I was recently asked to research calling card trays for an item that was found in our permanent collection. Not only did I completely fall down a rabbit hole of Victorian material culture and starchy social customs, but I also stumbled upon a small but dedicated movement to revive some of these seemingly outmoded traditions. It appears the calling card ritual is coming back into vogue, but in a new and modern incarnation. Contemporary gentlemen see it as a business card with a more individualized touch. But what does the contemporary gentlewoman think? I asked fellow curatorial assistant Rachel Johnson to help me unpack the resurgence of the 19th century calling card in what we hope will become a regular feature on this blog: RepARTee, a conversation about art.
-Kiri Mack-Hansen, Research Assistant
Click here for a background on the history of calling cards.
Click here to read the blog post on the website “The Art of Manliness” that inspired the topic of our conversation.
Aside from the frankly awful picture at the top of the AoM article that goes uncriticized, I thought it was counterintuitive that the author described the Victorian calling card system as a way of “streamlining introductions.” Even scholars of Victorian social customs have called this ritual a waste of time—though that was an intentional aspect of it. Part of the calling card’s use was as a signifier of leisure. A woman of standing would have ample time to personally distribute calling cards around town all afternoon. But if anything, this practice was meant to complicate introductions and social interactions, not streamline them. If you were lucky, you got a 10-minute meeting with the card’s recipient in their parlor, but usually your card was placed on a fancy tray in the foyer by the recipient’s servant. Our generation’s love of social media and smartphones gets a lot of flack, but at least we’re usually interacting directly with actual people and often having substantive dialogues. Or is the Facebook “Like” this era’s “downturned upper left corner”?
I can see how the whole ritual of the calling cards would complicate something as simple as a social call, but part of me also sees it as a pre-commonplace-telephone-society’s answer to how to politely make your intentions known. Before you could leave a voicemail or send a text to see if someone was busy at the moment, but wanted the person to know that you desired to speak with them, I can see the exchange of physical cards including contact information as a reasonable solution. However, it seems people in general always find a way to make things a competition and exclusionary; case in point, if you can’t afford a calling card of quality production, you’re probably not getting that response, and as you mentioned, only someone who could afford leisure time would really be able to distribute their cards anyway, making it mostly exclusive to people with certain statures in society. So there’s a necessary need, and the unnecessary complications.
As far as a modern resurgence, I can appreciate trying to keep a form of material culture alive or rejuvenated, however, this system is really outdated due to the fact that our society now is so interconnected. The article you’re referring to does give uses for calling cards in modern society, but distributing these cards is only going to lead to a phone call, text, or email, so I would say the heart of the culture of exchanging cards and their subtleties is lost.
I agree—it seems like the intention among those who want to revive calling cards are introducing them into a situation where you’re already directly interacting with someone, face to face. I have to say that if someone handed me a “social” card (as opposed to a business card), I’d probably be a little put off! Maybe it’s the strong emphasis on developing one’s “personal brand,” which I guess I find distasteful for the sheer artifice of it. The AoM article frames the modern calling card as a “non-threatening” way of picking up women, but as a woman, wouldn’t you think: “This guy has a whole stack of cards he hands out to every girl he meets!” I wonder how this mythical contemporary gentleman would respond to receiving such a card from a lady…too forward?
I did like the testimonial of the mom who uses them to connect with other parents she meets, since her family moves around a lot and constantly has to rebuild their community network. The contemporary calling card as a contact organizer – I can get behind that. From what I’ve read, that seems to be one of the purposes it served back in the 19th century as well, for keeping invitation lists in order and such. But upholding the notion that carrying these cards makes you more “civilized” than those who prefer their business cards or even the good ol’ cocktail napkin? That elitist mindset should stay in the 1800’s where it belongs.
With the contemporary popularity of “nostalgic” things, penny farthings, barber shops, even fashion trends, I can see people wanting to reappropriate this aspect of what they see as a cultured life, but I totally agree that it often misses the mark and comes across as pretentious. It feels like we’re imagining the “good old days,” when we’re really imitating aspects of a society that was more rigid, elitist and oppressive than the one we live in today.
Feel free to leave your own comments. What do you think about the modern “calling card”?
Anonymous asked: Dear Curatorial Staff, I have a James Van Ness coverlet like the one in your collection names, "Cornelia's Coverlet," but made for Edmund Lawrence in 1850. Can you please tell me an auction estimate or insurance value for this piece?
We’re glad you asked this because we get questions like yours a lot. In general, it is considered a conflict of interest for professional museums to dispense appraisals or authentications, so, unfortunately, the Springfield Art Museum (or any other museum) cannot help you with this.
The best course of action is to seek out a licensed appraiser. The American Society of Appraisers and the Appraisers Association of America have excellent search engines to help you locate the right appraiser by geographical location and area of expertise. For a less formal approach or a quick, rough estimate, you might want to check out AskART, ebay, or artprice.com. Keep in mind that there are many factors that can influence the value of an artwork, including market trends, when in art artist’s career it was made, its size, and especially its condition. To clean your artwork, find a professional conservator at the American Institute of Conservation. Never attempt to clean a work of art yourself.
For those looking to establish a value for their two-dimensional artworks (drawings, paintings, prints, etc.), check out our simple pro-tips to make sure you have an original piece of art in the first place.
Best of luck in evaluating your coverlet, and thanks for the question!
The Chinese New Year began Friday, January 31, 2014. According to the popular culture of the Chinese zodiac system, each twelve-year cycle is associated with a particular animal; 2014 is the year of the Horse. It is believed that the attributes of each animal is reflected in those born in the corresponding year and affects both personality and future success. The horse is praised for its strength, independence and intelligence; people born in the year of the horse are said to be known for their communication skills and high energy.
There is a rich history of depictions of equines in Chinese art, throughout the centuries. As early as the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) the horse was believed to be a relative of the dragon - both were thought capable of flight and therefore able to carry their riders “home to the immortals.” A potent image, the horse was also a sign of military strength as well as wealth; strict laws limited their use to those of a certain rank. Horses were also used in leisure and recreational activities such as polo, hunting, and equestrian displays.
Figures of horses were frequently found in burial sites from the Han through the Tang Dynasties (618 - 907 AD) and reflect the horse’s integral role in the expansion and defense of the ancient Chinese empire. Not only did their rapid mobility allow for quick communication between distance provinces but as members of the military they provided stronger defense of the borderlands from nomadic invasion, as well as the ability to conquer and control new and distant lands. In fact, the need to import stronger and faster steeds from Central Asia led, in part, to the creation of the Silk Road.
Prancing Horse, an earthenware burial figure most likely from the Tang dynasty, is a part of the Springfield Art Museum’s permanent collection. Called a mingqi, or “spirit object,” this terracotta figure was made expressly to be placed in a tomb to accompany the deceased into the afterlife. Mingqireplaced earlier ritual sacrifices of men and animals, and were made in many varied forms including animals, soldiers, musicians, dancers, utensils, buildings and tools, and were both culturally and regionally specific. A more famous example of these objects include the Terracotta Warriors.
The Prancing Horse is noted for its lively and realistic modeling of the figure; it has a saddle on its back and a crupper and breastplate decorated with tassels. Its raised left hoof, a typical pose from the early 8th century, is meant to convey motion. Although the majority of mingqi from the Tang dynasty were ornamented with sancai (three-color) glaze – Prancing Horsewas ‘cold-painted’ meaning that the pigments were applied to an already-fired vessel via clay slips. Slips were made of refined white clay and applied over the buff, terracotta body, enabling the paint to stand out in contrast rather than blending into the background.
Prancing Horse is currently on exhibit in the Hartman Gallery.
This horse symbolized strength, power, and wealth in Tang Dynasty China - all wonderful attributes to wish for those born in the Chinese Year of the Horse!
Happy New Year!
As we are inventorying and moving items in the vaults, I came across a sealed glass bottle marked “Hayward’s Hand Fire Grenade.” My first thoughts after reading that included images of fire and anarchy, so, with my interest piqued, I started doing a little research. It turns out that fire grenades are actually quite the opposite. These “grenades” were filled with fire retardant liquids, some with salt water and some with more daunting chemicals such as carbon tetrachloride. They were often intended for use much like modern day fire extinguishers, to eliminate or keep at bay small fires, but not fires that had gotten out of control or were engulfing whole buildings. They would be kept in homes, businesses or places of work in order to be easily accessible. As you can see in this advertisement from the 1880s, house and home could be easily be saved by either breaking glass over the fire, or tossing them in “as if they were bottles of water.”
Why would one drop it in if they could just break it? And what happened if it didn’t break? Well, the wire that can be seen around the neck of the glass was put there in order to expedite the heating of the glass (the metal of the wire was more conductive to heat than the glass alone) and in turn, make the glass expand and break on its own due to the heat and release its contents.
Speaking of the grenades contents, this enters a tricky area when considering museum collection storage and management standards. As a general rule, liquids are not allowed or kept in or around museum objects, due to the hazards they pose to the items themselves and their environment, such as discoloration, deterioration and expansion and contraction caused by humidity. However, at this time we cannot identify exactly what is in the bottle, and the contents themselves were put there with specific intention that contributes to the significance of the object. So for the time being we are leaving it sealed and as is (unless a small fire erupts, of course ;) )
Rachel Johnson, Museum Assistant
The past year at Springfield Art Museum has been transformative. Even though SAM is close to a century old, it seemed as though we did a great deal of catching up to our community’s expectations in 2013. With an emphasis on community engagement, quality of exhibitions, facilities maintenance, and collection management, SAM staff was empowered to strive for an elevated museum experience overall. We’re proud of our progress, and we know you are too from all of the excellent feedback we’ve received.
For this feature, we asked staff members what their favorite part of 2013 at SAM was. Take a look at some of their responses and add your own!
Joe Medina, Visitor Services
The thing that impressed me the most about the Museum in 2013 was the way it has begun to utilize the auditorium. I have seen lots of joy associated with the events now being held there including music, dance, theatre, and everything in between. Large crowds have also begun to rediscover the joy of visiting the art museum as a result and the museum is quickly becoming a cultural happening for Springfield and the surrounding area!
Kiri Mack-Hansen, Research Assistant
It was a relief to see the Mary Louise Rosenbauer Library undergo such extensive revamping. Between cleaning it out, removing unstable books, taking out shelves, adding furniture, and building a new digital catalog, it was fully a year-long project to get it where it is now. October’s book sale went a long way toward removing extraneous texts from our stacks and putting them in the hands of people who may have a better use for them. Now the library is much more welcoming and user-friendly, from our navigable reference texts to up-to-date art periodicals. As someone who uses our resources daily, I can’t wait to see the digital library catalog come to fruition!
Sarah Buhr, Curator of Art
One of my favorite moments was the Julie Blackmon opening – not only for the huge crowd but for the range and diversity of the attendees and the general atmosphere of fun that you could feel. Her fans and our patrons had an energy that night that was palpable and it was just a fantastic night.
Second was building the Grotto – as a curator I am often involved with the work after it is created and from a more academic and theoretical standpoint. Spending four hours on a hot sunny Saturday to build something organic, unique and beautiful was truly inspiring!
Cindy Quayle, Exhibitions Manager
Change is never easy, especially when things pile up over a large period of time. Obstacles, however challenging, are meant to be overcome and that is what is happening at the museum. I am really grateful for our team of dedicated museum staff. The integration between existing employees and new employees has been amazing. It is also gratifying to hear from our community about the positive changes and inviting environment at the museum. This makes all of our efforts worthwhile.
Do you agree? What was your favorite SAM moment from last year?
The Springfield Art Museum announces a new opportunity for local and regional artists. The Mary Louise Rosenbauer Library, or the “Library Gallery” will host quarterly exhibitions of work by local and regional artists. The first exhibit will open on January 3, 2014 with works by William Newcomb and Deby Gilley.
(Pictured: William Newcomb, Woman with Dog, 2011, acrylic on canvas)
William Newcomb is a self-termed “psychological realist.” Painting from life, Newcomb seeks to interpret the emotional truths of the model before him, over and above a realistic representation. Newcomb is a retired lawyer but has had a lifelong interest in art. He lives in Ozark, Missouri and has exhibited locally as a member of the Visual Artist Alliance of Springfield.
(Pictured: Deby Gilley, Intermission, 4-color reduction linocut, 2013)
Deby Gilley is a printmaker working primarily with linoleum cut and wood block. She has exhibited extensively throughout Southwest Missouri. Gilley’s work centers on her Ozark heritage depicting the people, themes, and landscapes of the region where she has spent nearly her entire life. Gilley was an art teacher, working in area public schools. She retired in 2006, after which she formed Turkey Creek Studios near Aldrich, Missouri, and turned towards her own art practice full-time.
Newcomb and Gilley’s work will be on exhibit through April 26, 2014.
The Library Gallery is intended to provide a showcase for local and regional artists at the Springfield Art Museum, joining a number of local venues who support local artists such as Good Girl Art, Fresh Gallery, The Creamery and Waverly House. Artists may submit their work for consideration to Cindy Quayle, Exhibitions Manager.
-Cindy Quayle, Exhibitions Manager
In 1849, Cornelia Miller ordered a coverlet in Palmyra, New York. Yesterday, her coverlet went on exhibit in the museum’s Musgrave Wing.
James Van Ness, who made Cornelia’s coverlet, lived on the banks of a manmade river. That river, the Erie Canal, had opened the nation’s wild interior to the world. It was among the first signs of the Industrial Revolution that would soon sweep the country. The American identity was rapidly changing, something that James Van Ness could see both outside his window and within his own weavers’ shop.
As a boy, Van Ness learned the trade of weaving from his father. Many families wove their own simple cloth in America’s early days, but there was also a niche for specialized craftsmen who wove more intricate patterns that couldn’t be easily reproduced on a home loom.
In the 1820s, everything changed for Van Ness and his fellow weavers. The Jacquard loom attachment had arrived on American shores. When a weaver attached a Jacquard head to his loom, he could use punchcards to “program” a coverlet design. The weaver would load a chain of cards into the loom head. A different card, with a unique pattern of holes punched in it, was required for each pass of the shuttle. The card signaled which threads would be lowered and raised for that pass. Watch a video of a loom with a jacquard attachment here.
With the new Jacquard head, weavers could turn out more complex patterns at a faster rate. Even better, they could now easily mass-produce designs. James Van Ness embraced the new technology. He opened his “card loom” shop in Palmyra in 1842, and began producing three distinct designs. He also used the cards to print his own name, and the name of the client, in this case, Cornelia Miller, on every coverlet.
Jacquard weaving marked the end of an era where the trade required a skilled artisan. Many weavers still punched cards to create their own unique patterns, but technical know-how had largely replaced creative vision. However, the new technology also made coverlets cheaper to make and to buy. It became much easier for average Americans to bring a piece of art, both beautiful and functional, into their home.
The museum’s Van Ness coverlet is of a design variously called “Four Heads Liberty,” “Miss Liberty,” or (least romantically) “Design #2.” It was, by far, Van Ness’ most popular pattern. Van Ness’s apprentice, Ira Hadsell, noted that he had made 534 of the Miss Liberty coverlets over the course of his career. A seamless, full loom width coverlet, it measures over 70 inches wide. Both warp and weft include natural cotton and red dyed wool.
The liberty pattern reflects the patriotism of the weaver and client. The popular design includes a medallion at center with four liberty heads, with natural leaves and vines that extent to an eagle and star motif at each corner. “E Pluribus Unim” floats on a banner above the eagle. The Springfield Art Museum purchased Cornelia’s coverlet over 100 years after it was made, in 1956, during a time when early American antiques, including American coverlets, became highly collectable.
Interested in coverlets? Check out these links:
-Greta Russell, Registrar
What better excuse for a themed selection of art books than the holidays? From classic American traditions and collectible toys to idyllic snowscapes, there’s something for lovers of winter everywhere to appreciate in these texts. As always, these books are selected directly from the stacks of the Mary Louise Rosenbauer Library at the Springfield Art Museum, and can be found on display in the library seating area. Enjoy!
-Kiri Mack-Hansen, Research Assistant
1. Impressionists in Winter: Effets de Neige, by Charles S. Moffett et al. The Phillips Collection, Washington, in collaboration with Philip Wilson Publishers, 1998. Given by Samuel O. King on the occasion of SMMA’s 70th Anniversary.
The term effets de neige roughly translates to “snowscene,” but more specifically refers to the work of the French Impressionists in winter weather. Impressionists are famously known for depicting the mutability of natural elements such as light and water, often doing so en plein air, or outdoors in the midst of the scene being painted. The presence of cold air and snow both elevates and complicates plein air painting, making the environment less hospitable for prolonged periods of work, but providing a compelling experiment in light reflection. You’d be surprised how little pure white paint is actually used! Paintings by Monet, Gauguin, Pissarro, Renoir, and others are explored, with consideration to diverse influences from Northern Renaissance painting to Japanese Edo-period woodblock prints.
2. Voyage of the Icebergs: Frederic Church’s Arctic Masterpiece, Eleanor Jones Harvey. Dallas Museum of Art in collaboration with Yale University Press, 2002.
Frederic Edwin Church is a well known artist of the Hudson River School’s second generation, painting idyllic scenes of the American frontier at a time when “Manifest Destiny” was becoming an increasingly popular worldview among Americans. The unexplored areas of the continent were shrinking fast, and Church gained quick esteem for his magnificent paintings of North America’s most massive and sublime features, from Niagara Falls to the jungles and volcanoes of South America. Exploration of the mostly uncharted Arctic was to the 19th century audience as space exploration was to 20th century Americans, and Church’s paintings of these mysterious, icy natural occurrences entranced his followers. This catalog gives a critical context to Church’s arctic obsession, and provides of multifaceted view of his masterpiece, The North.
3. Toys & Games: The Smithsonian Illustrated Library of Antiques, by William C. Ketchum, Jr. Smithsonian Institution, 1981.
Nothing signifies the hope and joy of the holiday season more than toys. As the introduction to this catalog rightly states, toys are perhaps the most evocative of all categories of antique objects, “bearing a legacy of fragile memory and passion” in a way that furniture or silverware simply can’t. This text touches on the unique ability of toys to speak to various social and economic conditions of their time, from industry to racial stereotypes, and reflect the trappings of adult life, from cars and trains to tea sets. You won’t find nostalgic items from your youth here; this book covers toys from ancient times through the nineteenth century. Collectors and enthusiasts alike will enjoy it.
4. Kid Stuff: Great Toys from Our Childhood, by David Hoffman. Chronicle Books, 1996.
The toys discussed in this slim text may more closely resemble what you used to get in your stocking or under your Christmas tree. Not only does author and kid-at-heart Hoffman provide a listing of classic modern toys, but he also gives a host of interesting facts and little-known anecdotes about the toys we know and love. (Did you know Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts? I didn’t!) Other iconic toys explored are Crayola crayons, Play-Doh, Pez, Mr. Potato Head, and Etch A Sketch, among many others.
5. The World of Currier & Ives, by Roy King and Burke Davis. Crown Publishers, 1987.
One of the most successful lithography firms of the 19th century, Currier and Ives produced prolific images of everyday American life, helping to establish a perceived, idyllic “norm” for the public. Their Victorian audience, with sentimental tastes and a particular love of genre themes, were highly receptive to these popular commercial prints. The winter scenes produced by the firm have been especially remembered by today’s audiences as synonymous with classic holiday themes, immortalized by the famous lyric from the holiday staple song, Sleigh Ride: “It’ll nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives.” This text has huge color plates of prints from the Roy King collection, but for encyclopedic collectors we also have the 2-volume catalogue raisonné in available in our reference section.
As we have been preparing for the upcoming roof repairs, Greta and I have been moving, sorting and inventorying many things in the vaults and have found some hidden treasures among them. One of the pieces that I personally was most excited to come across was this double sided print by Art Spiegelman. SAM is home to so many works of art, that unless I am helping with a certain show or looking for a particular work, I am not always aware of every piece we have, and so coming across something by one of my favorite artists is always a pleasant surprise.
Lead Pipe Sunday #1, Art Spiegelman, Litograph on paper, 1990
Spiegelman is someone who I greatly admire in terms of both art and contemporary art history. Like many others, I was first introduced to his work by reading “Maus” and “MetaMaus” which really resonated with me. What I find fascinating about Spiegelman’s work and storytelling is how he always seems to be challenging new boundaries, in the 60s and 70s working in the underground comix movement which redefined cartoon based storytelling as means of conveying adult feelings, themes and imagery, and then in later investigations challenging the notions of what is considered high and low art, drawing comparisons between comics and modern art. In his works, he is able to produce both avant garde, controversial comics that comment on society and the art world as a whole, as well as sensitive, autobiographical narratives that promote self reflection.
The piece we have here at SAM would definitely fall in that first category. The “front” side of the piece would later be printed in the New Yorker with the following caption, a tongue in cheek comment on print media as art form and it’s consequences: “A hundred and one years ago, Joseph Pulitzer developed color presses so that The World could bring famous European paintings to the masses. The result was a polychromatic eyesore—but the presses were perfect for printing color cartoons.”
I am so pleased to be able to share this information with you about one of my favorite artists and pieces in our collection, and we will keep updating you on exciting finds we come across, as well as other ventures in the vaults!
-Rachel Johnson, Museum Assistant