The Irrepressible Zelia

1978.02

Sydney Percy Kendrick (British, 1874–1955). Mrs. Charles Frederick Hoffman, ca. 1930. Oil on canvas. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mrs. Aymar Johnson, 1978.02. This posthumous portrait was painted from a photograph taken of Zelia in evening dress before a 1920s function in London and was given to Bartow-Pell by her daughter.

International Garden Club founder and Bartow mansion preservationist Zelia Hoffman (1867–1929) was definitely not a shrinking violet. The hard-charging Newport hostess, transatlantic horticulturalist, country house chatelaine, philanthropist, and political candidate was described by the pseudonymous Old Guard gossip columnist Cholly Knickerbocker in 1929 as “Zealous Zelia.” This visionary woman with a get-it-done attitude was much more than a mere grande dame with lots of ideas. Today she would probably be making headlines as an elected official or a CEO.

Zelia Krumbhaar Preston was born in Evansville, Indiana, in 1867. Her father was a bank president, and the family lived in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Europe, and New York. At nineteen, Zelia attended Oxford, not long after the first women’s colleges were founded there. It is unknown whether her mother hoped to marry her off to a British aristocrat like other wealthy Americans who traded cash for titles, but as an enthusiastic anglophile, Zelia “used a number of her American dollars later in life to lease a great [British] establishment” (in Knickerbocker’s words).

Charles F. Hoffman Jr. from Select Organizations in the United States, William V. R. Miller, ed., 1896 - Copy - Copy

Charles Frederick Hoffman Jr. in 1896

On December 29, 1900, thirty-three-year-old Zelia married forty-four-year-old Charles Frederick Hoffman Jr. (1856–1919) in a yuletide ceremony at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Tuxedo Park, a blueblood enclave north of New York City where the couple had met. The New York Times reported that the bride wore “old family lace, a diamond collar, the gift of the bridegroom, and a diamond spray of flowers, a gift of the bridegroom’s mother,” and proceeded down the aisle on her brother’s arm as the choir sang the wedding chorus from Wagner’s Lohengrin. It was the first marriage for the bride and the second for the groom, whose first wife had died in 1895.

Zelia’s husband was a very rich man. His father, Rev. Dr. Charles Frederick Hoffman, Rector of All Angels’ Episcopal Church in New York City, and his father’s brother, Rev. Dr. Eugene Augustus Hoffman, Dean of the General Theological Seminary, had inherited an immense fortune from their father. When Charles Hoffman died in 1919, the New York Times announced that he had left an estate of five million dollars, stipulating that $50,000 a year be devoted “to the education and maintenance” of the couple’s only child, seventeen-year-old Marian, so that she could “keep up the state of life which is suitable to one in her station.”

Marian Hoffman Johnson recounted that her parents had built a home in New York City at 620 Fifth Avenue designed by Carrere and Hastings (further research needs to be done on this now-demolished building). The Hoffmans spent the summer season at their palatial Newport estate, Armsea Hall (also demolished), where they enjoyed a lavish social life among posh people such as the Astors and Vanderbilts.

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Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864–1952). Rose Trellis at Armsea Hall, 1914. Glass lantern slide. Library of Congress

Along with other progressive well-to-do women at the time leading up to World War I, Zelia must have grown tired of a life limited to running the household, making trips to the dressmaker, and planning the next party, so she took on leadership roles in a number of philanthropic organizations and social causes. Among her projects was the creation of the International Garden Club (IGC) and restoration of the Bartow mansion to serve as the organization’s clubhouse. Zelia had a longtime interest in horticulture and had beautiful gardens in Newport, where she was a founder of the Newport Garden Club.

The story of the IGC starts with two women—Zelia Hoffman, an American who was in love with Britain, and Alice Martineau, an Englishwoman who was in love with America. It was a match made in gardening heaven.

In 1913, Mrs. Martineau published The Herbaceous Garden and sailed to America that autumn to “give a course of drawing-room lectures in New York . . . for the purpose of increasing interest in fine gardening among wealthy society people,” as the New York Times reported. It is unknown exactly when and how the two women met, but at Alice Martineau’s suggestion, Zelia sprang into action to create a new organization modeled on the Royal Horticultural Society. By the spring of 1914, Mrs. Hoffman had enlisted an impressive array of wealthy and influential people to join the new garden club, restore the historic Bartow mansion, and create a variety of gardens. Their ambitious vision included publishing a serious horticultural journal, establishing a library, and organizing lectures and flower shows, among other activities. In May 1914, the New York Tribune gushed: “The International Garden Club, which was formed as a result of Mrs. Martineau’s enthusiasm, has already grown to a size which promises that the club will be able to do the great work it has set itself.”

Delano Bartow rose garden design 1917

Delano & Aldrich, architects. Proposed Rose Garden for the International Garden Club, Bartow Mansion, Pelham Bay Park, 1917. Illustration from the Journal of the International Garden Club, vol. I, no. 1, August 1917. Mrs. Hoffman loved roses. Delano & Aldrich proposed a magnificent rose garden at Bartow-Pell under her leadership, but the design was never realized.

Astoundingly, the IGC was only one of Zelia’s many activities around this time. She was also Secretary and Vice President of the Diocesan Auxiliary of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; Acting President of the National Special Aid Society (a World War I women’s service group); active in the Red Cross; and President of the Newport Garden Club. Not surprisingly, she supported women’s right to vote and attended a suffrage ball for 1,500 people in Chicago in 1916. She must have had boundless drive and energy.

In 1919, Zelia’s husband died at Armsea Hall in Newport. The wealthy widow moved to England a few months later, eventually settling at Blickling Hall, a grand historic Norfolk estate with extensive gardens that is now part of the National Trust.

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Blickling Hall, Zelia Hoffman’s home in the 1920s. The Gardens of England in the Midland and Eastern Counties, 1908

Mrs. Hoffman became a British subject and ran for Parliament in 1929, hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow American-turned-Brit Nancy Astor, who was the first woman MP in the House of Commons. During her campaign, Zelia did not mince words when asked about her strong but surprising stance on Prohibition, saying in the New York Times: “‘Prohibition—for Americans, yes; for England, no. In England, there is no need for prohibition at all. It is a peaceful, law-abiding country.’” She went on to say: “‘No, I do not agree with Lady Astor. I should hate to give Englishmen raspberry frappé and sundaes instead of beer.’” (Lady Astor was sympathetic to anti-drinking laws.) Although Zelia wanted to “inject a new brand of American pep into the sedate Parliament,” according to the Pittsburgh Press, she lost her bid as the Liberal candidate for North Norfolk.

A few months after her political defeat, Zelia Hoffman died at the age of sixty-two. The Bishop of Norwich presided at her funeral service at Blickling Church, and she was buried in New York alongside her husband at Trinity Cemetery in Upper Manhattan.

As we recognize Bartow-Pell’s 102nd anniversary, we celebrate the remarkable Zelia Hoffman, the irrepressible force who started it all.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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In the Pelham Woods: The Poets of Pelham Priory

April is the twentieth anniversary of National Poetry Month. Please mark your calendars for Poetry in the Parlors on Sunday, April 17, at 4:30 p.m. when BPMM teams up with Four Way Books to present readings by poet Rachel Eliza Griffiths from her 2015 book Lighting the Shadow and novelist and poet Victoria Redel from her work Make Me Do Things. Reception with a book signing afterwards. Registration requested. Cost $10 adults; $8 seniors and students

 

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William Rickarby Miller (1818–1893), Woodland Path at the Priory, 1856

 And in the Pelham woods you meet

With boulders black and gray

And moss-grown stones form many a seat

For those who thither stray.

Caroline May, “Pelham Woods,” Lays of Memory and Affection, 1888

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William Rickarby Miller, Pelham Priory, 1856

Schoolhouse Christ Church

Schoolhouse at Christ Church, Pelham

The Boltons of Pelham Priory were Bartow neighbors known for their artistic, theological, educational, and literary accomplishments during the nineteenth century in America and England. This imaginative family with thirteen children began writing at home, as in many literary households. Their collaborative family newspaper, The Pelham Chronicle, was penned starting in the late 1830s. Each issue concluded with a “Poet’s Corner,” which later formed the basis of The Harp of Pelham (1844), a book of verse that was sold to raise funds to build a neighborhood schoolhouse (still extant today on the grounds of Christ Church, Pelham). The works are in turn comic, sentimental, philosophical, pastoral, narrative, and religious—in short, the range is as large as the number of sibling authors.

 

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“The Musketoe Hunt: A Parody” in The Harp of Pelham is based on Charles Wolfe’s well-known poem about the Peninsular War, “The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna” (1817).

Caroline May (ca. 1820–1895) was an English-born teacher at the Boltons’ school for young ladies, which was in operation from the early 1840s to 1881. She was also a poet, editor, essayist, and artist, and some of her poetical works describe the Priory and its circle. In “Lines (Written by Request for Some Pupils Leaving School at the Priory),” she wrote:

Soon will ye leave the Priory walls,

Where ye have spent such busy days

Of discipline, and studious pleasure;

Heard the old bell ring through the walls

For morning work, or evening praise,

Or night’s repose, a well-earned treasure.

Caroline May, “Lines,” Lays of Memory and Affection, 1888

No doubt students at the school were inspired by the same muses as their teachers, and the Pelham Priory would have been a fittingly romantic setting for its resident poets.

Priory ca. 1860

Pelham Priory with family members, ca. 1860

In 1848, in her late twenties, Caroline May published The American Female Poets, one of three similar anthologies that appeared in 1848–49, when there was a plethora of women poets, a rapidly developing American poetic tradition, and an enthusiastic market for verse. The other anthologies—both edited by men and entitled The Female Poets of America—were by Rufus W. Griswold and Thomas Buchanan Read. Editors often excluded women from general poetry collections because their work was considered too sentimental and less serious than men’s writing. Subsequently, Miss May published several volumes of her own poems, exploring themes like nature, religion, personal relationships, and women’s experiences.

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Poetry books by Caroline May: American Female Poets (1848), Hymns on the Collects (1872), and The Woodbine (1851)

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William Jay Bolton, “Sacred Sorrow,” from The Woodbine

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Caroline May, The Woodbine, 1851

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nanette Bolton (1815–1884)

May’s poetry reveals that she was a close friend of the Boltons, including Nanette and Adele, the sisters who ran the Priory school after their parents returned to England in 1850. The three deeply religious clergymen’s daughters had many things in common, including their charitable work at the Civil War hospital on David’s Island in New Rochelle, which inspired Caroline May’s elegiac lament:

Civil War has wrought the change;

Hark the tattoo of the drums,

Or the bugle’s shrilly range,

When the morn or evening comes!

See the lines of gleaming walls,

Soldier’s tents and hospitals!

Visit David’s Island now,

And in those pavilions white

You will feel your spirit bow

With strange sorrow, at the sight

Of the many sorts of pain

Horrid war brings in its train.

Caroline May, “David’s Island,” Poems, 1865

By 1881, Nanette Bolton was in poor health. She closed the Priory school and went to Europe, where she died in Sepey, Switzerland, in the summer of 1884. Caroline May memorialized her friend in “From Alpine Heights to Heavenly” (1888): “And oft she said, ‘Oh would it not be grand to go to heaven from here!’”

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Gilded Age Glamour Personified: The Gibson Girl

Bartow-Pell’s current exhibition, Gilded Age Glamour, features fashions and fashion prints from the museum’s collection. These stylish ensembles from a lost era are on view until April 30.

Style divas in the Gilded Age of the 1890s and beyond were inspired by the Gibson Girl, the ne plus ultra modern woman of taste, beauty, self-assurance, and glamour created by the illustrator Charles Dana Gibson (1867–1944) and partly modeled on his wife, Irene, one of the famous Langhorne sisters. Statuesque, sophisticated, and athletic, the Gibson Girl was an American aristocrat who wore her clothes as a supermodel would today. A wasp waist and shapely bosom gave her the perfect figure for fashions of the time.

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This illustration and others reproduced here date from the 1890s and are from The Gibson Book: A Collection of the Published Works of Charles Dana Gibson in Two Volumes, Vol. I (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons and R. H. Russell, 1906).

In Gibson’s world, the ideal woman is independent and beautiful. Men admire her, society gossips about her, and parents fret as she coolly moves through a myriad of social occasions and tête-à-têtes.

Gibson dress shopping

The Gibson Girl looks at us confidently, pouts prettily, or gazes serenely into the distance in order to display her handsome profile.

Gibson Tea Drinker detail

BPMM’s exhibition is a rare chance to see fashions in our costume collection that were worn during the glamorous Gibson Girl years of the Gilded Age.

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“Toilette de Plage (Beach Ensemble),” La Grande Dame, Revue Mondaine Cosmopolite, no. 32 (Paris: Ancienne Maison Quantin, 1893–96). Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. The woman in Bartow-Pell’s print enjoys the outdoors and boldly directs her gaze at the viewer.

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“Toilette de Théâtre” (Theater Ensemble), La Grande Dame, Revue Mondaine Cosmopolite, no. 45 (Paris: Ancienne Maison Quantin, 1893–96). Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. This 1890s fashion print from a French magazine can be seen in BPMM’s current exhibition. It depicts the era’s leg-of-mutton sleeves (creating a strong shoulder line) and a stylish large hat. Like the American Gibson Girl, the model is a modern woman who exudes confidence, style, and beauty. Her lovely face is shown in profile.

We hope you will join us on Thursday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. for “Fashion and Femininity in Gilded Age America” by exhibition curators Claire McRee and Sarah Pickman, who will discuss the era as a turning point in how women dressed and lived.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Happy Anniversary, Mr. and Mrs. Bartow!

One hundred and eighty-nine years ago, on March 20, 1827, Robert Bartow (1792–1868) and Maria Rosina Lorillard (1800–1880) tied the knot. He was thirty-five, and she was twenty-six, a bit on the old side for a first marriage at that time. He was a descendent of the Lords of the Manor of Pelham and America’s landed gentry. She was an heiress to part of the great Lorillard tobacco fortune. Wealth, social position, and (hopefully) love—marital bliss had a promising future.

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St. George’s Church, 1815. The original 18th-century building was destroyed by fire in 1814 and replaced by a new structure shown here. The church moved to Stuyvesant Square in the 1840s.

The couple married at fashionable St. George’s (Episcopal) Church, then located at 41 Beekman Street, whose members included some of the city’s elite. This was Robert Bartow’s neighborhood church; his address in 1827 was just a few doors away at 33 Beekman. Bartow and some of his relatives were parishioners, along with the bride’s uncle Jacob Lorillard (1774–1838), who had served on the vestry.

Jacob Lorillard

Jacob Lorillard, the bride’s uncle

The Reverend Dr. James Milnor (1773–1845) officiated. He had represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. Congress before becoming an Episcopal minister and was Rector at St. George’s for almost thirty years from 1816 to his death in 1845.

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Rev. Dr. James Milnor, Rector of St. George’s Church

New-York Mirror Saturday March 31, 1827 title page

Miss Maria Lorillard and Mr. Robert Bartow’s wedding announcement was published on March 31, 1827.

The New-York Mirror and Ladies’ Literary Gazette announced the wedding, simply stating the name of the bride, groom, officiant, and date. However, as was the custom at the time, the bride probably wore a satin or silk dress in a shade of white, a veil, and perhaps a wreath of fragrant orange blossoms. Bridesmaids and groomsmen would have attended the matrimonial pair. Wedding cake was a highlight of nuptial celebrations then, as now, and wine allowed guests to drink to the health of the newlyweds.

1827 wedding dress Le Petit Courrier des Dames

Wedding dress. Fashion plate from Le Petit Courrier des Dames, 1827. Typical of the 1820s, this satin dress trimmed with lace features gigot sleeves with wide shoulders balanced by a wide skirt. The “Apollo knot” hairstyle, worn high on the head, was very popular. A wreath of flowers adorns the bride’s coiffure, and she wears a long net-and-lace veil.

Mr. and Mrs. Bartow set up their new household in New York City. About ten years later, they moved to their country estate on Robert Bartow’s ancestral land situated along Long Island Sound, where they built an elegant stone mansion. Here, they raised seven children to adulthood and spent the rest of their lives. Here’s to the happy couple!

 Margaret Highland, Historian

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Living on Hope and Moonbeams: Bartow Tutor Augustus Moore

Thanks to a grant from the Chipstone Foundation through the Historic House Trust and in collaboration with the Supporting Characters and the City Island Theater Group, BPMM will present ACT/REACT: Re-imagining the Past, six short site-specific plays based on a letter written by Bartow tutor Augustus Moore. Please join us for these exciting performances in the period rooms on Friday, April 8, at 7 and 8 p.m. and Saturday, April 9, at 5 and 6 p.m. Space is limited. Registration required at bpmm.org or 718.885.1461

A. Moore letter address

Letter from Augustus Moore to his sister Lydia. In 1838, letters were simply folded, addressed, and sealed. The postage amount was indicated in the top right corner. Stamps were not yet in use.

On June 17, 1838, a young man named Augustus Moore penned a chatty letter full of news from Pelham, New York, to his sister Lydia in Frankfort, Maine, comparing himself to “a roving planet” with “comet-like” movements, “living on hope and moonbeams.” Moore had recently taken a post on the Bartow estate as tutor to two boys in order to “fit them for college”—ten-year-old George Bartow (1828–1875) and his fourteen-year-old cousin Henry Duncan (1823–1904).

“Well I suppose you would like to know what I am doing here,” Moore wrote to his sister on that summer day. In today’s world of instant communication, it is sometimes hard for us to imagine that close family members would not know where we are living, but it wasn’t so simple in 1838, especially for people on the move.

A. Moore letter crossed lines

Postage rates at this time were based on the number of sheets of paper and the destination. To save money, correspondents sometimes “crossed” their lines by turning the paper at a right angle and writing over the previously finished page.

Who was this whimsical fellow who worked as a tutor for the Bartow family?

The eldest of five siblings, Augustus Moore was born in Maine around 1810. He attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and later became an Episcopal priest. For many years, Rev. Moore was the rector at Christ Church in Florence, South Carolina, where he died in 1876. He never married.

lifeofwillburfis00hold_0004 Wilbur Fisk portrait 1842 biography by Holdich cropped

Wesleyan University President Dr. Wilbur Fisk

As a college student at Wesleyan, Moore made some important connections.  In fact, recent research has revealed that two people mentioned in the tutor’s letter helped him find a teaching position—Wesleyan University President Dr. Wilbur Fisk (1792–1839) and Daniel Whedon (1808–1885), a prominent Wesleyan professor, theologian, and Methodist leader.

Moore tells an amusing story in the letter about his search for employment as a tutor. His mentor Professor Whedon said that a gentleman, whose name he had forgotten, wanted to interview Moore in New York at the Methodist Book Room the following morning at 9 a.m. and had offered to pay his travel expenses from Connecticut. Moore wrote to his sister, “I told my chum I was going to New York—what my business was and he laughed heartily at the idea of me going on such a wild goose hunt—but I got ready as soon as possible, jumped on board the steam boat and off I went.” The tale continues with a few mishaps, but the nameless gentleman turned out to be Mr. Robert Bartow, and Moore “made a bargain to stay with him a year.”

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Neptune Island with the steamboat American Eagle after an 1842 lithograph by Currier & Ives (C.H. Augur, New Rochelle Through Seven Generations, 1908)

When the Bartows’ new tutor arrived by steamboat at the Neptune Island landing in New Rochelle, he enthused, “I found Mr. B’s coachman waiting for me with a brougham, which took me to his residence, and when haven’t I been particular enough!”  This was an auspicious start to “a prospect of spending the year pleasantly,” with a horse and carriage at his disposal, an abundance of free time, and a kind and sociable family. But true to the young man’s self-described role as a “roving planet,” Moore’s career as a private tutor was not long-lived. By 1844, he had moved to South Carolina where he found his calling in the Episcopal Church.

Margaret Highland, Historian

For more on the tutor’s letter, see 7/26/2011 post “Living in Style: A June Day at the Bartow Estate, 1838”

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Winter gardens: Bringing the Outdoors In!

“The winters were longer when I was a girl” … well, probably not, but winters often seem long. Even during a relatively mild one, the dark, and especially the lack of green, is disheartening. Many of the world’s holiday traditions (Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali) were, at least in part, attempts to throw off the gloom and bring light and life into the home. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum’s exuberant celebration of the holidays evokes the spirit of life in the mansion in days gone by. Christmas trees brought nature’s green inside to remind the Bartow family that their beautiful grounds would not always be covered in snow. Historically, the need for green has motivated people to find ways of bringing the outdoors in during winter months. The women and children of a family were generally more housebound than the men and in particular need of the uplifting effects of interacting with nature in winter.

Indoor gardens run the gamut from extensive, permanent structures to humble potted plants and everything in between. As early as the 16th century, when glass and cast iron construction improved, orangeries much like the one at Bartow-Pell were used to create an indoor environment for plants. An orangerie (and its close cousin the conservatory), is a glass-walled addition to the exterior of a house, used to extend the normal growing season. Sited facing south, the glass creates a warm and sunny environment. Also called a solarium, many of these “glass rooms” also had an early version of radiant heating (heating lines that run underneath the floor). The main difference between an orangerie and a conservatory is the result of different technical construction specifications. An orangerie (sometimes written “orangery”) typically matches the house in style and materials and has less glass than a conservatory. These additions were most popular from the 16th through the 19th century, but many of todays’ plant-loving homeowners are seeking them out still.

Often during the inclemency of our winter and spring months, there are days when either the excessive cold, or the disagreeable state of the weather, prevents in great measure many persons, and especially females, from taking exercise in the open air. To such, the conservatory would be an almost endless source of enjoyment and amusement; and if they are true amateurs, of active exertion as well. (Andrew Jackson, 1841) 

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The Orangerie 1905

The Bartow’s plan for the ca. 1840 stone mansion included a conservatory, which had double-hung glass sash windows and an earthen floor. By 1915, when the International Garden Club (IGC) commissioned Delano & Aldrich to work on the estate’s buildings and grounds, the conservatory had deteriorated considerably and was in need of a complete rebuild, which they executed in the Colonial Revival style. The renovation included a cement floor and replaced the sash windows with a wall of full-length “French” windows with “French” doors in the center. The doors created access to the newly constructed sunken garden via the terrace we see today. The members of the IGC referred to the room as “the Orangerie” and used it as a tea room looking out over their elegant new landscape.

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Bartow-Pell’s Orangerie today

For those who didn’t have either the space or the means to add an orangerie to their home, there have always been less extravagant ways to enjoy plants indoors. Decorative urns, ceramic jardinières, and wicker or metal plant stands were (and still are) popular interior design accessories. During the Victorian era, having plants in your parlor or drawing room was considered a sign of sophistication. Indoor plants brought much needed light to the dark and heavy Victorian décor. The 19th century saw a surge of botanical exploration. Many of the plants we know so well today were “discovered” and brought home by the great explorers of the day, with long lasting effects on European and American living rooms and gardens. During this period now-familiar landscape plants such as rhododendron, azalea, and weeping cherry trees, as well as houseplant staples like ferns, palms (such as the diminutive “Elephant Foot”), orchids, ivy, “Victoria amazonica” (a water lily), and the ubiquitous aspidistra, were introduced to the West.

In the Victorian era, growing and tending to plants became a suitable hobby for young ladies. Fern collecting was particularly popular. A collection might include staghorn, Boston, or hart’s tongue ferns. “Footed” fern varieties were prized for their whimsical “feet” protruding from a jardinière.

bpmmclocheFerns were often kept under a glass dome (“cloche”) or in a Wardian case (today’s ‘terrarium’). The Wardian case was the happy accident of an entomology experiment by Nathanial Ward, who put a chrysalis in a glass jar with some soil. Unaware of the flora that had hitched a ride in the soil, Ward was pleasantly surprised when a fern and some grass began to grow and thrive in the microclimate of the jar. Wardian cases were all the rage and could be quite elaborate miniature landscapes with fashionable, exotic plantings and designs. Some cases were kept heated by means of a gas jet. Comprised of a variety of materials that were suited to any price range, they came in all shapes, sizes, and styles. In keeping with the Victorian taste for elaborate decoration they were often made to look like buildings such as churches and famous houses. Their popularity and availability made them a staple of fashionable drawing rooms.

bpmmwardianinkWardian cases were also used for more practical purposes. The exotic plant craze of the 19th century was hindered by plant mortality on the long return trips from the tropics and other far off lands where horticultural prizes were to be found. Wardian cases aided greatly in bringing the rare specimens home alive, and in transporting them to exhibitions or institutes conducting horticultural research.

bpmmwardianphotoToday, houseplants are ubiquitous; even those with the blackest of thumbs generally have at least a spider plant or a philodendron. The benefits of houseplants are well understood – from improving indoor air quality, to first aid (every kitchen should have an aloe on the window sill), and some of us are even able to keep culinary herbs like rosemary and thyme going through the winter. If you are a gardener, even a tiny African violet can be a consolation during the months of waiting for spring to arrive. BPMM is hosting a Winter Succulent Garden Terrarium workshop on February 20th from 12 to 2 p.m. Why not come and create a planting scheme for a terrarium, or “Wardian case” and take home a “winter garden” for your own living room? Having a little bit of nature indoors is great for lifting one’s spirits on a cold, dark winter day.

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Art in the Garden: The Peacocks of Gaston Lachaise

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to make a point of spending some time with the beautiful peacocks that grace the terrace above our formal garden. The statues, cast in bronze with gilding, are the work of Gaston Lachaise (1882–1935). Lachaise’s works are exhibited in major museums, parks, and gardens around the world.

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Gaston Lachaise (1882-1935)             Peacocks (1920, 1928)

The peacocks are on loan to Bartow-Pell from the Lachaise Foundation as part of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation’s “Art in the Parks” program (begun in 1967).

The mission of the Lachaise Foundation is to perpetuate the artistic legacy of Gaston Lachaise and to oversee a limited number of castings from his original models. Both peacocks on loan to us are second castings and no additional castings have been made since, meaning that they are the only examples other than the originals.

Gaston Lachaise was an Ecole des Beaux Arts-trained artist whose early career included an apprenticeship with the Art Nouveau designer René Lalique. At the age of 23 he left France for the U.S. where he would live for the remainder of his life, which was cut short by leukemia at age 53.

Lachaise’s oeuvre spans the tumultuous period at the turn of the last century when art and culture, propelled by the upheavals of the two world wars, sought to redefine intellectual and aesthetic ideals. Considered a pioneer of American Modernism, Lachaise was part of New York’s early 20th century art scene, along with friends and colleagues like Joseph Stella, John Marin, Georgia O’Keefe and Paul Manship. He and Manship worked together frequently on public projects including Rockefeller Center, where Lachaise produced a series of reliefs called Aspects of Mankind depicting the evolution of modern civilization.

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Aspects of Mankind (1932-34)]

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Much of Lachaise’s later work is typified by his larger-than-life female nudes such as Standing Woman, which were inspired by his wife, Isabel, who was his lifelong muse. However, Lachaise sculpted animals frequently—peacocks, seagulls, swans, and dolphins—always choosing peaceful, graceful animals. The long-tailed and short-tailed peacocks date from 1928 and 1920 respectively. The short-tailed peacock was commissioned by John Deering for his Florida estate, Vizcaya. And in an interesting coincidence, the long-tailed peacock was commissioned by Phillip Goodwin, who was an architect for Delano & Aldrich. Delano & Aldrich was the firm that designed the neo-classical garden here at Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum some five years earlier, ca. 1915.

Elevation 1912-1927

Lachaise had a productive relationship with architect William Welles Bosworth, who also worked with Delano & Aldrich. Lachaise provided decorative elements for several public buildings and private residences designed by Welles Bosworth (including the architect’s own home in Locust Valley, NY). In addition to the peacocks here at BPMM, you can see examples of Lachaise’s work in the greater New York area in places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kykuit (the Rockefeller estate in Pocantico Hills), the AT&T building on Broadway in lower Manhattan, and, of course, Rockefeller Center.

Vizcaya (1920)

Bartow Pell - 1 of 5

Bartow Pell - 2 of 5

The peacocks will be with us until May 2016, when Paula Hornbostel, Director of the Lachaise Foundation, will give a talk entitled: “From Figures to Fountains, Women to Peacocks: Garden Sculpture of Gaston Lachaise 1920-1935”. Please join us for her lecture and come and see our visiting peacocks; they are beautiful now and may be even more so with a cloak of snow.

Goodwin Fountain (1928)

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