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.)

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.

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Works consulted:

 

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

 

Late Fall 2016-Winter 2017 Acquisitions

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Alvarez, Ann. The Mass Grave at the First Reformed Church. New Brunswick, NJ. East Brunswick Historical Society, 2008.

American Whig Society. Catalogue of the American Whig Society. Princeton, NJ: Published by the order of the Society, Princeton University, 1865.

Bowman, Bill. Murderer of the Year: A True Story. PJB Creatives, Inc., 2009.

Boyd, William Henry. Boyd’s Newark Business Directory. Newark, NJ: A.J. Dennis & Co., 1857

Brown, Mercy. Loud is How I Love You: A Hub City Romance. New York: InterMix Books, 2016.

Clark, Rhonda L. and Miller, Nicole Wedemeyer. Fostering Family History Services: A Guide for Librarians, Archivists, and Volunteers. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2016.

Cohen, Ronny. From Homer to Hopper: American Visions in 19th and 20th Century Art. Selections from the Permanent Collection of the Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery. Princeton, NJ: Bristol-Myers Squibb, Co., 1990 .

Degrassi, Carol. City of Somers Point: Before and After (Vol. 1).  Somers Point, NJ: Somers Point Historical Society, 2004.

Directory of the City of Trenton 1854/1855. Trenton, N.J. : J.M. Clark, R.H. Moore, J.O. Raum, 1855.

Forgosh, Linda B. Louis Bamberger: Department Store Innovator and Philanthropist. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2016.

Friends of New Netherland and New Brunswick Theological Seminary. Reflections on the World: The Writings of Howard G. Hageman. Albany: New Netherland Publishing, 1993.

Fuentes, Marissa J. and White, Deborah Gray. Scarlet and Black Volume 1: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2016.

Green, Howard L. and Associates, Inc. Telephone Survey of Food Store Shopping Habits, Opinions, and Attitudes in Kings Marketing Area. Troy, MI. May 5,1989.

Green, Howard L. and Associates, Inc. In-Store Survey Results for Nine Kings Super Markets. Troy, MI. January 26, 1990.

Green Book Street Directory of Trenton and Adjacent Territory, Historic Places of Interest and General Information. Trenton, NJ: L.B. Prince, 1932.

Hajdu, David. Love for Sale: Pop Music in America. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2016.

Havens, Mark. Out of Season: The Vanishing Architecture of the Wildwoods. London: Booth-Clibborn Editions, 2016.

Havens, Jessie L. Cold Case: Hall-Mills Murderer Revisited. Bridgewater, NJ: Heritage Trail Association, 2016.

Jardim, Edward A. The Ironbound: An Illustrated History of Newark’s “Down Neck.” Frenchtown, NJ: Stone Creek Publications, 2016.

Karcher, Joseph T. A Municipal History of the Township of Sayreville, 1876-1920. Boston: Meader Publishing Company, 1953.

Kem-Lec-Mek: The Annual of the Students, College of Engineering. Newark, NJ: Newark Technical School, 1926.

Ketler, William H. Chronic Kicker on Politics. Camden, NJ: Outlook Company, 1900.

Listokin, David, Dorothea Berkhout and James W. Hughes. New Brunswick, New Jersey: The Decline and Revitalization of Urban America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2016.

Lloyd, Carli and Coffey, Wayne. When Nobody was Watching My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Lurie, Maxine N. and Richard Veit. Envisioning New Jersey: An Illustrated History of the Garden State. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2016.

Masur, Louis P. Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009.

McCarthy. George M. The Evolution of a Sentiment. Jersey City, NJ: G.M. McCarthy, 1905.

Monmouth County Planning Board. Study of Population: Monmouth County. Court Street and Lafayette Place, Freehold, NJ, April, 1974.

Monmouth County Planning Board. Economic Base Abstract for Monmouth County. March, 1976.

Monmouth County Planning Board. Monmouth County Planning Area 6: Land Use. Freehold, NJ. July,1976

Monmouth County Planning Board. Monmouth County Planning area 4: Land Use. Freehold, NJ. August,1977.

Monmouth University. 19th Century Maritime Art: Our History in Paintings. Pollak Gallery, October 13- 23, 2011. West Long Branch, NJ: Monmouth University, 2011.

Moss, Sandra W. Poliomyelitis: Newark 1916, “The Grip of Terror.” Xlibris, 2016.

Myers, Gordon. Yankee Doodle Fought Here: Being an Historic Musical-Narrative Featuring the Songs and Words of People who Lived in 18th Century America. Newfield, NJ: D.P.R. Publishers, 1975.

National Jewish Committee on Scouting. The Ner Tamid Guide for Boy Scouts and Explorers. New Brunswick, NJ, 1961.

Negron, Rosina. Comparison and General Analysis of Support Systems for Heritage Sites in New Jersey, California and Puerto Rico. Philadelphia: Managing Heritage for Sustainability, Graduate School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania, 1999.

New Jersey National Guard, Cavalry Regiment, 102nd.  First Squadron of Cavalry NJ: Essex Troop: 100th Anniversary of the Mexican Border Campaign, 1916-1917. West Orange, NJ: 102nd Cavalry Regiment Association, 2016.

New Jersey State Highway Department, Bureau of Public Information. Development of the State Highway System: New Jersey. Trenton, NJ: 1960.

New York Shipbuilding Corporation. Safety Rules and Regulations. Camden, NJ: New York Shipbuilding Corporation, 1941.

Nutt, Charles W. Life Happens: How Catholic Baby Boomers Coped with a Changing World. Vineland, NJ: Anlo Communications, L.L.C., 2009.

Passaic County Tuberculosis and Health Association. Annual Report. Paterson, NJ: Passaic County Tuberculosis and Health Association, 1947.

Rabig, Julia. The Fixers: Devolution, Development & Civil Society in Newark, 1960-1990. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Rosenfelt, David. Blackout. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2016.

Shea, Hunter. The Jersey Devil. New York: Pinnacle Books, 2016.

Somerset County Planning Board. Draft: Somerset County Planning Board Housing Trends Assessment Report. Somerville, NJ: 2016.

Stewart, Kelly Loyd. An Illustrated History of the Society of The Cincinnati in The State of New Jersey. The Society of the Cincinnati in The State of New Jersey, 2014

Sullivan, Jaime Primak and Eve Adamson. The Southern Education of a Jersey Girl: Adventures in life and Love in the Heart of Dixie. New York: Touchstone, 2016.

Trenton, New Jersey Department of Housing and Development. Preservation Guidelines. Trenton, NJ: City of Trenton, Department of Housing and Development, 1979.

Ventresca, Yvonne. Black Flowers, White Lies. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016.

Wacker, Peter O. Etching The Rural Landscape in Early New Jersey. 2000.

Webster, Noah. An American Dictionary of the English Language. New York: White and Sheffield, 1842.

Woodbury, David O. A Measure for Greatness: A Short Biography of Edward Weston. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1949.

Zampini, Daniel James. After it Rains. Haverhill, MA: Fireborn Publishing, 2016

New Brunswick Music Scene Archive Anniversary Exhibit

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An exhibit of materials commemorating the one-year anniversary of the New Brunswick Music Scene Archive is on display now in the Special Collections and University Archives Gallery at Alexander Library.

Reflecting the history of the city’s independent music since the 1980s, the display features a wide variety of objects—from records and tapes to zines, flyers, and other ephemera—that were donated from the personal collections of those involved in the scene over the years. Highlights include issues of Jersey Beat and New Brunswick Underground, flyers for shows held at the Court Tavern and the Melody Bar, and recordings from local acts such as The Blasés and The Weeping Cysts.

The gallery is open during Special Collections and University Archives’ regular operating hours.

For more information about the exhibit or the archive (including donating materials), contact New Jersey regional studies librarian Christie Lutz.

22nd Annual New Jersey Book Arts Symposium

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Slicing the Air, Carved Board Book, by Asha Ganpat
Slicing the Air, Carved Board Book, by Asha Ganpat

From Here to . . . There: Concept and Technique in Artists’ Books, the 22nd annual New Jersey Book Arts Symposium will be held on November 4, 2016 at the Alexander Library, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 169 College Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ. The Symposium, which runs from 8:45 am until 5:00 pm will feature 7 individual book artists, and 1 collaborative pair of artists, presenting on their artists’ books, as well as 2 morning workshops, 2 readings from artists’ books during the lunchtime seminar, and an onsite work, a “registry project,” conducted by Asha Ganpat. The day will conclude in our traditional book artists jam, at which all attendees will be able to share their own work. Lunch and refreshments are included in the price of admission ($45 for general admission; $15 for Rutgers staff and faculty; students free.

For more information see

 

New Brunswick Music Scene Archive One-Year Anniversary Symposium

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The New Brunswick Music Scene Archive will mark its one-year anniversary with a panel discussion and exhibit from 6 to 8 p.m. on October 27, 2016 at Alexander Library.

Panelists include Brandon Stosuy, editor in chief of Kickstarter’s The Creative Independent and former editor at Pitchfork; Amy Saville, vocalist and

guitarist of New Brunswick-based Prosolar Mechanics and author of the Hub City Romance series; Kelli Kalikas, studio co-owner and show promoter at In the West recording studio in New Brunswick; and John Terry, former New Brunswick basement show promoter, record label owner, and musician. The event is free and open to the public.

Search all across the country and you are unlikely to find many research collections like the New Brunswick Music Scene Archive. In fact, only a handful of other academic institutions nationwide have begun to preserve in their archives the musical history of their local communities. But a collection such as this seems perfectly fitted to the Hub City, where acts such as Screaming Females and the Gaslight Anthem got their starts in underground venues before moving on to national and international stages.

Since its inaugural symposium last October, the archive has been enthusiastically received by those with connections to the New Brunswick music scene.

“There was a groundswell of interest,” said Christie Lutz, the archive’s co-founder and New Jersey regional studies librarian for Special Collections and University Archives. “We received many, many emails from people who wanted to donate material or share their stories from when they were involved with music in New Brunswick.”

Sometimes a flyer would arrive in the mail without warning or someone would drop by the library unannounced with a handful of records to donate. But many items—patches from the jacket of Ronen Kauffman, author of New Brunswick, New Jersey, Goodbye; or a series of elaborate zine mailers published by the Court Tavern in its heyday—came as a surprise for other reasons.

“These were unexpected because the nature of the materials makes them unlikely to be found in other archives or simply because we had no idea they even existed,” noted Frank Bridges, a doctoral student and part-time lecturer at Rutgers’ School of Communication and Information, who partnered with Lutz to establish the archive. “Ultimately, they help paint a fuller picture of a vibrant era in the city’s history.”

Lutz hopes that the anniversary symposium will build on the momentum the archive has enjoyed since its launch and deepen the conversation around both the collection and the scene.

“This year’s panelists represent very different perspectives than last year’s. Amy can speak to being a woman in a male-dominated scene in the 90s and to writing fiction about New Brunswick. Brandon has done a host of things from running a label to promoting bands, but his roots trace back to his days at Rutgers, DJing at WRSU and editing Inside Beat. And Kelli can speak about running a studio in the city—who comes in to record? How is she perceived as a woman doing this job?”

And while the process of formally accessioning, arranging, and describing the materials is a long one, Lutz already sees a number of opportunities for research and further programming.  She imagines a digital humanities project that maps points of interest across the city, examinations of women and people of color in the scene, or collaborations with other special collections in the state to tell the story of New Jersey music more broadly.

“I’m excited to see what the future has in store,” she said.

 

July-August 2016 New Acquisitions

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American Whig Society. Catalogue of the American Whig Society. Princeton, NJ: Published by the order of the Society, Princeton, NJ, 1859.

ARCH2. This is the Story of Emark: A Production of Thomas A. Edison, Inc. Metuchen, NJ: ARCH2 Inc.

Berkey, Joan. Early Wood Architecture of Cumberland County. (DVD). Greenwich, NJ: Cumberland County Historical Society, 2013.

Bicentennial Farm Awards. New Jersey: 1988

Braisted, Todd W. Grand Forage 1778: The Battleground Around New York City. Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2016.

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