Ruth Lynda Deyo: A Hatshepsut of our Time

By Emily Finan

In honor of Women’s History Month, this week I’d like to honor one of our own remarkable Hudson Valley native women, Ruth Lynda Deyo, by examining some of her artifacts from within our archives. Deyo (1884-1960), born in Poughkeepsie to Peter Deyo and Ida Florence Woolsey Deyo, was a pianist prodigy.  While other three years olds were mastering the art of potty training, Deyo was mastering the art of piano composition by writing and performing original works at parlor concerts, church gatherings, and local musicals.1  She continued to hone her skills throughout her childhood and on September 8, 1893, a nine year old little Deyo captivated crowds with a recital of her own works in the Assembly Halls of the Women’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where she was compared to Mozart.2  By the age of 10, Deyo had studied under the great William Mason in New York and was instructed to travel to Europe to further augment her knowledge under the mentorship of Varette Stepanoff, a Letchetizky expert.3  Before Deyo was even a teenager she was a renowned concert pianist and world traveler, certainly making her more modern than most women of her time.

Deyo’s successful travels in Europe produced this program within our collection, following her series of concerts in London. Although the program is undated, it probably originates around the time of her growing success as a concert pianist in the early 1900’s and would have been distributed at her recitals. At this time, the Musical Times noted “the attractiveness of her playing” at Deyo’s November 7, 1905 performance at Aeolian Hall in London.4  Deyo’s name appears again in the Musical Times for her June 1, 1911 concert at London’s Bechstein Hall, where she performed a sonata in F sharp minor by Schumann.5 Within the pamphlet, one can detect Deyo’s extreme global prominence. London, Paris, Boston, Cincinnati, Canada, and New York all produced glowing praise over Deyo’s extraordinary talents.  However, not only was she a talented and driven composer and an experienced world traveler, but she was also deeply fascinated with Egyptian culture, which she sought to incorporate to her musical world.

Similar to her early interest in composition, from a young age Deyo was also captivated by Egyptian culture and operas. This fascination carried into her adult life through her desire to produce an Egyptian themed opera. At the age of eight, it was said that her favorite phrases were “once upon a time, they lived happily ever after and the word Egypt.”6  In pursuit of her ambitions, Deyo traveled to Egypt in 1924 to study ancient Egyptian history and to collect folk music to help her create historically authentic sets and costume designs for her Egyptian Opera, which she named Diadem of Stars.7 Therefore, Deyo can be considered a bit of a Renaissance woman of the arts world; she was a master of the piano and the art of composition, she immersed herself within various cultures, and she studied Egyptian art and architecture in order to accurately replicate it.  Deyo was also a bit eccentric.  She held strong convictions that she was actually a conduit between the Egyptian sun god, Ra, and the rest of the world.  She avowed that he spoke to her and told her she would soon meet the love of her life.8  Ironically enough, Ra was right and Deyo met her husband, Charles Dalton, soon after.

The inspiration for the subject of Deyo’s Egyptian themed opera may have been born in her childhood fascination or her direct connection with Ra, but it is more likely that it was also influenced by contemporary Egyptomania.  First coined in the early 19th century by architect Sir Soane in reaction to the contemporary decorative arts being influenced by the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt in 1798 and ensuing British invasion, the term in this time also refers to the explosion of fascination surrounding the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb.9  Fatefully, Deyo was in Egypt at this moment and was good friends with Howard Carter, the excavator of King Tut’s tomb, and her connections allowed her to view artifacts before the rest of the world.  For instance, upon seeing the limestone head of Nefertiti, she asserted that she saw a resemblance to herself, which might explain why her opera focuses specifically on Nefertiti and Akhenaton.10  Our second Deyo artifact is a letter she wrote to her Aunt Gertrude, who lived in the Fort at Huguenot Street, concerning her Diadem of Stars opera.

This letter is dated August 28, 1937 and states that “King Farouk [of Egypt] expressed a wish to hear our opera, parts of it were sung for him at a reception given in his honor at the Egyptian Embassy in London in June” and that he loved it so much he “wanted it to be given in Cairo.” Deyo’s success and immense reputation is unmistakable.  For a woman of her time, she was truly remarkable.

Deyo is an impressive woman even for today’s standards, but even more so in her contemporary society.  When women were only just getting the right to vote, Deyo was becoming a master pianist and supporting herself through her legendary talents.  Deyo “performed frequently, composed, worked as a pioneering ethnomusicologist, and became something of and Egyptologist – all at a time when women engaged in few of these activities.”11  Deyo can be labeled a feminist of her time; her achievements undermine gender constraints and underscore the assertion that women are capable of any task, even those categorized as solely masculine.  Deyo performed the work of men before her such as Beethoven, Schumann and Mozart, surpassing their constraints by creating her own masterpieces.  She traveled the world and gained global acknowledgement and respect for her compositions.  Deyo also was an activist; she thought that her opera could change the world if she could only bring “Akhenaten’s vision of peace and prosperity” to her viewers.12  Deyo is an inspiration to all and the impeccable candidate for a closer examination to honor Women’s History Month.

Sears, Ann. “An American Composer Answers the Call to Egypt.Sonneck Society for American Music Bulletin, 23, no. 1. (Spring 1997).

2 Sears.

3 Sears.

4London Concerts and Recitals,”  The Musical Times, Vol. 46, No. 754 (Dec. 1, 1905): 809-81, Accessed March 8, 2017.

5London Concerts,”  The Musical Times, Vol. 52, No. 821 (Jul. 1, 1911): 471-473, Accessed March 8, 2017.

6 Sears.

7 Sears.

8 Wheaton College, Ruth Linda Deyo, video, 02:51, May 2016.

9 Brian A. Curran, “Review: Egyptomania: Egypt In Western Art, 1730-1930” by Jean-Marcel Humbert, Michael Pantazzi and Christiane Ziegler, The Art Bulletin Vol. 78, No. 4 (Dec., 1996): 739-745.

10 Sears.

11 Sears.

12 Wheaton College, Ruth Linda Deyo.

Conversation Pieces: Native American Basketry

By Lauren Diener

This week’s object is a basket, fashioned by a Native American tribe located in the Adirondack region. The area in question boasts a tumultuous history between the European settlers and the native New York tribes. The Adirondacks were never permanently settled by the natives, but were instead used by the Algonquin people and Mohawk nation as a means for hunting and travel. This system worked well for the natives, as they had a reliable source for food and passage. However, the harmonious relationship between the mountains and the natives came to a standstill with the arrival of European settlers. Thus began a struggle over the ownership of the land and all of the resources it possessed. The first European settlers to grace the Adirondack region were completely entranced by the amount of resources available. Due to the mass amount of deforestation and sheer population size, Europe had been stripped bare of its useful resources. To these Europeans, the Adirondacks represented a way to amass an enormous wealth. It wasn’t until the settlers encountered the natives that they realized that extracting the objects in question was not going to be a simple task. Frankly, the native’s “barbarous” behavior frightened the Europeans. A Jesuit recounts the Huron practice of burning oneself “for the pleasure of it,” although this act probably served a ritual purpose. As any first grader can tell you, the relationship that ensued was not amiable.

The end of the American Revolution left the native population decimated. Between the war and the diseases brought by the Europeans, the tribes had lost most of their livelihood. The land that they once cultivated was now inhabited by a new kind of people entirely. The natives quickly found that survival now meant doing business with the settlers. Exchanges between the two were always one-sided, as the colonists held all of the power. Europeans regarded the native made goods as a sort of novelty, and the demand for these “conversation pieces” grew.

Native American baskets became popular amongst European settlers. These baskets varied in size and design depending on what tribe they originated from. This article’s featured basket, most closely resembles the baskets fashioned by the Algonquin tribe. The Algonquin employed a technique utilizing splints to construct these baskets. It is under much scrutiny as to whether these peoples created this technique, or if it was borrowed from the colonists. According to experts, most of the splints are made of Ash, either black or brown, and White Oak. If grass was integrated into the infrastructure of said baskets, it would most likely be a type of sweet grass. What truly made the baskets special were the stamps that often adorned them. Natives would create these embellishments by carving shapes into potatoes that would later be dipped in dye and pressed onto the baskets.

It is remarkable that these baskets were able to convey two completely different feelings. To the natives who created it, the basket was the product of desperation. It was a reminder that they were stripped of their humanity, and forced to comply with the terms imposed on them. To the colonists, the basket was a statement piece that was to be envied by neighbors.

Sources:

Burdick, Neal , and Stephan Sulavik. “Adirondack: Of Indians and Mountains.” Adirondack Explorer. July 2005. Accessed February 25, 2017.

Early Historic Accounts of Basket and Bag Weaving in the Northeast.” NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art. Accessed February 25, 2017.

Bruchac, Margaret , and Elizabeth Peng. “Potato Stamps and Ash Splints.” Penn Museum. May 5, 2015. Accessed February 25, 2017.

A Ladle’s Tale

My name is Hannah, and I am a curatorial intern at Huguenot Street. As a Senior art history and Italian Studies major and Ancient World minor at SUNY New Paltz, I am fascinated by language and the cultural material of previous generations and civilizations.

This week’s object is a slender ladle that I came across in collections storage. Although not necessarily an object that one would think of as incredibly noteworthy, I found myself drawn to its delicacy among the other beautiful, yet somewhat clunkier, teapots and dishes of the silverware cabinet. Additionally intrigued by the two-sided coin-shaped medallion at the bottom of the ladle’s head, I set out to explore its purpose, whether decorative, commemorative, or something else entirely. This exploration led to unexpected results. Far from being a simple silver object, this ladle, and many others like it can be tied to many facets of history. Indeed, it tells the story of parties and social gatherings, in addition to stories of public taste, migration from Europe to the Americas and even treason.

Although the use of ladles in Europe can be traced back to the Roman era, and the production of silver flatware is seen in Sheffield, England form as early as the thirteenth century, silver ladles were not wide-spread until the mid-18th century, following the rise in popularity of the silver soup tureen. Silver ladles were quickly produced in many shapes and sizes, and the number of ladle-type categories seems to have grown infinitely. Indeed, in addition to the silver soup ladle that was to serve as a companion to the soup tureen, we see the emergence of silver sauce ladles, stew ladles and slotted ladles, just to name a few. The slender and twisted handle of the ladle from our collection suggests that it would have either served punch or hot toddy, a warm bourbon-based beverage said to keep aches, pains, and the cold away.

Identifying our ladle as a punch or toddy ladle explains the presence of the coin- shaped medallion in the ladle’s bowl. This is in fact a true 18th-century English coin dating back to Queen Anne’s reign. As punch grew more and more popular following its introduction as a sweet and fanciful beverage among the European elite in the mid-17th century, ladles were required for proper service. 17th-century punch ladles, although not wide-spread across Europe, were substantial pieces of silver as they tended to be composed of a heavy round silver bowls and silver handles. The scarcity of silver in the 18th century, however, led to a change in punch ladle composition. Ladle heads became lighter, and their handles were carved from alternative materials, such as whalebone or horn. In order to counterbalance the loss in weight and strength due to the change of material composition, however, silversmiths began melding silver shillings in the bottom of their ladle’s bowls.

The increasing scarcity of silver in England led to the appearance of the Queen Anne style that was popular during and leading up to her reign from 1702 to 1714, and lasted well into the reign of her successor George I (1714-1727).  The Queen Anne style is characterized by its simplicity and lack of fanciful decoration. The slenderness of our ladle corresponds to this style, and is therefore indicative of its age. Additionally, we know that this ladle must date back to at least 1709, as this is the date indicated by the coin. Indeed, inscribed in Latin on either side, we know that it dates from the middle of Queen Anne’s reign. Anna Dei Gracia (Anne by the grace of god) flanks her portrait on one side, and MAG. BRI. FR. ET HIB. REG. 1709, (Magna Britannia, Francia et Hibernia Regina 1709 – Queen of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, 1709) surrounds the insignia of the shield of Great Britain following the union of Scotland with England, Wales, and Ireland.

Interestingly, the scarcity of silver in England in the early 18th-century led to an increased and uncontrollable coinage vandalism. Indeed, silversmiths melted down coins, or acquired silver illegally from “opportunists who amassed bullion by clipping small pieces of silver from coins.” Many of the silver coins in circulation at the time were in fact marked by small chips, and the shortage of silver meant that the government could not replace the vandalized coins. Since the early seventeenth century, any form of coin vandalism had significant political connotations with severe outcomes, as it was seen as an attack on the monarchy and an act of high treason. If an individual was found guilty of these crimes he could be hanged, drawn, and quartered if male, or strangled and burned if female.  Needless to say, it is unsurprising that the “coined” punch and toddy ladles that come down to us today are, for the most part, unmarked and unidentifiable in terms of their creator.

Sources:

Cointrust. Queen Anne Coins. Accessed March 1, 2017.

Collectors Weekly. Antique Sterling Silver Ladles. Accessed March 1, 2017.

McNab, Jessie. Silver. New York: Cooper-Hewitt Museum, 1981.

Raising Sceptors.” Coins, Crime and History. Accessed March 1, 2017.