Keep It Rolling

My name is Catherine Rubino. I am interning this spring in the Archives department of Historic Huguenot Street. I am also a senior studying English Literature and Journalism at SUNY New Paltz.

This week’s object serves as a companion piece to the player piano previously mentioned. As opposed to a single object, Historic Huguenot Street has obtained over 200 different rolls that can be played on our player piano. Each roll is individually produced with a single song and packaged with its own rectangular box, which stir up visions of Harry Potter in Ollivander’s Wand Shop.

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When player pianos were in their height of popularity, manufacturers would record pianists on pianos with keys and pedals that were equipped with electrical contacts.1 A series of pens would mark on a master roll the notes played. These hand played rolls were played upon reproducing pianos such as our player piano located in the Deyo House. For pedal operated player pianos, the scrolls were made from transcriptions of sheet music. These “metronomic” or “straight cut” rolls were marked by a technician on a paper stencil.

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Player piano rolls are still being produced today. One of the largest manufacturers, QRS, has been in business for over a hundred years. Many of the rolls in our collection are QRS rolls. However, new music roll producers are currently popping up as well, bringing together the player pianos of the past with the music of today. Popular songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” and even the theme song to Frozen can be played on player pianos through new recording techniques, which involve the use of computers.

Original rolls can be re-cut or copied. The process involves scanning the original roll through a reading machine where a computerized master is used to create as many copies as desired. Electric pianos can create new hand-played rolls through the use of MIDI or Musical Instrument Digital Interface. The MIDI recording can be converted to a perforator control file that is able to create new rolls. Roll manufactures can also choose to create new arranged rolls from transcriptions of sheet music as had previously been done where each note is entered individually into a MIDI sequencer program.

All of these techniques from the past and the present can be used to enjoy the magic of the player piano. Rolls such as the ones in our collection have allowed people to sit back and relax while the player piano has done all the work for over a century, and it seems they will continue to do so for years to come.

1Early Piano Rolls.” The Player Piano Page. n.d. Web. 19 Feb 2016.

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Gothic Revival in the Hudson Valley

By Deanna Schiavone

Hi! My name is Deanna Schiavone and I am a curatorial intern this spring at Historic Huguenot Street. I am a History major with minors in Ancient Studies and Art History at SUNY New Paltz. I look forward to posting Object of the Week blog posts throughout the semester.

This week I will be talking about one of the first objects that caught my attention in my initial tour of the HHS Collections. This object is a Gothic Revival style mirror from the late nineteenth century during the Victorian Era (1860-1900). The late nineteenth century was a time of revival of simpler times throughout the Hudson Valley. Post-Civil War ideologies looked to find joy in the philosophical movement that was taking America by storm: Romanticism.1 The Gothic Revival, also known as Victorian Gothic or Neo Gothic, was one of the many revival styles that dominated American architecture and furniture.

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The movement toward Gothic Revival in architecture began in England and was a revival of the Gothic style in 12th century Middle Ages. Inspired by organic and natural architectural styles, the Gothic Revival style was most often seen in rural settings and was meant for scholarly gentlemen or clergymen to reside in; however, the general public enjoyed this style because, in the Hudson Valley, the style was mixed with Dutch elements.2 The style spoke of class and gave the aura of intellectual decorum with folksy elements that spoke to the general public. Gothic Revival styles also often include references to Church and Christianity. During the Victorian Era, there was a renewal of interests in Christianity.3 Elements from medieval universities, churches and cloisters were commonly used in furniture from this style. Furniture was often made of wood and heavily carved to reflect these elements.

In the Hudson Valley, this style was mainly encouraged by the famous Andrew Jackson Downing. Downing was from Newburgh, NY, and, after a visit to England, introduced this style to the masses from his two books, Cottage Residences and Archetec-ture of the Century.4 Originally, Gothic Revival furniture was meant to be placed in home libraries and dining rooms. However, as the 19th century came to a close, furniture had become so eclectic that it did not matter where styles were placed. Common characteristics are pointed arches, ornate carvings, the use of dark wood, geometric forms, and trefoils/quatrefoils.5

Our mirror was donated to HHS by John Van Benschoten and was originally placed in the Deyo House’s parlor. The mirror fits in with the other elements in the Deyo parlor since it is reminiscent of the Gilded Age although its original style was Gothic Revival. The original wood of the frame is heavily embellished and covered in gold gilt, a major identifying aspect of the time. The mirror is relatively small (22” x 11”). It sits in the elaborate frame and has a pointed arch at the top with is black speckling on it. The original dark wooden embellished frame is ornately carved and depicts many characteristics of the Gothic Revival, such as quatrefoils on each corner and center spire. On the top of the frame there are three spires, which speak to the religious elements seen in furniture of the time. The first time I saw this item I was reminded of a medieval castle because of the spires that rest above the pointed arch.

1 Peck, Amelia. “American Revival Styles, 1840–1876.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004). Web. 9 Feb. 2016.

2Hudson Valley Architecture.” Hudson River Valley Institute. Poughkeepsie: Marist College, Hudson River Valley Institute n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.

3 Bachhawat, Amitabh. “The Age of Revivals: Gothic Revival Furniture.” art etc. news and views. N.p. India, (September 2010). Web. 9 Feb. 2016.

4Hudson Valley Architecture.” Hudson River Valley Institute. Poughkeepsie: Marist College, Hudson River Valley Institute n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.

5Gothic Revival Style 1830-1860.” Pennsylvania Architectural Field Guide. PA, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.