Back to the Past: The Hamilton House

During my New Hampshire vacation, my friend (who hosted me for the week) and I took a drive to South Berwick, ME to visit yet another historic house!

This time, we traveled back to the 18th century to visit the Hamilton House, a National Historic Landmark built around 1785 by shipping merchant Jonathan Hamilton. One of the most striking features of this stunning Georgian house is the breathtaking views of the Salmon Falls River as well as its colorful period garden. 

To learn more about the Hamilton House which is owned by Historic New England and is open to the public for viewing click here.

H.H. Richardson and the Arts and Crafts Connection in New Hampshire

Ever since taking my first architectural history survey at the University of New Hampshire, I became fascinated with the Arts and Crafts Movement and the architecture of Henry Hobson Richardson.  I wrote my first paper ever, in any architectural history class on the libraries of H.H. Richardson and I am a docent at Trinity Church, one of Richardson’s masterpieces.  What’s the connection between the Arts and Crafts Movement, H.H. Richardson and New Hampshire, you might be wondering?

See, every summer I’ve made it a goal of mine to explore a historic house in the New England region and learn as much as I can from my visit. The past few summers, I’ve gone to Salem, MA, Newport, RI and most recently, New Canaan, CT to visit the Philip Johnson Glass House. This summer, I traveled to New Hampshire and visited Lucknow or “Castle in the Clouds,” a 16 room Arts and Crafts Mansion situated atop one of New Hampshire’s mountains overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee.

Located a short driving distance from Wolfeboro, one of America’s oldest resort towns, to experience the architecture of “Castle in the Clouds” visitors must take a trolley from the Carriage House to the peak of the mountain.  At the sight of the Carriage House, I immediately started recalling certain characteristics of Richardson’s architecture and began drawing connections between the architecture of the Carriage House and Richardson’s buildings, most notably the estate for Robert Treat Paine in Waltham, MA.

Lucknow, completed in 1913-14 was the home of Thomas Plant (1859-1941), a businessman with very strong connections to Boston.  There is no doubt in my mind that Plant was exposed to the architecture of Richardson, not only those buildings in Boston, but in the suburbs as well. Thomas Plant made his fortune in the shoe manufacturing industry in Massachusetts and retired a millionaire at age fifty-one. Mr. Plant was allegedly the architect of Lucknow (one of the tour guides mentioned that his brother was the architect and that Thomas Plant himself had control over the drawings, but Thomas took the title of architect. Oh the gossip!) and the Richardsonian influences could not have any less visible. From the bold massing and the harmonious integration of  the building with its surrounding landscape to the “eyelid or eyebrow” windows made famous by Richardson and later architects, Mr. Thomas Plant was without a doubt influenced by Richardson as well as the ideas behind the American Arts and Crafts Movement.

The Arts and Crafts Movement (1830-1870) springs out of the Gothic Revival in England by emphasizing a strict design morality(1) and rebelling against the often uninspiring machine made objects by placing emphasis on hand crafted ornamentation and details. Spearheaded by artists and theorists like William Morris and John Ruskin, who collectively with their art and writings became the driving force that integrated social and moral ideologies into the art and architecture that was produced in America beginning in Richardson’s  time. To decorate his mansion, Mr. Thomas Plant commissioned the best artists and craftsmen working in the Arts and Crafts Movement in America. The glasswork found in the mansion was commissioned to Louis Comfort Tiffany, lighting by the Edward F. Caldwell Company of New York and custom woodwork and furnishings by A.H Davenport/Irving and Casson of Boston, Richardson’s furniture maker.

The prestigious furniture makers and carvers at A.H. Davenport and Company(2) who later in 1916 merged with Irving and Casson executed most of Richardson’s furniture commissions including the Court of Appeals in Albany, New York, the Crane Library in Quincy, Massachusetts, the Billings Library in Burlington, Vermont and the Converse Library in Malden (3).  A.H Davenport became one of the largest and most prosperous furniture makers of the time after purchasing The Boston Furniture Company in 1880. Albert Henry Davenport himself had been the bookkeeper at Boston Furniture Company until 1866 (4). Known for their exquisite craftsmanship and attention to the most inconspicuous details, Davenport and Company went on to make furniture for the mansions of the wealthy residents of the Back Bay, the White House under President Roosevelt and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City (5). The woodwork and furnishings at Lucknow are impressive and harmonize beautifully with the exposed joints  of the architecture.

Richardson died prematurely at the age of 48 (died in 1886) and did not live to see the tremendous influence his architecture had in America, Canada and Northern European countries.  The breathtaking mansion of Lucknow or “Castle in the Clouds” is a testament to the power of Richardson’s architecture and the exquisite craftmanship of A.H. Davenport/Irving and Casson masters of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America.

H.H. Richardson's Stonehurst; The Robert Treat Paine Estate in Waltham, MA

I’ve conducted an extensive research on Richardson’s furniture which culminated in a talk at one of his most ornate buildings. Perhaps, I can write a small post on the furniture of H.H. Richardson for all of you to enjoy. As long as you all want me of course!

1 Elizabeth Cumming and Wendy Kaplan, The Arts and Crafts Movement (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991) 14
2 Marian Page, Furniture Designed by Architects (New York: Whitney Library of Design, 1984) 68
3  Anne Farnam, “A.H. Davenport and Company, Boston Furniture Makers” Antiques 1055
4 Anne Farnam.  Antiques
5 Anne Farnam, “A.H. Davenport and Company, Boston Furniture Makers” Antiques 1048

Modernism and Recent Past in Providence: A Self Guided Walking Tour

When I lived in Providence, I spent countless hours working on my landscape architecture studio classes at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) that I barely noticed the buildings around me. I ate, breathed and dreamed landscape architecture.  Although I dropped out of RISD for personal reasons, I cherished the short time I spent working with the excellent faculty and classmates in the Department of Landscape Architecture.

Last weekend, I retraced my steps around the Brown University and RISD campuses to experience once again, the architecture I had almost forgotten. On this day trip to Providence I went on a self guided walking tour of Modernist and Recent Past architecture created by Sara Emmenecker, a Public Humanities Graduate student at Brown University. I’m fascinated with the study of Modernism and love learning about and exploring modern architectural resources in New England. To learn more about this wonderful project created by Sara click here and head to Providence and explore the city’s modern architectural resources.

Reflections on Water

I can’t swim to save my life. As a matter of fact, I can’t even doggy paddle. I thought I’d tell you now before you read any further. I must also tell you that I’ve never experienced any life altering incidents involving water (in case you wanted to know). In fact, some of the fondest memories I have as a child have dealt with water has playing a prominent role. I’m just not a water type of person I guess.

The sight of water alone re-energizes my senses and brings back memories of places and people I’ve encountered along my path in life. Up until recently, I lived about a 10 minute walk from the ocean. Whenever I needed to clear my mind or fill my lungs with the cool sea breeze, I would engage in a conversation with the waves crashing upon the shore. I no longer have that “luxury.” Ever since my move to another neighborhood in Boston, it requires more planning than I thought it originally would using public transportation.

Lucky for me, Boston is home to Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace – a series of picturesque parks linked as the name suggests, like a necklace by parkways and waterways.  In a spur of the moment decision, I ventured out to Jamaica Pond in Jamaica Plain earlier this week to connect with the pond and its beautiful surroundings.

Bounded by the town of Brookline and located within walking distance from the home and studio of both Frederick Law Olmsted and the architect Henry Hobson Richardson, Jamaica Pond is a popular destination for city dwellers looking to go sailing, fishing, jogging or walking. Both Olmsted and Richardson were friends and collaborated on many outstanding projects in Massachusetts which integrated the architecture with its surrounding landscapes.  

The architecture at Jamaica Pond consists of a boat house and bandstand designed by the firm of Stickney and Austin and the now demolished Pinebank Mansion; the Queen Anne style house designed by John Hubbard Sturgis, of Sturgis and Brigham; designers of the Museum of Fine Arts that once stood on Copley Square.

I hadn’t been to Jamaica Pond since I was about 11 years old. As I approached the pond from Pond Street, memories of family picnics and bike rides started to flow. I briskly walked along the pond’s edges, calmly awaiting the sunset.  As the sun began to set and colors emerged from behind the clouds, the architecture of Stickney and Austin became so much more intense contrasting with the soft glow of the sun. This moment reminded me of how much we all intrinsically benefit from the natural and designed landscapes that surround us.  And although I cannot swim, I try to engage and interact as often as I can with landscapes and architecture where water plays a prominent role like Jamaica Pond.

To learn more about the Emerald Necklace and the work being done to preserve and restore this magnificent cultural resource, click here.

Learn more about the Olmstead Historic Site in Brookline and the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation.

To read about Stickney and Austin, see posts here and here.

Primary Colors

The more I explore Boston the more I’m noticing patterns and trends in new architecture, such as the use of bold primary colors on the exterior of buildings. The example below is the Orchard Gardens Pilot School in Roxbury. Completed in 2003 by the Boston architects Todd Lee of TLCR Architecture and David Lee of Stull and Lee, the Orchard Gardens Pilot School was selected among the top 10 new buildings of the last decade by the Boston Herald for breaking away from the “puritanism” observed in much of the city’s architecture. I think it’s a stunning building and adds a punch of color to this area of Roxbury. 

Book Review: Life on the Lower East Side: Photographs by Rebecca Lepkoff, 1937-1950

Peter Dans and Suzanne Wasserman
Life on the Lower East Side: Photographs by Rebecca Lepkoff, 1937-1950
Princeton Architectural Press, 2006 $29.95
ISBN 978-1-56898-939-6

In January of 2010, I visited New York City specifically to explore the Lower East Side, in particular landmarks like the Eldridge Street Synagogue and the Lower East Side Tenement House Museum. Wanting to experience the sumptuous interior talked about in Preservation Magazine, I went on a tour of the Eldridge Street Synagogue in the center of Chinatown. When the tour ended, a woman from Connecticut approached me said “you know, there aren’t any other places on earth like the Lower East Side.” I agreed with the woman and briefly discussed the complex spatial and cultural relationships found in this neighborhood of New York City. I emphasized the immigration trends and patterns that have impacted and shaped the Lower East Side and went as far as to call the neighborhood a microcosm of the United States. 

As cold as it was outside, I was deeply immersed in the rich urban fabric of this neighborhood, absorbing its buildings, people and streetscapes. Today, what visitors and residents experience walking around most of the Lower East Side are the results of the Urban Renewal projects of the 1940’s and 1950’s which demolished many areas deemed unfit to live in (this happened all over the country, not just in New York City).  Photographing the sector of the Lower East Side razed for public housing, Rebecca Lepkoff transports us back to a neighborhood most of us perhaps never knew had existed.

The photographs of Rebecca Lepkoff vividly capture the moments and memories of a neighborhood long gone (and perhaps forgotten by many) decades before Urban Renewal.  Lepkoff “[’s photographs are] filled with love and a sense of history and community[…] (31).” The Lower East Side brought international fame and recognition to Lepkoff whose striking images of people and the city celebrate the urbanity and simplicity of the vibrant neighborhood she once called home.

Life on the Lower East Side: Photographs of Rebecca Lepkoff, 1937-1950 is the first monograph of Lepkoff’s work in the Lower East Side. The plates in the book shed much light on issues of cultural identity, race and multiculturalism, issues that photographer Gordon Parks had explored through the lens of his camera roughly around the same time Lepkoff was active. A member of the Photo League, the same organization photographers like Lewis Hine, W. Eugene Smith, Paul Strand and other masters of photography were part of, the images of Rebecca Lepkoff are richly layered in beauty and history. Lepkoff, like Berenice Abbott, another photographer whose muse was the city of New York also celebrates the power and inspiration found in the bridges, factories, smokestacks and elevated railways. Lepkoff’s photographs bring out a sense of hope and heroism observed in the people who lived in this neighborhood.

Last Spring, I enrolled in a history of photography class at a university in Boston and having been exposed to many great masters of photography, the images in this monograph stylistically recall those of Lewis Hine, Paul Strand, Berenice Abbott, Gordon Parks and even Eugene Atget in their beautiful composition and play of light and shadow. Although I was not introduced to the work of Lepkoff in this class, I am hopeful that her work will be seen in future history of photography surveys.

Additions: The American Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts

I try make it to the MFA as often as I can, there’s always something new to see and learn. For the last few years, the MFA has been undergoing an expansion and many works of art have been out of sight and in storage, some galleries have closed and others have opened in their places.  This November a new wing dedicated to the Art of North, Central and South America will open and I’m already counting down, it’s been too long without seeing some of the finest American art in any American collection. Below are some images of this new wing I snapped on Friday. Learn more by clicking this link.

Project Architects:  Foster and Partners