In Touch with the Dutch, or, Fashioning Colonial New York’s Merchant Elite

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Man’s Gown. English. ca. 1700-1720. Gold silk damask (likely Chinese; ca. 1690-1720); lining: red brocaded silk (likely Persian; ca. 1700-1720); collar and cuffs: red silk damask (English; ca. 1700-1720); wool padding. Cora Ginsburg LLC.

Today’s #ColonialCouture post is by Cynthia Kok, a doctoral student in art history at Yale University. She is interested in trade and craftsmanship under European colonial governance and imitative material practices inspired by encounters with foreign cultures.

“I like my money right where I can see it…hanging in my closet.” –Carrie Bradshaw

Centuries before New York became known as a fashion capital— and Carrie Bradshaw emerged as a style icon— the city’s colonial-era merchants anticipated the words of Sex and the City’s lead character by investing newly earned wealth in clothing made from luxurious fabrics. And, like today’s Rich Kids of Instagram, they documented their exclusive material success through portraiture. Painted at the turn of the eighteenth century, that of Isaac de Peyster (1662-1728), the son of an affluent Dutch-American mercantile family, presented both his physical features and a luxurious silk robe patterned with rocks and spindly vegetation. The artist captured the soft, luminous sheen of the gold silk and hinted at the robe’s lining with a flash of red along an upturned sleeve. Continue reading

Creole Comforts and French Connections: A Case Study in Caribbean Dress

Today’s #ColonialCouture post is by Philippe Halbert. Follow him @plbhalbert.

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“Vêtement dit à la creole,” Galerie des modes et costumes français, Charles Emmanuel Patas after Pierre Thomas Leclerc, 1779, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In 1779, a fashion plate depicting a woman’s garment “in the creole style” was published in Paris. Consisting of a lightweight muslin gown with wrist-length sleeves, the dress was “in the style of a chemise,” the basic female undergarment of the period.[1] Worn over a petticoat, the gown was to be pinned at the bust and loosely closed with a sash or belt. In addition to enumerating its various components, which included a separate caraco jacket, the engraving’s caption remarked that the fantastic ensemble was “of the sort worn by our French Ladies in America.” At the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, French colonial possessions in the Americas were largely confined to the Caribbean Basin, a region where interactions between people of indigenous, European, and African descent brought about innovations in everything from architecture to foodways. Although the inhabitants of French-controlled islands like Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Saint-Domingue, or Haiti, were not beyond the reach of Parisian novelty, the heat and humidity necessitated certain sartorial adaptations. Continue reading

Frogs and Cats, or, Access and Privilege

I have never heard anything like those frogs. I was crunching along the gravel walkway from Historic Jamestowne back to the bus after the final reception of the Omohundro Institute conference in June. As I walked through the woods, the James River at my back, the calls of frogs and insects hammered at the air, drowning out the chatter of other attendees and the crunch of my own footsteps.

An hour before, I had gazed down into the archaeological dig of a kitchen site, in which researchers had discovered what they argue are cannibalized human remains in 2012. All the hairs on my neck stood up. Continue reading

“A curious font of porphyry”

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 3.29.59 AMWorking on material culture, my research has taken me to some interesting, if unexpected places. Last summer, it involved waiting outside Saint John’s Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, founded in 1732 as the Anglican Queen’s Chapel. I quickly ran inside to snap some pictures of a baptismal font between back-to-back Sunday services. The Saint John’s font is an impressive fixture, carved from marble in a Continental European baroque style. As a ritual object used in the sacrament of baptism, the font is hardly unusual, but its story is. Continue reading

Interpreting US History in the UK: The American Museum in Britain

As an American studying American history in the UK, my response to the question of “What are you studying?” often inspires wry smiles, wrinkled brows, and variations of “Why here?” Although I am now fairly adept at justifying my decision, I remain fascinated by the concept of studying a nation’s history beyond its geographic boundaries. With my time in Britain near its end, I traveled to Bath to visit  The American Museum in Britain, a place all too familiar with this topic. The Museum is located in Claverton Manor, a nineteenth-century English country manor on 125 acres of land, and also features a Folk-Art Gallery, an exhibit hall, and gardens.[1] Continue reading

Do Objects Lie? A New Video for Teaching About Material Evidence

Is material culture as inherently untrustworthy? I was once at a conference roundtable where one attendee claimed that “Material culture is so elitist, just rich people’s stuff in museums.” Fortunately, a historical archaeologist in the room begged to differ, arguing that archaeology offered a rich record of people who did not necessarily leave written sources behind. When I recently required my students to analyze both a material and a textual source, they concluded that material sources were inherently more difficult to work with than their written counterparts. “Once I describe the object, there’s nothing left to say about it,” one student complained.

I’ve been hearing variations of this argument my entire academic life. As a scholar who both studies and teaches with material culture, I find this reasoning both fascinating and frustrating. Why do so many people, from scholars to students, consider material culture somehow a lesser form of evidence than the written word? Continue reading

Q&A: Erin M. Greenwald, author of New Orleans, the Founding Era

Greenwald_2017Today at The Junto, Philippe Halbert interviews Erin M. Greenwald about her exhibition, New Orleans, the Founding Era, on view at The Historic New Orleans Collection through the 27 of May. Edited by Greenwald, the accompanying English-French publication features interdisciplinary essays by eight leading scholars and an illustrated catalogue. Before beginning as Curator of Programs at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2017, Greenwald was senior curator and historian at The Historic New Orleans Collection, where she curated exhibitions including Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865, a traveling exhibition funded by the NEH and awarded the AASLH Leadership in History Award of Merit. Her first monograph, Marc-Antoine Caillot and the Company of the Indies in Louisiana: Trade in the French Atlantic World, was published by LSU Press in 2016. Greenwald also chairs the New Orleans Slave Trade Marker and App Project, an initiative of the 2018 Tricentennial Commission, which anticipates placing six interpretive markers designating sites in New Orleans with direct links to the slave trade this summer.

Continue reading