Theses


Winterthur Program in American Material Culture (WPAMC)

Hannah Boettcher, “Mary Custis Lee Unpacks the Washington Relics: A Revolutionary Inheritance in Museums, 1901-1918”
Year of Completion: 2016

Mary Custis Lee (1835-1918), General Robert E. Lee’s eldest daughter and a descendant of Martha Washington, offered George Washington’s military tents for sale to benefit the Home for Needy Confederate Women in Richmond, Virginia in 1906. This decision exemplifies how Lee mobilized her inheritance to preserve her family’s private history and make its legacy accessible to a national audience. The tents were part of a group of household items known to her family as the “Mount Vernon relics,” confiscated by Union military occupants at Arlington House in 1861, displayed in the United States Patent Office and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum from 1862 to 1901 and inherited by Mary Custis Lee when President McKinley restored the relics to the Lee family in 1901. Between 1901 and 1918, Lee simultaneously managed, promoted, exhibited and interpreted the Washington relics in ways that presaged modern museum work. The collaborative project required Lee to repurpose two travel trunks and create a personal archive to house the Washington Custis, and Lee family records, which set historic precedents for engagement with museums and historical institutions. She added correspondence, diaries, souvenirs and ephemera to the collection of family papers (1694-1917), all of which compose the Mary Custis Lee Papers at Virginia Historical Society. This thesis uses the trunks and their contents, discovered in Lee’s bank vault in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2002, as a fundamental starting point for mapping Lee’s social networks in Richmond; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; New Orleans and many international destinations. Addressing Mary Custis Lee’s previously untold biography, this thesis studies her papers and objects to tell her story using a material culture framework. Retracing Lee’s work to unpack family heirlooms offers new information about selected Washington relics’ provenance. Her experiences as a tourist, participation in commemorative events, strategic interactions with American museums and targeted dispersal of the relics impacted how and why today’s visitors can view historic artifacts interpreted as George Washington’s belongings, once considered eighteenth-century relics to a nineteenth-century public. Mary Custis Lee’s convictions about her revolutionary inheritance and these objects’ cultural relevance to distinct institutions transformed the collective understanding of her family’s heritage in American memory.


Katie Bonanno, “Ecology in Print: Publishing Picturesque California, 1887-1976”
Year of Completion: 2016

Weaving American environmental history with the history of the book, this thesis considers the publishing trajectory of one text, Picturesque California, to speak more broadly to connections between material agency, ecological thinking, and the business of making books from the late nineteenth century to the later twentieth. Edited by John Muir and published serially from 1887 to 1891, Picturesque California took readers on a visual and literary journey through the American West. Readers also embarked on a material journey through the book, engaging with clay-coated paper, synthetic gold foil, and new printing processes. While Picturesque California presented its readers with idealized representations of wilderness, an ecocritical interpretation suggests that these were overwhelmed by the book’s materials and distribution networks, products of industrialization and resource exploitation. In 1974 and 1976 respectively, Ashland, Oregon’s Lewis Osborne and Philadelphia’s Running Press reprinted the book. Osborne reprinted Picturesque California as an art book for the collectors’ market, while the Running Press reprinted it as an inexpensive paperback, much like the press’ how-to books marketed to ecologically-minded Americans. Although the two reprints contained the same content, their contrasts in material and marketing suggest their makers’ different interpretations of Picturesque California’s nineteenth-century environmental writings and landscape illustrations. Both, however, point to the potential for scholarly and public audiences alike to engage with American Environmental heritage to better understand the relationship between humans and the world in which we live.


Michelle Fitzgerald, “Relics of Loyalism: Investigating the Confiscated Property of Maryland’s Last Colonial Governor”
Year of Completion: 2016

On June 26, 1776, Maryland’s last proprietary governor, Sir Robert Eden, boarded the HMS Fowey to join his family in England at the onset of the American Revolution. Intending to come back, Eden left behind his Annapolis house full of belongings and a thriving plantation. When he did at last return at the conclusion of the war, he found his plantation occupied and his town house and furnishings used as the state’s governor’s mansion. His home, which once represented British authority, continued to be used by Maryland governors for almost a century.

Michelle’s thesis will center around a comprehensive inventory taken of Eden’s house on the day of his departure in 1776, as well as two more inventories taken over the next two decades of property disputes between the Eden family and the state. She will examine the provenance of surviving objects supposedly belonging to Eden and his house to determine how the loyalist identity of these objects shifted over the following century. This research will add to scholarship on loyalists, their confiscated property, and the importance of material goods in the transition from colonial to early national governance.


David W. Granston, III, “A Story of Sunshine and Shadow: Elizabeth Colt and the Crafting of the Colt Legacy in Hartford”
Year of Completion: 2016

Elizabeth H. Colt’s life and legacy has been largely overshadowed by that of her husband, Colonel Samuel Colt. Although recent scholarship has retrieved her name from obscurity, the full extent of her legacy has not been fully considered. This thesis aims to further understanding of Elizabeth Colt who, following the tragic losses of her husband and children, used material objects to memorialize their lives. Working with some of the most talented artists and architects of her time, Mrs. Colt crafted a material legacy in Hartford ensuring that the memory of her deceased family members would live on indefinitely. Using primary sources such as personal correspondence, journals, and architectural renderings, and drawing from period newspaper articles, the meaning and symbolism behind these memorials themselves becomes far more evident. Examination of the art and architectural works she commissioned provides a more comprehensive understanding of Elizabeth Colt’s desires, emotions, and personal life. Situating her within the context of nineteenth-century mourning culture, it is clear that Elizabeth Colt was at once the every woman in her strong sentimentality and desire to memorialize her loved ones but, with seemingly unlimited financial resources, was completely unique in the memorial objects she crafted. The buildings and works of art that Elizabeth commissioned remain integral to the Colt legacy in Hartford today, and preserve the names of her husband and children. By understanding their design, and the events that led to their creations, however, these objects also speak volumes about the life and legacy of Elizabeth Colt.


Rosalie K. Hooper, “Out of the Shade: Uncovering the Manufacture and Use of Umbrellas and Parasols, 1830-1850”
Year of Completion: 2016

Though umbrellas and parasols have yet to claim a significant scholarly presence, they remain ubiquitous in material, documentary, and visual sources from the antebellum period. The papers of David Harriot & Co., a small umbrella and parasol making firm that operated in New York City between 1831 and 1845, facilitate a deeper study of this industry and the objects it produced. This thesis puts the production practices of David Harriot & Co. in context, analyzing data patterns in the firm’s records and situating the firm within the umbrella and parasol industry in the United States and worldwide. It investigates the materials, methods of production, and networks of trade that made possible the manufacture and distribution of umbrellas and parasols in the United States, and touches upon the social meanings communicated through the use of umbrellas and parasols. The American umbrella and parasol making industry grew rapidly during the antebellum period as it began to transition from an artisanal, craft-based form of production to an increasingly mechanized, industrialized, and standardized system of manufacture. The use of outwork, task payments, and assembling processes characterized the production processes of many firms, particularly smaller ones like David Harriot & Co. Recognizing the variety of production and distribution techniques used throughout the umbrella and parasol industry gives a fuller sense of the spectrum of manufacturing that existed in the 1830s and 1840s. This study concludes by raising questions about the larger social and cultural ramifications of how these objects were used. Through a careful analysis of the many methods used to make umbrellas and parasols, this thesis hopes to facilitate greater consideration of the American umbrella and parasol making industry and the complicated products of these firms.


Amy H. Griffin, “George Clarke and the Furnishing of Hyde Hall, 1806-1835”
Year of Completion: 2016

The motivations for acquiring household furnishings in the early nineteenth century were rarely straightforward or uniform. Then, as now, domestic interiors resonated with objects that inhabitants regarded with varying degrees of pleasure, purpose, or indifference. Inconstancy in consumption has not precluded historians of decorative arts from reducing it to primarily an act of aesthetic and social aspiration. Because status and fashion were real and familiar concerns, this has become a conventional explanation for why people bought the things they did. It also has sufficed because causality is difficult to prove in an activity that merged innumerable economic, demographic, and functional incentives with human psychology and matters of taste. Records fastidiously kept by George Clarke (1768-1835), from the time he immigrated to the United States in 1806 through the last phase of construction on his country estate Hyde Hall, expose clear linkages between personal circumstances and consumer spending that enable a more precise account of historical furnishing decisions than theories of conspicuous consumption allow. This study addresses the establishment of a household inventory by analyzing records of Clarke’s commercial transactions against the trajectory of his personal and professional life. Lending material support to documentary research is the rich surviving collection of Clarke’s furniture, ceramics, metalwork, art, and household fixtures. Much of it is contained in the house he designed and inhabited with his spouse, Ann, whose architectural development was crucial to the family’s interactions with the market for household furnishings. The grandeur of Hyde Hall enhances its value as a corrective for assumptions about consumer spending because it accentuates selectivity and restraint in other purchases. The Clarkes did not spend indiscriminately, but only as the need arose following changes in family life and their domestic context. The family and their home were exceptional, but their pragmatism as consumers of furnishings exhibited logic that extended to anyone protective of his or her resources and requiring more compelling objectives them frivolity to expend them.


Emily C. Pazar, “The Progress of the Art: Paper Marbling in the United States, 1880-1950”
Year of Completion: 2016

Paper marbling looks like magic. A marbler uses a brush to sprinkle pigments that float on a heavy solution. After manipulating the colors into a design with combs, the marbler sets a paper on top of the bath. The pattern reveals itself as the paper is pulled away. This process was shrouded in a level of mystery until the nineteenth century, when manuals and articles in periodicals began to explain marbling methods. A wave of new interest in the craft began in the 1880s, when authors no longer just broadly claimed to reveal secrets, but provided detailed guidance in conjunction with commercially prepared materials and tools. Hungarian-born marble and marbling supplier Josef Halfer offered specific, thorough advice in his manual The Progress of the Marbling Art, along with carefully formulated products for sale. Halfer’s approach to supplying scientific precision, adapted to marbling distributors, teachers and curious audiences in the United States, presented a special kind of demystification for professional bookbinders and novice marblers alike. Through contexts of bookbinding, manuals and lessons, technologies, and alternatives to hand-marbled paper, this study examines how specific instructions mediated a new, more clearly defined relationship between marblers and their materials.


Matthew Skic, “‘Muskets for the use of the United States’: Philadelphia’s Gunsmiths During the War for Independence”
Year of Completion: 2016

There has been a long tradition of studying American-made firearms that have connections to the War for Independence. This thesis makes an important contribution to that body of scholarship by uniting analysis of the key artisans, their products, and working life experience to reveal the emerging nation’s abilities to produce arms. Focusing on the gunsmiths of Philadelphia has allowed for greater detail to be presented compared to previously published firearms collector encyclopedias and gunsmiths dictionaries. This thesis argues that Philadelphia’s concentration of craftsmen, skills, and craft knowledge and the presence of the Pennsylvania and Continental governments sustained the importance of the city’s gunsmiths in the production and maintenance of muskets and bayonets for the entirety of the War for Independence. The War and its supply demands changed and expanded work opportunities for Philadelphia’s gunsmiths and established long-term relationships between the smiths and the United States Government. In the cases of John Nicholson and Joseph Perkin, their work during the War led to their leadership in the Federal Armory system of the young nation.