Posts Tagged ‘domestic life’

Submitted by Penni Martorell, Wistariahurst Museum Curator and Holyoke City Historian.

In recent years, I have proudly brandished the title of “history nerd.” It was only recently that I realized that I was not like most of my peers. I have always been the one who wanted to know more about an item or artifact–who made it, where did it come from, how was it used and why don’t we still use them. As I reflect, I realize this character trait comes from spending many days after school at my aunt and uncle’s antique store. Many hours were spent in “The Shop” under the guise of dusting for a few cents spending money. But mostly I was imagining, playing with, and handling the many wooden, ceramic, glass, decorative and furniture items. I can still conjure up the smells, textures, and colors of many of the standard items—ceramic jugs, wooden bowls, candle holders and molds, tin boxes and all sorts of chairs.

What a gift my aunt and uncle gave to me, allowing me to experience these material items, with a quick lesson in colonial American history as my Uncle walked by posing questions–what it was used for, where did I think it was made, and why it might be valuable. The wash basins, the cooking utensils, the medical instruments, the tables and chairs—they all had a story. I learned to distinguish the claw and ball feet of certain chairs; how a flintlock rifle mechanism worked, and how dovetailed drawers are put together. Documents, newspapers, books, and photographs backing up the history I was learning at school. But nothing was more exciting than helping out at the local historical society on occasion. Here there was a colonial schoolhouse set up with desks, slates, and primers for children like me. And oh what fun it was when my Aunt donning colonial period clothing as the school marm and teaching school for visiting patrons.

For me History has always involved material culture—the physical objects of the past left for us to examine and explore, and providing all the fodder necessary to drive an historians’ research and inquiry.

So it is no surprise that museum work was a natural fit. For me there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a child engage their imagination with what it might have been like in the past; to hear their questions; to see their faces light up with curiosity; to hear the who, what, when, why and how questions uttered with hands raised and the “Oo, Oo, Oos!”.

Thankfully there are many folks who have never grown tired of pondering history. The pioneer valley is full of small historical museums, societies and associations staffed by tireless volunteers who also enjoy sharing material culture with anyone who is interested. Perhaps they too had a historically engaged childhood.

I encourage you, reader, to take advantage of these local historical sites to challenge your children to ponder and question the materials that fill the rooms. And if you don’t know where to start — it is here — exploring the Pioneer Valley History Network website.

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Tiffany Window

Tiffany Window

By Maggie Humberston

On a hot, muggy afternoon in the Valley sometimes an exhibit comes along that just seems to re–write your soggy, wilted script. TheTiffany Trail at the Springfield Museums is doing that for me this summer. The D’Amour Museum of Fine Art is hosting Tiffany Lamps: Articles of Utility, Objects of Art. You enter a cool, low-lit gallery full of botanical shapes, unexpected textures and glorious colors – all executed in glass. One thing I like is that right away you’re oriented to the craft involved; two cases at the beginning of the show feature samples of the glass used in the pieces and the process of joining those pieces together into an artistic leaded glass whole. This gives the visitor an immediate appreciation of what’s involved in the creation of these decorative art lamps. As you walk through the show, the colors from the lampshades glow from their electric light, allowing you to see every intricate detail in their make-up. The show features a number of pieces of leaded glass, but also has blown glass, and my favorite, “favrile fabrique,” which renders glass into pleated folds that looks like cloth. Supplemental photos in large format depict the Tiffany Company workshops and sales rooms inNew York, newspaper advertisements, and some of the botanical inspirations for the work. The show runs through Sept. 9th.

 

Accompanying the show is the MFA’s exhibit of its own contemporary glass. It features works of older masters like Rene Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany himself, along with contemporary glass artists like Josh Simpson and Dale Chihuly.

 

On to the George Walter Vincent Smith Museum, built in 1895 and appropriately late Victorian in décor, to see the newly restored Tiffany windows which were commissioned by the Smiths themselves. Upstairs don’t miss Tiffany’s “The Light Bearer”,  given by the Bowles family, owners of the Springfield Republican, to the Church of the Unity, one of Henry Hobson Richardson’s churches, once holding court across State Street in Springfield. Sadly, it was demolished in the 1960s – to put up a parking lot.

 

Finally – and I did say it was a trail, right – you should go over to the new Wood Museum of Springfield History to see the Tiffany engraved guns on the second floor. There are lots of great photos of Springfield in the early 20th century on the walls to take you back to the heyday of Tiffany himself, and while you’re there you can see the kinds of industrial innovations and neat luxury cars that were the capstone of his era. 

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