In defense of wallpaper: an exploration of nineteenth century design and the whitewashing of modern aesthetics

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By Louise Lo Bello

The Ghost of Wallpaper’s Past

The other day I was strolling through the trails of Watchung Reservation when I stumbled upon the “Deserted Village”, a ghost-town deep in the woods of Watchung Reservation and currently maintained by the Union County Park System. The history of the village goes something like this: In the eighteenth century, Peter Willcocks settled on the area and used the land for his sawmill and farm which later turned into the print-making town of Feltville. In the late ninetheenth century, the skeleton of Feltville was transformed into a summer resort called Glenside Park. The tenement-like apartment buildings of Feltville were repurposed as luxury cabins for the resort and their wooden corpses still remain in the woods of Watchung Reservation.

In between smacking away mosquitoes, I tiptoed over the crumbling porch of one of Glenside Park’s converted cottages to get a closer look. I peered through a dusty window and managed to get a glimpse of the interior. As expected, there wasn’t much to see: An empty parlor with splintering floorboards, a central hearth with a paint-chipped, chalky white mantel, and my personal favorite, faded sage paisley wallpaper. A friend of mine commented, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but this place is definitely haunted.” A warranted response, but I envisioned what the cottage once was: A cozy place to return to for a few nineteeth century middle class vacationers after a long day out in nature. I laughed imagining how a rustic escape to the wilderness for Victorians still involved wearing long, heavy dresses and returning to a charming wallpapered cottage, sealed off from the elements. I kicked a mosquito off of my exposed left leg, smearing mud in the process.

Abandoned Glenside Park cottage in the Deserted Village, Watchung Reservation

I’ve been thinking about the solemn, cozy mood of that aging old parlor in the woods. What stood out to me most was the faded wallpaper that was completely torn off in spots and starting to peel in others, but for those who used the parlor over 100 years ago, it must have perfectly complimented the natural color palette of the outdoors. Nineteenth century design did not hold back from pattern and clutter and I expect that this aged wallpaper once played an important role in the overall experience of vacationing at the resort.

The Janeway Wallpaper Businesses: New Brunswick, NJ

A few months before my Deserted Village adventure, I received a reference inquiry at Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives from Bo Sullivan, antique wallpaper enthusiast and founder of Arcalus Period Design and Bolling & Co. He was working with a client who was in the process of renovating a historic house in Ohio. During the project, they came across remnants of antique wallpaper that was still stuck to the original wall. In a corner of the wallpaper it said “Janeway,” referring to a New Brunswick wallpaper company operating in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In an effort to restore the room to its original design, the renovation group and Bo contacted Rutgers SC/UA looking for wallpaper samples from Janeway & Carpender from the late 1800s, hoping to find a match. So I began my search. In the process, I developed a brief timeline of the Janeway wallpaper history of New Brunswick.

Janeway & Company, one of the oldest American wallpaper companies, was founded in 1844 and prospered until 1914 when William Janeway, head of the business, decided to retire. The factory was located on Water Street in New Brunswick, right along the Raritan River. In the early hours of February 7, 1885, two freight trains carrying oil collided on the bridge over Water Street. It ignited a series of fires in the area, including the Janeway & Company factory which was completely destroyed. The company eventually rebuilt and relocated to a stronger structure nearby. Jacob J. Janeway, of another branch of the Janeway family tree, worked at Janeway & Company from 1865 to 1872. He then partnered with Charles J. Carpender to develop Janeway & Carpender, based in New Brunswick. Jacob Janeway eventually bought out Carpender’s shares and the company continued to thrive well into the 1900s. Janeway & Carpender had factory buildings in the areas of Paterson, Schuyler, and Church Streets in New Brunswick and eventually expanded to Chicago and Philadelphia. They too, suffered the effects of a destructive electrical fire in 1907. Within two hours, the factory burned to the ground and for a year following, the site was reportedly still smoldering. The company built a new factory across the Raritan in Highland Park and at the time, it was the largest wallpaper wallpaper factory in the country.

Newspaper clipping and photographs of the 1885 fire and the damage to Janeway & Co. factory (New Jersey Views and New Brunswick Vertical File):

 

Before and after the 1907 fire of Janeway & Carpender (New Jersey Views and New Brunswick Vertical File):

 

Wallpaper and Design

Amidst my research, I came across a few beautiful 1911 sample books from Janeway & Carpender in the Sinclair New Jersey Collection. They all include a trifecta of a border with coordinating backdrop wallpaper and ceiling pattern. The designs varied from page to page, but what stood out to me the most was the richness of the colors and the bold design. For example, some of the vibrant red and green patterns were shockingly intense. I questioned why nineteenth century folks sought for their rooms to look like Christmas just exploded all over their walls, but after awhile the Christmas-couture look started to grow on me. In fact, all of the pages were absolutely stunning. I thanked the wallpaper gods that they were not lost in a papery flame, since tragic fires seemed to be a trend for New Brunswick wallpaper factories.

All wallpaper samples from the Janeway & Carpender Express Books.

Although the sample books in the collection unfortunately did not reveal a perfect match in design to the found samples in the historic house, they did pique my curiosity into nineteenth century wallpaper culture. What were the social implications of wallpaper? How did it compare to the other decorative arts during the period? And why is it no longer an interior design staple?

Prior to the early nineteenth century when wallpaper began to stick its patterned tendrils onto the walls of Western middle-class homes, it was not very popular. In contrast, Eastern countries had been using patterned rice paper as wall decoration for quite some time. In the West, wallpaper was generally associated with lack of wealth, imitation, and falsity. After all, if you intended to decorate your walls, why not go for a richly embroidered tapestry made of a fabulously expensive material? A true mark of high taste was the real, authentic thing and wallpaper was an imposter material, trying to be like its cooler, richer cousin. I can’t help but think of the tacky imitation-marble wallpaper that currently lines the bathroom walls of my family home and how it pathetically hangs off of the wall in places, like a child’s Halloween costume after a long night of trick-or-treating.

The Industrial Revolution gave rise to a fresh crop of laborers that operated new machinery. This led to an improved economy and a rising middle class in the mid-nineteenth century. As the economic classes became much less disparate, more people could acquire art and décor and experiment with interior design moreso than even before, igniting a consumerist boom. Additionally, the development of machine printing and a repealed tax on paper products allowed for folks to more readily choose to decorate their homes with wallpaper, a more affordable option than expensive fabrics and tapestries.

 

The Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts Movements in the latter half of the nineteenth century pushed back against industrialization and mass produced goods, emphasizing an “art for art’s sake” mentality. Designers like William Morris and C.F.A. Voysey were important figures in these movements, looking to non-Western countries and nature for design inspiration and abstracting traditional imagery into two-dimensional patterns. They also encouraged slower, handmade techniques of production such as block printing, as seen in Japanese prints. This non-Western influence also spurred collectors to purchase exotic pieces of furniture and other ornamental objects to decorate their homes.

The Deserted Village serves as a useful microcosm of the social and economic change over a few centuries of American history. Its humble beginnings as a farm and sawmill turned industrial factory town in the mid 1800s, and then, as if the spirit of William Morris himself breathed through the village, rebelled against the industrialized lifestyle and transformed into a summer resort, looking back to nature.

Less is (not always) more

Over the last century, the use of wallpaper has decreased in popularity. Design trends have shifted toward minimalism with white or neutral colored walls, glass panels, and a few quirky or “exotic” statement pieces. In my opinion, a general algorithm for any trendy interior includes whitewashed walls, an Eastern inspired tapestry (perhaps featuring a mandala or a hamsa) hanging loosely over a mid-century modern style sleek couch, complete with a lush green plant on the floor, for what I can only guess is to add some sign of life to the staleness of the space. I like to call this aesthetic the “blogger home”. Minimalism with a pop of color or texture and an interesting handmade basket from your most recent trip to South Africa makes for great Instagram content. In other words, it increases your social capital.

Image from Unsplash (https://unsplash.com)

It is no new critique that a highly decorated Victorian household could be reflective of a colonizing worldview. Hand-picked trinkets and souvenirs from various countries and cultures were used to elevate one’s social status by appropriating them as their own. In many ways not much has changed in today’s design style. An interesting perspective on this whitewashed aesthetic is that it reflects something specifically tied to white-Americans. Young, professional hipsters are most often displayed in the media with quirkily decorated white-walled homes. Indeed, this style is not just centralized to American home design (the Scandinavians and Moroccans are just some of those who have been doing it for much longer), but there is still something to say about the bleaching of tonality and pattern, speckled with interesting trinkets to add a little “culture” to a home. In many ways, the only difference between some of today’s interiors and a Victorian interior is that the walls have now been scrubbed clean. Maybe we can learn something from the evolution of interior design, that evolution does not necessarily imply improvement.

Despite my criticism of this aesthetic, I acknowledge the benefits. White walls reflect light and help make a space look larger. They also allow for people to focus on beautiful objects and decorative pieces and allows them to move more easily without the risk of clashing with wall design. However, not all hope is lost on the wallpaper front as there seems to be a slow shift of reintroducing wallpaper into homes as accent walls. Rather than using it as a backdrop, wallpaper is now a point of focus in a room. And maybe this is what interior design needs. Nineteenth century wallpaper companies like Janeway & Carpender and designers like Morris and Voysey considered their product not merely as a cheap decorative backdrop, but as a work of art. Perhaps now, after the rise and fall of its popularity, the value of wallpaper can once again be elevated and provide a much needed element of mood and character to a room.

Where is our Glenside Park window into wallpaper history?

Looking to the design styles of the past can reveal a lot about the environment and people of a certain era. It is therefore important to maintain a record of the decorative arts, but wallpaper tends to present a preservation issue. Its very nature is ephemeral, discrete enough to be painted over or scraped off when one grows tired of it. It is easily damaged, stained, defaced, and replaced. Not many records of the wallpaper still remain, and if they do, they might be peeling off the walls of an abandoned summer resort in Union County, NJ, a historic house in Ohio, and even in my parent’s bathroom. In other cases, wallpaper preservation can be much more deadly. Some nineteenth century wallpapers were known to use pigments traced with arsenic, particularly the color green. One such book owned by Michigan State University has been practically shrink-wrapped by cautious librarians to prevent people from directly coming in contact with the arsenic-laden pages. Well-preserved wallpaper sample books are not only fantastically entertaining to flip through but they are brilliant artifacts of varying aesthetics, social changes, economic disparities, and personal preference across a period of time.

If you are interested in looking at the Janeway & Carpender wallpaper books at Rutgers Special Collections or learning more about the companies, you can search our holdings and Sinclair New Jersey Collection in the EAD finding aids, and contact the reference desk with any questions.

Resources:

Arcalus Period Design. http://arcalus.com

Bolling & Co. https://bollingco.com

Deserted Village, Union County, NJ. http://ucnj.org/parks-recreation/deserted-village/

Manufacturers’ Association of New Jersey. (1919). Manufacturers’ Association bulletin. Manufacturers’ Association of New Jersey. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uiug.30112064282780

New Brunswick File Collection. NJ014. Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University. http://www2.scc.rutgers.edu/ead/snjc/nbverticalfileb.html

New Jersey Trade and Manufacturers’ Catalog Collection. NJ009. Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

Scannell’s New Jersey’s first citizens and state guide. (n.d.). Paterson, N.J.: J.J. Scannell,.

Bonney, Grace. The White Wall Contraversy: How the All-White Aesthetic Has Affected Design. http://www.designsponge.com/2016/05/the-white-wall-controversy-how-the-all-white-aesthetic-has-affected-design.html

Victoria and Albert Museum. A Short History of Wallpaper. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/short-introductory-history-of-wallpaper/

Zawacki, Alexander J. (2018). How a Library Handles a Rare and Deadly Book of Wallpaper Samples. https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/shadows-from-the-walls-of-death-book

 

 

Richard Mutt

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By Stephanie Crawford

Over the past two months, I have been conversing with Dr. Glyn Thompson, a retired art history professor from Leeds University, in regards to our holding of early twentieth-century pottery company trade catalogs in the Sinclair New Jersey Collection. His research question is a fascinating one: Did Marcel Duchamp create the iconic 1917 ready-made Fountain? Dr. Thompson argues that Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven was the creator of Fountain by supporting a counter narrative of the creation of one of the most important works of art in the twentieth century.

The art history Fountain myth goes like this:

Duchamp began creating ready-mades in 1913, when he chose a spinning bicycle wheel as a work of art. Ready-mades are just as they sound: commercially manufactured everyday items. Part of the allure of the ready-made is in the artistic choice of the object; the other is in the reading of the form in an attempt to find meaning. In 1917 Duchamp bought a urinal from the J. L. Mott Pottery Company which had a showroom in the Upper West Side. He turned the urinal on its side, and signed it “R Mutt 1917”. R Mutt, or the full Richard Mutt, is a word play on the name Mott and also the cartoon characters Mutt and Jeff. Duchamp then submitted the urinal to the annual exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, of which he was a member. The society was formed by artists who were subverting the typical exhibition favoritism of other art clubs by accepting anything that an artist submitted. Artworks were to be hung/displayed alphabetically. Duchamp challenged the society’s liberal take on art and artists, pushing to see if they would accept anything as a work of art. Members of the society were appalled by the submission, and refused to display it, hiding the urinal in a back room. After the exhibition, Duchamp resigned from the society because of the conservatism. Alfred Stieglitz photographed the urinal at Gallery 291 and ultimately the original urinal was lost.

With Fountain, Duchamp was pushing the boundaries of the definition of art and authorship in asking questions like: “What is a work of art? Who gets to decide, the artist or the critic? Can a work derive from an idea alone, or does it require the hand of a maker? These questions strike at the core of our understanding of art itself.” Is it art because it’s made by an artist? What is the difference between a tea cup and a sculpture that looks like a tea cup? Why are functional items not art?

Figure 1 Attributed to Marcel Duchamp. The Fountain, 1917. Photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, 1917. Background is Marsden Hartley’s The Warriors. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Other than several articles published in Blind Man issue number 2 from 1917, there was little to nothing published about the urinal, including the identity of Richard Mutt. In the 1950s and 1960s Duchamp took credit for, and authorized replicas to be made of The Fountain. This art history narrative of the creation and eventual attribution of Fountain to Duchamp serves to fuel the status of Duchamp as a misunderstood, avant-garde genius whose whole life was art, creating this myth and mythical artist that has ignored facts and obvious faults.

But it doesn’t seem to matter to art history if Duchamp created Fountain. Stated rather succinctly in a 2017 Artsy article: “But to try and establish the true authorship of the Fountain is exactly the kind of quixotic undertaking that would have had Duchamp in stitches. Let’s take a moment to recall that Monsieur Duchamp took a urinal, turned it upside down, signed it ‘R. Mutt,’ and submitted it to a salon; the pursuit of truth was decidedly not his quest.” Ignoring the questionable authorship of one of the most important artworks of the twentieth century because Duchamp is your favorite artist is a quixotic and fundamental misunderstanding of the intersection of feminism and art history. I’m willing to look past Joseph Beuys’ lies about his origin story in order to see his artistic merit because at least his ideas were original. Women artists deserve more than to be regulated as the kooky sidekicks, the sexy muses, or the martyred wives whose work gets stolen by their male counter-parts. Why is Marcel Duchamp a genius and Elsa a kook?

The evidence that Fountain was chosen and submitted by Marcel Duchamp is largely based on statements made by Duchamp in the 1950s and 1960s. Dr. Glyn Thompson is attempting to interrupt the Artist-as-genius narrative with his research into the Trenton Pottery Company. The counter-narrative he produces is a convincing argument that one of the greatest works of art was, in fact, created by a woman. More information can be found in Thompson’s eBook Duchamp’s Urinal? The Facts Behind the Façade.

The following are Thompson’s core arguments:

1.) In a 1917 letter to his sister, Suzanne Duchamp, Marcel writes:

“April II [1917] My dear Suzanne- Impossible to write- I heard from Crotti that you were working hard. Tell me what you are making and if it’s not too difficult to send. Perhaps, I could have a show of your work in the month of October or November-next-here. But tell me what you are making- Tell this detail to the family: The Independents have opened here with immense success. One of my female friends under a masculine pseudonym, Richard Mutt, sent in a porcelain urinal as a sculpture it was not at all indecent-no reason for refusing it. The committee has decided to refuse to show this thing. I have handed in my resignation and it will be a bit of gossip of some value in New York- I would like to have a special exhibition of the people who were refused at the Independents-but that would be a redundancy! And the urinal would have been lonely- See you soon, Affect. Marcel”[emphasis mine]

The letter is translated and published in Francis Naumann’s 1982 article, though Thompson observes that in footnote 18 Naumann is confused as to why Duchamp would write about this woman friend, refusing to acknowledge that it may be true. The letter is housed in Jean Crotti’s Papers at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

2.) Duchamp could not have purchased the urinal from J. L. Mott Pottery Company because

a. You couldn’t just walk in and purchase a urinal from their showroom in New York. You needed a tradesman to be the moderator between you and the company (a practice that is similar today). Additionally, the urinal itself would have been made in and purchased in Trenton, New Jersey, where the factory was. These protocols can be found in the company’s trade catalogs.

b. Mott didn’t make a urinal similar enough to the 1917 image of the urinal.

c. Therefore, the name R. Mutt couldn’t have come from J. L. Mott Company.

Figure 2 Pages from Trenton Potteries Company Catalog, 1910.

3.) The Trenton Potteries Company created the Vitreous China, Bedfordshire No. 1 Flat Backed Lipped Urinal between 1915 and 1921 and it visually matches the Stieglitz photograph of Fountain. This is confirmed both through trade catalogs, and the urinal that is in Glyn Thompson’s personal collection.

Figure 3 Trenton Potteries Company Vitreous China Figure 3 “Bedfordshire” No. 1, Flat Back, Lipped Urinal. Coll. Dr Glyn Thompson.

4.) Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven was a German-born Dada artist living in Philadelphia who was one of the only women who could have created Fountain.

5.) R. Mutt is a Dada play of words on the German word “armut” which translates to poverty or destitution. Poverty of morality was a possible theme of the urinal since on April 6, 1917 the United States declared war on Germany. On April 9th, the urinal reached the exhibition. Also on April 6th, regulations were passed to control movements of German-born individuals on U.S. soil.

Figure 4 Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s difficult to prove without a doubt that Elsa submitted the urinal, choosing it to be a work of art. My initial reaction was, and continues to be: of course she did. Because Elsa WAS Dada. She was Art. She once wore postage stamps as makeup, a birdcage around her neck, and carpet sample rings as bracelets. When she showed up to be George Biddle’s model, she removed her jacket revealing these everyday items and he was shocked. Pictures of her in simple Google searches show a woman making strange gestures and poses for the camera. While Dada performances were meant to make the bourgeois uncomfortable, Elsa made everyone uncomfortable all of the time.

And then there’s God (1917). Previously attributed to Morton Schamburg, God is composed of a twisted drainpipe secured onto a miter box. Readings of the work are tenuous at best, but I like to think that God symbolizes the impotence and mediocrity of “important” men.

Figure 5 Elsa von Fretag-Loringhoven, God, 1917, readymade. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Additionally, her poem Astride mimics an orgasm, the climax in a flurry of nonsense words:

“Saddling
Up
From
Fir
Nightbrimmed
Clinkstirrupchink!
Silverbugle
Copperrimmed
Keening
Heathbound
Roves
Moon
Pink
Straddling
Neighing
Stallion :
“HUEESSUEESSUEESSSOOO
HYEEEEEE PRUSH
HEE HEE HEEEEEEAAA
OCHKZPNJRPRRRR

/ \
HÜÜ HÜÜÜÜÜÜ
HÜ-HÜ!”
Aflush
Brink
Through
Foggy
Bog
They
Slink
Sink
Into
Throbb
Bated.
Hush
Falls
Stiffling
Shill
Crickets
Shrill
Bullfrog
Squalls
Inflated
Bark
Riding
Moon’s
Mica –
Groin
Strident!

Hark!

Stallion
Whinny’s
In
Thickets.

EvFL”

It is not a stretch then, to think that the Baroness would choose a urinal to send to the Independents exhibition: she used everyday objects in her art, she was keen on word play and bodily functions, and she used herself and her art to make people uncomfortable.

But Elsa tends to get a bad rap. She is often described as: “eccentric”, “crazy”, “visionary”, “strange” and “outrageous”. Like the cult of Frida Kahlo, the Baroness’ sexual exploits and her life take larger precedent than her work: a subheading to a Timeline article states “Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven was once arrested for walking down Fifth Avenue in a men’s suit.” In comparison, H.P. Roche describes Duchamp as thus: “When I met Marcel Duchamp in New York in 1916, he was twenty nine years old and wore a halo…From 1911 to 1923 my memories of him as a person are even more alive than my recollections of his work…He was creating his own legend, a young prophet who wrote scarcely a line, but whose words would be repeated from mouth to mouth…” The comparison and hypocrisy is hardly unique to someone who studies women artists, and yet it continues to be infuriating.

It’s doubtful that in Elsa’s archives there will be a diary entry stating “And on this day I mailed a urinal to Louise Norton to be submitted to the Society of American Artists under the name R Mutt, signifying poverty.” Even if there was a diary entry existed, I doubt that it would change peoples’ minds. She was a liar, so you can’t trust her; she was crazy so you can’t believe anything she says; she was just looking for a buck; she was taking advantage of that poor man for her own sake; and all of the other things that people say in order to discredit women who speak out about their experiences. It’s difficult to think of a way to end this post without falling into a pit of despair. Perhaps it is through Dr. Thompson’s efforts to shout into the abyss with his book, his articles, his interviews, and his exhibitions that a change for Elsa will occur. After all, an unwillingness to be quiet is one of our best feminist tools.

____________________________________

[1] Dr. Glyn Thompson, Duchamp’s Urinal? The Facts Behind the Façade (Wild Pansy Press, 2015), 11-13.

[2] Thompson, Duchamp’s Urinal?, 19, 27.

[3] Jon Mann, “How Duchamp’s Urinal Changed Art Forever,” Artsy (May 9, 2017), https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-duchamps-urinal-changed-art-forever (accessed May 30, 2018).

[4] Exhibitions: Challenge and Defy, at Sidney Janis Gallery, 1950, New York. International Dada Exhibition, at Sidney Janis Gallery (15 April-9 May 1953), New York; Retrospective Dada, Dusseldorf (5 September- 19 October 1958). Interview: Text:

[5] Jon Mann, “How Duchamp’s Urinal Changed Art Forever,” Artsy (May 9, 2017), https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-duchamps-urinal-changed-art-forever (accessed May 30, 2018).

[6] The answer is SEXISM.

[7] There is nothing wrong with acknowledging the talent of certain artists, but insistence on the status of the Artist as Genius disallows criticism and unconvincingly simplifies the narrative of their life and work. In addition, modern women artists are almost never described as geniuses. See Linda Nochlin’s “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” for a more succinct analysis of the rhetoric associated with male and female artists.

[8] Francis M. Naumann,  “Affectueusement, Marcel: Ten Letters from Marcel Duchamp to Suzanne Duchamp and Jean Crotti,” Archives of American Art Journal (vol 22, no. 4 1982), 8. Written extensively by John Higgs in “The Shock of the New,” Stranger Than You Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 2015), 35-51. Argued by Thompson in Duchamp’s Urinal?, 17-18.

[9] Louise Norton could also be a potential creator of Fountain. In the Stieglitz photograph, the exhibition entry card is still attached, which lists Norton’s address as R. Mutt’s address. Additionally, she wrote an article in Blind Man about R Mutt. To my knowledge, there is no archival collection, book, or article about her art for comparison.

[10] Thompson, Duchamp’s Urinal?, 70.

[11] Additional questions arise, for me, from Duchamp’s story that he simply submitted the piece to the exhibition and that those in charge censored his avant-garde poke at the supposedly liberal Society. The story makes Duchamp seem like he was just a member of the art society, when in fact he played a large administrative role. According to the exhibition catalog for the 1917 exhibition, Marcel Duchamp a director of the Society, and was the director of the hanging committee (See Figures).[1] The catalog can be seen in full here.  The hanging committee included George Bellows and Rockwell Kent. Because there were no juries and no prizes in the Society, as long as the artist paid their dues then their work would be hung. In order to prevent hierarchies and favoritism, the pieces were hung alphabetically. This was a very liberal take on annual art exhibition for clubs and societies which often attempted to mark ‘the best” through juries and strategic hangings.  But how can you say that those in charge denied your readymade when you were the one who was in charge?

[12] Higgs, “The Shock of the New,” 35.

[13] Tanya Clement, “Poems by Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven,” https://jacket2.org/poems/poems-baroness-elsa-von-freytag-loringhoven accessed May 30, 2018. “Papers of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.” University of Maryland, https://www.lib.umd.edu/dcr/collections/EvFL-class/collections.html accessed May 30, 2018.

[14] H. P. Roche, “Souvenirs of Marcel Duchamp”, in Robert Lebel, Marcel Duchamp (New York: Grove Press, Inc.)

Rutgers in the First World War, May and June 1918—A World in Motion

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When the United States entered World War I a century ago, Rutgers transformed into a war college focused on supporting America’s war effort. Many students and alumni joined the armed forces. Earl Reed Silvers, assistant to Rutgers president William H. S. Demarest, launched the Rutgers War Service Bureau as a means to keep in touch with Rutgers men in service. The Rutgers in the First World War series features stories from the War Service Bureau correspondence, offering a window on the impact of the war on Rutgers students and alumni 100 years ago.

At Rutgers: Baseball and Bombshells

Postcard showing men in uniform playing baseball, captioned "Baseball--the Army Game." Postcard has a YMCA--Young Men's Christian Association--logo.
A postcard sent by Harold Faint (class of 1917) in late May 1918

 

The May 1918 War Service Bureau letters to men in service brought news of baseball and commencement activities at Rutgers.  On May 20, Silvers wrote about a game taking place that afternoon.

This afternoon we play Lafayette in baseball. . . . Johnny Lyons, our baseball captain, has gone to the Fourth Officers’ Camp; and so we’re not very optimistic about the result of the game this afternoon.

Silvers reported that the number of graduates for the 1918 commencement was down due to men leaving Rutgers to serve. Although he was sure the previous year had 77 graduates, he stated the class of 1918 had 42 graduates in his May 20 letter, but his June 5 letter changed the number to 47 (according to the 1918 commencement program, the number should be 46). Some Rutgers men in service had returned to visit for commencement. In the May 20 letter, Silvers describes one such man bringing a souvenir:

“Bob Searle is here in uniform from Camp Devens. He brought with him an unexploded four-inch shell and my stenographer is in deadly fear of being blown to atoms.

In his June 5 letter, Silvers followed up on this alarming gift to reassure the men

“That shell of Bob Searle’s which almost scared our stenographer to death wasn’t loaded, after all.”

From the Men: The Hazards and Pleasures of Travel

Rutgers men in service wrote to the Bureau in May and June 1918 to describe their travels overseas.

On May 1, 1918, August Grimme (class of 1918) wrote from the north of England.

“I am now located at a Gunnery School . . . The work is interesting and I enjoy it very much. The weather is rather uncomfortable up here. It seems almost like January. In fact we had a little snow flurry this morning.

Reverend Maurice Kain’s (class of 1906) May 18, 1918 letter waxed poetic in its description of France (his correspondence folder does indeed contain a poem about France).

France is remarkably colorful at this present springtime. The skylark wakes one morning. Blooming lilac hedges, surround him. Fertile fields lie beyond. But the more or less distant boom of guns, and the homing flight of flocks of airplanes tell one that farther beyond is —red war, red but glorious; or rather, glorious because red.

On June 7, 1918 William P. E. Ainsworth (class of 1916) wrote of some rockiness on an otherwise calm ocean crossing to Europe,

“The trip over was wonderful. The sea was calm and the weather beautiful all of the way, except for about two days when it blew rather rough, and, as the seas caught us sideways, the boat rocked to beat the band. It sometimes rocked so that for hours, if you were sitting on deck, you were looking alternately at the sky above and the water beneath you, and unless you braced your steamer chair you would slide, chair and all, across the deck. Many of the men were dreadfully seasick, but it did not affect me in the least; in fact, I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

First page of handwritten letter, dated June 7, 1918, written from "Somewhere in France."
First page of Ainsworth’s June 7, 1918 letter. Transcribed version also available.

 

On June 26, 1918 Stuart M. Firth (class of 1914) described other watery travels on French soil (transcribed version also available).

“When we marched forty two days to take over our sector, we were accompanied for the forty-eight hours by the most generous supply of rain and snow and hail that this country could give. For two solid days everyone was wet to the skin. Raincoats were not more effective than blotting paper; trench boots, guaranteed to be waterproof when bought in the States, absorbed the bountiful liquid like a sponge.”

Despite these conditions, Firth maintained

“not a man grumbled, there was joking and laughing up and down the whole line and plenty of good old American cussing that did your heart good to listen to.”

[with assistance from Tara Maharjan]

To Learn More

The Rutgers College War Service Bureau collection has been digitized with assistance by a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. A finding aid describing collection is available and provides links to the digitized materials. 

*The commencement program for 1918 lists 46 graduates.

Rutgers in the First World War, April 1918—Looking Forward to 1975

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When the United States entered World War I a century ago, Rutgers transformed into a war college focused on supporting America’s war effort. Many students and alumni joined the armed forces. Earl Reed Silvers, assistant to Rutgers president William H. S. Demarest, launched the Rutgers War Service Bureau as a means to keep in touch with Rutgers men in service. The Rutgers in the First World War series features stories from the War Service Bureau correspondence, offering a window on the impact of the war on Rutgers students and alumni 100 years ago.

At Rutgers: Rubber Cement and a College for Women

The April 10, 1918 War Service Bureau letter to men in service shared the news that director Earl Reed Silvers had recently “enjoyed the companionship of an infected boil on the back of his neck.” During Silvers’s absence from work, his assistant handled his correspondence. One tell-tale sign of this period for archivists working on the War Service Bureau Collection was that the assistant began using rubber cement to attach soldiers’ correspondence to copies of replies. The rubber cement was removed before digitization, but signs of its removal are evident.

detail of a letter with torn off corner
Top corner of letter from David Abt with rubber cement was removed before scanning (see page).
part of leter with lighter shading on top left
Lighter shading in top left corner of response letter indicates where it was adhered to original letter.

The April 24, 1918 letter to the men in service announced big changes at Rutgers.

“In the meeting of the Board of Trustees last week, it was decided to establish a Woman’s College as a department of the State University. The property of Mrs. John N. Carpender, on George Street, near College Farm, will be rented or purchased; and it is hoped that classes will be started in September.”

The New Jersey College for Women, now known as Douglass College, opened in September 1918 and is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary.

From the Men: In the Air and in the Future

August L. Grimme (Class of 1918) wrote from England to share his experiences flying a two-seater plane. He described flying to an “aerodrome” for tea and seeing “all types of aeroplanes and airships, large and small,” noting “One of the largest ones would put half the town over a shadow if it flew over Irvington.” He described his view on the flight back:

“Had quite a trip coming back home, for clouds had come up and were so low that I had to fly at about a hundred feet up. Scooted over the tops of trees and farmhouses and waved to the farmers and people along the roads.”

David (Dave) Abt (Class of 1917) got in touch in April 1918 to send along some “papers” (possibly newspapers or camp papers) for Rutgers to hold in its archives.

“Having seen some old Civil War Papers in the Library I thought that these few might be of interest to Rutgers students in 1975.”

Although it isn’t clear if the papers Abt sent are still held by the archives, his thought of future generations is appreciated.

letter with corner left torn off
Abt’s letter, which accompanied  papers he sent for future students to see. This is the same letter shown above as an example of rubber cement removal.

[with assistance from Tara Maharjan]

To Learn More

The Rutgers College War Service Bureau collection has been digitized with assistance by a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. A finding aid describing collection is available and provides links to the digitized materials. 

Rutgers in the First World War, March 1918—“Everybody Is in the War”

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When the United States entered World War I a century ago, Rutgers transformed into a war college focused on supporting America’s war effort. Many students and alumni joined the armed forces. Earl Reed Silvers, assistant to Rutgers president William H. S. Demarest, launched the Rutgers War Service Bureau as a means to keep in touch with Rutgers men in service. This series will feature stories from the War Service Bureau correspondence, offering a window on the impact of the war on Rutgers students and alumni 100 years ago.

At Rutgers: Sports and Serious Illness

As director of the War Service Bureau, Silvers sent biweekly letters to Rutgers men in service. In his first March 1918 Rutgers bulletin Silvers boasted of Rutgers “fairly successful” basketball season, with Paul Robeson as the high scorer. The newsletter also featured updates on baseball, football, and the interclass bowling league.

Paragraph from typescript letter
Excerpt from the War Service Bureau’s 15th letter to men in service, March 13, 1918.

Silvers’s second March War Service Bureau letter carried news of serious illness at Rutgers; the college had almost closed due to a measles epidemic and a student had succumbed to meningitis.

top part of typescript letter
Excerpt from the War Service Bureau’s 14th letter to men in service, March 27, 1918.

From the Men: Hazards Encountered

In March 1918, two Rutgers men shared harrowing events they had experienced and offered reassurance that they’d come through unscathed. In a letter dated March 17, 1918, William Packard (class of  1918)* described being under a gas attack and shelled.

“I was out behind a battery position when suddenly I heard the familiar whizz which tells of the approach of a shell and, after deciding it was coming my way, I literally dove for the nearest shell hole. It burst about a 100 feet away, and being about a 155 showered everything within 200 yards with splinters . . . they passed safely over me. That evening they shelled the deserted village in which I have my room, and so we had to go under ground.”

“For the last hour or so there have been five or six French and two Germans flying above and at intervals of about two minutes they are dropping  big shells just short of this place, the splinters of which light all around.”

front page of handwritten letter with YMCA header
Page from Packard’s letter describing shell attack. Transcribed version also available.

Despite his immediate surroundings, Packard’s next sentence offered that “life is quite pleasant and nowhere as bad as it sounds.” He even promised to send shell fragments to Silvers who had asked for souvenirs from the war.

George Bechtel (class of 1914) described a rocky journey to England.

“For three days we were not allowed on deck . . . when we were finally permitted to go out, we found the after deck pretty well messed up. Several of the life boats were wrecked and some civilians in the steerage were literally washed out of their bunks.”

Like Packard, Bechtel claimed to be unaffected by his surroundings, declaring, “I slept soundly through it all….”

first part of handwritten letter
Letter from Margaret Bechtel enclosed with letters from George. Silvers transcribed Bechtel’s March 1918 letter for inclusion in the Rutgers Alumni Quarterly.

On traveling through England, Bechtel noted it was, “strange to see women in overalls working beside the men . . . but they make you realize how much everybody is in the war.”

To Learn More

The Rutgers College War Service Bureau collection has been digitized with assistance by a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. A finding aid describing collection is available and provides links to the digitized materials. 

*At the time of writing, Packard was identified as Class of 1918, but due to his absence during the war, graduated in 1921.

The Helen-Chantal Pike Collection on Asbury Park

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Colored Postcard showing eight women with hats on beach chairs on wheels with heading "Solid comfort on the boardwalk, Asbury Park, N.J."

 

To mark the opening of the Helen-Chantal Pike Collection on Asbury Park as well as to help get us out of the New Jersey winter doldrums, we share this essay on Asbury Park postcards and using postcards for research by Rachel Ferrante, Fall 2017 Public History Intern 2017 in Special Collections and University Archives.

 

By Rachel Ferrante

 

There are few things as uniquely iconic as the Asbury Park postcard. The Las Vegas neons and even the Hollywood sign may be the only two cultural images that elicit similar recognition. It seems these images embody regional leisure and tourist culture, recognizable across generations. Because these signs act as visual landmarks, the images are regurgitated in popular culture. An example is the mimicking of the Hollywood sign in the Dreamworks movie “Shrek” as the sign for the fictional city Far Far Away. Using the sign as a landmark, the rest of the scene imitates Hollywood, a defining city in West Coast culture and example of opulence.

About 2,900 miles down I-80, Asbury Park is far more humble. Since its founding in 1871, Asbury Park has repeatedly boomed and busted in its cultural significance, tapping into every aspect of leisure culture one can think of. Asbury has been a physical representation of popular culture, specifically and originally for New York elites, who seem to define high culture throughout much of U.S. history. In fact, Asbury has been a center of both high culture and subculture, making it extremely relevant to the East Coast’s, if not the nation’s, cultural memory and historical interest.

Postcard with text "Greetings from Asbury Park NJ"

The “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” postcard is a specific linen Tichnor style with images geared to Asbury leisure in particular. This style was applied to many postcards centered around other places as well, the likes of which include Niagara Falls and Route 66. Famously, the Asbury postcard was used as the cover of Bruce Springsteen’s breakout album by the same name. So beyond its initial iconic stature the postcard has a history of its own. When you look at the Helen-Chantal Pike Collection on Asbury, the postcards it includes tell a story of Asbury Park’s history. Paired with the other materials in the collection, it is clear the significance certain institutions or moments in time had on the area. However, there are many more layers of significance behind the postcards. They span more than 100 years of regional history that can be contextualized in national political, social, economic, and familial histories, resulting in many potential conclusions using just postcards as primary source material. The rest of this post will address the use of postcards as research tools, using examples from the Helen-Chantal Pike Collection on Asbury Park housed at Rutgers University Special Collections and University Archives.

USING POSTCARDS FOR RESEARCH

In America, the first postcard was developed in 1873 by Massachusetts’ Morgan Envelope company. These cards depicted scenes from conventions and expositions in Chicago at the height of the Industrial Revolution. The first postcard intended for souvenir purposes was actually created in 1893 with scenes from the World’s Columbian Exposition. Postcards thus have deep roots in the northern region of the country, documenting its changing history, and capturing the excitement of progress in many eras. In 1898, Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act, which allowed postcards to be printed by private companies rather than just the post office. At this point the popularity of “Private Mailing Cards” began to skyrocket. Finally, in 1901, private companies were allowed to call their printed cards “postcards,” and after a few more years of complicated history the picture front, divided back, postcard we all know was legal and being mailed in multiple styles across (a good amount of) the country. This Golden Age of Postcards peaked in 1910, with postcards particularly popular among rural and small town women of the northern United States.

Envelope addressed to Miss G.. Mentz, Brookside, New Jersey stamped in Ocean Grove

Almost all of the eras of postcards are represented in the Helen-Chantal Pike Collection. Picking one group of postcards at random I was able to see examples of the short period of time where postcards were not divided-back and the sender had to write on the front, or image part, of the postcard. There are also many beautiful examples of the lithographic style of postcards, which were specifically popular during the Golden Age period (1907-1915). Each of these provides immense interdisciplinary relevance with each layer of ink. Some of these semantics are debated among postcard enthusiasts; however, the Golden Age of postcards, no matter what the exact date range, lines up with the foundational period of American culture. One of the major things that shaped the time leading up to the 1920s was the transformation of cinema from silent to film noir. In Asbury Park in particular, cinema was a huge part of the economy, with cinema tycoon Walter Reade even running for mayor of Asbury Park. Postcards of these theaters are great primary source examples of the importance of the erection of these edifices and the positions they held as landmarks of the region. Of the six Reade theaters in Asbury, two are featured prominently in the postcard collection: the Mayfair and the Paramount. Construction and then depiction of these places reflect civic achievement as well as provide insight into the aesthetic values of the region and the time period.

Aside from construction aesthetics many postcards provide insight into fashion. In the case of Asbury Park there are many depictions of changing beachwear trends. A 1910 lithographic postcard (seen at the start of this essay) shows a row of women in large bonnets posing coyly in carriages. The postcards in the “beach” section of the Pike Collection date from 1901 to 2001 so they document an entire century of summers, with their corresponding outfits and activities. The collection can be used to track the changing shore attractions as well. When compared to today, Asbury was previously booming with activities, ferris wheels, games, etc. There was even once a horse track where there is now a parking lot.
Postcard showing two women in bathrobe in the sea on the left, with note dated "The "El Dorado" August 30, 1905" with the text "Dear Grace, This is almost as refreshing as "Cold Spring." Wish you and Mr. Snyder were here to enjoy it with me. Yours, Priscilla

CONCLUSION

While the Helen-Chantal Pike Collection focuses closely on the late 19th through mid-20th centuries, it is also relevant to a variety of timely topics. Because of this, its postcard series is a great place to start research on the Asbury Park, leisure, East Coast culture and development, and visual culture. There are, at the very least, enough images to acquaint a researcher to the area and its specific civic importance. At the other end, the series can provide insight into a large amount of research projects with a fairly wide scope. An example of its relevance is the way  in which postcards pose as an interesting precursor to the visual culture we exist within today. In many ways, a postcard was the Instagram of people in the 19th century. The feelings that surround the purchase and sending of the postcard are similar to the reasons one takes photos of their vacation and travel spots today. Mailing the card has been replaced with posting on the internet and the back of the card has been replaced by the caption. In this way, postcards are also structurally similar to Instagram, balancing the impersonal nature of posting to a wide audience by allowing the image to have been captured by the individual. This, like postcards, provides a sense of community through sharing and receiving. However, it is not always to say “wish you were here,” but sometimes “look where I am.”

About

Rachel Ferrante is an undergraduate American Studies and Sociology student at Rutgers working at the Special Collections and University Archives through the Rutgers Public History Internship program. During Fall 2017, she processed the Helen-Chantal Pike Collection on Asbury Park, New Jersey. Outside of the library, she works on cultural history through research with the Aresty Program and in her papers.

To Learn More:

Works consulted:

 

All images displayed are postcards from the Helen Pike collection, Box 5, folder 1.

 

A Second Attempt at Historical Baking

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Back in May of 2016, I had my first attempt at trying to bake from a historical recipe. (You can read about it here.)  Over a year later I decided to give it another try, this time with a different recipe.  In looking through old cookbooks, I stumbled across a Swiss Cake in an 1881 copy of Betty, the bishop’s lady, or, Choice receipts from experienced housewives, published in Newark, New Jersey.

Recipe for Swiss Cake.

The description that reads, “This makes a good and inexpensive cake” really sold me.  The ingredients seemed normal for a cake recipe and they were all things that I had home.  It was perfect.

I collected my ingredients and measured them out as the recipe stated.  The recipe states to flavor with nutmeg or lemon, however, I am not a fan of nutmeg on its own so I added one and a half teaspoons of cinnamon and a fourth of a teaspoon of nutmeg.

Ingredients for Swiss Cake.

I creamed my butter and sugar, added my eggs and condensed milk, then slowly incorporated my sifted flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

KitchenAid mixer.                  Measuring evaporated milk.

It was at this point that I realized my 21st century baking skills did not translate well to 1880’s baking.  My batter was thick, too thick to be a cake batter, but resembled cookie dough instead.

Batter mixed together.

The recipe called for “sweet milk,” in my modern mind that meant condensed milk, which is what I used.  But it turns out that “sweet milk” is just whole milk.  In older recipes “sweet milk” was used to differentiate from “sour milk” meaning milk that was left out to sour or in some cases it meant buttermilk.

The “batter” was made, it tasted good, but it did not seem like it would bake well as a cake.  I tested this theory by making a few mini-cupcakes. After 10 minutes of baking they were still raw on the inside, after 15 minutes of baking they were cooked though, but were rather dense and not very enjoyable.

Eight mini cupcakes in cupcake tin.                 Mini cupcake broken in half to show the center

Since the “batter” seemed more like cookie dough to me, I made them into cookies instead.  They baked in 13 minutes, were soft, and rather delicious.  While I did not end up with Swiss Cake, I did get some enjoyable cookies.  Maybe my next attempt at historical baking will be more successful.

Cookie dough on cookie sheet                Breaking a cookie in half

 

Swiss Cake Cookies

Ingredients

1/4 cup (half a stick) butter

1 and 1/2 cups sugar

2 1/2 cups flour – sifted

8 oz condensed milk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 nutmeg

Instructions

  1. Set oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream together sugar and butter.
  3. Add eggs and condensed milk to the sugar and butter.
  4. Combine sifted flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Slowly add to wet ingredients.
  5. Once well combined, drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto greased baking sheets.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 13 minutes, rotating halfway though.
  7. Enjoy!

#AskAnArchivist

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#AskAnArchivist day is an effort from the Society of American Archivists to bring awareness to the archival community, but also an opportunity for repositories to answer questions about their collections and their jobs. This year Rutgers Special Collections and Univeristy Archives participated for the first time on Twitter (@Rutgers_SCUA). Digital archivist Caryn Radick and processing archivist Tara Maharjan were available for an hour and a half to answer questions.

Flyer for #AskAnArchivist Day.
Throughout the day, they shared other fun facts about the collections in SC/UA. Such as, what is the most glittery item? That would be this untitled work by Miriam Schapiro.

Untitled work by Miriam Schapiro that uses glitter.

What is the oldest item? A Didrachm coin minted between 280 B.C.E.-276 B.C.E.

Didrachm coin minted between 280 B.C.E.-276 B.C.E.  An unevenly round coin with a profile of a man's face with a cap.

Newest acquisition? That would be this folding chair that President Barack Obama sat in during his Rutgers 250 anniversary commencement address.

White folding chair.

Oddest item? Probably a mummified cat. It was donated in 1954 and not much is known about it except it is from Egypt.

Mummified cat.

We were able to share some behind the scenes videos and photos of our collections to answer question like have you ever wonder about the trip our materials take from our closed stacks up to our reading room in the dumbwaiter? Well now you can wonder no more.

Ever wonder about the trip our materials take in the dumbwaiter? Wonder no more. Let's take a trip! #AskAnArchivist

Posted by Rutgers University Special Collections and University Archives on Wednesday, October 4, 2017

 

We were able to share some other fun facts, including that not all of our materials are stored on-site.  We have other facilities on the Rutgers Campus which hold some of our boxes.  Here is one such building with an archivist for a size reference.

Archivist standing in front of a wall of boxes that is floor to ceiling.

 

We shared some of the toughest things about being an archivist.  First, the handwriting can sometimes be tough to read:

Small piece of a letter with cursive handwritting

Can you read it?  It says, “…is away from her and now Old Rutgers means much more to me than ever before. I am…”

Second would be how physical being an an archivist really is – it requires people to lift ~40 pounds, to be able to move pallets of boxes, and use the movable shelves.

 

But one of the best things about being an archivist (we think) is stumbling across images with cute animals.

1950s photograph of a woman holding a lamb.

 

We had so much fun with #AskAnArchivist Day.  We look forward to participating again next year.  If anyone has questions about our archives or about being an archivist you can always reach out on social media @Rutgers_SCUA or by email at scua_ref@libraries.rutgers.edu.  We will leave you with some more highlights from the day.