Easy Choices

One of the conundrums we are dealing with in refurnishing the Small Room (i.e. Fielding Lewis’s study or office) is that we do not have an inventory of the contents of the room from when it was actually being used as an office.  As we have said from the beginning, our decisions on what furnishings to place in the room will be based largely on research into other gentlemen’s studies of the period and, perhaps more importantly, on what we have learned over the years about Fielding Lewis himself.  Case in point, what sort of chair(s) should we include in the office?

There is no chair listed in the 1781 probate inventory for the Small Room, which was being used as a servant’s chamber at the time, but we can assume that when Fielding was spending his days at work in his study, he must have had a chair or two in the room.  We also know that by 1780, the year we are interpreting Kenmore to, Fielding’s health was suffering noticeably.  In a letter to George Washington in February of that year, General William Woodford reported that, “All our friends in Fredericksburg are well, except Col. Lewis, who has been ill for some time.”  By July, Fielding had moved to his property in Frederick County, Virginia, in the hopes that fresh mountain air might help restore his health.  Despite the continual deterioration of his health throughout the year, Fielding was apparently still hard at work, running the gunnery and provisioning new Virginia regiments.  So, we are left with the image of a gentlemen’s study set up for a man of ailing health, but still at work on various business and political matters on a daily basis.  It seems likely, then, that an easy chair might have been Fielding’s prefered seating furniture in his office.

An 18th century “easy chair” is what we sometimes refer to today as a “wing chair.” The easy chair was in sharp contrast to most seating furniture of the period, which was usually hard, un-upholstered and rigid. The easy chair was completely upholstered, had a cushion seat, padded arms and back, and wings along the top to help block cold drafts.  Altogether, it was a comfortable treat for a person to sit on such a piece.  The name “easy” even refers to the occupant of the chair being “at ease”.  Not surprisingly, easy chairs were often brought into a household for the use of elderly family members, or those who were ill.  Although they were expensive furnishings – all of that fabric and padding was not cheap – easy chairs rarely were used in public rooms of a house, being more commonly found in bedchambers or other private family quarters…much like Fielding’s office, where he likely spent much of his day.

The easy chair form is also documented in the Lewis household.  The probate inventory lists one easy chair in storage on the second floor of the house.  If our assumption that Fielding’s office furnishings were moved out of the Small Room when the servant was moved into it is correct, then it follows that the easy chair in storage may have once been in the office.

But which easy chair to use? We have several options in our collection.

The first is a New England example, dating to the 1780′s, which fits our time period exactly.  However, we have no indication that the Lewis family had access to New England furnishings at the time, so a Virginia or English piece might be more appropriate.

Option #1

The second option was possibly made in Virginia (although that attribution requires more research to confirm), but probably dates to the 19th century, so it is too late for our purposes.

Option #2 was also converted to a necessary chair at some point in its history

Option #2, shown with modern upholstery and a modern spring seat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third option fits our criteria best.  It is English, and dates to approximately 1765.  The upholstery fabric currently on the chair is a replacement, done in 1978, so eventually the chair will need to be conserved and reupholstered.  It will also probably be displayed with a slipcover, as it was most likely used in the 18th century.

Option #3 - the winner! Gift of Mrs. Charles M. Chapin, 1936.

So, now we have a place for Fielding to sit in his study.  We are well on our way!

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Stack House on the Bible

Engraving of Thomas Stackhouse from the frontispiece of the 1767 edition of his work

Today I bring you the first in a series of posts about the books we are slowly identifying as part of Fielding Lewis’s personal library.  You can read more about the library project here.  As you may recall, I mentioned that while the 1781 probate inventory provides us with a list of the titles in Fielding’s library, that list still requires quite a bit of research.  The inventory-taker often used only partial titles, or in some cases substituted the author’s name for the title of a book.  Today’s subject is a perfect example.

The fourth item in Fielding’s library inventory reads, “Stack House on the Bible 2 Vol”.  The valuation column is torn at this point on the page, so we do not know its value.  Despite the separation of “Stack” and “House”, it seemed fairly obvious that this was probably a reference to a person, named Stackhouse, providing commentary on the Bible.  This assumption proved correct, after a little digging.  The work was penned by Thomas Stackhouse, an Anglican priest in early 18th century England.  Stackhouse was poverty stricken through most of his career, supplementing his church income by writing pamphlets for booksellers who published them.  His life’s work, however, was A New History of the Holy Bible: From the Beginning of the World to the Establishment of Christianity with Answers to Most of the Controverted Questions, Dissertations upon the Most Remarkable Passages, and a Connection of Profane History All Along: to which are added, Notes Explaining Difficult Texts, Recitfying Mistranslations, and Reconciling Seeming Contradictions: the Whole Illustrated with Proper Maps and Sculptures. It is obvious why the Fielding’s inventory-taker shortened the title as he did. Stackhouse self-published A New History in 1733, after a disagreement with a bookseller left him without a professional publisher.

Fielding Lewis was in good company by owning a copy of Stackhouse.  Two other well-known Virginians are known to have owned his work.  George Wythe, professor of law at William and Mary as well as a signer of the Declaration of Independence, left a copy of Stackhouse to his former student Thomas Jefferson in his 1806 will.  The book was just one item in Wythe’s library of over 300 titles, all of which went to Jefferson.  Jefferson gave away many of the books in his inheritance to family and friends, but kept more than half for himself, including Stackhouse.  Eventually, Jefferson sold most of them to the government to replenish the Library of Congress after its destruction during the War of 1812.  To this day Wythe’s original copy of Stackhouse, with his notations in both English and Greek in the margins, remains in the Library of Congress.

The Wythe/Jefferson copy of Stackhouse is a 1767 publication in four volumes.  This presents a bit of a problem for our research into Fielding’s copy, as it is listed in his inventory as being only two volumes.  Was it a different edition, one that was possibly printed in two volumes? Did Fielding own only two of the four volumes? If so, which two? These are questions we probably cannot answer, but nevertheless we are on the lookout for a 1767 copy of Stackhouse’s A New History of the Bible to add to our collections – keep an eye out for us!

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Conserving the Gaming Table

As you may recall, several weeks ago, I mentioned that the gaming table currently on display in the Drawing Room had returned from conservation work. Since May is National Preservation Month, I thought I would tell you a bit about how this gaming table has been preserved for the future.

The table was suffering from some common issues that often arise in wooden furniture that is more than 200 years old.  The beautiful walnut veneer on the flat surfaces of the table had cracked and was separating from the wood beneath, due to the original hide glue holding it together becoming dry and brittle.  In some areas, the veneer had chipped away entirely.  At some point in the table’s history it had been attacked by wood-boring insects, which left behind tiny holes allover the feet and legs.  These holes filled with dust and dirt over the years, not to mention layers of furniture polish, giving them a grayish appearance and generally making the table legs look dirty.  The wool baize covering (which was not original) on the game-playing surface of the table had worn to the point that the glue holding it down was showing through the fabric in many areas, and its edges were frayed.  Both the damaged baize and some depressions in the wood under it were the results of previous attempts to conserve the table many decades ago.  These attempts were no doubt well-meaning, but had actually made the situation worse.  Luckily for the table, none of its joints or structural components were loose or damaged, suggesting that it had indeed been very well cared for over the years.

In order to repair the veneer issues, fish glue (which is in an extract made from cod skins, in this case) was injected under the separated surfaces, and the loose veneer was pressed back into place.  A great deal of skill (and a steady hand!) was required to fix the missing chips of veneer, however.  In those areas, the conservator filled the gaps with hard wax, which was tinted brown.  He then hand painted the waxed areas to match the grain of the wood around them.  The result is nearly flawless, even to those of us who knew where the missing pieces were before treatment!

After treatment photo of a veneered rondel in the the front corner of the gaming table

Detail of the same rondel, under raking light to highlight the repair work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The holes left by wood-boring insects also required some meticulous handiwork.  The dust and debris clogging the holes was very carefully suctioned out, and then each tiny hole was filled with tinted wax.  It was a painstaking task, but well worth it in the end, as the holes are invisible now.

One of the ball and claw feet, post-treatment (the tiny insect holes are along the central talon)

Close-up of the repaired foot - the wax infills are barely visible along the central talon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to make the green baize playing surface appear as it had more than 200 years ago, the worn out fabric had to be removed and the old glue under it carefully dissolved with water.  The depressions in the wood under the baize were created by previous attempts to fill missing sections of surface with materials that either expanded or contracted over time, creating larger cracks and breaks. The conservator injected tiny amounts of a flexible acrylic filler into these areas to level the surface of the table.  Once the table was level, we could move on to the fabric.  Baize is still produced today, mostly for use on billiards tables, but getting the color right for historical accuracy can be a challenge.  We looked at 6 different shades of green baize, and in several different textures before choosing one that would appear as close to 18th century boiled and dyed wool as possible.  It was then reattached to the table surface using hot hide glue, similar to what would have been used on it originally.

Small squares of baize were used to pad the top leaf of the table when it was open. The conservator believes they are remnants of the original fabric.

While object conservation can be detailed and take an incredible amount of time to do properly, it is essential to the preservation of historic objects.  Every tiny nick, every small crack, every fingerprint adds up over time, and eventually even the sturdiest of pieces will simply fall apart.  Historic sites matter and should be preserved, but so should the objects inside them that illustrate the story. Remember that the next time a tour guide gently reminds you not to touch the furniture!

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New Acquisitions!

As you know, Kenmore was once home to a rather impressive assortment of ceramics – everything from Chinese Export Porcelain in famille vert to stonewares boasting the “GR” emblem of the king.  Slowly, we are acquiring pieces to match everything that we know was once here.  This week, we added 4 pieces that came up at auction several weeks ago.

Among our archaeological findings in the Kenmore kitchen yard were fragments of white salt-glazed stoneware plates, with very fancy decorative rims in two different patterns – one known as “dot/diaper/basket” and the other as “barley/corn”.  At the recent auction we were lucky enough to find 3 sizeable chargers, 2 of which were in the dot/diaper/basket motif, and the third in the barley/corn motif.  They are truly impressive pieces and are now on display on the Dining Room table.

One of the pair of chargers in the "dot/diaper/basket" pattern

The new charger in the "Barley/Corn" pattern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also on display in the Dining Room is our 4th new piece – a tiny item known as a butter boat.  The 1781 probate inventory lists a single butter boat among Kenmore’s household ceramics, but gives no further description.  The butter boat that we recently acquired is English Worcester porcelain, dating to approximately 1760, painted with blue decoration in the “Mansfield Butter Boat” pattern and is molded to look like artichoke leaves with a stalk handle.  Generally speaking, a butter boat was used much the way a sauce, or gravy, boat was used – it simply was there to serve melted butter.  Its tiny size does seem to suggest that there would have been more than one on the table in order to serve a number of people, much like the salt cellars at each place setting, but the inventory is rather clear that there was only one! For the moment, until we have further information, we are showing it alone on the Dining Room table.

Interior of the butter boat

Underside of the butter boat, showing the molded artichoke leaves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you will make a point of stopping in to Kenmore soon to see our newest acquisitions!

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The Walker Armchair Returns!

The finished Walker armchair on display in the Dining Room.

You may recall the fanfare surrounding our acquisition of an 18th century armchair about two years ago. Visitors to Kenmore since then may also have seen that armchair, made here in Fredericksburg by William Walker Jr. around 1770, on display in the Dining Room. One of the remarkable features of the Walker armchair was that it still retained its original under-upholstery fabric, some of the original webbing under the seat, and several original upholstery tacks in the slip seat frame. Surviving upholstery textiles from the 18th century are a rare find, and so we thought it might be interesting for our visitors to see these examples. However, with the completion of the Dining Room’s refurnishing effort, it was time to send the chair out to a conservator so that it could be reupholstered the way it was always intended to be. The chair left Kenmore in January, and just recently returned to us.

The underside of the slip seat, showing the leather show cloth tacked to the new inner seat frame and the original webbing.

We wanted to preserve the original fabric that was still attached to the slipseat, while also making the chair appear as it would have in the 1770′s. The conservator had to create a new seat frame that would fit inside the original one, and then all new upholstery materials would be tacked to it, thereby encasing the original fabric without disturbing it. When the chair was originally upholstered in the 18th century, the seat would have been stuffed with wool to give it some cushioning. Because no one will ever sit in our armchair (we hope!) the conservator actually carved a piece of polyethylene rigid foam to look like a seat cushion, and then wrapped it in the upholstery fabric. If you were to touch the seat now it would feel hard rather than cushiony, but from two steps away you would never know. And how did we decide on what “show cloth” to upholster the seat in? As it turned out, one of those original upholstery tacks was holding a fragment of the original show cloth – a dark leather.

In its finished state, the armchair looks as it would have in 1770, but the original material is still protected and accessible for future research. What might this original fabric still tell us? We never know what these fragments of the past will reveal, but already we have some thoughts. In the 18th century, upholsterers worked independently of furniture makers. At the moment, we do not know of any upholsterers working in the Fredericksburg area until later in the 19th century. So who did the upholstery work on the furniture coming out of the Walker family shops? Was there one go-to craftsman who the Walkers always employed, or did their clients take their newly purchased furniture to other towns and find their own upholsterer? The webbing under our chair’s seat is an interesting study. Rather than neat and trim strips of a single type of fabric woven tightly together, as we would expect, the strips appear to be made of scraps of various fabric, sewn sloppily together in varying widths. In an interesting correlation, another surviving upholstered Walker chair that once belonged to Mary Washington (now in the collections of Mount Vernon) was found to be stuffed with wool and and an assortment of other odd materials, as if the refuse on the floor of the shop had been swept up and dumped into the seat cushions (see note #38, in this article on the work of the Walker family). Is it possible the sloppy scrap webbing on our chair and the refuse stuffing of the Mount Vernon chair are the product of the same upholsterer’s work? Obviously, only more research can answer that question, but it shows just one of the reasons why we wanted to keep our original material fragments intact for future generations.

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Reading Between the Lines

Detail of the list of books from the 1781 probate inventory

One of the most involved projects that we will be undertaking in the refurnishing of the Small Room is the effort to reconstruct Fielding Lewis’s library.  A list of titles appears at the beginning of the 1781 probate inventory.  All told, the list includes 42 individual titles (67 volumes), 11 magazines, and an assortment of “books and pamphlets” that were apparently too inconsequential to either count or value.  Altogether, this was a an impressive private library for 18th century Virginia.  Sadly, only a single volume from Fielding’s personal collection remains in our hands today (the family Bible).  We do have first editions of 2 titles in the list, but they were never owned by Fielding.  Other documents from the time period are silent on the disposition of the library.  The books do not appear in Fielding or Betty’s wills, they do not appear in Betty’s probate inventory, and they are not listed among the items sold at the 1797 estate sale at Millbrook.  What became of them? Where are they now? These are questions we would love to answer this year.

We may never be able to reconstruct the library using the books that Fielding once held in his hands, but our hope is that we can at least bring together a representation of all of the titles, using the editions he most likely owned.  As such, we are beginning the process of researching each title on the list.  Interestingly, when the inventory was taken, the person responsible for the library apparently did not take the time to write out the complete title of each book.  He used abbreviations, or sometimes referred to a book by its author, while in other instances he used a partial title, or re-ordered the words.  This unique system is making our task a bit more convoluted, but already we are learning some interesting things.

We have been referring to this collection of books as Fielding’s library, but in actuality there are several titles that most likely were not his at all.  The Compleat Housewife and Mrs. Glasses Cookery, for example,refer to indispensable guides for running an 18th century household and would have been for Betty Lewis’s particular use (they also happen to be the 2 volumes represented in our collection, and are currently displayed on Betty’s desk in the Chamber).  Additionally, there are several novels listed among the titles.  Generally speaking, in the 18th century, novels still tended to be considered “women’s literature”, often focusing on morality and marriageability.  These, too, were probably books belonging more to Betty than to her husband.  We have previously discussed in this post, the presence of Edmund Hoyle’s rule book for card games among the titles in the library, and that book was probably for general family use.  So thus far, our research tells us that Betty was well-read, and that she kept abreast of the latest in household management, and we know that the family were avid card players.  What we are really interested in, though, is what the list tells us about Fielding.  Over the last few years, we have come to know Betty’s personality rather well.  Fielding is still a bit one-dimensional.  We know what he did for a living, we know his pertinent life statistics, and we know a about his politics, in that he supported the Revolution.  But we don’t really know about what he was like at home, with his wife and children, or with his friends at the tavern.  Can his library tell us anything? It appears that it might.  If Fielding’s library could be broken down into categories, the most prominent topics would be travel, theology, and the ancient world.

Quite a few titles are accounts of ship’s captains who sail to exotic locations around the world, no doubt an interest developed in Fielding when he was still a young boy and being around his father’s fleet of trading vessels.  It is also interesting to note that several of these travelogues deal with England itself.  There is no evidence that Fielding himself ever left the colonies, or perhaps even Virginia.  Much like his brother-in-law George Washington, he may have felt some inadequacy about his lack of an English education and compensated by reading all he could about it.  The next category, theology, shows an interesting side to Fielding, as well.  While we have no documentation on what his personal thoughts on religion were, it has always been assumed that he was typical of his time period – a member of the local Episcopalian church, St. George’s, and a regular attendee.  He was a vestryman on several occasions, but that was often more of a political position than a religious one at the time.  Generally speaking, he did what was socially required but was not overly interested.  His library might tell a different story, though.  Many of the titles are on theological topics, but from a historical perspective – the history of organized religion, the historical origins of certain beliefs, and compilations of sermons by orators from previous centuries.  These titles start to blend into those associated with philosophy and the ancient world, including Homer and prophesies of the Oracle at Athens.  There is even a book on the lost world of Atlantis.  Altogether, these books paint the picture of a man with a curious mind, interested in a wide variety of things, who recognized a much larger world than the confines of Fredericksburg.

In the coming months, we will take some time to focus on several books in Fielding’s library as our research continues.  In the meantime, let us know if you happen across any old books with Fielding Lewis’s inscription inside the cover!

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Unveiling the Drawing Room!

This week we took some time to take formal photographs of the completed Drawing Room.  The portraits are hung on the walls, furnishings have returned from conservation, and a card game is in progress!

The furnished Drawing Room, viewed from the southeast corner.

The gaming table returned from conservation work this week (stay tuned for more information soon).

Fan favorites – the gaming fish – are back in their “ponds”, and we have chosen to show a bit of irony on the card table, as well.  You may notice the “Liberty” glass in the foreground, and sitting next to it, a jug with a “GR” decoration.  Readers of our Lives and Legacies blog may recognize the GR emblem from this recent post.  Here in this spectacular room, the conflicting values of loyalty to the crown and the desire for liberty played out on a daily basis.

We hope you stop in soon to see the furnished Drawing Room!

 

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A Grand Finale…on a Very Small Scale

As we look ahead to what is in store for The Rooms at Kenmore in 2015, we must take a moment to note a rather important milestone.  2015 will be the last year of the official refurnishing project on the main floor.  When we set out on this project back in 2011, our goal was to complete the main floor in 5 years, and it does indeed look like we will achieve that goal! Decisions about the second floor, the cellar, and of course the dependencies are still ahead of us, but the rooms that made Kenmore famous have all received the furnishings and finishing touches that remind us of what Kenmore must have been like when the Lewis family lived here.  All but one, that is.  In 2015 we turn our attention to the last space on the main floor.  Although it is the smallest room in the house, it is the one I have been looking forward to the most.  It is the room helpfully named in the 1781 probate inventory as the Small Room.

Perhaps the Small Room caught my attention early on because it is so deceptive.  According to the probate inventory, it functioned as some sort of bedchamber and storage room, probably used by a house servant or housekeeper.  The furnishings were few, and the quality was low.  At first glance, it seems like we should be able to quickly refurnish this room with a few utilitarian pieces from the collection and call it a day – a couple of months, tops.  But those of you who read this blog regularly surely know by now, that nothing here at Kenmore is ever taken at face value, and nothing is ever that easy.  Such is the case in the Small Room.

I have mentioned many times before that probate inventories, while wonderful documentary records, are also only a snapshot of a household – one minute, out of one day in the lifetime of a house.  They very often are quite misleading.  Here at Kenmore, we have several examples of being led astray by the 1781 inventory, such as the placement of the Passage mirror in the Dining Room, and the missing Wollaston portraits.  Luckily for us, thus far, the probate inventory has only misplaced the occasional item or two – largely, the contents of each room seem to be listed correctly, or at least reasonably.  The Small Room will be the first time in the refurnishing project where the inventory is probably entirely wrong.  For the first time, we will be furnishing a room based purely on research and a little bit of guesswork.

As you may recall, Fielding Lewis did not die at Kenmore.  During his long final illness, his doctors suggested taking him to the family’s house in present-day Frederick County where it was hoped the mountain air might revive him.  Sadly, Fielding never returned to Kenmore.  The inventory of his estate in Fredericksburg was conducted after the family had been gone from the house for at least 6 months.  As a result, the household was in a bit of chaos at the time the inventory-takers showed up.  This chaos might best be illustrated in the Small Room.  According to the inventory, the room contained a low-post bed, fireplace tools (including hand bellows), and a walnut press containing what appears to be all of the household linen.  These few furnishings seem to suggest the room was a bedchamber, and indeed at that moment in Kenmore’s life, it probably was a bedchamber.

The most likely scenario is that when the family packed up to leave for Frederick County, they moved a trusted servant into the Small Room, in order to keep an eye on the house (and apparently the household linen) while they were away.  But in happier days, when Fielding Lewis was healthy and the family lived their normal daily lives in the house, the Small Room was probably something else entirely.

The Small Room represents a space commonly found in the Georgian floorplan – a smaller room behind the staircase, often accessed through a side passage that serves a side entrance to the house.  In inventories, these small rooms were most often described as offices, gentlemen’s studies or, later in the 18th century, libraries.  While the furnishings listed in the Small Room might give no indication of this use, some of the architectural details and decorative evidence found during the restoration do.  For instance, despite the small size of the room, and its lack of a decorative plasterwork ceiling like the other rooms on the main floor, the wood trim in the room was originally painted in the same expensive turquoise green color as the rest of the woodwork in the house.  Additionally, the simple but elegant cornice in the room is not wood, but rather molded plaster, which would have been a more expensive finish.  The fireplace shows a similar detail, in that its surround is simple but clearly carved by an extremely skilled hand.  Someone of some stature in the household intended to use this room fairly regularly, and it was finished accordingly.

Detail of the Small Room mantle.

It seems likely that before the family’s abrupt departure to their northern property in 1780, the Small Room served as Fielding’s office and study.  Its position near the side entrance allowed business associates and workmen to come and go without going through the formal areas of the house, but it was still at the “front” of the house, allowing Fielding to see who was coming and going from the main entrance. Because we are interpreting Kenmore to the years before Fielding’s death, we have decided to refurnish the Small Room as a study, rather than as a servant’s bedchamber.

So, our last room in this phase of the refurnishing project will be a grand finale indeed, requiring lots of research and imagination, employing all we have learned about Fielding Lewis and his tastes over the last few years. In the end, it will be the coziest of rooms, representing a place that Fielding went to be alone with his thoughts and books.

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In the End…

Happy New(ish) Year from Kenmore! 2015 certainly has gotten off to busy start around here.  We used our annual two-month winter closure to get a lot of big projects done, some of which our visitors will definitely notice when they stop in! We will be giving you an overview of those projects here on this blog in the coming weeks.  Today, we’ll kick off The Rooms at Kenmore 2015 by returning to the scene of our last post – the Drawing Room.

You may remember when we last checked in, that we had just received the results of our infrared thermography experiment, which we hoped would help us determine how the Lewis family portraits that were once displayed in the Drawing Room were originally arranged.  While the results did not tell us as much as we had hoped, they did combine nicely with what we already knew from physical evidence found during the restoration.  Not all of our questions were answered, however, and as often happens in this line of work, we had to fill in the gaps with research.

Our physical evidence and the infrared thermography evidence left us with the realization that at least a few locations of framed pieces in the Drawing Room were going to have to be guesses.  But we were determined that those guesses were going to be very educated! So, as our last step in the process, we spent several months studying a variety of genre paintings from the 18th century.  Genre paintings depict scenes from ordinary domestic life, often showing mundane things in great detail, such as the layout of furniture in a room and how people congregated in it.  While the artwork hanging on the walls in these paintings was never the primary focus of any of them, it was often depicted in the background.  After some time, we could definitely see patterns beginning to emerge.

Sir Lawrence Dundas and His Grandson by Johan Zoffany, ca. 1769. Yale Center for British Art/The Zetland Collection. Zoffany shows his subjects seated in a room very similar to Kenmore's Drawing Room. Notice the work of art placed above the fireplace.

For instance, one of the most often depicted spots to hang a piece of art seemed to be above the fireplace.  We saw it in painting after painting.  Unfortunately for us, such placement is not possible at Kenmore – in both the Drawing Room and Dining Room, the fireplaces are topped with elaborate plasterwork overmantels, which are themselves artwork.  Another display location that recurred in several paintings, however, was more plausible for us.  The space above doorways often seemed to be filled with artwork, and especially smaller prints or engravings.  Kenmore’s Drawing Room has four doors – two entries from other spaces and two closets – so it has plenty of space for hanging in such an

April through September hung in place above the closet and side hall doors.

arrangement.  Indeed, twelve of the items that were to be hung in the room were a set of engravings depicting the months of the year – exactly the type of artwork placed above doors in many genre paintings.  Unfortunately, during the 1890′s the spaces above the two closet doors were converted to gothic style arches, thereby obliterating any evidence that may have existed for hanging artwork there.  Although these spaces would be guesses, we felt they were very good guesses.  We decided to hang three engravings above each doorway, in chronological order.

Mrs. Congreve and Her Children in Thier London Drawing Room, by Philip Reinagle, 1782. National Gallery of Ireland. Although this painting shows yet another placement above the fireplace, it also shows a framed work above the doorway at the top left of the image.

Genre paintings also helped us come up with a plan to deal with our seemingly conflicting evidence for the arrangement of the large family portraits on the North and West walls.  You may recall in this post we discussed the fact that several of the original 18th century picture hangers found still embedded in the walls were in spots that would cause the portraits to overlap one another, if they were hung side by side.  Several genre scenes showed us that large companion portraits were not always hung side by side, but rather could be placed at either end of a display area, thereby anchoring a gallery-style arrangement in between.  Once we separated the two portraits by John Wollaston, placing Fielding on the West wall and Betty on the North wall, the remaining original picture hangers were freed up to mark the locations of smaller portraits.  In this

An "in progress" shot of the Peale portraits being installed. The white paper templates show a possible arrangement for the 3 as-yet unlocated Peale portraits commissioned by Fielding Lewis in 1775.

case we assume that those locations were taken up by two of the five Charles Willson Peale portraits comissioned by Fielding Lewis in 1775.  At the moment, the Foundation owns only two, so this works out nicely.  Until we can locate and acquire additional portraits (fingers crossed!), the portraits of Fielding Lewis Jr. and his older half brother John Lewis will hang at the locations of those last two original picture hangers.

Marriage a la Mode, Plat 1, by William Hogarth, 1745 (engraving by Louis Gerard Scotin). Collections of the George Washington Foundation. What appears to be a pair of companion portraits is shown hanging separately, one near the center of the image, and one on the bottom right of the image.

In the end, the hanging arrangement in the Drawing Room will show our visitors all of the known locations of artwork in the 18th century, and it will provide them with several conjectural locations based on very good evidence and research.  More importantly, however, for the first time in more than 200 years, the Lewis family portraits adorn the walls of this spectacular room, just as they were always intended to.  When visitors enter the room, they will see what Fielding Lewis wanted them to – a prosperous family, establishing its dynasty in Virginia.

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The Results Are In!

Back in October, you may recall that Kenmore’s Drawing Room was the scene of a very interesting scientific investigation – infrared thermography, done on the room’s walls.  You can read about the process here.  You may also recall that we hoped the results of the investigation might give us further insight into how the framed artwork once displayed in the Drawing Room was arranged.  Well, the final analysis report has arrived! And the results are…

…that there is no conclusive evidence of plaster patching due to the hanging of framed artwork in either of the walls investigated.  Admittedly, at first glance this was a disappointing result. We had hoped that the infrared photographs of the walls would show multiple patches, and that the locations of at least some of these patches would line up with the dimensions of our framed artwork, thus narrowing down the possibilities of how the pieces were arranged on the wall.  However, upon further consideration, the analysis does tell us a few things that will ultimately help the project.

Perhaps the most important piece of information that the infrared thermography report tells us actually comes from what it does not show.  The process involved heating up the wall, section by section, with an electric blanket.  Our project was the first one in which LeeAnne Brooks had attempted to heat walls without physically contacting them (a request we made, due to the delicate nature of the Drawing Room wallpaper).  Due to the height of Kenmore’s ceilings, and the fact that the walls are solid masonry and covered with flocked wallpaper, heat from the warmed sections behind the heating blanket did not transfer up the wall as it usually does in this method.  So the results we got were only for the lower 8 feet of the walls.  The old iron picture hangers found still in the walls during the restoration had been located at the top of the walls, very near the ceiling.  One of our questions was, were all the paintings in this room hung at the top of the wall, or were they hung in rows, “picture gallery” style? Because the infrared thermography gave us clear pictures of the lower 8 feet of the walls, we now know the answer to that question – no, nothing was ever hung on substantial hangers in the middle of the wall or below.  This essentially nixes the concept of a picture gallery in Kenmore’s Drawing Room. Most likely, the large portraits that were once in this room, were all hung on the North wall (the wall where the iron hangers were found), and they were all hung very high up, nearly at the ceiling just below the crown moulding.

In addition to information on the arrangement of artwork, the investigation revealed a couple of surprises.  In two locations, the infrared photographs showed mystery objects behind the walls.  One, located on the West wall near an old doorway that had been closed up and plastered over, is a tall, narrow rectangle that comes up from the wainscot and extends about a foot above the chair rail.  The second one, located in the North wall just to the left of the doorway into the Dining Room appears to be a skinny rod topped with a ball.  Infrared thermography cannot show detailed images, so we don’t know what these objects are.  Guesses range from tools left in cavities of the walls by the original masons, or possibly remnants of a now defunct plumbing system. The only way to know for sure is to re-open the walls, and that’s not something we will be doing any time soon! Although they remain a mystery, the thermography report provides good information on their location and size, should future historic preservationists ever run across them in their own investigations.

This will be our last post for 2014, but the next time you hear from us we will be in the process of actually hanging our portraits in the Drawing Room. Until then, we will be spending some quality time studying other known hanging arrangements in 18th century households, trying to find the best match for Kenmore’s Drawing Room.

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion!

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