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) 

bpmmorang1905

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.

Orangerie MG_5586 RW

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)

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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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New!! “Garden Gleanings” joins our blog!

Hello and welcome to BPMM’s “Garden Gleanings” blog!

BPMM fountain pool, circa 1915

BPMM fountain pool, circa 1915

With fall in the air, what better time to launch a new section of our “Mansion Musings” blog?  “Garden Gleanings” will look at the history of the Bartow-Pell Mansion through a different lens: its landscape. After all, our status as a Historic Landmark pertains not just to the mansion, but to the grounds as well. Here readers can explore the “roots” of our grounds and gardens and look at them in the larger context of garden history. We will also keep you up to date on the latest garden goings-on and landscape restoration projects.

The Century Book of Gardening by E.T. Cook, 1900

The Century Book of Gardening by E.T. Cook, 1900

We are fortunate that the grounds at BPMM include a variety of landscape styles dating from the mid-19th century to the present. The importance of gardens and landscape design for the Bartow-Pell Mansion can be traced back to its relationship with the International Garden Club (IGC). The IGC took on restoration of the mansion and commissioned new gardens for the Bartow-Pell property when they made it their headquarters in 1914. The IGC has a rich history of its own—some of which will certainly be the subject of future posts.

Gardens have been a part of our cultural “landscape” for as long as humans have been able to grow and tend plants. Over time, gardens have come to reflect the aesthetics of a period as much as its style of painting or clothing fashions. Garden design gives us a different way to understand an era’s social mores, politics, and economic conditions.

Versailles garden plan, Granger 1685 (fineartamerica.com)

Versailles garden plan, Granger 1685 (fineartamerica.com)

Consider the iconic gardens at Versailles—as impressive today as they were in the 17th century. The rigid formality of their axial design echoes the social structure of Europe during the Baroque period and epitomizes the extravagance of the Sun King’s reign.

Restoration plan for BPMM Formal Garden

Restoration plan for BPMM Formal Garden

At the Bartow-Pell Mansion we see this same geometric approach to landscape design in the neoclassical lines of our formal garden, created over 200 years after Versailles. Everything old is new?

All gardens tell a story, and the grounds at BPMM speak volumes about how historical events and the landscape we see today are interwoven. While the formal garden beautifully illustrates the prosperity and privilege that characterized America in 1914, a planned rose garden and other improvements had to be abandoned when America entered the First World War. Later, an elaborate garden was designed by the famous landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman, which highlights the cultural shift of the 1920s and 30s that resulted in more professional opportunities for women. Shipman’s plans are preserved in our archives, but the project was never realized, perhaps because of the tumultuous economic situation of the time (1928–31).

Ellen Biddle Shipman, age 20 (courtesy Nancy Angell Streeter)

Ellen Biddle Shipman, age 20 (courtesy Nancy Angell Streeter)

In addition to IGC history there are numerous topics we have in mind for this blog—and we welcome suggestions from you! Here are just a few of the subjects we are considering:

  • A look at America’s pioneering women landscape architects
  • Artwork on view in the garden: the story behind our visiting peacocks
  • Is our garden of native meadow and woodland plants today’s version of a 19th-century Picturesque landscape?
  • Restoration update: the fountain pool project
  • The role of politics in the garden: Robert Moses and the Bartow-Pell property
Peacocks, Gaston Lachaise 1920

Peacocks, Gaston Lachaise 1920

Going forward these posts will be written by Conservancy member Anne Welles, a landscape designer and author who writes about garden history. Please let us know if there is a particular topic you’d like her to cover!

We hope this blog adds a new dimension to how you experience the history of the Bartow-Pell Mansion by looking at it from a different angle. Dare we say, from the ground up?

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– Ellen Bruzelius Executive Director

– Anne Welles

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A Shaving Stand for George

Serpentine-front, mahogany veneer, inlaid shaving stand

Serpentine-front, mahogany veneer, inlaid shaving stand

This serpentine-front, mahogany-veneer, inlaid shaving stand is the latest addition to George Bartow’s bedchamber.

Although the piece predates the Bartow mansion by a few decades (as does the nearby breakfast table), outdated furniture was probably relegated to secondary bedchambers, just as it is today.

George's bedchamber

George’s bedchamber

George (1828–1875) was the eldest Bartow son. He was a man of leisure and probably an avid fan of horse racing like his Lorillard relatives, who owned Thoroughbreds. As a young boy, he is mentioned in a letter from his tutor, Augustus Moore, who says that George is “a pleasant little boy but does not like to study very well.” He is the only Bartow son who did not graduate from Columbia College. George never married and lived at the mansion as an adult. He died in 1875 at the age of 47 in St. Augustine, Florida, where his cousin George Lorillard had a winter home. George L. Bartow is buried in the family plot at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Westchester Square.

Margaret Highland, Education Director and Curator

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Home Repairs, Lenape-style

Long ago, the local Lenape people built their houses out of saplings and bark. Last week, experts working at Bartow-Pell continued this historic tradition as they made major repairs to our wigwam.

Jeff Kalin, whose company, Primitive Technologies, “recreates the material culture of prehistoric Native American life,” and his son, Griffin, used authentic methods to rebuild our aging structure.

The first Imagestep was to reconstruct the frame using flexible lengths of fresh cedar saplings that werImagee anchored in the ground and lashed together with strips of hickory bark. (Cedar wood is ideal for wigwam frames because it can stay in the dirt a long time without rotting.) Jeff and Griffin cut the wood with a reproduction stone axe secured to a wooden handle, and they used handmade hickory mallets to set the cedar posts in the ground.

ImageNext, the framing was ready for the siding, which is made of bark from ash and tulip poplar trees held in place by an outer frame of cedar sapling poles. Jeff was able to recycle some of the old bark by soaking it in a stream to restore its flexibility.

Sustainable materials are at the center of Jeff’s work. His saplings grow continuously from root stock that dates to the 1980s, and every part of each tree is used for something—wigwam poles, tool handles, rattles, or fuel for firing pottery.Image

Our beautifully crafted Lenape wigwam, set in the woods of Pelham Bay Park, is ready to continue its starring role in our Native American school programs.

 Margaret Highland, Education Director and Curator

 

 

 

 

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A Cup of Tea, Please

20131012_LowTea_005When a group of defiant colonists tossed 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor to protest the British and East India Company’s outrageous tax, Americans shunned the beverage in favor of coffee. But only temporarily! Americans had adored tea as much as the British ever since Peter Stuyvesant first brought it over to the colonies in 1650. So when the resentment towards England diminished shortly after the Revolutionary War, they began drinking tea again. The pastime was able to truly take off in 1840, when America began to independently trade with China, and its swift  clipper ships ensured more and fresher tea.

Hardly a home lacked tea, which was taken all day, every day—during breakfast, lunch, after dinner, and whenever one desired it. Individual family members took their tea in the bedchamber, the conservatory, and the family sitting room. Tea was also economical: housewives or servants would sprinkle used leaves on floors for fragrance and collecting dust for easy sweeping.

20131012_LowTea_030Much like the British, Americans convened for afternoon tea, or low tea. Held in the formal sitting room, or taken al fresco on the veranda or in the garden during summer, afternoon tea was a mental and physical break for all classes. Teatime was also a leisurely occasion for upper-class women, who would converse, sew, or play card games while eating cakes, cookies, tarts, and in-season fruits.

Because black tea was less likely to spoil than green tea during overseas transportation, Americans largely purchased the former. On occasion, however, the upper class was able to enjoy green tea, which was served at evening parties as a secondary option to black tea. Naturally, milk and sugar were added to both, and even extra hot water was provided in case anyone wanted to dilute their tea. The earliest iced tea recipes, which date back to the 1800s, utilized green tea as the base tea and called for liquor as well as sugar.

Teaware was considered a valuable as well as an essential commodity. Possessing the finest china was a contest amongst members of the upper class. To obtain the best, Americans bought teaware from Britain, Europe, or China, putting their most expensive porcelain on display in cabinets.

Because value was at stake, caring for teaware—especially kettles and teapots—involved special attention. In Miss Leslies Lady’s House-Book: A Manual of Domestic Economy, Eliza Leslie provides meticulous instructions for brass kettles, porcelain or enameled 20131012_LowTea_004kettles, tea kettles, and “tea-things,” requiring not just hot water and soap, but also salt and vinegar, and bran and wood ashes for the brass kettles and enameled kettles, respectively. Leslie also offers advice as to which kind of teaware is more preferable (for example, Wedgwood over Britannia metal for tea pots, since tea tends to absorb copper and taste “almost poisonous” if allowed to infuse in the latter). Moreover, she makes a point to oppose using a tea kettle for anything other than for boiling water, mentioning that some cooks would use it to boil potatoes, which “give a peculiar and disagreeable taste to the tea-water.”

While tea was considered the national drink, Americans did drink coffee, though not as much and as often. In the first half of the 19th century, green coffee beans—which were the most available type of bean at the time—were bought by the pound from local general 20131012_LowTea_079stores and had to be grounded and roasted at home. Coffee in addition to tea was served after dessert at dinner parties. If men comprised the attendees, then only coffee was provided. Casually, hotel dining rooms offered coffee for both men and women, the latter of whom especially enjoyed visiting these dining rooms while shopping.

Around 1850, the processing of instant coffee began. Instant coffee was cheaper, easier to make at home, and promised to be very fresh in comparison to imported beans. Because of this novel convenience and its higher caffeine content, coffee became more widespread, eventually pervading all economic classes during the remainder of the century. The beverage was a favorite drink for Civil War soldiers.

20131012_LowTea_033Miss Leslie’s book (1863 edition) doesn’t leave out coffee, of course. She recommends that it should not be roasted more than a pound at a time (otherwise it would be muddy), and that breakfast coffee was to be mixed with butter and eggs. As for practical applications, Leslie suggests that coffee starch can be utilized to dye chintzes (a glazed calico textile), which can then be worn for times of mourning, thus saving one the trouble of going out and spending extra money to purchase specially-made mourning chintzes.

Contrary to popular belief, late 18th-century and 19th-century Americans did not completely renounce tea in favor of coffee after the Revolution. They loved their tea dearly, and, like the British, went as far as to ritualistically incorporate the beverage into their daily lives, socially and privately. Beginning with the twentieth century, coffee gained momentum and eventually overshadowed tea. Recently, however, tea has been making a comeback, largely in the form of iced tea and newer stores selling loose teas. Perhaps tea drinking will become a favorite pastime for Americans once again!

Sarah Hansen, Museum Intern

Photos by Richard Warren, taken in the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum’s Orangerie during High Time for Low Tea, an annual event at Bartow-Pell. 

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A Stitch in Time Saves Nine? Making a Reproduction Late 1830s Dress

Going back in time becomes easier to imagine when people wear period clothing. At least, that is the idea behind docents in 19th-century dress, enabling them to guide visitors on a fantasy-filled journey to the distant past.July 1836 worldoffashionco13lond_0283

Since the Bartow family lived on this property from 1836 to 1888, in theory our docents have many 19th-century fashion options. So why is our costume closet filled with clothing styles from the Civil War era? The answer is that thanks to re-enactors, it is fairly easy to find affordable reproduction clothing from the 1860s. And simple knife-pleated skirts and Garibaldi blouses are a perfect fit for our needs.

However, inspired by an interest in fashion history, I decided to make my own reproduction dress. My focus was the late 1830s, the period when the Bartow mansion was built. At this time, the huge sleeves of prior years were going out of style. In May 1836, The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons, a monthly British magazine, proclaimed that: “The only absolute rule is to flatten the sleeve upon the shoulder, and entirely banish for ever the memory of those enormous balons, which gave to the delicate form of female beauty a breadth apportioned to Holbein’s Dutch women.” This gave the desired drooping effect to the shoulders and sounded good since I did not want to look like a football linebacker.

My project started with some research. I studied period sources—fashion plates and paintings—as well as online collection photographs from The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The next step was to find a pattern that was period-accurate. I chose one for an 1837 day dress from a company that creates designs from original patterns or clothing. Finally, I was ready to buy the fabric. Using photos of dresses in museum collections as a guide, I found some similar patterned cottons, selecting one in shades of rust that was on sale. After getting some muslin for the lining and a few notions, I was ready to start.

Was I in my right mind to take on this fairly complicated project, which involved some pretty serious sewing? I would have to make a fitted bodice with difficult pleats, piped seams, and a skirt with hand-sewn cartridge pleats. Although I made a lot of my own clothing from about the ages of 12 to 22, I had sewn very little after that and had never done anything this challenging. It was too late to turn back now, so I dusted off my grandmother’s old black Singer, laid out the pattern pieces, and got to work.Repro dressMargaret's dress detail

Well, dear reader, I found out that a stitch in time does not save nine. I ripped out many seams and corrected more mistakes than I care to remember, but I finally managed to complete my dress. My new frock should be worn with the proper undergarments to create a period silhouette. A corset will smooth the tightly fitted bodice, and several full petticoats will give the skirt a nice bell shape and help the cartridge pleats spring out from the waistband. Now I am ready for a journey back in time!Girl's dress

Postscript: Shortly after I put the last stitch in the hem, Bartow-Pell was given a similar dress, featuring many of the same elements as the reproduction I had just finished—the narrow front center tab, piped seams, cuffed sleeves gathered tightly at the top of the arm and full below the elbow, and the diagonal bodice treatment. This dress is currently on view in Clarina Bartow’s bedchamber.

Margaret Highland
Education Director and Curator

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