in 1777. They left few documentary traces, but recreating labor can help historians recapture lives. What was it like to sit ‘tailor fashion’, cross-legged atop a worktable, for a long day? Documents indicate that some women worked sewing tents during the Revolution as well. How was sewing work different for them? What does regular hand-sewing do to your hands?
The author at work sewing tent canvas.
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Experimental archaeology, or recreating an object or activity from the past to better understand the culture from which it emerged, is not time travel. I don’t know what it’s like to work a fourteen-hour day on a bread and small beer diet, in a body weathered from years of such labor, with an eighteenth-century mind. But I know how it hurts when you break a needle against your thumb, and I’ve felt the jubilation of finishing a hopelessly long seam. If you had been there this summer, you would have felt your back muscles tire and your posture change after only a day of sewing. You would have started to notice things. Linen lint floating in the air. The peculiar, miniscule catching when a steel needle has a small barb growing at its tip. How it’s possible to daydream and almost fall asleep amid the rhythmic motions of sewing a long seam. It’s in these microscopic moments that we connect with people long gone. No matter how much cultural baggage and time separates us, there’s something here we share with our long-ago predecessors.
We could have figured all this out in a warehouse somewhere. That certainly would have made our big experiment more efficient. But we wanted to make the tent in front of the public, so that the process of creation would both answer our questions and educate everyday people. To this end, the Museum of the American Revolution teamed with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and, in the summer and fall of 2013, operated a tentmaking shop in Williamsburg.
Washington’s tent was made in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1777, but we know that artificers and other tradesmen who worked for the army sewed plenty of tents in Williamsburg during the Revolution, so operating such a shop in the city fit well with the Foundation’s interpretive goals. A crew of costumed tradesmen, including myself, spent five days a week sewing common tents used by ordinary soldiers, uniforms, knapsacks, and George Washington’s marquee. We didn’t pretend to be historical characters but instead spoke with visitors as ourselves. The costumes were just another one of our tools, allowing us to understand and discuss things like posture, cleanliness, and fashion from a contemporary viewpoint.
Tailor Mark Hutter and interns Aaron Walker, Nicole Rudolph, Michael Ramsey, and Gwendolyn Basala at work in the tentmaking shop.
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Over eight months, we answered a lot of our questions and came up with all sorts of new ones. We had an exceptional, interdisciplinary crew of sewers, including experts in historic trades, artists, students, and historians. Behind the scenes, we relied on curators, conservators, weavers, woodworkers, and social media workers to keep our project on track. These diverse viewpoints generated valuable insights. In the process, we had to answer persistent visitor questions. “Were these tents waterproof?” many people asked. We wondered that, too, and we were lucky enough to have a rainy summer in Williamsburg, giving everyone the opportunity to see how linen canvas resists even torrential rain, how tightly sewn seams hold up well, and how everything depends on good tent poles, tight ropes, and firmly planted stakes.
Intern Aaron Walker tests a common tent, home to six Revolutionary soldiers, in a Williamsburg rain.
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I would also argue that we gained at least as much from the public as they did from visiting our workshop. Public interpretation, after all, is just interdisciplinarity in another form. What better way to test explanations of Revolutionary War society and politics than to present them to a banker, an IT specialist, or a med student visiting Colonial Williamsburg? Do the arguments of historians such as Gordon Wood, David Waldstreicher, or Rosemarie Zagarri fly with the average American? This isn’t about dumbing-down information, it’s about translating it. That’s why it’s called interpretation. One of the best conversations I had all summer came after I had been explaining colonial labor and social hierarchy to a middle-aged man. “So,” he asked, pausing in thought, “When did America become a good country for poor people?” As we talked about changing standards of freedom, individual rights, and American ideologies, you could see his eyes light up as he thought about his world, America today, in new ways. Who would have thought you could get all the way there, starting with a tent?
A month ago, a user of the online reddit forum “Ask Historians,” posed this question:
Are there any merits to these ‘doing history’ acts? I’m not a fan of battle reenactments… I see them as telling us more about ourselves now than they do about the past and I think it’s a mistake (detrimental?) to use them as ways in which history/the past is taught to the public and to students.
Perhaps this is a fair criticism of living history. I’ve certainly seen my share of bad costumed interpretation at museums, like the sort of tours led by guides in vaguely historic costumes demonstrating ‘traditional’ activities and repeating tired clichés. But there are also places and people that get it right. Michael Twitty, a historian and interpreter of early African-American foodways, argues that his interpretation is the result of a conversation between historical sources and current practices. Likewise, George Washington’s marquee means different things to retirees, boy scouts, or Midwestern families. But good living history interpretation makes it relevant to each of them in a personalized way. I think the reddit question offers the justification for this sort of quality living history. When it’s well done, when it engages with academic questions as well as public audiences, living history does tell us at least as much about ourselves as about the past. When that works, it’s beautiful—as beautiful as a clean white tent, the work of many hands, sitting on a grassy patch at Colonial Williamsburg.
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Tyler Rudd Putman is a PhD student in the History of American Civilization Program in the Department of History at the University of Delaware. He thanks Scott Stephenson, Mark Hutter, Neal Hurst, Gwendolyn Basala, Jay Howlett, Michael McCarty, Samantha McCarty, Brendan Menz, Joseph Privott, Michael Ramsey, Nicole Rudolph, Aaron Walker, the Museum of the American Revolution, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Nicole Belolan, Joyce Howard, and the other members of the “Historical Reenactment, Living History, and Public History” panel at ASECS 2014.
Christina Smylitopoulos (University of Guelph) reports that the first Canadian HECAA panel at UAAC last weekend in Banff went splendidly. Five speakers presented exceptional papers, and the discussions were rich and exciting—all framed by sublime mountains!
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Paul Holmquist, “Tying the Seductive Powers of Art to the Innate Rights of Man: The Architect as Legislator in the Ideal City of Chaux”
This paper examines the correlation between the Architect of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s ideal city of Chaux as set out in his L’Architecture…(1804) and the enigmatic figure of the Legislator in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s On the Social Contract (1762). I argue that Ledoux’s Architect acts analogously to the Legislator in aspiring to shape the moeurs or customary views, practices and ways of life of a people by adapting them to natural law in new institutions and architectural programs. The Architect, like the Legislator, must also rely upon persuasion rather than coercion for the efficacy of his new institutions, and make the good of the ‘legislation’ publicly appear in the expressive program of architecture parlante. This analysis will show that as such Ledoux’s architectural theory and vision for Chaux addressed key philosophical questions posed by Rousseau concerning the foundation of society in terms of nature, reason, sentiment, and the imagination.
Alena Robin, “Being a Painter in Mexico City in 1735: Voices from the Archives”
In February 1735, Felipe Chacón, master painter and guilder in Mexico City, addressed the Royal Mint to recover his dues for the work he had been doing in different parts of the building. The document preserved in the National Archives in Mexico City is rich in descriptions of the now lost building. What could have been a simple monetary transaction did not, however, end there. The officers of the Mint contracted José de Ibarra and Nicolás Enríquez, also master painters, to evaluate Felipe Chacón’s work. Not satisfied with the first evaluation, the officers requested a second one. José de Ibarra and Nicolás Enríquez are painters that hold a significant place in the historiography of New Spanish painting. The name of Felipe Chacón is however unknown to this pictorial tradition. It is worth examining these documents to pause on what could mean being a painter in Mexico City in the eighteenth century.
Elizabeth Ranieri, “Trionfo della Fede sull’Eresia ad Opera dei Domenicani (1709) by Francesco Solimena: The Baroque Fresco as Medium for Epideictic Discourse”
Francesco Solimena’s sacristy fresco Trionfo della Fede sull’Eresia ad Opera dei Domenicani (1709) in the Neapolitan Church of San Domenico Maggiore follows the classical model of epideictic discourse by praising the virtues and the achievements of its Dominican patrons and audience. Solimena’s fresco is about the efforts of the Dominican order to educate the common people in order to eliminate heretical thought and behavior. The work was commissioned by the Dominican order for a Dominican audience; the patron-viewers of the fresco all have the same sex, educational level, religious affiliation, interests, and values. The virtues that are depicted in the fresco are Faith, Obedience, Poverty, Chastity, and Wisdom, all of which are valued by the Dominican order. The primary purpose of the fresco is to celebrate the virtues and achievements of the Dominicans, particularly the order’s historical and figurative triumph over heresy through the use of “faith” and “works.”
Diana Cheng, “Lord Chesterfield’s Boudoir: A Room without the Sulks”
The boudoir, as the early eighteenth-century writer Laurent Bordelon opined, was an apt description of the room where a married woman indulged in her dark, unreasonable moods. While the original intent of the nomenclature was to denigrate the undutiful wife, the boudoir was, on the contrary, a place without the sulks from the perspective of the inhabitant. Philip Dormer Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694–1773), for one, considered his gilded arabesque boudoir at Chesterfield House the gayest room in England. The paper is a case study of this English aristocrat’s boudoir, highlighting its functional and decorative similarities and differences from a lady’s boudoir. It argues that the meaning and usage of the eighteenth-century boudoir, while seemingly varied depending on gender and class, was rooted in the desire of its inhabitant to re-stake the boundaries of social inter-dependencies and duties.
Ji Eun You, “Bringing the Revolution Home: Printed Fabric during the French Revolution, 1789–1795”
Between 1789 and 1795, the manufactories at Jouy-en-Josas and Nantes produced a small group of cotton fabrics printed with narrative and allegorical scenes of the French Revolution for interior furnishing. This paper explores the interpretive possibilities of these designs, with attention to the highly variable viewing experience that was contingent upon tactile interaction with the material through cutting, draping, and display. Simultaneously embracing and evading contemporary politics, the multiple viewings offered by the printed fabrics represent the period when radical political discourse compelled luxury decorative arts to renegotiate their places in French visual culture. My visual analysis of printed fabrics is joined to an investigation into the discursive and material context for luxury interior furnishings during the French Revolution. In doing so, I propose a way of rethinking the aesthetic experience of the French Revolution through decorative arts.
Eighteenth-century topics in the current issue of The Court Historian 17 (June 2012) . . .
• Clarissa Campbell Orr, “Popular History, Court Studies, and Courtier Diaries,” pp. 1-15.
• Robin Thomas, “Building the Monarchy: The Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, 1737,” pp. 35-60
• Neil Jeffares, “Between France and Bavaria: Louis-Joseph d’Albert de Luynes, Prince de Grimberghen,” pp. 61-85.
• Clare Hornsby, Review of David Marshall, Susan Russell, and Karin Wolfe, eds., Roma Britannica: Art Patronage and Cultural Exchange in Eighteenth-Century Rome (London: British School at Rome, 2011), pp. 91-93.
• Wolf Burchard, Review of Christina Strunck and Elisabeth Kieven, eds., Europäische Galeriebauten: Galleries in a Comparative European Perspective (1400-1800), Römische Studien der Bibliotheca Hertziana 29 (Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 2010); and Mathieu da Vinha and Claire Constans, eds., Les grandes galeries européennes XVIIe-XIXe siècles (Paris: Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2010), pp. 95-104.
• Antonio Ernesto Denunzio, “Aristocratic Residences in Naples: The Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano and Arts Patronage by the Nobility from the 16th to the 20th Centuries” (Naples, October 2011), pp. 113-14.
• Charles C. Noel, “The Court in Europe: Politics and Religion, 1500-1800,” (Madrid, December 2010), pp. 117-20.
This terrific collection of essays grew out of the 2001 conference The Fortuna of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Trattato della Pittura’, held at the Warburg Institute in London. I count myself lucky to have attended. Held just days after the 9/11 bombings (September 13-14), the conference was, as I recall, however, a strange affair — as so much of life was in those days immediately following the attacks — all the more reason to celebrate this accomplished volume. -CH
Recently added to caa.reviews:
Claire Farago, ed., Re-Reading Leonardo: The ‘Treatise on Painting’ across Europe, 1550–1900 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009), 652 pages, ISBN: 9780754665328, $124.95.
Reviewed by Ellen Prokop, The Frick Art Reference Library; posted 3 August 2011.
This impressive, generously illustrated collection of essays edited by Claire Farago developed from a symposium held in London in 2001 that focused on the historical reception of Leonardo da Vinci’s Trattato della pittura. Twenty-three studies, including introductory remarks and an annotated bibliography, by twenty authors (three scholars make multiple contributions) examine the transnational fortune of the treatise and consider Leonardo’s influence on the institutionalization of artistic production in early modern Europe. The focus on reception leads to consideration of fundamental issues regarding Leonardo’s legacy, such as the development of the modern conception of artistic genius, as well as broader concerns, such as the disciplinization of art history. By positing Leonardo’s influence instead of his reputation as the “historical phenomena” (3), the essays systematically problematize the constitution of that reputation. As Farago states: “An historical practice that focuses on the author’s identity without attending to the construction of identity per se, is blind to its own modes of knowledge production” (4). . . .
The full review is available here» (CAA membership required)
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While many of the contributions are relevant for the eighteenth century; these essays address the period directly:
•Thomas Willette, “The First Italian Publication of the Treatise on Painting: Book Culture, the History of Art, and the Naples Edition of 1733″
•Thomas Kirchner, “Between Academicism and Its Critics: Leonardo da Vinci’s Traité de la Peinture and 18th-century French Art Theory”
•Javier Navarro de Zuvillaga, “The Trattato in 17th- and 18th-century Spanish Perspective and Art Theory”
•Richard Woodfield, “The 1721 English Treatise of Painting: A Masonic Moment in the Culture of Newtonianism”
•Geoff Quilley, “The Trattato della Pittura and Leonardo’s Reputation in 18th-century British Art and Aesthetics”
Recently added to caa.reviews:
Conference — Emerging Landscapes: Between Production and Representation (London: University of Westminster, 25-27 June 2010).
Reviewed by Samantha L. Martin-McAuliffe, School of Architecture, University College Dublin; posted 11 January 2011.
. . . When the conference had seemingly reached the point where an obituary for the Picturesque seemed inevitable, Jonathan Hill (The Bartlett, University College London) delivered his keynote address, “Weather Architecture,” in which he called for a redemption of the tradition. Through a considered reflection on John Soane’s house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields and J. M. W. Turner’s London studio, Hill explained how the Picturesque attended to important themes, such as mortality, history, and, notably, the environment. Because this tradition aligned with topics such as the seasons and the senses (and hence the weather), the places it qualified were never static, but always emerging and forever changing. From this stance, the Picturesque is seen not so much as a formal model for construction that is fixed to a particular historical period, but instead as a sensitivity toward the surrounding world and its manifold processes—time, temperature, narrative. Is it possible, therefore, to recast the role of the Picturesque within contemporary landscape studies? Can it help the invisible yet constantly present conditions of the environment rise into notice? . . .
For the full review, click here» (CAA membership required)
As noted by Emile de Bruijn at Treasure Hunt, the V&A recently hosted a symposium in connection with SINOPTICON, on ongoing project that considers the role of Chinoiserie in contemporary art. Among the slate of speakers for the day, Ben Schmidt (University of Washington) addressed “Exoticism and Chinoiserie circa 1700: The Medium and the Message,” and Glenn Adamson (V&A Deputy Head Research and Head of Graduate Studies) spoke on “A Way of Seeing: The Optic of Chinoiserie.” The full symposium program is available here, and there are plans for regular updates at the SINOPTICON blog. As noted at the project’s website:
SINOPTICON is a long-term project investigating ideas and themes of a contemporary chinoiserie in contemporary art. The 18th-century term, ‘chinoiserie’, arose from the mania for Chinese artefacts that erupted in the seventeenth century transforming taste and aesthetics in the West forever. Now China is back, upsurging as a country of major economic and political impact – and with it a new wave of chinoiserie for the twenty-first century. SINOPTICON looks at chinoiserie afresh in the context of contemporary art and incorporates design, display, desire and frippery alongside politics and trade, authorship, interpretation and cultural misunderstanding, fantasy, escapism and fiction. SINOPTICON includes an extensive research and development phase, a symposium, residencies, new commissions and a national touring exhibition.
Lee Rosenbaum’s article “A Biblio-File Brouhaha,” which addresses the future of the BHA, appeared last week in The Wall Street Journal (20 April 2010). Additional information on the conference held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on The Future of Art Bibliography in the 21st Century can be found at Rosenbaum’s blog, CultureGrrl.
Good News: The Curious Specimens conference in London was even better than I had expected (and I expected a lot). The Walpole and Mrs. Delany exhibitions are both stunning as installed, respectively, at the V&A and Soane’s Museum. The conference panels were stimulating, and Saturday’s visit to Strawberry Hill was thrilling (hard to beat a rooftop tour). Many thanks to the organizers, especially Luisa Calè and Lisa Ford but also Michael Snodin, Amy Meyers, Margaret Powell, Alicia Weisberg-Roberts, and Brian Allen.
Bad News: Because I’m caught in the UK under a massive cloud of ash, with irregular access to email, Enfilade will be updated less frequently than normal during the next few days. ‘Caught’ hardly conveys my joy at having a few extra days in London; nor does talk of the ash cloud conjure the wonderful sunny weather that the city is currently experiencing, but it does perhaps suggest the utter strangeness of the situation (and to be fair, for untold numbers of people, the travel freeze is proving to be an horrendous ordeal). Please feel free to continue sending details for any announcements or news items you would like to see posted. I’ll add them as soon as I can. Thanks for your patience. -CH
By Amber Ludwig
If you were at this year’s ASECS Annual Meeting, you probably tried Albuquerque’s favorite ingredient: the green chile. From breakfast burritos to macaroni and cheese, it goes on anything and everything in Albuquerque, NM, adding a flavor of the Southwest to ordinary dishes. A bit of southwestern spice was evident throughout this year’s ASECS Annual Meeting, too. The airport volunteers at the information desk welcomed our ranks with southern hospitality and made sure everyone arrived at their respective hotels. The Hotel Albuquerque provided a southwestern backdrop with tile floors, a large fireplace, and brightly colored walls and furniture. The close proximity to Albuquerque’s Old Town made the hotel a great location for after-conference dinners complete with—what else?—green chiles.
The conference began bright and early on Thursday with offerings that frustrated some of the art historians. Several panels on art were scheduled for the opening session. “Theories of Visual Experience and Artists’ Writings about Art in the 18th Century,” “Constructing a Public Face: Image Creation in the Long 18th Century,” “Gender and Homosociality in the Long 18th Century,” “The 18th Century in Motion,” and “Portraits and Money” all took place at the same time and featured art historical papers. Despite this overlap, the sessions were well-attended, and animated audience members contributed to lively discussions. The day continued with panels on Venice, artists’ lives and afterlives, inspiration, and pastiche. Thursday ended with a rousing member reception that had conference attendees spilling outside, onto the hotel’s warm plaza to enjoy the beautiful weather and setting sun.
Friday continued with strong sessions. “Cultures of Flowers” — despite being held in one of the hotel’s suites rather than a conference room — provided a fascinating look into the various ways flowers conveyed meaning and operated within both intellectual and popular culture of the eighteenth century. “Visualizing Interiority in the 18th Century,” “Enthusiastic Performances: Women and Spirituality in the 18th Century,” “Satire et censure de l’Ancien Régime au Consulat,” and “HECAA New Scholars Session” gave members much to talk about at the HECAA luncheon. The “New Scholars Session,” in particular, demonstrated the variety of approaches and methodologies being employed by younger HECAA members. From theories of looking to econometrics (no, that isn’t a typo!), these presenters showed that the eighteenth century continues to attract innovative researchers. Friday ended with a decorative arts session that combined a traditional presentation of papers with a roundtable discussion, a popular format that encouraged audience participation.
The final day of the conference began with an unexpected snowfall, but the high temperatures melted any evidence well before lunch. The House of Habsburg was well-represented on Saturday with a two-part session addressing both art history and music history. Another multi-disciplinary panel, “Friendship between Men and Women,” tackled this often-ignored type of professional and personal relationship. The panel was a great way to wind down the conference, since it signaled various issues to be explored in the future. As the weekend came to an end, participants seemed a bit tired, but this writer is sure that a dinner—complete with green chiles—fortified everyone, preparing the scholars to tackle airport security for the flights home.
Amber Ludwig is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History at Boston University. Her dissertation analyzes the creation and reception of portraits of Emma Hamilton and the ways in which the art of portraiture helped to fashion her public identity. Amber received one of HECAA’s Mary Vidal Memorial Fund Awards for travel to this year’s ASECS meeting.
Details on these panels, including a list of presenters and individual paper topics, can be found here»
From CAA News, 5 March 2010:
The 2010 Annual Conference in Chicago, one of the best attended in recent years, had an incredibly diverse array of sessions. Audio recordings for eighty-one of those panels are now available for sale. A set of MP3 audio recordings from the Chicago conference is available for only $149.95, either as a download or on interactive CD-ROMs. Individual sessions, available only as downloads, are $24.95 each. Please visit Conference Media to view the list of sessions and to order.
Available sessions include such timely topics as “Lifeloggers: Chronicling the Everyday” and “Autofictions, Avatars, and Alter Egos: Fabricating Artists.” Thematic art-historical topics, on analyzing repetition in ancient art and on violence and narrative in early modern art, also make appearances, as do state of the field talks on the art history of the African diaspora and on American-art textbooks. Included in the mix are pedagogical topics involving “Autonomizing Practices in Art, Art History, and Education” and “WTF: Talking Theory with Art and Art-History Undergrads,” among others.
Whether you took part in, attended, or missed a particular conference session, these recordings are a must-have for your library, research, or teaching. Listen to them while walking across campus, while driving in your car or using public transportation, or while relaxing in your home.
In addition to the Chicago sessions, you can also purchase session audio recordings from the 2006–9 conferences in Boston, New York, Dallas–Fort Worth, and Los Angeles. See http://conference.collegeart.org/audio for details.