Author Archives: Julie Mellby

Thomas Eakins and the Making of Walt Whitman’s Death Mask


“Thomas Eakins and the Making of Walt Whitman’s Death Mask,” will be the second in a series of live webinars highlighting Special Collections in Firestone Library, Princeton University. Please join Julie Mellby, Graphic Arts Curator, and Karl Kusserow, John Wilmerding Curator of American Art, at 2:00 on Friday, June 26, 2020, as we focus on two American pioneers in art and literature. The event is free and open to all, but please register here for the zoom invitation: Register

During the last five years of Walt Whitman’s life, Thomas Eakins was a frequent guest at the poet’s Camden, New Jersey, home where Whitman agreed to sit for an oil portrait. Eakins’ protégé Samuel Murray often joined them, photographing Whitman in preparation for a sculpted bust. On the day Whitman died, March 26, 1892, Eakins and Murray gathered all the necessary supplies to cast his face in plaster and early the next morning crossed the Delaware River, walking the final blocks to 330 Mickle Street. At least three death masks survive from the matrix they produced that day, one preserved at the Princeton University Library.

Thomas Eakins’ studio at 1330 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, to Walt Whitman’s house, 330 Mickle Blvd., Camden, New Jersey

That Whitman and Eakins were similar in temperament and talent is well documented. Their lives intertwined not only in the creation of American masterworks, but in the critical scorn and institutional censor they were each forced to endure throughout their careers. Each found a way to work independent of academia, sharing a common bond in their eternal search for truth within their work.

Samuel Murray, Thomas Eakins and William O’Donovan in Eakins’s Chestnut Street Studio

Here is a timeline merging the two careers:

1855: Whitman publishes the first edition of Leaves of Grass, containing twelve poems.
1856: Fowler & Wells, phrenologists, print and distribute the second edition of Leaves of Grass.
1865: While in Washington, Whitman is discharged from his position by Secretary James Harlan, supposedly for writing obscene poetry.
1865: Eakins studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), also attending lectures in anatomy and participating in dissections at Jefferson Medical College.
1873: Whitman suffers a paralytic stroke and moves in with his brother George in Camden, New Jersey.
1875: Eakins paints The Gross Clinic. Public and critical response is hostile.
1876: The Gross Clinic is rejected from the art exhibition at the Centennial Exposition.
1878: Alumni of Jefferson University scraped together $200 to buy the painting.
1882: Osgood withdraws his edition of Leaves of Grass on complaint of Boston District Attorney and the edition is reprinted in Philadelphia, along with Specimen Days. News of the censure leads to a boom in sales.
1884: Whitman uses the royalties to buy a house at 328 Mickle Street in Camden.
1885: Eakins paints The Swimming Hole.
1886: Eakins caused a scandal by lifting the loincloth of a male model in front of female students and is forced to resign as an instructor from the PAFA. He forms the Art Students’ League of Philadelphia but eventually stops teaching.
1887: Whitman lectures to hundreds in New York City at Madison Square Theater. Eakins is ostracized from Philadelphia society and spends the summer on a ‘rest cure’ at a ranch in the Dakota Badlands.
1888: Eakins is taken to Camden to meet Whitman by his friend Talcott Williams. Whitman finds the artist’s lack of social graces refreshing and offers to sit for him. “Mr. Eakins, the portrait painter, of Philadelphia; is going to have a whack at me.” Later that year, Whitman suffers another paralytic stroke followed by severe illness.
1889: Eakins paints The Agnew Clinic.
1889: The artist attends Whitman’s 70th birthday party and describes painting the poet, “I began in the usual way, but soon found that the ordinary methods wouldn’t do,—that technique, rules and traditions would have to be thrown aside; that, before all else, he was to be treated as a man.”
1890: Whitman pays $4,000 to have a tomb built for himself in Harleigh Cemetery, Camden.
1892: Whitman dies at 6:43 p.m. on March 27. The following morning, Thomas Eakins and his protégé Samuel Murray go to Camden to make a cast of Whitman’s face and left hand. Whitman’s brain is removed and sent to the American Anthropometric Society.
1895: Murray and Eakins use Whitman’s mask to carve Moses, one of ten biblical prophets commissioned for the Witherspoon building in Philadelphia.

The Laurence Hutton Collection of Life and Death Masks, Princeton University

The New Gypsy Fan

The New Gypsy Fan ([London, ca. 1795]). Approximately 26.7 x 46 cm open. Graphic Arts Collection GA2020. in process.

 

The Graphic Arts Collection recently added a late-18th-century fortune telling fan to the growing collection of printed fans in our library. Along the top border are twelve sections marked with the month and sign of the zodiac. Each section is further divided into “Earthy,” Fiery,” “Airy,” and “Watry,” listing the characteristics of those born under these signs.

At the center is a large oval providing “The Explanation” for using the fan to tell fortunes. The user is told to shuffle a pack of cards and lay out an odd number face up, which are read according to the fan’s descriptions.  To the left are the thirteen fortunes for each of hearts and diamonds, and on the right a similar arrangement for spades and clubs. The suit and number of the card are located and nine fortunes are read out to the player. The final instruction is to “draw your general conclusions.”

George Woolliscroft Rhead, writing in his History of the Fan (2014) notes:

“Gypsy, fortune-telling and necromantic [black magic] fans form a large class, and were common during the latter part of the eighteenth century. As early, however, as Aug. 3, 1734, a necromantic fan was advertised in the Craftsman as follows:—
‘By Eo, Meo, & Areo.
On Monday last was published
The Necromantick Fan; or, Magick Glass.
Being a new-invented Machine Fan, that by a
slight Touch unseen a Lady in the Fan changes her
Dressing-Glass according to the following Invitations:
If any one himself would see,
Pray send the Gentleman to me:
For in my Magick Glass I show
The Pedant, Poet, Cit, or Beau;
Likewise a Statesman wisely dull,
Whose plodding Head’s with Treaties full.”

This fan shuold not to be confused with The New Woburn or Bedford Gipsy Fan at the British Museum; or The New Gypsy Fan at the Fitzwilliam Museum and Huntington Library; or several other titles for the fan inscribed “The Art of Fortune Telling by Cards.” Each of these has “an oval vignette of a gypsy woman reading the palm of a young girl, watched by a boy, with an egg timer and cards on the table beside her. Text lists the months with the characteristics of their star signs, and fortune-telling readings from playing cards, such as: “Promises a Country Partner with a good future”; “Is the worst Card in the Pack sign of poverty”; “Three times well married”; and “A Coffin”. On the verso of the fan, directions for fortune telling with cards.”—Huntington Library

Pikoenelojo Stencil (Maurice Huenún)


In the fall of 2019, protests began in Chile’s capital, Santiago, in response to an increase in the subway fares, as well as general cost of living and social inequality. Demonstrations, vandalism, and riots appeared throughout the country, bringing over a million people into the streets to protest against President Piñera, demanding his resignation.

Beverly Karno of Howard Karno Books was in Chile when the protest movement began. She was able to personally collect graphic material and ephemera relating to the demonstrations, including a striking collection by the noted street artist, Pikoenelojo Stencil. His bold stencils merge audacious political statements with gender-bending images. It is fabulous and timely.

Six months, a revolution, a pandemic, international demonstrations, and a fragile mail system later, the material finally arrived at Firestone Library and was unpacked.


Back in October, the BBC reported “Protestas en Chile: ‘Estamos en guerra,’ la frase de Piñera que se le volvió en contra en medio de las fuertes manifestaciones.” Santiago was under a curfew but a message appeared a building in Plaza Italia that read: “No estamos en Guerra” [We are not at war].

“The phrase has gone viral on social networks and has become an icon of these protests that have taken to the streets of various cities in the South American country … some with violent protests (looting of supermarkets and burning of various public spaces), but also with peaceful demonstrations through saucepans. The [phrase] is directly related to the President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, who, on Sunday night and after the 36 most violent hours that have occurred in Chile since the return to democracy, said:
“Estamos en guerra contra un enemigo poderoso, implacable, que no respeta a nada ni a nadie, que está dispuesto a usar la violencia y la delincuencia sin ningún límite”. =
“We are at war against a powerful, implacable enemy, who respects nothing and no one, who is willing to use violence and crime without limit.”

The huge print in the Graphic Arts Collection and below, one on a Chilean building.

 

 

Take a look at Pikoenelojo Stencil (Mauricio Huenún) at work:

https://www.perrerarte.cl/pikoenelojo-me-sorprendio-que-un-candidato-de-derecha-utilizara-mi-obra/

In 2016, the artist wrote: My name is Mauricio Huenún, I work in the art of the stencil, a branch of graffiti. In the street world I call myself Pikoenelojo Stencil, a stamp with which I stamp images on public walls referring to political, religious and social situations or events (pages and notes that account for my work can be found in the Google search engine). However, as an art form away from political contingency, I also paint walls -with the same stencil technique- but which are oriented to contents that relate to the original place of the wall to intervene.

http://stencilvegacentral.blogspot.com/2016/?m=0

 

Here are a few more images:

 

Locals pose with Pikoenelojo Stencil work found on buildings in Santiago

Woodblock printed wallpapers

For those not following the BlocksPlatesStones discussion on color woodblock printed wallpaper, a video was mentioned that is worth 10 minutes of your time this week:

Originally posted in 2014 by the Zuber & Cie factory in Rixheim (Alsace), France, the video takes you into their chateau, production stations, and basement storage where 150,000 woodblocks are housed. https://www.zuber.fr/en/video.

The company has been printing wallpapers since 1797, making it the oldest surviving wallpaper manufacturer in the world. The website notes,

“Apart from the well-know scenic wallpapers, the factory created a large collection of wallpaper designs or patterns such as friezes, borders, ceiling roses and architectural trompe l’oeil. They necessitated the engraving of tens of thousands woodblocks. Today, 80 to 90% of the production is still printed using the traditional techniques an and original woodblocks.

The first scenic wallpapers appeared in France in 1804. More were printed during the French [Restoration] and production slowly declined after the Second Empire. …Between 1804 and 1860, Jean Zuber and his successors produced 25 scenes. The secret behind their success was the participation of great artists who were able to combine their talent and the technical requirements of production to produce a real mural.”

An interesting comparison to the Zuber operation is this 1963 video presenting a British wallpaper shop in Greenford, Middlesex.

Below is a wonderful example of 3D layering of color pigment to produce embossed patterns and textures on various papers. Only a brief section is posted here:

Our Graphic Arts Collection holds two sheets of woodblock printed wallpaper from the 19th century, both attributed to Zuber & Cie, the French manufacture de papier peints et tissus (Manufacturer of Painted Wallpaper and Fabrics). Zuber & Cie continues to design and print landscapes and genre views from locations around the world, so it is not surprising to see these American scenes produced in France.

We are fortunate to have an eight-foot section of French wallpaper from the panorama entitled Les vues de l’Amérique du nord. The scene required 1,690 different woodblocks and 223 colors when it was designed and first printed in 1834. One set of the complete print can be found in Washington D.C., where it “became one of the most publicized of wallpapers during the 1960s when Jacqueline Kennedy had a set, which had been taken form the Stoner house in Thurmont, Maryland, [and] put up in the White House.” (Wallpaper in America by Catherine Lynn, Graphic Arts Collection GA NK3412. L9 1980)

On the second, smaller sheet in the Graphic Arts Collection, we believe the Bunker Hill monument and the Boston State House are visible indicating the view is from Charlestown, Massachusetts, looking across the Boston harbor.

Zuber & Cie [attributed to], [One section from “Les vues de l’Amérique du nord”], no date [1834]. 97 inches long. Woodblock printed wallpaper. Graphic Arts Collection GA 2012.01732. Gift of Stuart Feld, Class of 1957.
Zuber & Cie [attributed to], View of Boston Harbor and the Bunker Hill Monument from Charlestown, Massachusetts, no date. Woodblock printed wallpaper. Graphic Arts Collection GC023. Gift of Leonard L. Milberg, Class of 1953.

Famous Wood Engravings


In the spring of 1903, Harper and Brothers offered for sale a set of wood engravings that had been commissioned by the magazine, now repackaged in portfolios of limited edition art prints. First advertised in March as Famous Wood Engravings, it’s possible the stock of outdated prints was taking up too much space in the back rooms. Most portraits in the late-19th century were produced with a technique sometimes called “photoxylography,” which involved a photograph printed directly onto the woodblock and the carvers merely copying the print with a knife. While denounced by the fine art world, these life-like portraits caught the public’s attention until they, too, were replaced by actual photographs.

It’s unclear why the promotion stopped after the second month; whether the offer was so successful the sets were sold-out or so unsuccessful, the magazine gave up. The publisher announced:

“Interest in the portraits of the great men of America was never so acute as at present. No private library is complete without these inspiring faces, and to every public library, school, and college they are necessities. During the last fifty years the portraits of nearly all the men who impressed their personality upon their time and made the history of their generation and ours were engraved for Harper’s.

The art of engraving portraits on wood in this country was largely developed in the art department of Harper & Brothers. The quality of these large portraits has never been equalled. They are works of art by famous men like Staudenbar, Butler, Kruell, Goetze, Johnson, Baude, Wolf, etc.

Weeks and months were spent by the artist on one of these portraits; and in the direction and the quality of line for form, color, and modelling they may be said to fairly equal the best work ever done. The sympathetic quality of the medium used for the portraits lends itself to textures and delicate tones, and places them absolutely in the front rank of the art of engraving.

We have printed a very limited edition of eight of these portraits on the best heavy coated paper, with wide margins for framing or for a portfolio (size 12 x 17 inches). We have ready now for delivery the portraits of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain), James Russell Lowell, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman, William Dean Howells, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

These portraits are sold only in sets of four (any four) for $1.00 a set, or the entire eight portraits will be sent, postpaid, on receipt of $2.00. Address HARPER & BROTHERS, Franklin Square, New York City.

 

 

By the early 20th century, photographic illustrations replaced drawn or carved portraits at Harper‘s and other magazines, such as this photograph of William Dean Howells.

Print Council of America

 

The Print Council of America (PCA) has enlarged its website with additional scholarly resources you might find helpful in teaching and for personal use. The pages are freely accessible to everyone.

PCA is an incorporated non-profit organization with elected membership, officers and a board of directors. Membership in the Council is achieved through a process of nomination by existing Council members and review/approval by the board of directors at their semi-annual meetings. These pages were written by volunteers within the organization, with our thanks.

 

We are a professional organization of print specialists with a current membership of over 270 individuals most of whom represent collections of works of art on paper throughout the United States and Canada. While the organization is comprised primarily of museum curators, it also includes university professors, conservators of works on paper, and independent scholars with a strong commitment to the study of prints. Princeton currently has three members.

 

Founded in 1956 by a small group of museum curators, scholars, artists, collectors, and dealers, PCA’s mission is to “foster the creation, dissemination, and appreciation of fine prints, old and new.” Led by the legendary print collector Lessing J. Rosenwald, founders and early members of the group included individuals well-known for the roles they played in establishing public collections, mounting ground-breaking exhibitions of prints, and publishing critical studies of prints and printmakers.

In its initial years the Print Council was devoted to raising the visibility of printmaking as a fine art medium, and it played a strong advocacy role in providing educational information about prints, in supporting artists, and in promoting the creation and enactment of legislation relating to fraudulent practices in the print marketplace. More recently Print Council has served as a professional organization for print curators and has been especially active in the publication of books and research aids intended to encourage and professionalize the preservation, administration, and study of print collections in the United States and Canada. Equally important, the Print Council now provides a forum for print curators and other specialists to meet, share ideas, debate issues, update each other on work in progress, and discuss and implement Council projects. For more than sixty years, the Print Council of America has provided an environment for good will and cooperation among professionals dealing with works of art on paper.

 

https://printcouncil.org/

Teaching with images

When teaching with images, don’t forget the obvious. Wikimedia Commons is a collection of 61,896,277 images in the public domain as well as freely-licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) available to everyone (including many from our Graphic Arts Collection).

Now 16 years old, the resource is not perfect but free and sometime spectacular, such as this digital reproduction of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights from the Prado in Madrid. The painting is next to impossible to see in person, (when travel is available) given the crowds. Here you can zoom in on any corner of the panels, producing extraordinary views. Click on each thumbnail to enlarge it.

The three panels might represent Adam and Eve on the left, a bacchanal of pleasures in the middle, and hell on the right. Commissioned by Engelbert II of Nassau, it was meant to be seen by a very few and only recently moved to a public museum. Note the prevalence of strawberries. The oak panels are not signed but attributed to Bosch.

Each wikimedia page also provides the object’s current location, Bosch is in room 56, the object history and bibliography. In this case, there are multiple files to download from various sources. Here are a few close-ups.


This man is being talked into signing a document, perhaps a papal indulgence, by the pig with a nun’s habit. One year after Bosch’s death, Martin Luther would protest against the sale of papal indulgences.

 

 

 

A brief introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD_nwg9CMzw

Black Lives Matter

This week it’s hard to concentrate with the continuing inequities in the United States so blatantly exposed. While it is necessary for everyone to do better, here are just a few recent acquisitions that might help to highlight interesting and important Black lives, for upcoming classes.

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Here is a small selection from a group of approximately 120 press and wire photographs dating from the early 1960s through 1980, recently acquired by the Graphic Arts Collection with the help of Steven Knowlton, Librarian for History and African American Studies. These heavily used prints all relate to the Civil Rights movement in the United States, documenting protests, marches, sit-ins, and police confrontations in Atlanta, Alabama, Chicago, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Washington, D.C.

[left] “Selma, Ala., Mar. 12 — The ‘Wall’ is down — Jubilant demonstrators held aloft a rope barricade after it was cut down in Selma, Ala. today [by] public safety director Wilson Baker. The demonstrators had sung [unclear] referring to the barricade as the Berlin wall and Baker unexpectedly walked over and severed it. He said “nothing has changed” and still refused to allow the non-stop demonstrators to march. …1965.” Read more about 1965 events in Selma: https://www.cnn.com/2013/09/15/us/1965-selma-to-montgomery-march-fast-facts/index.html

Read more about this photo-archive: https://graphicarts.princeton.edu/2018/02/23/the-civil-rights-movement-in-america/

 

 

jones set designs3

This beautiful design by Robert Edmond Jones (1887-1954), is for the production of Simon the Cyrenian, one of three short plays that opened April 5, 1917 at New York’s Garden Theater under the heading Three Plays for a Negro Theater. Jones not only designed but directed the three productions, which each featured all Black casts. As one of the first straight plays to feature Black actors exclusively, without melodrama or burlesque, this production is often cited as the beginning of the period we call the Harlem renaissance.

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963) transcribed the outpouring of critical review in The Crisis, beginning with poet Percy MacKaye’s comment, “It is indeed an historic happening. Probably for the first time, in any comparable degree, both races are here brought together upon a plane utterly devoid of all racial antagonisms—a plane of art in which audiences and actors are happily peers, mutually cordial to each others’ gifts of appreciation and interpretation.” Read more; https://graphicarts.princeton.edu/2014/03/12/robert-edmond-jones-directs-an-all-black-cast/

 

 


During his years as an undergraduate at the Hampton Institute, Willis J. Hubert (1919-2007) kept a scrapbook, filling it with programs, report cards, newspaper articles, and many informal photographs of his classmates. This enormous volume bound in carved wood boards, 30 x 46 x 7 cm, provides an intimate look at undergraduate life at this primarily black school from 1936 to 1940.

According to his obituary, published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from May 15 to May 17, 2007, Hubert went on to have a distinguished military career in which he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Not long after he graduated from the Hampton Institute, he entered the U.S. Air Force and trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field, where Hubert was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen.

Hubert became the first African American to earn an M.A. and Ph.D. (New York University) while on active duty, as well as the first to complete the Harvard Business School (Military Co-op) Statistics Training Program. Read more: https://graphicarts.princeton.edu/2018/05/04/undergraduate-life-at-the-hampton-institute/

 

 

The Graphic Arts Collection recently acquired a set of photographic postcards documenting the “Burning of the Negro Smith.” Two are captioned in white ink. None of them were ever addressed or mailed. The postcards came in a plain envelope marked with the caption in pencil: “Greenville, TX, 28 July 1908”.

“Ted Smith, aged 18 years old, was accused of raping a young white woman in Clinton, Texas. He was arrested and brought to jail in nearby Greenville. A mob took him from his cell at eight the next morning. Rather than the usual hanging, they covered him under a pile of wood, doused him with kerosene, and burned him alive in the center of town, in front of a large crowd. The postcards depict the horrible scene, with the crowd gathered around the fire. Read more: https://graphicarts.princeton.edu/2018/05/03/the-murder-of-ted-smith-in-1908/

 

 

The Graphic Arts Collection acquired a rare promotional brochure for the Norman Film Company’s 1919 silent movie, The Green Eyed Monster, its first production with an all Black cast. Billed as a “Stupendous All-Star Negro Motion Picture,” audiences found it long and so, Norman had the film cut from eight-reels to five-reels. A second release in 1920 led to great success. Although no portion of the film survives, reviews list the actors as Jack Austin, Louise Dunbar, Steve Reynolds, and Robert A. Stuart.

“The first film company devoted to the production of race movies was the Chicago-based Ebony Film Company, which began operation in 1915. The first black-owned film company was The Lincoln Motion Picture Company, founded by the famous Missourian actor Noble Johnson in 1916. However, the biggest name in race movies was and remains Oscar Micheaux, an Illinois-born director who started The Micheaux Book & Film Company in 1919 and went on to direct at least forty films with predominantly black casts for black audiences.”–The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 18 (2011).

Read more: https://graphicarts.princeton.edu/2018/01/24/brochure-for-all-colored-cast-silent-film/

 

 

avery haitian boat3

Eric Avery, USA Dishonor and Disrespect (Haitian Interdiction 1981-1994), 1991. Linoleum block print on a seven-color lithograph printed on mold made Okawara paper. 46½ x 34 inches. Edition: 30. Graphic Arts Collection 2014- in process.

Dr. Eric Avery incorporates his medical practice with his activist art, delving into such themes as infectious diseases, human rights abuse, and the death penalty, among others. Many of his complex prints appropriate one or more iconic art historical images into contemporary events. A few examples are now at Princeton University.

On July 14, 1990, The New York Times reported, “Bahamas Facing More Questions As It Buries 39 Drowned Haitians.” The story continued “Thirty-nine Haitians fleeing their impoverished Caribbean island drowned when their sailboat capsized and sank in choppy seas while being towed by Bahamian authorities, Government officials said. No explanation for what caused the sinking was given.” Published by the Tamarind Institute, Avery’s complex linocut incorporates the facts of the 1990 tragedy with three separate art historical paintings: Theodore Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa, 1824; John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark, 1778; and Rembrandt’s Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633.

Read more: https://graphicarts.princeton.edu/2014/10/01/eric-avery/

Elsa Dorfman

Jorge Luis Borges at the Midget Restaurant, 1970s. (c) Elsa Dorfman

The early portrait photography of Elsa Dorfman (1937-2020) is beautifully represented in the Graphic Arts Collection, thanks to a generous gift from the artist’s husband Harvey Silverglate, Princeton Class of 1964. An extended profile of the photographer can be read here: https://www.harvardmagazine.com/2017/09/elsa-dorfmans-portrait-photography

Her work was featured in the 2010 Princeton University Library exhibition The Author’s Portrait, one of the few living artists included because, well, we couldn’t not include her terrific work. Each of the prints in our collection includes a hand-written caption made by Dorfman with a steel-nib pen dipped in black India ink. She once wrote to us correcting a reproduction of her work that did not include the text, noting it was an integral part of the final work. These photographs come from the early 1970s, when Dorfman was selling gelatin silver prints for $2.50 each from a grocery cart in Harvard Square.

The portraits included in our collection are Audre Lord[e] at Riverside Park; Charles Olson at Kelleher’s; Jorge Luis Borges at the Midget Restaurant; Nikki Giovanni at home; Robert Creeley and Spot at Good Harbor Beach; Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky; Anais Nin at home; Robert Lowell at Arthur Freeman’s apt. Cambridge, Mass.; W. H. Auden at home; and W. S. Merwin at home. Also in the collection is the pivotal Elsa’s Housebook: a Woman’s Photojournal (Boston: D. R. Godine, c1974). Graphic Arts Collection 2006-2545N, which can be read online through temporary access by Hathi Trust.

Elsa Dorfman passed away on May 30, 2020. An obituary by Mark Feeney appeared in the Boston Globe almost immediately that begins

“Elsa Dorfman, whose large-format Polaroid color portraits made her famous in the world of photography, and whose ebullient personality made her famous in the world of Cambridge, died Saturday at her Cambridge home. … Three parts earth mother to two parts riot grrrl (or perhaps the other way around), Ms. Dorfman cut a memorable figure. Her beaming moon face, set off by glasses and center-parted hair, was almost as distinctive as her don’t-try-this-at-home fashion sense. Jumpers and running shoes? Of course. Polka dots and stripes? On occasion.”

Her work was introduced to an international audience by Errol Morris’s documentary about her, “The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography.” Here is the trailer:

 

 

When Dorfman moved back to Cambridge in 1959, after an early stay in New York City, she started organizing readings by writers and poets, calling her company the “Paterson Society” after William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg’s home. This led to introductions and friendships, which in turn led to the many portraits of authors, poets, and literary figures. This early video shows the set up for our photograph of Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky;

 

Her large format Polaroid camera, one of only six in existence, weighed close to 240 pounds, producing photographic print nearly 2 feet square. This clip shows the camera in action:

 

 

Ms. Dorfman, photographed at her Cambridge home on Feb. 4, 2020. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff

Chauncey Bradley Ives’ Noah Webster

After Chauncey Bradley Ives (1810–1894), Bust of Noah Webster, ca.1840. Plaster cast. (ex) 4766. Gift of Mrs. Theodore L. Bailey.

During the 21st-century renovation of Firestone Library, a cast plaster bust of Noah Webster (1758-1843) was relocated from the library tower to the newly constructed special collection vaults. It came with a possible attribution to the 19th-century sculptor John Henri Isaac Browere (1792-1834).

We can now confidently re-attribute the bust to Chauncey Bradley Ives (1810-1894), an American sculptor who worked primarily in the Neo-classic style. Today he is remembered for his portraits of celebrated Americans, both full-length statues and busts, including Noah Webster completed in 1840. Our bust was donated to Princeton by (or in honor of) Mrs. Theodore L. Bailey (died 1961). Mr. and Mrs. Bailey also donated a bronze cast of Ives’ Webster bust to Yale University in 1964, where the University also owns a painted cast plaster version of the bust.


In 1964, a New York Times reporter attended an outdoor auction of the household possessions and furnishings of the late Mrs. Theodore L. Bailey (died 1961). The sale included pieces belonging to Noah Webster, of whom Mrs. Bailey was a direct descendant.–“Picnicking’s Half the Fun at Auction,” New York Times November 14, 1964. This may explain their interest in having Webster’s likeness at the universities.  Mr. Theodore Bailey, Jr. was a member of the Princeton Class of 1926 and he also presented a bronze bust of Webster to the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College.

Noah Webster, Jr. (1758-1843), a graduate of Yale, wrote the first American dictionary, entitled A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806) and followed it with An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828). Before the age thirty, Webster had already published a three volume study: A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, including a speller (1783), a grammar (1784), and a reader (1785). See more: https://www.merriam-webster.com/about-us/americas-first-dictionary

The former attribution was not a bad guess. In 1825, John Henri Isaac Browere (1792-1834) began using plaster life masks to create full three-dimensional busts of noted Americans, such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, De Witt Clinton, and Dolley Madison. It was his hope to establish a National Gallery of Notable Americans, but critics were divided on the merits of his technique, dubbing him a mechanic and calling his New York studio a “plaster factory.”

At his death, Browere’s collection of plasters was hidden from view until 1897, when McClure’s reporter Charles Henry Hart tracked them down and published “Unknown Life Masks of Great Americans…The Story of Their Production, Concealment from the Public, and Recent Recovery,” —McClure’s Magazine 9 1897. The Chicago Daily Tribune followed this with a front page article “Long Hidden Life Masks of Famous Americans” and the plaster busts were exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair. Later, most of the collection was donated to the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York (formerly the New York State Historical Association). Browere’s work in plaster was not unlike the bust of Webster.

See: Life Masks of Noted Americans of 1825 by John H. I. Browere (Cooperstown, N.Y., The New York State Historical Association [1951?]). Firestone Library NB1293.N49