Saturday, September 24, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of September 19, 2016

Saturday, September 24, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The long, sad history of accusing women who seek power and influence of ugliness and ill health.
Kingsbridge, the Bronx, NY, neighborhood with royal connections.
• Students, stay in your seats: improving 19thc school desks.
• "Welsh's Splendid Cheap Eating House", the NY beer cellar favored by Edgar Allen Poe and other newspapermen in the 1840s.
• In 1896, P.T. Barnum's grandson threw the greatest bachelor party on earth.
• Fun site to explore: 30 objects from the world of fashion, from the collections of the National Museums of Scotland.
• The real housewives of Jane Austen.
Image: Crinoline forever, and no bathing machine required.
• Welcome to Bluetown, where every other house is a public house and every third house a brothel.
• How do descendants of slaves find their ancestors?
• Highway robbery: the curse of Tupton Hall.
• An octagonal gem: the 1842 McBee Methodist Church in Conestee, SC may be only one of three such surviving churches in the country.
• Were Iron Maidens really medieval torture devices?
• Image: 1916 appeal for aid for horses wounded in active duty during World War One.
• Rags, riches, and cross-class dressing in Elizabethan England.
• Chicago's stylish but forgotten magazine of the Jazz Age.
• "What do you want to be when you grow up?": this 1961 book had the answer for girls.
• Did artists in the Renaissance realize they were in the Renaissance?
Image: In 1907, Madame Decourcelle became Paris' first woman taxi driver.
• The 18thc mystery of the housekeeper's chocolate at Chatsworth, home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.
Armour for children.
• How did 18th-19thc mariners use log books to keep time?
Sir Hans Sloane: collector, marmoset-owner, and chocolate-popularizer.
• The dome of the US Capitol was built in the Bronx, 1860.
Image: An unusual protective good-luck charm from Word War One.
• Marguerite of Valois, Duchess of Savoy and Berry.
• History's strangest tax? Peter the Great puts a price on beards.
• Quick video: Explore the interior details of this c1805 silk satin dress.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Original Star Trek, Maybe? Mèliés's Masterpiece of 1902

Friday, September 23, 2016
Loretta reports:

Star Trek made its television debut 50 years ago, and lots of celebrations are going on. Though the original series was very short—only three seasons—it has lived on and prospered in spinoffs and movies and in the hearts and minds of its devoted fans.

You can watch some excerpts from the early series here.

But for a deeper trip into film history, I thought you might enjoy what seems to be the first science fiction movie ever, George Mèliés's Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) of 1902. You may notice a few similar elements, along with many head-scratchers. It’s a little baffling and odd and funny and hallucinatory. Note: The music in this beautiful version is a recent, modern addition and some readers may prefer to mute the sound.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Inspired by History: Designer Todd Oldham

Thursday, September 22, 2016
Isabella reporting,

While Loretta and I are self-proclaimed history nerds, we're not historians. Instead we're fiction writers whose books are inspired by history (and, of course, we share more of that history as bloggers, too.) I'm always interested to see how other people are inspired by history. Fashion designers in particular often dip into the past to make something new from something old. The late Alexander McQueen was a master of this, and thanks to a recent exhibition at the RISDMuseum, I have another favorite: designer Todd Oldham.

I visited All of Everything: Todd Oldham Fashion last month, shortly before it closed, and I'm so glad I did. The show focused on the couture fashion created by Oldham in the 1990s. For those of us who lived through it, the decade was an exuberant era for fashion, with bright colors, short skirts, and lots of sparkle, but Oldham took that exuberance to an entirely different level.

The exhibition featured 65 full ensembles, displayed in a runway-style setting that made it possible to see the clothes from all angles. And such amazing clothes! True, these aren't everyday clothes, but they are true works of art, featuring exquisite embroidery, luxurious textiles, and embellishment that included crystals and metallic threads. According to the exhibition notes, Oldham sought out master craftspeople from around the world to bring his designs to life, taking a special interest in encouraging and preserving artisan industries, and it showed in the exquisite details.

But what I enjoyed the best was seeing how he "quoted" and incorporated elements from the past into his clothes. The dress, above left, (as always, please click on the images to enlarge them) from 1992 was inspired by Byzantine jewelry Oldham had seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. According to the placard, he replicated that jewelry "by embellishing four-ply silk crepe with 18-karat gold bullion, faceted glass, and semiprecious stones. This was the most expensive dress [Oldham] ever made, and it now lives permanently in the Met, which makes sense."


More gold bullion turned up unexpectedly in a pair of shorts, upper right, from 1994. Swirling old bullion embroidery like this is more usually seen decorating the formal uniforms and epaulets of Napoleonic-era officers, who'd probably be shocked (or titillated, depending on the officer!) to see so much gold on shorts for women. I'd guess that they were quite heavy, too; admitted Oldham, "the shorts are completely embroidered with real 18-karat gold bullion, making them stiff and scratchy - but oh so very beautiful."

The art historian in me loved the outfit, lower right, inspired by one of my favorite 18thc artists, Jean-Honore Fragonard. Noted Oldham: "The skirt is based on Fragonard paintings, as seen through the filter of the Indian embroiderers. It's still very refined, but I love how the rough work and sequins look with the classic motifs." So did I.

There was one piece created for the exhibition, an ensemble that Oldham made in collaboration with students from the Rhode Island School of Design's textile department. The students created the gorgeous printed textile that was not only used in the skirt, but also cut into thin strips and knitted to make the top. The bell-shaped skirt, worn over a hoop, was the same shape as a crinoline-supported dresses from the 1850s. I also appreciated the time and effort that Oldham employed with the students to create a truly one-of-a-kind couture garment in the face of modern mass-produced fast-fashion. Noted Oldham:

"There is a staggering number of people involved in producing couture. More than 35 students participated in creating the print on 25 yards of truly beautiful, insanely detailed fabric that we then embroidered with custom-made sequins and paillettes in my New York studio. By the time the embroidery was finished, more than 60 people will have collaborated on this dress."

All of which reminded me of this earlier blog post, which described all the tradespeople who contributed to creating the clothes of an 18thc lady. Sometimes slow fashion can be a very beautiful thing.

I've posted a few more photographs from the exhibition over on my Instagram account:
Back view of the RISD student collaboration dress
Persian Carpet Dress, 1997
Byzantine Jewelry dress, 1992.
Klimt ensemble, 1997.
Crewelwork-inspired ensemble, 1997, and detail
Skirt with Chinese-inspired embroidery, 1994.
Love Ball dress, 1991.
Garage Sale ensemble, 1992.

Upper left: Byzantine Jewelry Dress, Spring1992, by Todd Oldham. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Upper right: Embroidered shorts from the Blue Sky Ensemble, Spring 1994, by Todd Oldham. Todd Oldham Studio.
Lower right: Fragonard Meets African Trinkets Ensemble, 1993, by Todd Oldham. Todd Oldham Studio.
Lower left: RISD Ensemble, 2015/2016, RISDMuseum.
All photographs ©2016 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Andrew Carnegie & His Libraries

Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Punch cartoon
Loretta reports:

Andrew Carnegie was one of those rich guys who ended up giving away something close to 90% of his money. This would still leave a large chunk of change, because he was extremely rich, one of the richest Americans of all time.

One of his methods for unloading his money was building libraries. A lot of libraries. I knew nothing about Carnegie libraries until my husband, after one of his photographic expeditions in Worcester, MA, told me the city had three of them. This entry in the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Earth edition, explains what they were and the conditions Carnegie required the town to meet.
Greendale Branch
If you scroll down this page of the Worcester Public Library site, you can read the vital statistics about our three Carnegie-funded branches.
Greendale Branch detail
Mr & Mrs Carnegie attended the cornerstone layings of all three libraries, as described here. I loved that, having come unprepared for a cold, raw, Worcester day, Mr. Carnegie stopped at a store to get rubbers. Here’s more about that day, complete with illustrations and links. It’s well worth reading, for a glimpse into the past, and some idealism we could use today.
South Worcester Branch
The Greendale Branch, now renamed, is still a library.
The Quinsigamond Branch is now part of a school.
The South Worcester Branch has been converted to private residences.
South Worcester Branch detail
Is there a Carnegie Library in your town? Look around. You might be surprised, as I was.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Delicate Pair of Wedding Oversleeves, c1830

Sunday, September 18, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Thanks to her current series of books, Loretta is the queen of the over-the-top fashions from the 1820s-1830s (see examples in her posts here, here, and here), but she's won me over to extreme hair, huge sleeves, and bell-shaped skirts.

So when I spotted these ghostly oversleeves recently in the costume & textile study drawers at the RISDMuseum, I recognized them for what they were: delicate and rare survivors from the Romantic Era of fashion. (Although another gallery-goer standing beside me had the more normal 21stc reaction: "What the heck are those things?")

While the rest of the original dress is no longer with these oversleeves and may not even still exist, it is possible to guess what it may have looked like. Sheer oversleeves were a major fashion trend in the late 1820s-early 1830s. Always made from a sheer fabric like silk gauze or voile, they added a delicate, feminine transparency to dresses that were almost architecturally structured with pleats, wide collars, and stiff belts. Some oversleeves were embroidered with overall patterns, some were not. You can see how elegant the style could be in the portrait, right.

The oversleeves from the RISDMuseum are labeled as having been worn as part of a wedding dress. Loretta shared this fashion plate of a wedding dress, lower left, from 1828 which is probably a bit early for the RISDMuseum's sleeves (they have more volume at the top, which would make them later), but you can still get an idea of the general effect. The fortunate American bride who wore such an ensemble in the 1830s must have been on the cutting edge of bridal fashion.

What I found particularly intriguing about the RISDMuseum's oversleeves is that the label says they were created of silk that was possibly made in China for export. Then as now, China was known for its exceptionally fine silk, and for its embroidery, too. Of course there's no way now of knowing for certain, but I found myself wondering if this beautiful silk was brought to New England in a China-trade ship, chosen by a mariner for his bride-to-be waiting back home. Could that be why they were set aside and carefully saved - a very special wedding memento?

Upper left: Oversleeves from a Wedding Dress, American, c1830, RISDMuseum. Photo via RISDMuseum.
Right: Detail, "Théodore Joseph Jonet and His Two Daughters" by François-Joseph Navez, 1832, photo via Christie's.
Lower left: Bridal Costume from La Belle Assemblee, June, 1828.
 
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket