He’s Got Bigger Fish to Fry

By Rachel Hudson

This week’s item is a trio of hand-painted clam shells by an artist by the name of Charles D. Low. The earliest piece shows a scene from a Civil War camp; the next piece shows a woman by the ocean and is dated 1910; the last piece shows a bloody Revolutionary War scene and is dated 1919. Like many folk art pieces, this is a relatively unknown artist, but he captures what life was like for him both during and after the Civil War. It is difficult to say exactly what each piece means due to the individualistic nature of folk art, however, many of the regional and cultural influences of the north can be seen.

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This piece includes the writing, “Painted by his own hand, C. D. Low As I was at Boliver Heights, Virginia September 1864 in the Shanandoah Valley Va. with General Sheridan.” At this time this site functioned not only used as a battle field, but as a the largest corral and wagon yard in the Shenandoak Valley. According to the National Park Service, “during Union Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, Sheridan converted Bolivar Heights into a temporary corral for thousands of mules and hundreds of quartermaster wagons, waiting to transport supplies and munitions south.” The figure, presumably of the artist himself, is shown in full uniform, complete with rifle and pack. The next largest objects in the background are the pot of beans over the fire and the American flag. This piece may have been a memento for the event it describes, but it is unclear if it was made when the artist was still in the army. It seems unlikely, since many Civil War pastimes had to be easily transported, but it is not impossible. Union soldiers had better access to resources and often did partake in artistic endeavors, such as carving and drawing.

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The other two pieces also seem to have the same kind of souvenir quality as the Civil War piece. The painting of the woman beside the ocean has the message “Pricilla of the Olden Days” and “At Rockaway Beach, NY” painted along with the picture. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Rockaway Beach was a popular vacation destination for New Yorkers. With the construction of the railroad station at this time, it became easier for people of many different economic backgrounds to travel to vacation destinations like this. Hotels, amusement parks and stores opened up to attract people, like the artist, to visit. The last shell painted with the Revolutionary War scene does not have the same description of the place where it was painted as the other two, so it’s hard to say if it was done as a memento or souvenir.

Sole Power

By Katie Graham

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This shoe was found in the LeFevre House roof in January 2006 during a post-storm repair. It is very likely that is a concealment shoe once used to protect the home from bad luck. Concealment shoes were hidden in chimneys, window frames or any other openings in which evil spirits could enter a home. It is likely that shoes were the clothing item of choice for this type of folk magic because it is the only article of clothing that will maintain it’s human shape after being taken off and, therefore, would have served as a permanent reminder to the spiritual realm of the dominance of the tangible mortal world.

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The LeFevre House was built in 1799 by Ezekiel Elting, but the tradition of concealing shoes in structures dates back to the 14th century according to the archives at the Northampton Museum in England.1 To avoid being wasteful, the shoes used for concealment were often well worn. The origin of concealment shoes is unclear, but it is speculated that it is a modern rendition of the prehistoric tradition of sacrificing a human and placing their remains in a home’s foundation with the hope that the body will keep the home in place.

One of the more unconventional locations in which a concealment shoe was found was in the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia. Workmen creating an access tunnel in the southeast pylon came across a child’s shoe that dates back to when the bridge was being constructed in the 1920s. In the United States, concealment shoes are most often found in New England, but have been discovered as far West as Missouri and as far South as Virginia. As far as we know, this is the only concealment shoe found on Historic Huguenot Street.

1 Shoes Concealed in Buildings, Northampton Museums Journal 6, December 1969

Can you guess Rachel’s object for next week?

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Getting Myself into a Hairy Situation

By Rachel Hudson

This week’s object is this strange little book we have displayed in the case in the Deyo Hall meeting room. This object seemed unassuming when we first found it in collections. We certainly did not expect this worn paper writing book to contain something like locks of human hair, decoratively woven into patterns of hearts and wreaths. This is a classic example of women’s parlor crafts during the 1800s. Sentimentality and a woman’s duty to her home are combined in this craft, which showcases both her skill as an artisan and her connection to friends and family.

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Origins of Hairworking

This craft originated in Europe where hair jewelry was used as mourning objects. It later caught on in the United States as Europeans brought their culture to the country. The Civil War also created a need for remembering those who leave with a more physical connection in the form of a clipping of hair. The onset of the Industrial Revolution created a distinct need for people to reconnect with objects that were handmade and not mass produced. No matter how much of the setting was machine made, the decorative hair element had to be woven by hand. This created a contrast between the sentimentality middle class women wanted to showcase, and the consumerism that came with mass produced objects that flooded the market during the Industrial Revolution.

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Hair Album by Naomi C. Freer

Hair albums like this would have been a major domestic craft for middle class women in the middle to late 1800s. Magazines like Godey’s Lady’s Book and Peterson’s Magazine promoted the work, and even provided instructions to make objects like these as well as techniques for hair jewelry as well. This particular book was created by Naomi C. Freer and contains names and hair clippings from members of her family and friends. Included in this book is her husband, Lewis H. Deyo, her mother and father, Matilda and Andrew Freer, her mother- and father-in-law, Dinah and Hiram Deyo, along with some of her brothers and sisters, Alice and Thomas. In a time when staying in contact with loved ones was often difficult with a slow mailing system and limited travel opportunities, hair albums became a memento of the missed person. These types of objects were no longer meant to represent mourning, but a desire to connect with the living. It was a clear rejection of the usual mass produced items that would have been on the market at that time, and a way for people to stay connected, even when they were physically separated.

Here’s a preview of next week’s object:

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Dancing Queen

By Katie Graham

This week’s object was donated to HHS by Mr. Cecil Lesile in 2010, but the object’s original owner remains a mystery. The Social Club of New Paltz issued this fan in 1901 to a woman who had a flair for dance hall parties. On the fan there are 49 signatures from local gentleman and several Huguenot descendants. Alongside the signatures of the mystery woman’s autographed fan were the date and type of dance, ranging from a Lancier, Two-Step, and a Waltz. The fan was covered front to back and spans from 1901 to 1902.

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The amount of detail on the fan supports evidence that this fan was used as a dance card, which functioned as a way for a man to sign up to dance with a woman so no one would be left without a partner on the dance floor. Accessorizing a dance card is particularly interesting on a fan because the way a woman held her fan in a social setting served as an unspoken language to eligible gentleman. If our mystery woman had rested her fan on her right cheek it meant she accepted an invitation to dance, and in this particular case, permission to collect another autograph to fan out to prospective dance partners.

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The New Paltz Social Club held dances at the Village Hall on 16 North Chestnut Street, which is now Barnaby’s Steakhouse. The building was funded by the prominent New Paltz Literary Association and used as a mixed-use community center. Although the title Village Hall insinuates a space for political meetings, politics were spoken of informally, particularly at parties and William Kaiser’s barber shop, which was a Republican hot spot in the 1870s. Downstairs in what is now Barnaby’s kitchen were apartments tucked away from the evening jubilees and daytime theater matinees in the Village Hall’s Opera House. Before the Hall changed hands into the steakhouse it is today, it was a community center for St. Joseph’s Catholic Church from 1929 until 1966, when it became Barnaby’s and the Academy Theatre. While the richly historic building on Chestnut Street may not be frequented with local men and women dancing to a Waltz, Lancier, or Two-Step, personal items like this autographed fan serves as contrast in the changing social settings of New Paltz.

Can you guess Rachel’s object for next week?

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